Directly engaging with clients and prospects at the executive level has never been easy for B2B marketing and sales. The executives we try to reach are incredibly busy and have little interest or patience for traditional pitches or programs.
Today, however, the rise of the connected economy has added an important new twist to the longstanding challenge of executive engagement. New business strategies and opportunities have made it even more important to sell at the executive level, but we have two new imperatives, as well: reaching a whole new set of executive decision makers and doing it with digital.
For context, let’s recall some of the traditional obstacles to engaging effectively at the executive level:
- Ensuring sales capabilities. Solution selling methodologies and training programs have emphasized connecting with the C-suite for decades, but the reality remains that sales people comfortable and effective at that level are still more the exception than the rule.
- Creating compelling content. Most B2B thought leadership programs claim to focus on the executive level but all too often fall prey to overly promotional, non-differentiated, and/or simply irrelevant outputs vis-à-vis the desired executive audience.
- Organizing effective programs. Marketers have long invested in C-suite-type programs such as advisory boards, senior-level seminars, and executive briefing centers. Building and maintaining these initiatives, however, requires ongoing investment and collaboration with key account managers and internal executives that often prove difficult to sustain.
- Aligning across the functions. Finally, orchestrating the most effective interactions, relationships, and feedback loops across the various internal groups has been a constant challenge, too. Who “owns” the relationships? Where does the data reside and who can see it? Who ensures integrated approaches across the multi-level touch points from sales, marketing, delivery, and your own executives?
For many organizations, overcoming these obstacles remains a primary focus. But now we need to add the two newer challenges to the list, as well.
Reaching new types of executives
The increasingly central focus that most B2B tech and services firms now have on digital transformation means that we need to connect with new types of buyers for new types of conversations about new types of offerings. As one senior marketing director told me recently, “I now need to connect with chief data officers and I literally don’t have a single person with that title in my database.”
Part of the challenge is simply identifying the right executive stakeholders among clients and prospects, including chief digital and data officers and others with a wide range of titles newly involved with their own digital transformation initiatives. As important, though, is the lack of a well-developed ecosystem to facilitate the connections. The market is overloaded with CIO, CFO, CMO, and other CXO-focused events, associations, publications, and agencies. A gold rush to fill the new gap is certainly underway, but it’s far too early to have confidence in the right partners and priorities to prioritize.
Driving digital engagement
Amid marketing’s ongoing shift to digital, executive engagement is clearly a laggard–and for good reason. Face-to-face still seems essential for truly connecting and conversing at the executive level, whether this involves private meetings and briefings, innovation workshops, or peer-based councils, seminars, and roundtables.
Marketers have had some success online, including thought leadership apps such as EY Insights, briefing programs such as CSC’s Digital Briefing Center, and outreach programs such as Capgemini’s Expert Connect. For the most part, though, we’re still just scratching the digital surface. If we’re going to proclaim real leadership in digital transformation, we need to practice what we preach, at scale, and with smooth flowing data and analytics to guide the way.
Despite the traditional and newer challenges, though, we can end with some good news. The executives we’re most trying to reach are hungry for new ideas and absolutely interested in engaging with providers that can help them drive digital innovation for growth and competitive advantage. So, the opportunity is there; we just need to invest in the content, capabilities, and programs to take full advantage.
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