The Marketing Strategist:
Cognizant and Executive Engagement: Three Keys to Digital Growth
Like many business and technology consulting firms, Cognizant is moving aggressively to claim market leadership in “digital transformation” with a host of new offerings, capabilities, and marketing and sales initiatives. Indeed, according to ITSMA’s recent survey on executive engagement, some 92% of B2B marketing leaders are increasing efforts to connect with chief digital officers, chief data officers, and other digital business leaders among their client and prospect accounts.
The Transformation Imperative
For Cognizant’s Banking and Financial Services (BFS) practice, the company’s largest business unit representing more than 40% of total corporate revenue, the digital push is especially critical. The company already serves many of the top financial services institutions worldwide but past performance is no guarantee of future results. With those institutions racing into the digital future themselves, even Cognizant’s most loyal clients are rethinking their vendor and partner ecosystems at every level.
As Anurag Darooka, Global Vice President and Senior Partner in BFS leading a new “transforming client relationships” program at Cognizant, notes:
“Our clients are looking for partnerships with the organizations most willing to invest in capabilities and solutions that will help future proof their businesses against digital disruption. Buyers are not afraid to seek new relationships beyond the traditional partners they have relied upon in the past. Today, large banks and financial services firms are not looking for best practices when they approach us; they expect next practices. We have to keep challenging or decline.”
In this context, connecting and building relationships with senior executives beyond IT services is the primary focus for BFS marketing and the strategic client engagement team at Cognizant.
Diana Buxton, Senior Marketing Partner for North America Financial Services, explained the approach at a recent ITSMA briefing: “Selling to the new digital buyers requires establishing executive relationships that support real collaboration at the highest level. Our whole job is to create thought leadership and executive engagement programs that connect with these incredibly busy executives and build those trusted relationships.”
Three Key Initiatives for Executive Engagement
To ensure success, Buxton and Darooka collaborate on three key initiatives with BFS marketing, sales, and business leadership.
- Executive focus and insight. In the past, Cognizant has worked mostly with CIOs and the IT department, but winning with digital requires working with a new set of executives in client and prospect accounts, including CMOs, chief digital officers, CEOs, and even board members.
To maximize marketing impact with a small team, Buxton and Darooka work closely with sales and business leadership to prioritize target accounts and then identify the most important executives and their most important business issues for each account. In many cases, this includes individual interviews with those executives (e.g., as part of an event or advisory council initiative) to ensure real insight at the individual, executive level.
- Integrated thought leadership campaigns. Almost all BFS marketing resources are dedicated to a set of integrated thought leadership campaigns designed to position BFS as the market leader in digital with targeted accounts and executives. The campaigns are issues-based and designed to create and promote compelling points of view on the major challenges of a clearly defined set of executives and accounts, such as the future of money, digital payments, digital mortgages, blockchain, and “women empowered.”
Buxton and her team work with resident BFS experts for each campaign to develop and promote executive-level publications, organize and sponsor executive forums and digital innovation workshops, develop and run C-level executive councils, and equip sales and account teams with playbooks and tools to further the conversation. Just recently, the team has launched individual account-focused programs on the corporate website, with customized landing pages and content to support deeper digital engagement with personalized online experiences.
- Account leadership development. Building on the industry trends and thought leadership synthesized by BFS marketing, Darooka focuses on developing “account leaders of the future” capable of driving transformation at the account level. “We’ve had great success catering to the needs of the CIO and the IT department, but we must now connect with other buying centers across the account and equip our account teams to have conversations about digital and Cognizant’s unique point of view with other types of executives.”
Practically speaking, this means coaching and working with account leaders and teams to provide new ideas and thoughtful perspectives, along with well-developed solutions that demonstrate deep understanding of the clients’ business, operations, and strategy. The key here, according to Darooka, is to effectively create the “target memory” of Cognizant BFS that you want client executives to have, and then align all your content and interactions to deliver against that high value goal, consistently. Telling the client what is right for them, Darooka adds, is the capstone of sustainable engagement with executives.
Buxton and Darooka readily admit that they have more work to do with all three of these initiatives. But progress to date has been impressive, as measured both internally and externally:
- Having launched the new thought leadership and executive engagement approach in the fall of 2014 with a single campaign, Buxton and her team have now built support from BFS business leadership substantial enough to have 15 similar campaigns underway in 2017.
- Company-wide, the BFS marketing approach has now become the model to roll out across all other vertical and horizontal business marketing teams.
- Most important, the disciplined approach to executive engagement has produced measurable results in the marketplace, including increases in winning mindshare and building relationships with key executives, hundreds of marketing-qualified leads, dozens of new opportunities, and direct sourcing and support for multiple major digital deals.
For companies and marketing leaders pushing into new markets, or even just defending existing relationships and market share, executive engagement is more important than ever. As our clients and prospects focus relentlessly on innovation and the partners best able to support it, the three-pronged approach at Cognizant BFS provides a compelling model for progress: targeted and deep insight into the top priority accounts and executives; integrated, executive-level thought leadership campaigns; and investment in the account leadership skills, processes, and tools necessary for C-suite collaboration.