Marketing to the C-suite: How to get the attention of top executives
Today’s complex and highly integrated business environment often requires multiple stakeholders to take part in decision-making. The selection of a professional services provider such as an accounting firm is almost always a strategic decision made by a team of C-level and other top executives.
Of course, there are situations in which a single executive might overrule the team because circumstances warrant it. However, generally the team is involved in the process because each member has a unique expertise and perspective that benefits the firm and the team, providing valuable input to decision-making. Any accounting services marketer would be wise to appeal to the broader interests of the team and the executives who comprise it, not just an individual they perceive as having the most influence, such as a CEO. You never know who will be an influencer or make a referral.
The most direct route to the C-suite is often through their team and informal advisors.
Provide insight, not just information
One of the biggest mistakes marketers make is relying too heavily upon data to drive buyer decision-making. It is crucial to remember that data without context has little value. C-suite executives today are awash in information. They experience data overload on a daily basis. What they crave is insight. Knowledge imparted by the seller that makes information more understandable and relevant to the buyer’s specific situation has tremendous value and can set that seller apart from the competition.
It helps to get a head start by researching your prospect and their industry if you aren’t already familiar with them. C-suiters are way too busy to waste time answering what they consider to be stupid questions. They expect anyone looking to do business with them to already be familiar with their needs. If you don’t already know what threatens their industry or what their important priorities are, you haven’t done your homework. You can bet that your competitor who wins the business did theirs.
The C-suite buyer demands more
Today’s C-suiter has more challenges, more distractions and more options than ever before. With issues pressing them on all sides, priorities for the C-level executive can change rapidly, creating a ripple effect throughout their organization and the firms that support it. What once were top priorities for a C-suiter suddenly move to the back of the line. This may be disruptive to your marketing goals and plans, but it can also provide opportunities. It’s important for an accounting services marketer to be flexible and versatile in their approach. If you’ve experienced and understand the “hurry-up-and-wait” cycle, you can minimize its disruption and find ways to capitalize on it. Make sure your firm’s services and expertise are easy to comprehend and evaluate so when your turn comes, you can quickly take advantage of your time with the C-team and move to a close with confidence.
Don’t pitch — inform
Instead of simply pitching how great your firm and its services are (and what organization wouldn’t say its services are best?), provide original research and targeted solutions that address the specific challenges your prospects face. Simplify complex issues and provide helpful insights on topics to demonstrate your expertise and value.
Be aware there is a difference between issues and topics as you look for ways to provide valuable insights to prospects. Issues are broad, industry-wide challenges that can require ongoing and evolving efforts to address them. Examples might be “changing federal tax regulations” and “financial data cybersecurity.” Topics are narrow slices of these larger issues. For example, “reporting and regulatory compliance” and “the importance of financial data center firewalls.”
Whatever issues and topics you choose to demonstrate your expertise, make sure they are acutely relevant to your target audience of C-suite executives and are problems your firm is unquestionably ready to address. This will require a content strategy to maintain visibility throughout the buyer’s journey and keep their interest. Choose topics that are appropriate at each stage of the buyer’s journey so you’ll have relevant touchpoints along the way to encourage engagement by the buyer.
Digital channels dominate
Today’s C-suite executives are a technologically savvy lot. In Hinge’s recent study of B2B professional services buyers, we found that approximately 70 percent 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 buyers’ teams and often find their way up to the C-suiters from lower-level executives.
Of course, traditional executive networking and face-to-face contact are still effective in many industries. But there is no question that digital dominates the buyer’s journey today with the rapid rise of a wireless workforce, increased use of mobile devices and the ubiquity of the cloud.
Marketing to C-suite executives requires great effort, but it can provide even greater reward. It all boils down to this: Do your homework, provide insights and solutions to issues and topics that are near and dear to their hearts, don’t waste their time with pitches, and nurture them along the buyer’s journey with valuable, relevant content that will cause them to engage with you and be eager to start a relationship that they are confident will benefit their organization. Do this and you will have a competitive advantage that will be hard to beat.