Does this sound familiar?
You decide to get more involved with your top client accounts to show them how much their business matters to your company, so you take over a meeting your success manager was supposed to attend. You hope this will help you take your company to the next level in your client’s mind, from just another solution provider all the way up to strategic business advisor.
Source: Ian Dainty via Slideshare
You schedule with your contact at the client company, then start preparing for this meeting. You come up with a beautiful presentation that explains the revenue you’ve helped your client generate, and how you plan to help them generate even more if they just say yes to an upsell.
But when you get to the meeting, you stop short at the door.
A quick head count reveals that there’s not one, not even five, but rather 20 people in the boardroom.
You swallow the gut-wrenching feeling in your throat and start your presentation, using every confidence muscle you have.
You might be a senior executive at your company, but these 27 suits staring at you hold your corporate fate in their hands. This is not the type of account loss your CEO can brush aside and give you another chance.
As you continue your presentation, you remind yourself that you’ve got this. This isn’t your first rodeo. Besides, some of the suits nod their heads in agreement to your words and laugh at your jokes.
But then, from the back of the room, someone interrupts you. She already has the numbers you’re throwing, but she still hasn’t gotten an answer about product compliance. She’s talked to your team 3 times over the past few weeks, and no one has given her a real answer.
A second suit jumps in, talking about the difficulty of using your software, and the promise she got for a customized solution, but no real timeline has been discussed yet.
As the questions keep pouring in, you sit down, energy out, and start taking notes. You promise you’ll get back to them with answers in no time and you mean it. You will go back to your team and do everything you can to save this account.
But first, you need to face your CEO and tell her you didn’t make the upsell, which you told her was a sure thing.
What could you have done differently to save the meeting?
Should Senior Executives Even Get Involved in Account Management?
If you’ve ever experienced a meeting like this, you know the downside of sending senior executives attending client meetings. Mostly – they’re often not hands on with the clients on a regular basis, which means they’re not on top of each client’s goals and needs.
But according to a growing number of CEOs, it’s crucial for senior executives – even CEOS – to get involved in account management.
“At CoBank,” for example, “the top four officers of the company personally call on over two hundred key customers in a given year. Customer relations account for nearly half of the work hours of those four executives,” reports the book Straight from the CEO.
And the Economic Times reports that, in 2014, Flipkart made “it mandatory for all top executives to take customer calls.”
Why is this trend growing strong?
Senior Executive Involvement Gives Your Company a Competitive Advantage
According to Quartz, every executive at Slack answers customer service calls, including the CEO.
Slack, an office messaging company with 5 million customers, faces great competition from Microsoft, who offers a similar product to its 85 million customers, reports Quartz.
Slack can’t compete with Microsoft on marketing budgets or team size, but it can compete on the quality of the customer experience and how fast support inquiries get responses. According to Walker, that’s what’s going to matter most by 2020 – even more than product quality or how much it costs.
High End Clients Expect Account Ownership by Senior Leadership
Already back in 2012, Harvard Business Review reported that successful companies, “such as Rolls-Royce and Siemens, have high-level sponsors for each of their key accounts. Members of the main board of Siemens, including the CEO, each sponsor a number of key accounts and visit them regularly.”
As we previously shared, Jason M. Lemkin, investor and founder champion at SaaStr Fund, encouraged CEOs who attended the 2015 Gainsight Pulse conference “to make on-site visits at key customers’ companies… ‘We never lost a company that I as the CEO visited. Never,’ he said.”
You can watch Lemkin’s talk here:
Source: Gainsight via YouTube
Account Involvement Gives Senior Executives the Kind of Feedback They Don’t Otherwise Have Access To
As CEO on Support explains, communicating directly with customers “can help you discover great product ideas, feedback and suggestions – a gold mine when you’re chasing product-marketing fit… While you’re dreaming up an integration with Google Glass, your customers are screaming about other crucial problems. If you aren’t listening, you’ll end up building the wrong things.”
