How to Gain Better Access to Senior Leaders in Your Strategic Accounts
By: Denny Chapman Jr
At first I thought that these situations were isolated incidents – Senior leaders in critical/strategic accounts either declining meetings with the strategic account manager, and pushing them down the organizational chart to meet and speak with other (less powerful and influential) team members… or current contacts not enabling conversations with their leaders. But after hearing these same issues repeated from multiple clients, in multiple countries, and multiple industries, it became apparent that this was much more pervasive than I imagined.
After 25 years of educating and training sales and account management professionals on what it takes to gain access to the C-Suite, and stay on the top of their mind… I can honestly say that accessing and/or gaining access to these most influential (and powerful) leaders can be boiled down to 3 key considerations.
1. Peer-to-Peer Engagement / Alignment
2. Quantifiable Economic Value
Let’s first tackle the “will not let us go there and/or take us there…”
In most situations we have come to recognize that there must be a significant win (value) and minimal threat for your most frequent contact. The initiative of going higher must also be in accordance to their culture, operating guidelines and finally proper protocol. Then as we review the following 3 key considerations, one, two and/or all may apply to help us go beyond our traditional contact.
The first critical thing to understand about C-Level contacts is that they have a VERY STRONG DESIRE to talk about their challenges, successes, and everything in between…BUT, and this is a BIG BIG BUT… they will only discuss these topics with an individual who understands their business and their responsibilities as a C-Level executive in the corporate world. So how can your SAM organization take advantage of this situation? The answer is simple – establish (offer up) a Peer-to-Peer relationship/meeting with your Executive Sponsor. Every named strategic account that has a strategic account manager must have an Executive Sponsor assigned to that team. The Executive Sponsor is a C-Level employee at the supplier organization who is to be leveraged for knowledge, expertise, authority / influence and access to the C-Suite. Like I first stated…C-Level contacts WANT to share their experiences, challenges, and successes… BUT they will normally only share them with someone who can fully understand their plight in the corner office… which means they want to speak with other “like” executives. To gain access to the C-Suite, you must first set up a meeting with your primary contact to establish a Peer-to-Peer relationship between your Executive Sponsor, and the C-Level contact(s) in your strategic account.
Part 2 of the equation to gain better access to C-Level executives, has to do with what content you will be bringing to the table to discuss with them (the C-Level contact). Let me first tell you what NOT to bring to a meeting with a C-Level executive…a canned presentation. Nothing will get you kicked out of a senior leader’s office quicker than a 20 minute canned dog and pony show. What you need to focus on instead is quantifying the value (how you are going to help their organization be more successful) you provide to their organization, preferably illustrated in economic terms. At The Chapman Group, we call this an ECONOMIC VALUE PROPOSITION. Ultimately, the C-Level contacts in your strategic accounts only care about how your solutions will impact their bottom line revenues and sustain a competitive advantage; these are the Holy Grail of discussion points for gaining better access and alignment of senior-level leaders inside your strategic accounts. You must transition all of the features, benefits, and impacts of your organization’s solutions into quantifiable MONETARY value and competitive advantage… and who best to support you in this effort, then your Executive Sponsor who will be able to empathize and bring this economic value to life for the senior leaders in your strategic accounts.
Finally – the third key is to be relevant. Bring facts, insights and vision to the C-Suite that aligns to the thinking and direction of your account. Know their challenges and opportunities and be ready to play a key role in their business plan for success – and be ready to demonstrate what this role is and how you will fulfill it!
In summary, senior leaders in your strategic accounts want to engage with a peer-level resource that can quantify the value of your organization’s solutions into economic value (dollars and cents) and sustain their market position. That is the key to gaining access and staying in the C-Suite…do not approach or engage any of your strategic account’s senior leaders without these 3 knowledge points in tow, or you will find yourself being pushed out of the C-Suite and down into the nether regions of the organizational chart – maybe just remaining where you have already survived for many years…the “vendor zone”.
Some additional Facts about Senior Level Executives:
• They have little time for idle chatter
• They are typically turned off by pre-set/canned presentations, “The Story”
• They liked to be engaged in discussion
• Their time is EXTREMELY valuable
• They prefer to understand the meeting agenda ahead of time
• They like to have their trusted inner circle present – Suggest it
• They are ALWAYS looking for outcomes that impact their bottom line revenue (Economic Value)
• Knowing their customers is important – it is what keeps them up at night!