Strong relationships with your C-level customers can accelerate change, uncover opportunities, and strengthen your company’s position. So what keeps B2Bs from earning those relationships—and realizing their value? We’ve identified 10 common—but surmountable—barriers that hold B2Bs back.
We see two intertwined struggles—
each with its own set of barriers.
Struggle #1: Engage
Earn C-level customers’ time and attention. And have them be as interested and invested in the ongoing interaction as you are.
Struggle #2: Realize the Value
Transform your conversations and interactions into measurable value that the business cares about. And attribute and amplify that value.
The good news: You can overcome each barrier.
If you want advice on overcoming a specific barrier, we’ll be adding more to this series soon. Be sure to subscribe. We’ll let you know when new posts are ready.
STRUGGLE #1: ENGAGING C-LEVEL CUSTOMERS
The goal: Earn C-level customers’ time and attention. Have them be as interested and invested in the ongoing interaction as you are.
Barrier #1: Understanding these customers.
How well do you know executive customers and their worlds?
C-level leaders engage with vendors and partners to achieve their own agenda. Solve their problems. Increase revenue. Strengthen their influence. This begs the question:
- How much do you understand about their problems, priorities, and agenda?
In other words…
- Do you know what they care about?
Given today’s complexity and competition, conventional wisdom and common themes aren’t enough. Consider nuanced, strategic priorities from their perspective. (You can even go a step farther. Consider their partners, customers, and competitors priorities, as well). That’s what will uncover the compelling reason executive customers will engage with you.
Barrier #2: Listening.
Are you listening more than talking?
Let’s face it, “tell and sell” is still the modus operandi of business.
The foundation of strong relationships looks different:
- listening more than talking
- expressing sincere interest in their opinions and contributions
- putting aside your own beliefs, priorities, and agenda
It takes purpose and practice to lend your ear. (Otherwise, the pressure to impress valued customers can cloud even the best intentions.)
Listening should be both systematic and spontaneous. And it has a role before, during, and after every program and interaction.
Hint: A solid start is to co-create your engagement strategy and programs. Give customers direct input into the purpose, design and content.
Barrier #3: Exhibiting executive presence.
Is your team ready to engage C-suite customers at their level?
It takes empathy, savvy and poise to engage the C-suite. Listening as they speak their minds. Asking them tough questions. Fielding their feedback.
Executive customers want to interact with people at their level who understand their world. (Think ‘solving profit problems’, not ‘explaining product or process.’)
Your team needs someone who can…
- hold tailored, strategic discussions
- quickly spot intriguing, relevant ideas
- tease out connections between people and complex topics
- confidently guide—even challenge—senior customers
That kind of acumen prevents one-way, generic and shallow interactions. Without it, your customers lose interest.
Barrier #4: Getting the right people in the room.
Can you convene executive customers, their peers, and people they care about?
Be honest about your organization’s standing with c-suite executives and their peers. (This isn’t always easy.) Your customers’ senior leaders may not recognize their stake in you (yet). This is especially likely if you manage relationships lower within their organization.
Convince them that you have influence over people and issues they care about. It’s a prerequisite to engagement.
Barrier #5: Making every minute worth their time.
Are you consistently, reliably making it more about them than you?
For your hyper-scheduled executive customers, every minute counts. They judge every meeting and interaction by, “What’s in this for me.” And that judgment can be quick and harsh.
That said, making every minute worth their time is easier said than done. Complex organizational politics and performance pressure push internal agendas over customer interests. A simple lack of time favors stock presentations over tailored information.
(In the worst cases, engagement events come across as veiled attempts to sell.)
The key: Engagement is more about them than you.
How well does your strategy—and the details of its execution—reflect that balance?