At Global Partners, one of the challenges we often hear from account executives when they first start trying to engage with executives is that it takes a lot of research time to get a deep enough understanding of the issues that would be important to an executive. In addition, once they have the background, how do they create an Executive Grabber that will be intriguing enough to the executive to grab his or her attention? And even if they can do all that, how does an account executive find out what he or she can offer from their own company that will address the executive’s issue? How can the account executive propose a solution without sounding like they are pitching product?
The trouble with engaging executives
When we started training people on engaging executives, we had struggled with this issue. Our typical answer was to put in the time to do the research. The trouble was, it didn’t work. Account executives loved the concepts and techniques we taught them. They understood the importance of researching the customer’s industry, market trends and websites for those key insights, etc. But most of them simply didn’t make the time to do the research.
Then, in talking to one of our clients about this issue, we had an ‘aha’ moment. Instead of starting with what account executives didn’t know about the customer’s industry, key trends, etc. start with what they did know! When you think about it, any successful account executive knows a good deal about their customer’s industry. They all keep up with most of the latest trends, know what the hot topics are, etc.
Combining passion and expertise
Chances are the account executive is also highly knowledgeable, perhaps even an expert in some specific area, and with expertise usually comes passion. And because they are passionate about their particular topic, they make it a point to find out what their own company can do in that area. The combination of expertise, both external and internal, and passion is precisely what’s needed to engage with a CXO and create instant credibility.
Now the only problem was the limitation that each account executive could only be a ‘passionate expert’ about a limited number of topics. However, if you put together several account executives, chances are that you could greatly expand the number of topics they can cover. Although there would be a fair amount of overlap (which could be reduced simply by mixing people from different product areas), these groups could share knowledge and expand the total number of topics used to grab the attention of CXOs.
Sharing your knowledge
So we developed a short exercise to do just that. In our approach, the critical starting point for engaging an executive is to grab his or her attention using a topic that meets 3 criteria:
1. The topic must be relevant for that specific CXO
2. The topic must be discussable – there must be some new information, trend, insight, etc. that will be interesting and new to the executive
3. The account executive must be able to demonstrate that they can discuss the topic credibly
The first step in the exercise, then is to simply brainstorm all of the possible topics that might be interesting to the executive.
The second step is to use the collective knowledge of the group to filter-in those topics that would meet the three Executive Grabber criteria. This typically yields 1-3 potential Executive Grabbers.
Since these final 1-3 topics meet the three criteria, the final step is to simply describe the new information, insight, or trend that can be fashioned into an opening statement to use with the executive.
Establishing rapport and credibility with executives
The results of this exercise can be impressive. In less than an hour, small groups are able to identify Executive Grabbers and fashion compelling opening statements that establish rapport and credibility with the executive.
And there is another benefit. The initial brainstorm also surfaces topics that account executives think would make compelling grabbers, but they personally do not have the new information, insight, or trend needed to use them in a CXO dialogue. Filling in the missing information then becomes the task of marketing or other account executives.
So, next time you are trying to find a topic that will grab the attention of a CXO, don’t try to improve your knowledge of what you don’t know; instead start with what you do know.