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Engaging C-suite executives is often a top priority for ABM programs – now more than ever since the pandemic has scrambled CXO priorities for most of our top customers and prospects.
But reaching the right executives from the right accounts with the right approach … at scale … is no simple task for even the most sophisticated ABM programs.
Which tactics work best? Who should develop them? Do we have the right content? Are our sales people equipped for C-suite conversations?
ITSMA has worked on these issues for years, and I had a chance to summarize some of our research and lessons learned at a recent workshop for the ABM in Motion event hosted by the ABM Leadership Alliance.
First, though, why is executive engagement so important to ABM-ers? Why now?
Generally speaking, CXOs make things happen with strategic decisions. They have the budgets, they accelerate (or slow down) major purchase decisions, and they’re focused on new approaches to move the business forward. Directors, managers, and end users are all important and influential, but the buck stops in the C-suite.
If you’re selling widgets, none of this may matter. But if your ABM program is oriented toward helping customers innovate and grow, it’s hard to succeed without executive engagement.
The good news for ABM-ers today, according to ITSMA’s latest How Executives Engage study, is that the CXOs we’re all trying to reach now have a much greater interest in connecting and innovating with solution providers than they did before the pandemic. It’s an enormous opportunity and it’s why our colleagues over at Boardroom Insiders talk about a golden age for executive engagement.
But how do you, as an ABM-er or B2B marketer, connect with the C-suite? What works?
Our research and hands-on experience suggests five keys to success:
1Do your homework! Really, do your homework! It’s not enough to collect basic data such as title, role, industry, and what they downloaded from your website. Executives want solution providers to have a deep understanding of their unique business issues. That means: Getting real insight on their business priorities and initiatives at both an account and individual level; knowing the leadership team – including team dynamics and who they trust; understanding decision criteria and process; and identifying both the opportunities and motivations to engage. You can’t just scrape the web for this type of homework. It takes good sources of information, discussions with sales people and industry experts, time and effort to pull this together, and continually updating profiles as they change.
2Create content for conversation. Relevant thought leadership will help you both initiate and sustain engagement, but the goal isn’t clicks and downloads. It’s conversation on the issues and the implications for the accounts and individuals. The keys here are relevance, credibility, and differentiation. Me-too content will not pass muster in the C-suite. Customized thought leadership should be the priority and you can look to personalize by audience (industries, roles, accounts, individuals), content (topics, scenarios, case studies, visuals, etc.), and delivery (channels, peer sharing, personal briefings).
3Orchestrate your programs. Develop a portfolio approach to engage executives so you can connect with CXOs in the ways that are most meaningful to them. Companies with sophisticated approaches typically offer a variety of ways to engage:
• to offer multiple entry points
• to address diverse reasons to engage
• to enable account-level and peer network opportunities
• to provide relationship development journeys
4Enable and equip sales and the field. Marketing is just one player on a cross-functional team that needs to work together to build executive relationships and trust. Subject matter experts, sellers, your own executive team, and others are part of the extended ABM team. They all need to understand priority audiences, how to use content for conversation, which engagement programs are relevant for which CXOs, and, most important, how to collaborate effectively at the CXO level.
5Measure executive engagement success. The high performers with executive engagement typically do two things different than others:
• They take a broad approach to measurement, looking not just at clicks, attendance, or even sales opportunities. Our starting point is always the three R’s: Reputation, Relationships, and Revenue, which provides a sustainable framework to evaluate and continuously improve strategy as well as near-term impact.
• They also put special effort into assessing CXO satisfaction and value from their engagement initiatives rather than just looking at benefits to the provider. Executive engagement is the ultimate two-way street; if the CXOs you’re trying to reach don’t see value in the activities or relationship, they simply stop showing up.
Want to go deeper and see examples of effective executive engagement in action? Check out the full workshop.
NOTE: Many of these blog posts and presentations pull from our research, which relies on ITSMA members, clients, and friends. Our 2021 ABM Benchmarking study is open now and we’d love your input: https://bit.ly/21ABMSurvey
Engaging C-suite executives is often a top priority for ABM programs. ITSMA's Rob Leavitt summarizes some of our research and lessons learned in five keys to C-suite success.