Lessons from IBM's CIO community
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Everyone selling high value solutions wants to engage C-level executives.
They're the ultimate decision makers. They can provide deep insight into both their own companies and emerging issues in your markets. They can give you the most powerful references and testimonials.
Of course they're also the hardest to reach.
Most B2B solution providers have some sort of executive relationship program, often with some combination of advisory councils, executive briefing centers, executive dinners and seminars, and similar initiatives. And most of these companies struggle mightily to make these programs work and gain substantial value from them.
Karla Bousquet, Director of Executive Client Marketing at IBM, provided some useful insight from IBM's experience during a webinar today organized by Farland Group (full disclosure: I used to work with Farland Group principals when we were all at Truman Company).
Most important, according to Bousquet, is beginning with a clear understanding of what senior executives (CIOs, in this case) truly value:
They're busy, they don't really care about your products, but they are anxious to learn and grow, most especially with their peers.
In this context, IBM has taken a strong community approach to serve CIO (and IBM) needs, with four core objectives:
Each of these objectives responds directly to one or more of the things that executives value most. It's difficult to succeed with any community initiative if you don't focus first on providing relevant value to would-be participants. It's doubly difficult with the busiest and most sought-after executives.
To make it work, IBM has developed a tiered program, with three distinct initiatives:
The tiered approach helps in organizing IBM resources and responding to different types of CIOs with different levels of relationship to IBM. Underlying each of these programs, though, is a consistent focus on delivering the value that executive participants demand:
It's not rocket science, but it's not easy either. It means letting go of the desire to pitch and sell, and committing to the hard work of listening, facilitation, and collaboration. It means having the patience to emphasize the longer term benefits at some potential expense to short-term gain. Most of all, it means truly putting customer interests first, something we all talk about but all too often fail to deliver.