Building a winning cadence for CEOs: Cognism's guide

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Every B2B salesperson worth their salt knows that engaging with CEOs can be a tricky business. Typically, they have little time at their disposal and they have needs and wants that are very different from their lower-level colleagues. This makes prospecting CEOs to be a difficult undertaking - difficult, but not impossible.

We asked Charlie Beale, Cognism’s newest Business Development Manager and co-writer of our company SDR Playbook, for a winning cadence aimed at CEOs. Charlie shared with us an epic 75-day cadence, which he’s used before to engage with C-suite prospects. We also asked Frank Mee and Hector Forwood, two of our Senior Business Development Managers, for their advice in pitching to this highly specific and specialised audience.

The purpose of the cadence

Before you start out with this cadence, first of all forget everything you’ve learned prospecting to managers, team leaders, department heads and the like. Prospecting to CEOs requires a very different mindset. Don’t go charging in asking for a meeting right off the bat; you haven’t earned it yet! Expect it to take months of engagement before you get to that point.

This cadence isn’t designed to get a quick win; quite the opposite, in fact. It’s about building a relationship, establishing a meaningful dialogue and nurturing the prospect over an extended period of time. The usual sales patter won’t work with a CEO. Instead, you’ll have to show that you’re…

  • Fully prepared by researching them and their industry thoroughly.

  • Ready and able to share relevant, insightful content.

  • Focused on the challenges and pain points that affect them.

If you can do all that, then - and only then - you will get your meeting. As always in B2B sales, but especially so in this case, persistence really will pay off.

Results

Charlie saw some impressive results by using this cadence:

  • Email response rates of up to 15%.

  • LinkedIn engagement rates of up to 52%.

  • Asset download rates of up to 24%.

The cadence

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For a lot of salespeople, this first touch may seem counter-intuitive. It doesn’t mention anything about the sales rep’s business or product. It’s not providing any useful information or memorable statistics.

What it is doing, however, is starting a relationship. By asking the CEO to provide you with information, instead of the other way around, you’re increasing your chances of getting a response. CEOs are generally outgoing and they love to share knowledge and talk about their companies. They’re used to being the public face of a business and being asked questions about it. If you can play on that, you’ll find that the CEO will be more than willing to engage.

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In the run-up to Day 5, take the time to complete detailed research of the CEO’s company, product or service. Browse the company website and take notes on their offering and USP. Read any blogs or articles on the website, to get an idea of the company’s tone and voice. Watch any videos or listen to any webinars or podcasts - especially if the CEO is involved.

If the company offers a free demo of the product, make sure you book yourself in for one. This way, you’ll be fully prepared for future interaction with the CEO.

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Ask your B2B marketing team (if you have one) if they have any content you can share on your LinkedIn feed. It can be anything - a blog, a video, a webinar - but it must be focused on the CEO and their business or industry. 

If the content you require doesn’t exist, work with marketing to see if they can produce something for you. A good piece of advice - and this is something that has helped at Cognism - is to hold a weekly meeting between your senior salespeople and marketers, to identify the content pieces that are needed going forward.

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Find a relevant article (preferably one published by your own company) and tag the CEO in it. The purpose of this is threefold:

  • It furthers engagement with the CEO - look out if they reply or like!

  • It shows that you’re keen to share knowledge, not sell a product.

  • It keeps you and your business in the CEO’s busy mind.

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On Day 9, you shared content about your company. On Day 25, you have to do something different. This time, you have to get personal. Share some thoughts about your industry. Focus on the pain points that might be affecting the CEO.

End your post with a CTA - a question asking for people to respond. If the cadence has been working well, then you may get a reply from the CEO!

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Scroll through the CEO’s Recent Activity tab. Have they shared an article, or better yet, written one themselves? If so, like and comment on it - especially if it’s relevant to your product or service.

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Now that you’ve seeded some good, valuable content, it’s time to ramp up engagement. Send the CEO a LinkedIn message, including a short offer. If the CEO did recommend that you talk to a colleague, make sure you mention them! Leveraging internal champions will give you even more of a buy-in with the CEO.

It doesn’t matter hugely if you don’t receive a reply at this stage - this is just the first step in building a deeper relationship. Here’s an example:

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If you don’t receive a positive response on Day 40, follow up on Day 45 with another LinkedIn InMail. This time, instead of going for the standard sales message, try one of these tactics:

  • Drop in a referral from an internal or external contact.

  • Boost the CEO’s ego by mentioning a recent occurrence in their career - an award win, perhaps, or good quarterly financials, or the completion of an important project - anything that will get their attention! 

