The Marketing Strategist:

Engaging Executives to Build Trust, Advocacy, and Business

April 2, 2020

  • Thought Leadership

In a world of fake news, Brexits, and Megxits, building trust with the people who matter most to the future of our companies is more important than ever. And now, amid the pandemic (and likely long after), trust has taken center stage in virtually every interaction. Engaging executives effectively was already a priority for many B2B marketers in 2020. Today, we need to think even more about what types of engagement make sense and how we orient and adjust our initiatives to strengthen and ensure trust in such a challenging environment.

The way we buy things for ourselves, our families, and our homes has long influenced the way we buy at work. More time is spent online researching our options, choosing between alternatives, checking out what other people have to say about the things we want to buy. But there are additional elements at play when people buy solutions at work, namely:

  • A group of decision makers and influencers is usually involved
  • Buyers are typically risk averse, price sensitive, and looking for reassurance about their decision
  • It’s a relationship sale, not a transaction and your buyers want ideas from you about maximizing their return on investment

Jane Hiscock of the Farland Group suggests that there are three reasons for engaging executives:

  1. They accelerate sales cycles
  2. They have access to budget
  3. They are more likely to collaborate with you to build new solutions you can sell to other customers 

I think there’s a fourth: they can be some of your most powerful advocates, reassuring their colleagues and their peers that choosing you is the right decision. This is all about trust.

Every year at ITSMA, we ask around 400 executives spending at least $500k on business solutions how they like to engage with suppliers, how they choose between them, and how they establish trust. Last Autumn, we got a surprising statistic back: only three solution providers will achieve ‘trusted advisor’ status with any executive.

Being consider a ‘trusted advisor’ is the holy grail for many firms like yours. It means you are your client’s go-to organization for providing advice to solve problems today and in the future. They trust you to put their needs ahead of your own (or at least on level pegging).

So, how do you ensure that your business becomes one of your client’s three trusted advisors? How do you build the trust that is so key to advocacy?

To trust is to believe that someone is good and honest. It’s having confidence that you can depend on someone, or something. It takes time to build–unless you take a shortcut of asking someone that you trust who they trust–and that brings us to advocacy.

Advocacy is about public support for, or recommendation of, a particular cause or policy. The word “advocacy” comes from the Latin ‘advocare’ and literally means ‘to call out for support.’ But which comes first, trust or advocacy? It’s a chicken and egg situation: trust leads to advocacy which leads to more trust and so on.

Building this trust–and advocacy–can be achieved very effectively through executive engagement. But what exactly is executive engagement?

Executive engagement, at its simplest, is about having conversations and building relationships with your most senior clients and prospects. They typically target the C-Suite, executive officers, and senior leaders in an organization. The goal is to create mutual value for everyone involved and, as such, is a long-term business development strategy.

Now, I’m sure your company is already doing some of this. Your executives will be signing new contracts or reviewing another year gone by on the existing contract. Your account directors will be talking to them to suggest what else you can do to help them. Your marketing colleagues may be sending them invitations to virtual events or thought pieces on the issues facing their industry. But I’m willing to bet that none of this is coordinated. Like most companies, you’re probably busy with what I call ‘random acts of engagement.’ Does that sound familiar?

In a B2B context, building meaningful relationships with business executives across the organization requires more than just random acts of engagement. To up your company’s game around executive engagement or your own personal success, this book is a must read.

Keith Pranghofer, Director of Account Based Marketing and Engagement, Microsoft

 

Building a clear executive engagement strategy is about moving from those random acts of engagement to an orchestrated program. If you think your organization is ready for a more coordinated approach, you can find out more in my new book, Executive Engagement Strategies, available from Kogan Page at https://bit.ly/2IfpCWb. Please use AMKITSMA20 for 20% off your copy of the book!

You can also learn more replaying our webcast, Orchestrating Executive Engagement: Five Strategies for Success.

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