How to Influence the C-Suite to Buy
If the sale of your product requires C-suite approval, then this article will give you actionable strategies to reach and convert them to customers
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The C-suite represents the holy grail not just because of the difficulty in reaching them, but because they hold much of the decision-making power in an organization. It is also not just one individual you have to reach and convince. There will be a myriad of gatekeepers, middle management, and influencers before you will get access. Once you do, there will likely be a number of C-Suite executives who either have either influence or share jointly in the decision-making process. Each of these individuals must be won over for you to be successful. However, if your product or service requires the blessing of the C-suite, the win will deliver significant revenue to your company.
The roles and involvement of the various executives who comprise the C-Suite vary from organization to organization, so we will refer to them interchangeably as C-Suite, CXOs, or CEO. The titles and roles may be different, but the approach you use to market and sell to these people will remain relatively consistent. We will also discuss the path to securing the support of mid-management influencers and how to get past the gatekeepers whose primary job is to keep you from the C-suite.
Where To Begin
It is the tendency of most organizations to push decision-making down to the lowest level possible. So, if the CEO needs to be involved, it is because the problem has a high degree of uncertainty, the risk to the company is great of the expenditure is highly significant.
The most impactful time to be marketing to the CEO may be at the awareness stage when they first start looking for solutions to a corporate crisis or initiative. In B2B transactions 57% of the buying process is completed before a supplier is contacted (B2B Digital Evolutions). This is because a mid-level or senior manager is asked to find a solution. The first step they take is to google the problem and typical solutions. These managers will then compile a report or PowerPoint and share their findings with the C-suite.
So, when marketing to the C-Suite, getting there early is critical to having an impactful influence. In the book, “Selling to the C-Suite” authors Nicholas A.C. Read and Stephen J. Bistritz Ed.D present compelling evidence that the most important time to help educate and share knowledge with the C-Suite is when the company is assessing its strategic direction or has a critical problem. At this stage of the Buyer’s Journey, about 80% of the CXOs get involved to establish the strategic direction based on ROI and possible risk for the company. Being seen the solution happens here. Once the CXO sets the vision and direction, they often delegate the process of finding a vendor and implementation to middle management.
Many marketers concentrate on the final stage of the buyer’s journey when they think the decision is being made. The reality is that, at this point, any hope of influencing the process is long gone. At the final stage, the C-Suite simply gets back involved to officially sign off on the proposal and expense.
Focus on the Influencers
Even if the C-Suite is the group making the final buying decision, it might surprise you to learn that the C-Suite is not always the best place to direct your marketing efforts. The members of the C-Suite know greater efficiency often means letting go of the reins and allowing those closer to the problem to identify the best solutions and correct the issue.
This is why using influencers is one of the fastest-growing online marketing strategies. Here are some statistics that will showcase why this is becoming one of the most impactful marketing tools.
A study by Tomoson found that 51% of marketers noticed that influencer marketing brought a higher quality of customers and that it was the most cost-effective channel to leverage. (Tomoson).
Consumer trust and confidence in paid advertising have declined by over 20% since 2007 (Nielsen).
During that same period, reliance on recommendations from peers or trusted authorities has grown by 92% (Business 2 Community).
So, if you’ve determined the best path to the C-Suite is through the influencers that they trust and admire, the next logical step is to identify these influencers. This can be done through an extensive discovery and assessment process.
There are four distinct groups that share influence over the CEO:
Outside Parties of Influence
Groups of Influencer
Of course, the most influential are other CXOs, but reaching them can be both time-consuming and expensive. So, here’s a look at how to reach the other three main Influencer groups.
Customers - It is no surprise that customers carry heavy influence over the C-Suite. They obviously should- their opinion about the company and its products and services is arguably the most important.
What is different with this group is that, because of the Internet and social media, the C-Suite can know exactly how the customer feels and why.
The IBM Global C-Suite Studies found that most CXOs are changing the way their organizations engage with customers. A British CEO respondent of that study stated, “We now have the tools to understand 90% of our customers, but we need to get to segment-of-one understanding.”
