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Communicate Effectively with Executives

Learning Objectives 

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Articulate the business priorities of executives.
  • Explain how to tailor communications based on your target audience.
  • Define the executive communications preparation framework.
  • Prepare for your conversations with executive customers.

The Art of Effective Communication

Communication is essential to everyday life. People communicate with one another verbally and nonverbally to share ideas, express thoughts and feelings, and resolve problems. When messages are not received as intended, it can negatively affect trusted relationships. Communication style can make or break someone’s ability to successfully mitigate risks, resolve conflicts, and meet their goals. 

According to a study conducted by The Economist Intelligence Unit, poorly communicated messages in the workplace can snowball into larger issues with widespread business impacts. Respondents cited poor communication for causing increased stress, project delays, low morale, loss of clients, and an obstacle for innovation and leadership. 

That’s why it’s important to become skilled at the art of effective communication.

This is especially true when communicating with executives. When you engage executive customers, one of your goals is to build a strong connection and establish credibility. Whether you’re building trust, presenting business value, escalating an issue, or initiating an account renewal, your ability to connect with and influence executives is highly dependent on how skilled you are at communicating.

What Do Executives Care About?

Knowing what leaders care about is critical to any successful engagement. Executives need information at a high level, tend to think about the big picture, and are responsible for big (and challenging) decisions.

Gartner surveyed 473 CEOs and senior business executives examining their top business priorities for 2019–2020. They said growth, IT, corporate partnerships, mergers, and acquisitions remain their key priorities.

Execs care about the big things happening in their company. So if you want to have successful interactions with them, you need to communicate how you can help them run their businesses better. 

Put yourself in the shoes of an executive and consider all of the things they have to think about, meet about, strategize about, and make decisions about on any given day. It’s a lot, right? Having that mindset going into your engagements with these customers can help you gain empathy for their challenges, frame your messages, and provide clear and concise communications.

Know Your Audience

Along with what executives consider important business priorities, you should consider how to frame your communications for this audience. Different types of executives have different concerns; one communication style won’t work for all. 

Here are some types of executive personas you can encounter.

Example executive
What they care about
How to approach them

Mya, a CEO

Shareholder value, adapting to change, corporate philosophy, and culture

Be direct and to the point. Lead with outcomes.

Joel, a CFO

Operational impact, business value, cost savings

Talk in financial terms and present facts. 

 Emilia, an IT executive

Implementation issues and using IT to enable business strategies

Give the details, discuss project milestones, and make your messages clear and direct. 

Sarim, a CMO

The overall customer experience

Provide an idea/solution, share customer stories, and avoid technical details.

These examples give the baseline of what different types of leaders care about and how to approach them. But before you engage individual execs, take it a step further and get to know them. Some things to consider:

  • Work history
  • Primary job responsibilities
  • Board or association memberships
  • Hobbies
  • Conferences/events at which they’ve presented
  • Other interests

Preparation Is Key

You learned it’s important to tailor your message to executive customers. Now you’re all set to start chatting them up, right? Not just yet—you need a plan. Communicating with executives can involve a number of challenges. Use a framework—including analyzing, researching, and personalizing—to know your customers before you engage with them. This helps you create successful connections from the start.


Analyze your customer’s industry. Consider current industry trends, competitors, or technological advancements. Analyzing your customer’s industry and their competitors can help you understand the driving forces behind their company. 


Research your customer’s companyResearch the company itself so you can understand their strategic priorities, goals, pain points, obstacles, and initiatives. Think about what the company does, who its key customers are, offerings, history, and business challenges. Knowing your audience and the “why” behind your discussion is imperative to a successful interaction. When you’re prepared, you not only gain confidence, you set yourself apart as a trusted advisor. 


Personalize your message. It’s important to tailor your message to your specific audience. This includes both the executive persona and the individual. If you are escalating an implementation issue with an IT executive, provide the complete, detailed story behind the issues. 

Communicating in terms of the specific executive audience is essential to let them know you understand their concerns and needs. 


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