Complete Guide: How to Market Your Ideas to the CEO


Negotiating tips while communicating with senior management



Effective professionals often have ideas that will benefit the organization – to cut expenses or increase revenue, to manage talent or to create sales opportunities for growth.

Whether you’re an executive — in finance, human resources or marketing seeking to be a partner in the C-suite — it’s vital to communicate effectively with senior management.

A good idea can be worth $1 million or more.

However, all too often, such ideas never see the light of day because of poor communication with the CEO. Abilities in self-promotion are a good thing.

business woman tableTo market your ideas to senior management, here are the four best practices:

– Understand your talent for communication

– Five value-motivating perceptions of senior managers

– Seven steps in the art of persuasion

– Three steps for overcoming objections

Key No. 1 – Understand your talent for communication.

Two questions to ponder: What are your strengths and weaknesses in interacting with members of the C-suite? Do you think like a senior executive?

By way of explanation, the average chief executive officer usually has roots in finance, but especially marketing or sales.

Moreover, the executive tends to be a generalist with a variety of skills – knowledgeable about a lot of areas after spending an inordinate amount of time and energy working very hard to get to the top.

It can be an isolated position because it’s rare for a CEO to have a close confidante in the organization – there are few people with whom to communicate salient issues.

Aside from the myriad of issues that concern CEOs – profits, customers, government regulation or information technology – the No. 1 concern of CEOs is related to HR. They don’t they’re understood. Many believe most mid-managers and employees do not understand the executive’s vision for the organization – they do not get the big picture of the company and its marketplace.

Typically, CEOs are interested in saving time and money while increasing profits.  So think big picture – a campaign. Strategize for  a series of interactions, not just a one-time meeting to offer ideas.

The first step is to understand your talent for persuasive communication with senior executives.  As Socrates is famous for “Know Thyself”, it’s vital to conduct a self-assessment.

Devote some quality, quiet time to your self assessment. Reflect on what transpired whenever you’ve tried to communicate with the CEO. Then, on a sheet of paper, draw two columns. Devote one side for your strengths and the other for your weaknesses.

Remember a strength is usually very close to being a weakness and vice versa.

For example, a person who is aggressive and lacking diplomacy with senior management also has the capacity to tone down the rhetoric and become assertive. Or, a person who procrastinates on an issue also has the ability to act decisively after enough reflection.

At the root of all weaknesses is fear. Consider it an acronym – FEAR – a frantic effort to avoid responsibility.

When you’re done with your self-assessment, consider what you need to do in honing your strengths and alleviating your weaknesses. It doesn’t have to be an overwhelming process. Work on one weakness at a time by focusing on its parallel strength.

Don’t obsess too much about your weaknesses. It will lead to paralysis. Make certain your proverbial cup is full, not empty.

Write a list of affirmations. For example, if you’ve done your homework and think you have a great idea but you’re not confident, write something like: “I am a critical thinker with great ideas.”

Keep the list of affirmations handy near a mirror. Read aloud them as you look in the mirror. Do this frequently. Before long, you’ll feel more assertive.

You’ll find a strength becomes an even stronger attribute, and the weakness will diminish.

Leave room at the bottom of your self-assessment page. That’s reserved for your action strategies – a statement of action – your goals and how you’ll achieve them.

Key No. 2 – Five value-motivating perceptions of senior managers.

Some CEOs – 18 percent – will only accept the least-expensive ideas.

For the other 82 percent, it’s important to capitalize on their five value-motivating perceptions. Remember, they want to save time and money while increasing profits.

Their perceptions that will motivate them to accept your ideas include:

  • What they think of your acceptance of their vision – 52 percent. Their reasoning depends on what they think about your integrity, judgment, friendliness and knowledge in implementing their overall vision for the organization.
  • Your image as a professional – 15 percent. It starts with appearances – a favorable first impression.  
  • Quality of product or service utility – 13 percent. The CEO will be asking the question – “What will this do for me and the company?” 
  • Convenience –12 percent. CEOs like easy-to-understand and easy-implementation of ideas.
  • Price or cost – 8 percent. Cost is important, but it’s the least concern among the five value-motivating perceptions if the return on any investment is positive.

Another seemingly small, but salient tip – read what your CEO reads.

How to find out: Visit the CEO’s office to see what publications are placed on the table, ask the executive assistant, or ask the CEO when you think the executive is approachable after a meeting or in a chance-encounter in the hallway (e.g. “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” If you get the go-ahead, ask something like: “What are your recommendations for excellent reading material concerning OUR business and industry?”)

This has never failed to get positive attention.

Key No. 3 – The seven steps in the art of persuasion.

There are salient self-promotion principles with which to familiarize yourself.

Here are the seven steps in persuading senior executives:

  1. FEE.  This is an acronym for establishing a common ground for a foundation – conveying the principles of event and empathy.
  2. Research attitudes.  Because the CEO doesn’t care what you have to say, until she/he has been heard, it’s vital to listen.  Askopen-ended questions, the CEO will open up and you will learn vital information.  If you ask close-ended questions, you will get yes or no answers, and the dialogue will end prematurely.
  3. Agreement on Need. Get the CEO to agree on the need to act. (e.g. “So we need better morale?”)  In other words, don’t ask them to agree to your ideas – yet.  You have much more ground to cover.
  4. Generic Value Proposition or Benefit Statement. Here’s where you explain your value proposition.  Remember the difference between features vs. benefits to answer the basic marketing questions, such as the acronym, WIIFM, “What’s in it for me?” or “So what?”)
  5. Fill the Need.  If you listened intently in Step 2, you’re now ready to offer specific solutions to the CEO’s concerns.
  6. Commitment – Ask for the commitment using a non-threatening, closed-ended question. For example, “Can you think of any reason of why we can’t start Monday?” The critical word is “think.” If you get a “yes,” which indicates opposition to your idea, skip to Key No. 4 – The three steps to overcoming objections.
  7. Seal the Deal. This final step has two components –
  • Use the magic words:  “Thank you for your consideration.”  (Avoid the boring, inane phrase: “Have a nice day.”)
  • Prevent buyer’s remorse – remind the CEO of the benefits that result from your ideas.

Key No. 4 – The three steps to overcoming objections.

More often than not, CEOs have concerns about employee ideas.

Here are the three steps to overcoming objections:

  1. Get the CEO to restate her/his concern. Then repeat the person’s words, for example:  “If I understand you correctly, you feel…?”
  2. Empathize:  “I can see how you feel that way”…or “You know, someone said the same thing last week.”
  3. Overcome the objection with facts.  (Then go back to the seven steps.)

From the Coach’s Corner, many CEOs don’t accept HR professionals as partners in the C-suite. Such senior executives don’t see their HR department as a profit center. It might be advantageous to learn more about marketing and sales.

For IT pros wanting more strategies, see: How CIOs Can Get More Respect in the C-Suite.

“Everyone lives by selling something.”

-Robert Louis Stevenson


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Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.




Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.