Selling to Employees, C-Level Executives, or Owners? Know Your Prospects!

By Andrew J. Birol, President, Birol Growth Consulting, Inc.

In a fabulous scene from The Pink Panther, Inspector Clousseau asks a young lady walking a dog, "Does your dog bite?" After hearing "No," the Inspector pets the dog, and earns a big chomp in return for his action. Shocked, he cries out, "I thought your dog doesn't bite." The lady utters her famous response, "Yes, but that's not my dog." How many times do we take sales action without knowing what job our prospect really has in their organization? A classic mistake is assuming you know your prospect's real position and therefore his motivations in doing business. If we agree that companies do not buy, people do, what could be more important than knowing how your services or products can enhance your customer's personal success. So when selling to employees, "C-Level" executives, or owners, know their motivations, examples of who sells them most effectively, and lessons you can apply now.

Employees: Employees, regardless of what they sell, are sure to display two key behaviors: (1) meet the objectives their bosses give them; and, (2) avoid career risk. Two companies stand out best at protecting their employee-customer’s personal success: FedEx and IBM. In the case of FedEx, their ad campaign "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight" speaks precisely to the employee's agenda. Similarly, when IBM stated, "No one ever got fired for picking IBM," the firm exploited the employee's fear of the ultimate reprisal for making a mistake.

When selling to employees, learn these lessons well:

  • Offer tactical solutions specifically designed to meet a single objective.
  • Never offer total solutions or one-stop shopping; these customers do not have authority or motivation to make these decisions.
  • Offer strong guarantees that meet the purchasing employee's personal objectives.
  • Create standards to measure your performance against their objective so that they can use these standards as much to protect themselves as to hold you accountable.
  • Promise them opportunities for recourse and other options to protect their own positions inside their corporation.

"C-Level" Executives: Particularly CEOs, COOs, CIOs, CFOs; or those running profit centers, or those managing P&Ls who are responsible for setting the direction of their organization and achieving results they have promised to other stakeholders, banks, investors, vendors and customers. They are ultimately responsible for making their owners wealthy. Helping them to personally show results and increase corporate wealth will win them over. Three companies, Oracle, Siebel Systems, and McKinsey and Company are standouts at serving "C-Level" executives. They exude the confidence, records of accomplishment, and focus on predictable results that makes senior executives shine in the eyes of their stockholders and owners. Here is what to know when selling your products to corporate leaders:

  • Sell strategic solutions that let them achieve their company's visions.
  • Sell peer-to-peer. They have enough subordinates and sycophants.
  • Create heft and credibility in all you say and do to them during the selling process.
  • Build deep, multiple relationships throughout their organization to help your clients create the consensus needed for their decisions to succeed.

Owners: Owner entrepreneurs are in many ways the most unusual to sell. Regardless of their success, they go through the following stages towards success:

  1. Owners first dread the potential of failing, particularly if it makes them miss a payroll, threatens their independence, or ultimately results in having to work for someone else.
  2. Once an owner's fear of failure is over, their next focus is on increasing their company's wealth by producing quality products purchased by grateful customers.
  3. After gaining this success, owners turn their attention next to creating their legacy, first as a successful business owner and thereafter as a creator of greater social good.

Those most successful at selling to owners know to sell to the right "step" for their prospects. They are most often other entrepreneurs like attorneys, financial planners, consultants, or coaches. Why? Because entrepreneurs often turn to those like themselves. Unlike the corporate market, entrepreneurs respect and respond to the success, individualism, and risk taking of those vendors who walk in similar shoes. Therefore, the lessons learned when selling to entrepreneurs are:

  • Sell to your prospect "owner-to-owner".
  • Sell as much to the person across the table as to his or her company; they are indivisible.
  • Appeal first to their business needs to gain their attention but understand their egos and personalities.
  • Display both empathy as well as the ability to lead them to success.

Summary: To end up a winner, make your sales goal to only make new mistakes. That way every sales opportunity presents a lesson learned even if you do not close an employee, a "C-Level" executive, or an owner. As Inspector Clousseau learned, next time you will know to ask if the dog you pet actually belongs to the owner who is walking it.


Articles by Birol Growth Consulting are © copyrighted and all rights are reserved. However, articles may be reprinted with prior written consent if attribution is included as follows:

© Copyrighted by Andrew J. Birol, President of Birol Growth Consulting, who helps owners grow their businesses by growing their Best and Highest Use ®. Andy can be reached at  (412) 973-2080, by email at, or on the web at

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