Engaging Executives

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By Kristen Hayer

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Customer Success Managers often get caught off guard by changes in customer initiatives, budget limitations, and sometimes even churn. Most organizations understand that one of the best ways to keep surprises to a minimum is to have a solid relationship with executive-level contacts. That said, many CSMs struggle to establish and maintain VP and C-level connections.

Why is this such a challenge?

Executives aren’t interested in the same things that typical admin or user-level contacts are. They care about their overall business, and their goals involve corporate-level performance metrics. They have to balance their time between the needs of their people and larger company issues. This always means they are incredibly busy, and often means they are primarily focused on problems. Any one given solution is only a small piece of a large and complex puzzle for an executive. It takes a lot to earn their attention.

What do you do about it?

Their Business, Not Your Product

It should go without saying that the primary objective of customer success is to help customers achieve business outcomes. Unfortunately, many CSMs quickly revert to talking about their product, although often couched in terms of adoption and usage. Executives don’t care about their usage of your product or its adoption unless it directly impacts the business outcomes they expect. Instead of spending time talking about product stats, ask questions about expectations and discuss business results. Keeping the dialog focused on the customer’s business and strategy will keep the executive engaged.

Their Goals, Not Your Reports

You may need to dig in with new executives to learn about what they really value about your solution. Once you know what they expect, help them turn those expectations into goals you can work to achieve together. Don’t just focus on metrics that are easy to measure using your own reports. Figure out what matters most to them and work with their team to measure success. Provide information about the ways other companies are achieving their goals using your solution. Great executives are always pushing themselves, their teams and their companies to be better, and you can engage them by helping them improve.

Their Timeline, Not Your Schedule

Executives are wildly busy people. If you’re lucky enough to get a block of time, make the most of it by focusing on strategic topics. While a quarterly business review may be a great goal for you, it may be unreasonable for an executive to meet that frequently. It is better to have business reviews less frequently, but to make them count by getting the right executives in the room and keeping the agenda tight. Also, be professional and respectful of the executive’s time: don’t reschedule unless it’s an emergency, and finish early if you’ve covered all your material.

What if you’re nervous?

Most CSMs have never worked as executives and haven’t spent much time talking with people at that level in the organizations where they work. Without this experience, it can be uncomfortable to engage with someone several rungs above you on the career ladder. If this resonates with you, there are several things you can do to make it easier. First, take some time to do your homework. Learn about the customer, the executive you’ll be speaking with and their experience with your company. Coming into the meeting prepared will give you conversation topics and help you feel confident. Second, if you get nervous, ask questions. You can plan some out as a part of your meeting prep so that you don’t have to think them up on the fly. Executives like to talk about their business needs and goals. Finally, remember the power of silence. Instead of timidly chatting about whatever comes to mind, ask a question and then stop talking. Silence is a power move that will at least generate respect and more likely start an interesting conversation.

Building strong relationships with executives within your client base will not only prevent unpleasant surprises, but will drive referrals and elevate your brand. Make it a priority for your team to engage at least one executive at every client they work with, and reap the benefits of lower churn, higher revenue and customer delight.

Are you looking for more tips on how to engage executives and other valuable customer success tools? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that offers online courses on Customer Goals & Outcomes (January 25, 2018) as well as how to put together Executive Business Reviews (February 22, 2018).  Check out these and other upcoming classes at TheSuccessLeague.io