How to reach, engage and create opportunities with c-level executives in B2B?
Everybody in your organization now seems to think it is important to reach c-level executives (CXO's) directly with your marketing messages. And then to engage with them, move these prospects through your pipeline to create opportunities for your sales teams. And when we are talking about CXO's we are really talking about CXO's and their senior level teams (other execs, senior managers, influencers) who they rely on for ideas, delegate decisions to or at least listen to before making their own decision.
And the demands get higher, sales teams and your CEO, may not want the usual Marketing or Sales Qualified Leads any more but something possibly of higher intent, something Refine Labs call: High Intent Revenue Opportunities (HIRO) - prospects that convert into business at a higher rate, something like one in four. Whether its HIRO, or something similar, opportunities of that nature will certainly ensure your popularity with sales leaders and your CEO. But that...as we all know is not easy!
More than 90% of respondents in a recent ITSMA survey say executive engagement for companies selling to enterprise customers or B2B companies has become more important in recent years. Targeting the CXO is more important to sales and marketing strategies than it was in the past. However, more than 90% of C-level executives said they ‘never’ respond to cold calls or e-mail blasts. Apparently they also do not click on banner advertisements and rarely leave their contact details on website visits. So, nothing new there - they are difficult to reach. What are the other the key challenges in marketing to CXO's:
Reach - Its difficult to find the right channel to reach CXO's because most consume a variety of media - they have to. So finding the right channel and being noticed is challenge no.1. The timing of your message is also important, are you reaching them at a time when they are looking for solutions or they are in a relevant environment where they are thinking about some of the issues in your messaging. The messaging itself - does it address a specific business issue with which you think or know (From research) they are grappling with - is it relevant to them. If not you are not going to get their attention!
Engagement - CXO's are time poor, though they consume a lot of media, they do not always invest time to read deeply to engage unless it has real value to them. If the content does not provide insights, solutions, in a concise format where they can absorb the main points quickly and take action on they are unlikely to consume that content and therefore your messaging.
Relationships - You may get the attention of the CXO with one piece of good content but how can you move on from that. The piece of content you shared with them may have been of help to them, but now they are on to their next challenge and their attention may have shifted. How can you maintain their attention and develop an actual ongoing relationship.
So how do you solve these challenges?
My belief is that you have to reach execs in a relevant environment - contect is everything. There are plenty of channels to reach execs via their favorite pastime or fleeting topics unrelated to their business or core concerns and challenges. You may be able to get attention, but attention that does not lead to engagement is a failed opportunity. Relevance is the key to getting attention and the next stage - engagement. That means being a recognized brand or channel that specifically serves execs and their peers and being seen as a publisher of high quality content. Be that a publisher or content/community platform - and it should be digital. 70% of pre-purchase research and vendor evaluation was done on digital platforms: online search, blogs, webinars, podcasts and social media are some of the most common ones. Articles, research reports and executive guides are freely shared among executives and their buyers’ teams. They comb through potential vendors’ websites and google their key players. If you want “to be where your prospects are looking” then digital must be a big part of your strategy to get in front of today’s time-starved executive suite.
Provide real value, that means peer to peer content, ideas from other executives facing similar challenges and sharing best practices using genuine in-depth customer stories/case studies. Or recognized experts who have conducted research and have new ideas to share. New topics or fresh thinking on old ideas with support for your ideas, while presented in a concise format with clear viewpoints and action points, always aware that executives have limited viewing time, credible research matters and executives will invest the time to read reports. Despite what many people say about video and other content forms execs are used to reading reports and is still a preferred format. 42% of executives say insights based on credible research are what they value most in thought leadership content. (Source: The new Learning from Leaders study conducted by FT Longitude, 2019). That said mixing the left and right brain to provide data/insights in compelling visuals is always welcome - and infographics are now part of executives staple content diet.
Executives that engage consistently with the content, and the provider of the content around ideas, solutions insights are where relationships are born. And that does not come from only providing relevant content - it has to be trusted content. For example in an HBR study of executives reading sponsored reports they found: Two-thirds of global executives surveyed say they have read sponsored research reports though only one third of users say they place significant degree of trust in sponsored thought leadership reports, half (55%) claim to place some trust in them, but they are measured and selective in what they’ll trust. Research methodology, evidence-based reasoning and the brand’s reputation are all key when executives assess a sponsored thought leadership report. Fresh thinking and insights gleaned are also important elements of value. The researcher’s academic reputation and the publisher’s reputation are also taken into account. (HBR / Stingray Research, 2021). Trusted, valued and relevant content/information would be the bedrock of any relationship but it is definitely the currency executives use to define their relationships.
Nothing revolutionary in the conclusion then, its all about providing: relevant, quality and trusted content either directly yourselves, or aligning with the right content provider, for your audience.