Social media has the power to show CEOs exactly how their customers feel about their products and performance in real-time. While all are aware of how they are faring on social media many understand the
The influence that the customers have on decisions made by the C-Suite is growing due to social media: an outraged or mistreated customer can become world news and, because of that, 76% of CXOs want to know their customers better and meet customer expectations (IBM C-Suite Study).
The most surprising statistic that surfaced in the IBM study was the depth of involvement that CEOs want customers to have in their decision-making process: over the next three to five years, CEOs will be looking directly to customers for input into almost every aspect of their business, including product and service sourcing.
In light of this information, it only makes sense to have a marketing strategy that utilizes a company’s customers to acquire a business partnership with their organization.
Practical Application - The practical implications of this information involve bringing the prospect’s attention to the support that your product or service offers them in terms of their needs, wants, and/or challenges. Develop an online survey or ask consumers who follow that prospect on social media channels to weigh in on the value you offer.
When appropriate, you can also use brand advocate gamification programs to target client referral and social interaction. Tapping into the power of brand advocates is one of the most important benefits of social media. In 2011, 46% of U.S. executives said that an increase in brand advocates was one of the most important benefits of social media (Jive, 2011.)
Gamification programs reward customers who already love your brand and incentivize them to communicate that passion where and how you want them to. This may take the form of sharing content (offers, events, white papers, or webinars) through social media, writing reviews, or speaking directly to your prospective company.
Employees - The range of influencers becomes increasingly broad for complex or expensive purchases. This is in part due to the amount of corporate resources necessary, as well as the fact that the decision will impact so many people in the organization. After the C-Suite sets the agenda and parameters of what they need to accomplish, they tend to transfer the solution search to middle-management executives. According to IBM Studies, employee influence on buying decisions will increase by nearly 40% in the next three to five years (IBM Studies).
To effectively manage employee influencers, you must understand their personal pain points and concerns. Most employees would love to bring a cost-saving, productivity-enhancing initiative to the attention of the C-Suite. Many midlevel managers dream about the career-changing implications that such an initiative would offer.
Practical Application - To empower the mid-level manager to go to bat and recommend your company to the C-Suite, you need to develop their trust and confidence. They need to know that your products and services will not only perform as promised but that the benefits they provide will make that manager look like a superstar in her organization.
To this end, at the top-of-the-funnel level, you need to share information that focuses on the content your SBIR identified as appropriate in a way that would allow the middle manager to see how she could be a hero by sharing the solution with upper management.
For middle-of-the-funnel content, you should provide case studies that, if available, showcase success stories in which your product or service worked to support a manager who introduced your program and achieved great success.
Outside Parties of Influence - Information and trust are the currencies that outside parties have to share with the C-Suite. The IBM Studies determined that outside parties’ influence will nearly double in the next three to five years (IBM Studies).
Having a person of influence introducing you to the C-Suite can be one of the most direct paths to success for marketers. These outside parties may be individuals from academia, industry publications, or even an industry blogger with broad social reach. The introduction may be a direct one, or simply a well-placed article or comment.
You should consider developing a program for finding, engaging, and harnessing the efforts of these influencers. (Influencer Marketing)
Practical Application - Utilize influencer discovery and outreach tools to identify a list of thought leaders and influencers who would be considered good sources of industry information and influence. These individuals will form the network of brand advocates that you leverage to share content on social media and reference you in blog posts and speaking engagements to help promote your brand and generate direct introductions.
Engaging these outside parties requires interaction through media, sharing your ideas, commenting on their ideas, and beginning a dialogue that, if nurtured properly, will encourage them to become brand advocates.
The commonality between the approaches we discussed to reach the C-Suite is the ability to leverage the influence a third party has over them. In order to accomplish this you need to understand why this influence works and how to implement it. We will be discussing these and other strategies to reach and covert the C-Suite over the next few articles.
If you want to acquire a deep dive into influencer marketing and how to utilize it, here are some articles for you to review: