Winning with executives starts by understanding them

Byron Matthews

Sales teams operate at peak performance when they put the customer at the center of everything they do. In reality, the difference between the products and services each company delivers is miniscule. But what separates great sales teams from the rest of the pack is how they understand and treat customers. It’s your sales people who provide unique value and create a tipping point — either in your favor or in favor of your competitors. Which means your sellers must understand your customers at a personal level.

This is especially true when selling to executives. It’s not just about getting access to them — it’s about what you do when you get there. To make these meetings pay off, you must understand how executives think and how they make decisions.

Five executive buyer personas

CSO Insights, the research division of Miller Heiman Group, recently studied more than 1,600 executives to better understand how they make decisions. What they came up with is five executive buyer personas to help sales professionals make the most of their opportunities with key decision makers:

1. Charismatic Persona

Charismatic buyers are highly engaged and highly involved. They want to understand the broad implications of what you’re doing, so don’t go too far into the weeds. They deal only in facts, so leave emotions at the door — they don’t work. They think very visually, so give them something to look at.

How to present to Charismatic Personas:

  • Base your presentation on strong interactions with the customer.
  • Allow them to talk and guide the conversation.
  • Bring plenty of charts to appeal to their creativity and visual thinking skills.
  • Load the presentation with facts that you can prove.
  • Talk in headlines and stick with the main points.

2. Thinker Persona

Selling can be a thinking person’s game, so you need a good strategy to sell to this group. The key thing here is the process. Thinker personas want to understand how you get from point A to point B, and it must be logical. Thinkers are intelligent and competitive, but they are more concerned about control than innovation.

How to present to Thinker Personas:

  • Make sure your presentation is in chronological order and structured step-by-step.
  • Involve them throughout the process.
  • Include their ideas and get them excited about what you’re doing.
  • Address the risks and rewards up front to allow them to process the content.

3. Skeptic Persona

Dealing with Skeptic buyers is not time for hyperbole — you must back up everything you say. They are typically suspicious of everyone and everything. They are not seeking help, but are looking for information so they can affirm the decision they think is best.

How to present to Skeptic Personas:

  • Find a way to establish credibility.
  • When you are challenged, find middle ground.
  • Keep your emotions in check.
  • Prove what you say. Then prove it some more.

4. Follower Persona

Followers make up 36 percent of executive buyers — the largest group — and they have one criterion before making a decision. They want to make sure what you’re selling has worked before. Followers fear choices, and they are not early adopters. They want something proven, not new. So you need to keep your presentations safe.

How to present to Follower Personas:

  • Don’t make any assertion you can’t back up.
  • Offer plenty of proof points.
  • Make your presentation credible and relevant.
  • Provide case studies to prove what you’re selling has worked before.

5. Controller Persona

We’ve all dealt with hard-charging executives, and they are the toughest crowd to convince. Controllers can be very self-absorbed, so don’t be surprised if they don’t participate or speak during meetings. However, they are objective and they expect the same from those around them. The key to selling to Controllers is to make it their idea.

How to present to Controller Personas:

  • Let them take ownership of an idea so you enable action rather than force it.
  • Make sure you are highly structured and take a linear approach to your meetings.
  • Build trust with the individual and with the people they trust.

When you understand how executives think and make decisions, you can more effectively deliver content and build presentations that reflect their needs and expectations — significantly increasing your changes of winning. Because knowing your executive customers — how they think and act — is exactly where the magic begins.

Byron Matthews is the President and CEO of Miller Heiman Group, one of the largest sales and service training companies in the world. Built on legacy brands such as Miller Heiman, AchieveGlobal, Huthwaite, Impact Learning Systems and Channel Enablers, Miller Heiman Group is backed by more than 150 years of experience and performance. To learn more, visit www,