Can your business benefit from an executive sponsorship program?
Establishing an Executive Sponsorship Program can be a real win for both the customer and the company – if implemented and managed correctly.
At some point most leadership teams realize that as sustainable competitive advantage from product features or cost reduction fades, the key to unique business value can be found in the relationship capital. Introducing a program where companies are engaging members of the senior executive team to play an active role in developing and managing customer relationships can create a significant competitive advantage. By working with sales to improve coverage of the customer’s executive team, senior executives can become a secret weapon for capturing new insights from strategically important customers.
Customers perceive that their business is being treated as important when a supplier’s senior executives join in the sales effort. Positive customer interactions with supplier executives can actually expand the scope and improve the durability of the customer/supplier relationship.
Given the sensitive nature of these executive relationships, program execution has to be flawless. As a fact, many sales organizations rarely see tangible results from their efforts due to internal misalignment, vague objectives, and lack of incentives to follow-through.
In order to ensure the success of an Executive Sponsorship Program I recommend keeping in mind the following factors:
I. As with any other corporate initiative, the goals and objectives have to be clear from the start. Define the “why, what, how” objectives of the program. The goal is to reinforce an account planning framework that integrates senior executive in the sales process. Executive sponsors should understand what is expected from them and how success can be achieved and will be measured. I found it to be most powerful if the CEO leads this program by example.
II. It is crucial to identify a functionally diverse team of executives willing and able to conduct face-to-face, value-driven conversations with key customer executives. Invest the time in thoroughly evaluating and selecting eligible executives. It is clear that every company has a few executives which communication skills may not be suitable for sensitive customer interaction. Commitment and strategic fit are the key elements of value that executives can deliver above and beyond the normal buyer/seller relationship. Customer executives should be
selected based on their influence over current and potential opportunities. Company executives should be chosen based on their knowledge of the customer, the customer’s industry and potential business solutions.
III. Knowledge is the key to successful customer interactions. It is paramount to equip the executive with all the relevant information (executive report format) about the account/customer executive prior to any interaction. Failure to prepare accordingly can negatively impact the customer relationship. As an active participant in the sales process, the senior executive can help the team establish account objectives, develop a winning account strategy, and articulate the company’s value proposition. As a result, the messages delivered to the customer will be aligned, clear and compelling.
IV. Executives should always begin by listening to the customer executive’s issues. This includes encouraging a dialogue by asking questions that invite customer executives to describe their challenges and share their view of the future. Develop a vehicle to channel customer feedback back into the organization.
V. Maintain the momentum of the program. Each executive/account management should understand that this is a long term, strategic initiative and not designed as a one-off activity to close a deal before the end of quarter/year. Commitment is the benchmark by which the majority of customer executives measure the value of their supplier relationships. Ensure that promises and commitments made by yourself and others in your organization are implemented.
Eva Burnette is an experienced professional in Executive Customer Programs, a strategic selling tool that influences key customer relationships, delivers sales pipeline and aids in developing and closing strategic business.