  • Keep the student-teacher relationship going by asking them for something. A good idea is to look at their LinkedIn feed. Have they announced that they’re going to be speaking at an event in the future? Most CEO’s are active participants on the trade show and industry conference circuit. Use that intel to your advantage! But make sure the speech is relevant to your product or service.

Like so:

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At this point in the cadence, the content you share must be super-relevant and hyper-focused on the CEO’s business or industry. Your best bet is to look at your own list of clients. Choose one based on the following criteria:

  • They must be in the same sector as the CEO’s company.

  • They must be based in the same geography (or nearest to) as the CEO’s company.

  • They must be the same size as the CEO’s company (e.g., a startup, SMB or enterprise).

Then, ask your marketing team to produce a case study for the client (if one doesn’t exist already). Share the case study on your company’s LinkedIn page and your own LinkedIn page. If the CEO sees it, they’ll see how your business has helped another exactly like theirs - a powerful message which you can return to later in the cadence.

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Continue the mutual knowledge sharing by sending the CEO a recent article or industry report. Keep your eyes peeled for any developments in the CEO’s sector. They will be watching the business news channels and websites like a hawk, so you should do the same. 

Include a CTA asking them to respond. As ever, remember that CEO’s love to share their insight and comment on events!

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By now, you should’ve built up a good rapport with the CEO. You’ll know the sort of approaches they like and the kinds of messages they respond well to. Find another good article or news story that matches their business and tag them in it.

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The time has come - time to pick up the phone! Call the prospect and give them your best 30-second pitch about why your product matters and which pain points it can solve.

When calling a CEO, however, remember that the best times to call are very different from other workers. Here’s some advice from Charlie Beale:

  • Mornings aren’t usually a good time as the CEO will be distracted, planning and working through all the varied tasks they have to accomplish that day.

  • Lunchtime is better. CEOs often work through their lunch break, while other workers are out. It’s also a good time to reach the CEO without having to speak to the gatekeeper. Chances are, their PA or secretary will be out on lunch, meaning you can bypass them and get straight to the decision-maker.

  • Later in the day or after working hours (5-8pm) are also good times to call an executive. Their colleagues may have already left for the day, meaning that there will be less activity in the office. The CEO may be more relaxed and more open to receiving a call.

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For this touchpoint, you’ll have to provide the CEO with a proof of value (POV) document. Typically, this is a longer-form document (maximum 2 pages), which sets out on a practical level how your product or service will help the CEO’s business. The clue is in the name - you have to prove the value of your offering. 

Unsure about what a good proof of value document should contain? Frank Mee and Hector Forwood have some guidance for you:

  • Start with a short introduction about the end goals. What is the best result the CEO can expect from using your product? 

  • Then progress to a list of benefits your product or service can provide. What are the 3 most important things you can deliver for them? 

  • Then give a POV timescale. List in detail the steps you’ll need to take to get the prospect onboarded and using the product. Include the resources required from each company for each step.

  • Set some customer success parameters. What will the prospect be required to do in order to maximise their chances of success?

  • Make sure to include any legal considerations (if relevant and/or necessary).

  • End the document with some bullet points detailing the immediate next steps. These can be anything from promising to provide more information by a certain date to setting a time for a follow-up call or face-to-face meeting.

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Use this call to check in with the prospect, if they haven’t already replied. Try and schedule a meeting with them, as per the next steps from your POV document.

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Follow up on your POV document by sending the CEO something of benefit. A report detailing the difference that your product or service can make, or a comparison between your company and your biggest competitors.

This is the last touchpoint before break-up, so don’t waste it!

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You’ve done your best, but it hasn’t worked. It’s time to break up.

Give the CEO a call and tell them that you’ll close their file...for now. Don’t completely end it, though. Say that you’ll check up in 6 months’ time, just in case.

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This is the very last touchpoint in the cadence. Follow up your phone call with an email, repeating the same break-up message.

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We asked James Isilay, Cognism’s founder and CEO, how he likes to be prospected. He gave us the following tips:

  • Focus on the pain points. They’re likely to be the only things that a CEO will respond to.

  • Keep your messages short and simple. Don’t waste a single word. A CEO’s calendar is full enough without having to read email essays! If your email is too long, it will just get deleted.

  • Be persistent. It will take some time for a CEO to reply. But if you can convince them that your product can remove their pain, you will get a positive response.

B2B prospecting made simple

Cognism provides a suite of tools for locating and engaging with new sales leads, including CEOs. We can deliver fresh and accurate contact data for your target accounts, including verified business phone numbers and email addresses. Then, you can use our outbound automation function to send emails to your prospects via your personal or business email account.

Want to see for yourself how Cognism can speed up your B2B lead prospecting and deliver new business revenue, faster? Then all you have to do is sign up here!