To start with, let us clarify one thing: CXO is the latest industry acronym. OK, even if it is not the newest, most popular buzzword on the street, we are officially claiming it to be so starting now. It definitely makes sense, what with all of the CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, CTOs—the list can go on and on. CXO has become the new way of describing someone in an executive role. “X” marks the spot, as in, insert chief officer title here.

These are all C-level executives. Like it or not, they are the ones who will be making the final determinations regarding both electrical and communications projects, along with a whole host of other business decisions. This is a key function of their overall role, after reaching the top of a sometimes long and winding corporate ladder. These are definitely the people you need to impress and, if you are fortunate enough to get a face-to-face meeting, they will expect you to speak their language.

Depending on the company organization, you could be dealing with the CEO (chief executive officer), the CIO (chief information officer), the CSO (chief security officer), the COO (chief operating officer) or the CTO (chief technology officer). Sounds confusing, and guess what? You’re right. There seems to be a Chief of Everything these days. The common attribute among these CXOs is that is they all operate in prominent, powerful positions. A corporate hierarchy is a funny thing; sometimes even the “insiders” cannot figure it out.

Take a chief information officer, for example. CIOs control information technology. This is not to say that they do not have to answer to a higher authority— board of directors, shareholders or even the president—but they definitely have the ability to squash a proposal long before anyone knew that you were even interested in doing business with them.

The safest place to start, to get a feel for this caliber of decision-maker, is to think of any corporate structure. I use this term quite loosely since a small, privately held company may not have a CEO, per se. However, they would no doubt have a president or owner who would operate in the same capacity.

Selling to this higher-level executive is always the most difficult, especially when you are talking about technical things such as electrical systems, voice and data networks, converged systems and the like. This is where it becomes increasingly important for contractors to completely understand exactly what kind of person they are dealing with.

C-level executives are focused on pretty much one thing and one thing only: return on investment (ROI). The ROI is the prevalent catalyst in most business decisions, and, simply put, describes both the tangible and intangible benefits received in relation to an investment or expenditure.

Another factor that strongly influences most executives is rather new. We have entered into a new business era where consumers have more choices than ever before. That means that businesses need to go above and beyond their normal operations and ultimately make themselves easy to do business with, something that can easily set a company apart from its competition.

Most of this sounds like common sense, but you would be surprised to know that most contractors just do not bother to promote themselves as long-term business partners. Those who have figured out a way to make life easier and thus more profitable for the CXO—whichever one it turns out to be—are almost guaranteed success.

The new economy also dictates, and has spawned, the resurgence of CXO-level individuals to take a more active role in all spending. In a down economy, such as the one we have been experiencing, all expenditures, and especially those dealing with technology and communications, need to be scrutinized like never before. Therefore, you will be required to present not only your solutions, but also your company in a much more professional and comprehensive light.

If you thought long and hard, you could probably come up with a host of reasons why your design, system, proposal, etc. is the best solution for your customer. Perhaps because the system you designed is inherently built to operate faster and more efficiently than what the customer has, which in turn allows them to be more productive (there’s that ROI piece) and such swift operations are easy to do business with (the second piece of the puzzle). Get it? Good, now you are beginning to rationalize the CXO way.

By learning to talk the “executive” talk, you give yourself a competitive advantage. It is most likely that your competition has not taken the time to become well versed in such sales tactics. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.