Mark Kuta Jr. knows a thing or two about what motivates senior executives. During his career as a technology sales manager, Kuta has sold nearly US$100 million in enterprise software to CEOs the world over. In the process, he’s found that knowing what keeps them awake at night is critical to delivering a solution that solves the problem—and closes the deal. “If you are dealing with senior level executives, you’d better be able to align your product to the strategies that the CEO is pursuing,” says Kuta.
In the following excerpt from his book Think Like a CEO (Flow Publishing, 2007), Kuta describes some of the things that motivate CEOs in their daily jobs and how to propose projects that intersect with what’s on their minds.
Most C-level executives, like successful individuals in every field, have a healthy ego. Their direct staff may not be of the same stuff, but you can safely assume that in any event, they are concerned about what their boss is thinking of them. If you are going to deal with them, you have to use this to your advantage. I’ve found that most executives share similar concerns that can be summarized in three basic buckets.
The first thing that the executive is going to be concerned about is the metrics that his boss is focused on. Every executive has a boss. The COO has the CEO; the controller has the CFO, who reports to the CEO, who of course has the board of directors. What is the group of metrics that the executive’s boss sees on a regular basis, and what is the first thing they point to when they are looking at this report? As a board member of a large multiple branch financial institution, I see a board packet monthly. The first thing that I look at is return on assets. Now, there are other metrics that are important (earnings, customer service metrics, etc.) but the CEO knows that he needs to be able to address the ROA [return on assets] numbers at our monthly board meeting. Find the bottom line for the executive you are dealing with, and you’ll get his attention.
The second thing that seasoned executives are interested in, and aware of, is their competitors. Many execs that I have known get some type of information daily on their key competitors. While they are getting all the public information that is available, what would be of value is additional information. Do analyses of the industry, talk to your competitors, and see what they are doing. Then try to fit your project into this space and educate your executive.
Finally, executives are focused to customers, and worry about how their supply chain will impact them. Talk to the key suppliers in the supply chain, and understand the issues and difficulties they face. Understand their customer base. This secondary type of information is what will get you listened to, and if you do some of the basic analysis . . . you will be able to bring significant insight to those discussions.
Now that you understand how executives think, you need to focus on getting action out of them. Just like you, virtually every executive has more work than hours in the day, so they focus on key initiatives, and eliminate all the other noise. To get your project visible you must get them interested in the project, and not let them push you off on someone else. You want them to say, “This is interesting, and this is worth following up on.” To keep them from sending you to others in the organization, make them the owners of what you are working on. There is no better way to do this than to integrate the value that your product or solution brings to their profit strategies.