Senior Executives Set the Tone for the Rest of the Company
If you want your account managers and customer success managers to step up their game, company leaders have to prove that they walk their talk. It’s the most effective way to create an organizational change.
Source: Freshdesk via Twitter
Once You Get Involved, Here’s How to *Not* Get Blindsided at Client Meetings
As important as it is for senior executives to get involved in ongoing account management, walking into key client meetings is more complex than this fun visit Red Hat’s president and CEO, Jim Whitehurst, made to his company’s call center:
Source: Red Hat via YouTube
So what’s a senior exec to do?
Know Where the Client is Compared to the Success Metrics that Matter to Her
GT Nexus processes $100 billion a year. What’s his CMO Greg Johnsen’s advice regarding customer success? Let customers define their own success metrics. As we previously reported, Johnsen believes this supports customer proactivity, which increases their chance of reaching success milestones.
As a senior executive entering a client meeting, you have to know how your client views success, where the company is now compared to their goals, and what needs to be done to move it closer to the end result.
Know Which Challenges and Solutions the Client has Experienced with Your Company
On that note, you want to know which challenges the client has experienced with your company, product or service. You also want to know about any challenge she’s experienced in relation to what you offer her, even if it’s not directly about your product.
Examples can be compliance policy changes or changes in company size – say, if her company is scaling up quickly, you might want to think of solutions to keep her from outgrowing your product.
Make sure you know what’s working and what’s not for her. If there is or there was a problem with your company, know what has been done internally since then to ensure it won’t happen again, or at least to be better prepared.
Come Prepared to Back Up Your Claims with Data
If you keep reading, you’ll see us emphasizing the importance to stay succinct in client meetings, but don’t think it means you can cut corners when preparing for a client meeting.
The stakes are high in B2B, certainly at the leadership level, and you need to be able to back up everything you say with real numbers, to help your client’s team justify the purchase. This includes backing up everything that’s already been done, and everything you suggest to do from now on.
To make it easier for you, use auto-generated customer success reports, which aggregate cross-organizational account activities and find signals of churn risks, success milestones and upsell opportunities in real time. Make sure you use a system that offers intelligent alerts and comprehensive analysis, so you have all the possible data that you need easily accessible in one place.
Build Trust and Evoke Positive Emotions
If you think the scenario at the beginning of this article sounded scary, imagine being on the other end – a senior executive at a large corporation, where every purchase decision you make could end up costing the company 5-7 figures in revenue.
That’s why B2B executives are scared to speak up, offer solutions and commit to purchases.
To help them trust you, share case studies that showcase the results you’ve delivered to similar clients. Share how your company walks its own talk.
At the same time, you position yourself as an authority in your industry, make sure you also come off as a relatable human being they can actually connect with emotionally.
Examples of doing that?
Share a quick personal story as a metaphor for your business pitch, use humor, or… you know… sing them a song!
Like this one:
Source: Tross via YouTube
While you want to keep things professional at client meetings, remember you’re not really dealing with suits. You’re dealing with humans.
Once you establish an emotional human connection, it’ll be much easier for them to stay open to what you have to say, even if they still find a way to blindside you despite all your preparation.
All this, of course, as long as you do one more thing…
Senior Executives, When You Get Involved in Account Management, Remember CEOs’ #1 Request from Vendors
When Business Insider interviewed 12 high-level CEOs on how they expect people to prepare for meetings with them, “one common theme [was] being clear on what you want to achieve in the meeting. Also, don’t babble,” the website reports.
Remember that CEOs get an almost endless stream of requests for “just 15 minutes” of their time. If you actually landed a time slot, keep it focused on their needs, and make it clear fast what they have to gain from what you have to offer.
But follow the rest of the tips in this article, so if you get a chance to go deeper, or if you find yourself surrounded by 20 executives in one room, you can close the deal, and get back to your office a winner.