The Great Pivot with Executive Engagement: New Directions for C-Suite Marketing

  • 04 May 2021

Momentum ITSMA

A conversation with marketing leaders highlights important lessons for us all as we look to the next phase of c-suite marketing.

The great pivot that B2B marketers made last year was most dramatic in the area of events—and executive engagement programs were among the most affected.

In a digital first environment, C-suite marketing initiatives had remained largely analog, dominated by face-to-face dinners, roundtables, briefings, vision workshops, sports sponsorships, and other white glove experiences.

All canceled.

But even as the virus raged, marketing and business leaders worked within their new boundaries, innovated new approaches, maintained a sense of continuity, and moved even faster to build and strengthen essential C-suite connections.

A conversation with marketing leaders from Citrix, HSBC Canada, and T-Systems International who each led a great pivot in their own organization last year highlights important lessons for us all as we look to the next phase of executive engagement.

Perhaps most important, even as they shifted from in-person to virtual almost overnight, all three emphasized what has not changed at all: The goal of executive engagement is demonstrating that you truly treat clients as partners and will invest in the relationship to serve as a trusted advisor even through the toughest challenges they face.

To continue meeting that objective, though, each had to scramble to find new ways to engage.

For Polly Kruse, Vice President, Executive Engagement and Programs at Citrix, one key initiative was adapting a global briefing center program to digital:

“We have eight briefing centers globally. Before March 2020, everyone assumed a briefing was in person. Some people would fly in the night before, get there that morning, and engage in a whole-day activity. You would have different presenters coming in, you’d have lunch, you’d have demos, and then you would probably have dinner and an evening activity—a full-day affair and all in person. By mid-March, when essentially the entire world shut down, we made a quick pivot to the virtual briefing environment; something we had never done before.”

The pivot required a complete rethink, from revising agendas and creating new content to repositioning the program with sales, revamping customer recruitment, and reorganizing the roles of Citrix’s own executives in the program.

For Erin Rogers, Head of Marketing, Commercial Banking for HSBC Canada, a critical focus was working differently with the bank’s relationship managers:

“Part of the challenge is to curate volumes of information for the relationship manager to help them understand what they’re selling. It is a huge challenge, and my approach is simple: When we develop anything, we co-design with the relationship manager community first. We hold a monthly forum with our relationship managers to share campaigns that we’re thinking about and thought leadership that we might develop. We ask the relationship managers first. And wherever possible, we bring the voice of the customer into the conversation. My bottom line is, start first with your selling group because you need to have them learning with you. Personalize what gets to them right now because they are getting an avalanche.”

For Katharyn White, SVP & Chief Marketing Officer, T-Systems International, a main focus was transforming a new executive advisory board from a traditional event focus into a more fluid network approach:

“No longer bound to a pre-defined calendar of events, we could reach out selectively to clients and go deeper in content as required. The nature of the discussion and level of engagement with particular prospects or clients factored into the length of our sessions. We could go for shorter periods of time or longer and more in-depth, depending on the nature of the discussion and how engaged that particular prospect or client was. Freeing us from a fixed timeframe was mutually beneficial to both the clients and us. I now wonder how this could transform back to in-person events, or if that’s even necessary.”

The question now, of course, is how to build on the innovation and lessons learned from the great pivot. The opportunity is enormous. As Polly Kruse noted:

“We’re getting more C-level executive engagement and participation because they’re no longer on planes, or at multiple meetings, or at time-consuming events. We’re also seeing briefings and discussions happening earlier in the sales cycle, which can only help accelerate or expand a deal.”

But just as it’s easier to tune into virtual activities from home than to travel hours or days for an in-person event, so too is it easier to tune right back out again. Continued experimentation is critical, according to Katharyn White:

“We’re still learning, but we fully digitized our innovation centers—everything from avatars, to how we bring in digital content, and how executives engage with the content and follow up with their teams. We’re finding that we can morph toward a hybrid; a mix of digital and physical. The more we can experiment with how to knit all that together, the easier it will be to scale through the next phase.”

For more of the conversation, download Innovating Executive Engagement: Next Steps for C-Suite Marketing. This ITSMA Viewpoint, based on a panel discussion at ITSMA’s 2020 Marketing Vision Conference, includes additional ideas on:

  • The best ways to design events and activities to engage with executives
  • The importance of sales enablement in ABM and executive engagement programs
  • How to scale executive engagement programs for the future
  • And more

And, if you have time, watch the full session replay for even more insights and takeaways from these experienced marketing leaders on innovative executive engagement strategies.

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