Like it or not, the C-suite is playing an even larger role in B2B purchasing decisions following the events of Covid-19. Research from Chorus.ai shows that organizations are 2.2X more likely to have a C-level executive join a sales call, citing higher scrutiny and tighter budgets as the core reasons.
With the accelerated shift to digital in 2020 and increased involvement from B2B executives, maintaining high-touch engagement with the C-suite is now a priority for a growing number of organizations. Due to event cancellations and social distancing mandates, executives are more present than ever, with greater participation on sales calls, virtual events and webinars. In fact, research from the ITSMA found that 88% of executives have turned to online channels — specifically internet searches, websites, blogs, webinars, virtual events and social media — to keep up with industry trends and research new solutions (up from 54% in 2019).
“C-suite executives are joining [calls] at a rate about 108% — higher than they were in January 2020,” said Thiago Sá Freire, CRO at Chorus.ai, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “A big reason for that is the availability, but also just the tightening of budgets. From a preparation perspective, it’s important for us to arm our teams to be ready for that C-suite individual to join the conversation.”
Understanding Executive-Level Business Priorities
The aforementioned ITSMA research found that the top three technology investments for the C-suite in 2020 were 1. Cloud, 2. Security and Collaboration/Remote Work and 3. Artificial Intelligence (AI). Furthermore, the top five business priorities for executives were to:
- Transform to enable digital business;
- Upgrade infrastructure to enable remote work and collaboration;
- Cut costs;
- Grow revenue; and
- Increase productivity.
“Think about how agility can be your friend when it comes to ABM,” said Marlowe Fenne, Senior Manager of ABM at FireEye, during a presentation at the 2020 B2B Sales & Marketing Exchange. “Just because [the C-suite] had these priorities six months ago, or even three months ago, they may not have them or prioritize them the same way now. So, make sure that you're up to date on what the most important priorities are and who owns them.”
Empowering Teams To Better Serve The C-Suite
Much like any buyer engagement, sales teams must be equipped with the knowledge, content and messaging needed to engage with C-level executives. Experts noted that ROI is a key concern for the C-suite, so instead of going into a call with insights on your solution, sales must consider how their solution impacts C-level buyers and how it can drive value for their customer base.
“We need to ensure that we arm our teams with the right strategy to research the folks that they're going to be connecting with and the companies they're going to be connecting with, so they can tailor that message and align more with what's happening in this individual's life,” said Sá Freire.
Additional C-suite concerns cited in the ITSMA research include:
- “Educate me on new issues;”
- “Provide me with unique perspectives;” and
- “Provide advice to help me make the right decisions and avoid landmines.”
“If you look at these top three, they're nothing about the product, which is what [sales] is most comfortable with,” said Rob Leavitt, SVP of Consulting for ITSMA, in a session at the 2020 B2B Sales & Marketing Exchange. “So, if we, as marketing, aren’t helping equip our sellers and our own execs with these kinds of issues and content so that they can have these kinds of conversations, we're going to miss the opportunity. I think the pandemic has really accentuated this even more because there's so much change and disruption. So, we need to do our homework to engage with the C suite, not just once a year but every day.
“So structured process: Who are the key accounts you're trying to reach? What are the people in the roles in there? How do you segment? Do we have a real in-depth understanding that's up to date? We often are going to need some kind of more structured research support and insight and analytics to help us really get that qualitative as well as the quantitative.”
Furthermore, research shows that sellers will only likely get an executive on the first call. It’s important to do your homework and have a better understanding of the buyer’s needs beforehand so you’re not wasting critical opportunities — you only get one strike.
“It’s difficult to ensure that you're going to get that C-suite more than once,” said Sá Freire. “Interesting enough, we're seeing about an 81% drop in C-suite meeting attendance from the first to the second call. So, you’ll most likely get one opportunity to show up to this conversation and you need to make sure that your entire team is fully prepared.”
Showing Up With Tailored Content/Messaging, At The Right Time
Long-form, generic, “spray-and-pray” content and messaging are no longer an option when engaging with modern buyers, which rings even more true with the C-suite. Showing up fully prepared to engage with executive buyers means having tailored content ready and available when the buyer needs it. It’s important to take the time to develop personalized content that is designed for C-suite executives’ specific businesses and the outcomes they are seeking.
“Take the time to create industry versions and role-based versions [of content],” said Leavitt. “Create versions for individual accounts or maybe clusters of accounts if you're doing a one-to-few ABM program. Have a structured approach to customization and personalization with modular assets, because executives most of all want to see that you understand their specific business issues.”
Pairing messaging that summarizes the content is also essential to ensure the buyer gets what they’re looking for. For example, when sending a “big rock” asset, such as a long-form white paper, provide a summary or highlight areas in the white paper that are most relevant to the executive buyer so they don’t waste time searching for it.
“Do more precise mapping so that you lead with the right value to the right person, and you don't end up having things get passed unnecessarily, and potentially dropped across your C- suite buyer,” said Fenne.
Collaborating With The C-Suite Buyer To Build Trust
At the end of the day, developing a relationship with the C-suite buyer through tailored engagement should be a key priority for organizations selling to executives. Experts agreed that taking a collaborative approach is the recipe for success.
“Executive engagement is not about whether you got the CIO to download a white paper,” said Leavitt. “It's about building a relationship of trust over time. And so, when we talk about solutions, it has to be collaboratively developed solutions and marketing. And ABM is well-positioned to do that.”
One way to ensure you’re taking a collaborative approach is to give the executive the floor to speak on sales calls, for example. According to Chorus.ai research and Sá Freire, CXOs tend to speak about 8.5% more in deals that close, while reps ask an average of five engaging questions to get the conversation going.
“These questions will be different based on the prospecting research and past discussion, but truly listening to the buyer can be what sets your team apart,” said Sá Freire. “Sales reps need to view themselves more as consultants, which means organically building from the discussion.”