The Case for the Executive Sponsor

I too have heard the horror stories. The senior executive arrives to join the ‘closing call’.  Because she is not well prepared she sends the deal sideways. Or because there are no agreed rules of engagement she overrides the salesperson’s pricing strategy during the meeting.  Everyone’s credibility suffers. I’ve seen this happen too many times.  Sales that should have been won were lost or relationships with existing customers can be irretrievably damaged. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s all about planning and it is really worth the efforts – particularly if you’re in a business that depends on long-term strategic relationships with your customers.

Over the next few posts I’m going to describe a strategic approach to using the executives in your organization to help you outpace (and lock out) your competition.

In many sales organizations the Executive Management Team is one of the most under-utilized assets. When deployed effectively, and with precision, through a well-designed and consistently applied Executive Sponsor Program, companies can achieve deeper strategic relationships and an uncommon level of value alignment with their key customers. This results in accelerated value creation for you and your customer. An executive swooping in to help close a deal is not an Executive Sponsor Program – it goes much deeper than that. It’s about the long game.

The most senior people in your company should be most conversant with the market in which you operate. They should be intimately familiar with your company’s unique strengths (and weaknesses), its long term vision and the value you deliver to customers. Because they are at the nucleus of the organization, they are the recipients of distilled insights from the rest of the company, thereby gaining a richly textured and broad appreciation of what makes the company work. Their role is to guide the company’s direction and often learn about the future trends in the market in which you operate in briefings from industry analysts, consultants and other experts.

The executives in the business, more so than other operating roles, consider the bigger issues: the competitive landscape, the economic, political and societal developments that inform future company strategy. They are most likely to be ‘in the know’ with respect to technological or other innovations that are in the melting pot. By function of their title and seniority they network with their peers in other organizations who operate in the market ecosystem, gaining water-cooler context and expanding their knowledge of customer trends and behaviors.

In most cases senior executives have extensive tenure in the business. On their journey to the senior role they have gathered tribal knowledge, experience of executive level customer engagements, stories of success and failure, and experiential best practices. They likely started in a more junior role in a specific functional area in the business. As they honed their craft, earning their stripes as a frontline contributor, they progressed to a management role, broadening their experience of how your business works and how you deliver value to your customers. It is increasingly common in modern organizations for successful executives to have assumed different roles and diverse areas of responsibility during their time with the business. On each step of their journey they learn more and gain a deeper understanding of what makes your company successful. As they progress to the senior ranks, building on their foundation of knowledge and competence, each experience they gain increases their proficiency and adds different flavors to their deepening appreciation of what tastes and smells good.

For executives who have traveled this path, gaining insights from executive quarterly business reviews and internal company reports, accumulating a treasure of industry perspective and learning first-hand the recipe for success, this rich tapestry woven from these disconnected but interrelated threads drives a conscious competence in all things company related. It serves as a compass by which they can guide and direct customer interaction, representing your company from a basis of informed perspective. Combined with the strength of the title – executives in your customer’s company are more receptive to meeting executives from your company than someone from your company with a less senior title; that’s just how it is – the senior executive is an asset that should be leveraged with your most important customers and prospects.

In the next post I will discuss the challenges to overcome in creating an effective Executive Sponsor Program.

This first appeared in my latest book: Digital Sales Transformation in a Customer First World.

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