A desire to create relationships higher up in your customers is understandable and standard practice for many vendors. In this article we’ll examine the reasons for this desire and look at what’s needed to make sure it’s well executed.
Let’s start with the common misconception that you need to get yourself up the food chain as high as possible as either a control or risk mitigation mechanism. Thinking these relationships will act as a broker to resolve issues, perhaps a difficult renewal, a lack of value delivered or a product challenge puts too much emphasis on your needs. Your aim should be to show, deliver and continually offer value if you want to be relevant to senior stakeholders.
Another misconception is that you want these meetings just so you can shout at the highest possible level about your achievements. I will come onto this, but it’s safe to say that previous value creation may well get you a meeting but in no way does delivered value alone get you a sustainable relationship with a senior executive.
I would like you to think back to when you were at school. The head teacher was the highest possible position to have a relationship with. They typically knew the worst behaved kids very well and had likely heard of those that weren’t behaving particularly well either. And, in a world driven by target achievement even in schools, that head teacher always knew the students that would be getting high marks at exam time, the top students. More interestingly they would usually have a very keen eye on those that could get the top marks given the right focus and investment. Those students that provided them with the biggest opportunity. It’s these students that they would invest the most in, this is because these students would be the difference between a good or a great year for exam results.
This is similar across business as well. As this chart confirms the most likely reasons you will get on the agenda of a senior exec is by presenting a big problem or a big opportunity.
The most likely scenario, when there’s a big problem, is they will call you in. You will react and if you can do a good job this can turn into an opportunity. But you are on the back foot from the start and have to work hard at the problem and hope to get the chance to present an opportunity.
The much better situation is you get onto the radar because it’s seen that you provide a great opportunity to deliver more value for your customers. The trouble is, generally, this opportunity is not something senior executives will realise is available. If they do have an idea it’s unlikely to be top of their agenda. Either way, they are unlikely to call you in to lay it out for them.
So, we need to plot a path to these senior executives. And we need to think of the effort as a campaign, not as an event.
There are two elements to getting to the senior exec, first you need credibility, this will generally be the value you have already created. Imagine putting your case forward to meet if you’d not delivered any value, it’s incredibly difficult even if you can suggest there’s a huge opportunity for them. You are essentially at the start of a very difficult sales cycle. As I have already discussed, offering value alone is also difficult. If all you had to offer was previous achievements, most senior execs wouldn’t take that meeting. They will be looking ahead with large forward looking targets to hit.
So, the perfect combination is value created plus an opportunity to create more. You will have that vital credibility and the chance to support the senior executives with challenges they have going forward.
The second part of this equation is how to then get to these desired executives. There are options at this point, but by far the most desirable is not doing this alone.
Envisage a world where the journey up through the organisation is a joint approach, alongside you is the stakeholder below the level you are targeting. These two parties together can express value (credibility) and dangle the opportunity. In addition plan to create credibility by showing where you have done this before. Everyone wants to know what other companies are doing, even more so among senior execs!
This approach should become a cycle, that you can get moving well before you get near that very senior executive. In fact, it can move you up the organisation if as you go along the journey with the customer you unlock the available value which creates fresh opportunities and then you execute on those opportunities to unlock more value. Doing this you will soon be in the cycle of creating more value and subsequently more opportunities giving you right and the credibility to ask your current contacts to help you move up the organisation.
In conclusion, to enable you to access a more senior executive you need to ensure you have the credibility arising from value creation, an understanding of the opportunity available and the examples and best practices which will give senior stakeholders confidence you can execute on that opportunity. By getting into this cycle you will not just get meetings but create relationships. These relationships will lead to more value for your customers but also give you an opportunity to increase revenue and advocacy.