By Sharon Gillenwater
Dell has one. So do Citrix, CA Technologies, Cisco, Juniper Networks, AT&T, and Extreme Networks, among many others. It’s called an “executive briefing center” (EBC), and it can be one of the best tools in your arsenal for engaging executive decision makers.
For many technology companies, the EBC has evolved into a sophisticated physical space that facilitates both discussion and demonstration. For example, Marnie Merriam – DocuSign’s senior manager for the EBC – describes DocuSign’s EBC as “a space that’s designed to showcase the best of a company. It provides access to executives, helps build customer relationships, and showcases our products –what we can do and how we can help companies move business forward.”
But just as important as the physical space is the quality of the discussion with your customer. This is particularly important from the perspective of busy executive-level customers. They don’t have time to visit your EBC for a product pitch, so you’d better make sure it is a relevant and worthwhile use of their time.
For example, Citrix describes how it takes a “collaborative approach” to EBC meetings, allowing for “productive conversations that address your company’s unique objectives. Our methods promote goal alignment, technical expertise, and accelerated business success.”
The need for extensive preparation for these meetings cannot be overstated. Lack of insight into the customer and what is relevant to them could not only damage your relationship with the customer, it could permanently tarnish your reputation with your own leadership. Case in point: A Fortune 100 firm senior executive, in support of a regional sales team, flew cross-country to attend a regional EBC – and emphatically swore never to return to support this team as he witnessed an embarrassingly unprepared, unfocused team stumble its way through the meeting.
Don’t let this happen to you! Read on for five tips that will help you avoid a bad meeting – and be more successful with engaging customers at EBCs.
- Outline and rehearse all aspects of your meeting.
Define your goals for the meeting and the information you want to convey. Articulate each participant’s role and review what they’ll be saying – and to whom, if more than one representative from the customer is at the briefing. Focusing on only the top player can backfire. According to Ned Daubney of Last Mile Research, one sales director lamented that, at a briefing with a CIO, every speaker was focused solely on (and speaking directly only to) the CIO, when it was each of the CIO’s direct reports making all the decisions. The fawning in front of the CIO, he said, was offensively obvious. Preparation would have revealed the importance of the CIO’s direct reports while giving the team the confidence to be flexible if the conversation revealed new insights.
- Do thorough research on the customer and the individuals with whom you’ll be meeting.
You must know the company’s strategy and priorities, who their competition is, what their industry is doing, what their pain points are, with whom they’ve worked in the past (including your company’s own history with them, if there is one), and any hiccups they’ve previously encountered. For the individuals, the more you know, the better you can connect person to person. Insight on the key players uncovers ice breakers that can facilitate personal connections as well as help you better understand their project, department, and organizational goals. As CIGNA Corporation CIO Mark Boxer said, “The companies that do the best with our team are the ones that understand our business, know the competitive landscape, can articulate our strategy, and then orient around those solutions that best help us advance our technology strategy and, more importantly, our business strategy.”
- Ask questions but make sure they reveal that you have done homework.
Don’t ask about things your comprehensive research should have told you. Daubney recalls a state government CIO who was frustrated with IT vendors’ lack of preparation. She now insists that vendors understand her strategy and initiatives before they even walk in her door. “This is public information,” she says. “Find it.” As Mark Hunter of The Sales Hunter has written, this also demonstrates to the customer that asking questions is a key part of your culture, something that cultivates the sharing and learning of ideas – which could set you apart from the competition.
- Demonstrate what you do and provide ROI information.
Prepare a clear, concise presentation of your offering and the benefits specific to the customer, as well as proof points around what you’ve done for other similar customers. Also, be sure to address how your offering is different from the competition and how it supports the company’s strategy.
- Be ready to offer next steps.
Be attuned to how the conversation and presentation are going and have options prepared for how to move the conversation to the next level.
Sharon Gillenwater is the founder and editor in chief of Boardroom Insiders, which maintains an extensive database of the most in-depth executive profiles on the market – from Fortune 500 companies to independent nonprofits – to help sales and marketing professionals build deeper relationships and close more deals with clients. Gillenwater is a long-time marketing consultant with expertise in marketing strategy, account-based marketing, and CXO engagement programs.