Top 3 Mistakes Interim Executives Make When Selling Themselves
Most interim executives have had long and successful careers in companies ranging from their own business to Fortune 500 organizations. At some point in their career, we are seeing more and more executives choosing interim executive assignments rather than full-time employment. In some cases, these two types of roles are very fluid and one may lead into the other, but for most, being an interim executive is a career choice.
In a recent survey of Cerius’ network of interim executives, 58.5% of the respondents confirmed they have chosen this career path because they love the freedom of interim/consulting work. However, the challenge for most is where to begin. As an interim executive, it can incredibly difficult, given the decades of experience you have, to translate that into how you can best help a company. Business development and the process of selling yourself as an interim executive can be quite challenging. To assist, here are some of the more common mistakes we hear and see interim executives make when doing business development or talking to a client directly.
Interim Executive Sales Mistake # 1 – I can do that vs. I am an expert
Being brought in as an interim executive is very different from being hired as a full-time executive. Rather than a broad job description, there is usually a defined scope, deliverables, timelines and a specified end. You are brought into either specifically accomplish a goal, fix a challenging situation or step into a high-level role for a short period of time. All of these require a high level of expertise. Having been a president of a company who had the responsibility for sales does not qualify an executive to be an interim vice president of sales. When talking about yourself as an interim, speak in terms of what types of situations you are best to step into. Many times in your career you have needed to step into a situation and learn a new skill set in order to fulfill the requirements of the job or the needs of the company. As an interim, being a quick learner or that you can do it because you know the basics is not enough. Be clear with what you are an expert at and have multiple situations you can convey in which you have done it before.
Interim Executive Sales Mistake # 2 – Vague elevator pitch – Show me the numbers
Selling yourself as an interim executive is more about selling results and outcomes. When a company needs an interim executive, they don’t necessarily need a person who has x, y, z experience, they need someone who can accomplish and deliver successful outcomes. A client is looking for specific results. Rather than, “I improved the morale of the team”, it should be “We reduced turnover by 20% and increased employee referral recruitment 300%”. Rather than, “I am a versatile executive with over 20 years of experience in the C-Suite who can help companies maximize the value and increase returns,” consider using a specific example that exemplifies what you can do for a company – “I have over 20 years of experience working with start-up companies in the energy industry. The last 3 firms I worked with each exited within 5 years for at least an 8x multiple.” Or, “I work with small growing companies and help them get past the curve where their sales have outgrown the talent of their team. I helped the last company I worked with grow from $10 million to a run rate of $18 million and increase their net profit by 50% in the 9 months I was there.”
Interim Executive Sales Mistake # 3 – Not keeping client expectations in check
I mentioned above, that a company brings in an interim executive because they want to accomplish certain goals. When working with a CEO or company owner, you are often helping them accomplish a long-term vision, their hopes or even life-long dreams. They are bringing you in because they need an expert to fill in a gap which is often seen as the missing puzzle piece. It is wonderful to get into grand discussions of their vision and how you can contribute but remember to bring it back down to earth when the need calls for it. Though you have it clear in your head the specific role you will play and how you can contribute, the client is hearing, “this person will make it happen.” There are a lot of factors that play into accomplishing those goals. Be clear on what your contribution will be, what they need to do and what outcomes can be expected in the short and longer term. This is one of the biggest gaps we see when speaking to clients about past experiences with an outside resource such as an interim executive or management consultant. The expectation from the client far exceeded either the capabilities of the executive or basic reality of the situation. When over 65% of the executives we surveyed said one of their top business development sources was referrals from past clients, you can’t afford to not have a referral happy client after every engagement.