Invest in C-Suite Relationships, Even if You Can’t Measure The ROI

Posted on by Sharon Gillenwater

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.—Albert Einstein

Sales and marketing teams live and die by data. After all, they are accountable to the executive suite for all activities and investments and are expected to deliver precise metrics and proof of ROI.

Measurement is necessary. But sales and marketing also entail building human relationships and trust—and the continual journey of interactions can’t always be quantified in the hard numbers that weekly, monthly and quarterly reports require.

This includes the soft benefits from engaging with C-suite executives. Is every encounter going to have an immediate cost/benefit measurement? Can we run KPIs on the meeting you have with a potential customer’s CIO? Probably not likely in the short term. But does that mean you toss that round peg if it doesn’t fit into the hard metrics square hole?

Obviously not. Sales and marketing leaders tell us that key account marketing and C-suite engagement are necessary components of their strategy. They have to be, especially for technology vendors, who understand that major tech purchases are increasingly tied to corporate-wide, digital transformation efforts. And guess who’s driving them? C-level executives. These sales and marketing leaders may not be able to precisely measure the value of engagement, but even if they can’t prove it, they’ll tell you that many of these sales can’t be achieved without it. In fact, according to recent research by ITSMA, 92 percent of senior marketers from leading B2B technology and business services firms surveyed say executive engagement is more important to their selling strategy in the connected economy than two years ago.

The obvious reason for building C-suite relationships is the big get—the closing of a major deal. But sales cycles can be long, so the ROI of engagement often goes unmeasured—and uncredited even when the deal is finally done. But there are other good reasons for organizations to cultivate relationships top executives. Here are four:

Building a strong referral network: You may spend time with the CIO of a potential customer who not ready to strike a deal. But you’ve been hugely helpful about answering industry questions and guiding her through the issues the company is addressing. So helpful that she talks you up to former colleagues and peers at other companies. Before you know it, you’re being contacted by other interested parties who need your product or service.

Establishing yourself as a trusted advisor: Your credibility is directly connected to how knowledgeable you are. So is your value to others, especially busy executives. When you take the time to learn about and know the executive decision makers in your space, you will inevitably collect information and anecdotes that are of great interest to their peers, making you a valuable and credible resource.

Uncovering new opportunities: You may go into a meeting prepared to discuss one issue—only to uncover another new opportunity. This usually happens because your customer is so impressed with your knowledge and advice that they want to see if you can help them in other areas. It’s their way of saying, “Yes, thank you, more please.” Now, what’s the ROI on that?

Long-term career benefits: It’s rare for anyone to stay at one company for an entire career. Yes, you want to strike a deal with that CEO. And perhaps you do. But it doesn’t have to—in fact it shouldn’t—end there. You’ll move around. So will your contact. Striking a new C-level relationship, as Humphrey Bogart famously said in Casablanca, could be the start of a beautiful friendship. Those friendships that live at the crossroads of professional and personal can be mutually beneficial over the course of both of your careers. That’s an intangible that has no ROI but can be even more rewarding over the long run.

Sharon Gillenwater is the principal and founder of Boardroom Insiders.

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