Gaining competitive advantage through upreaching

By Rod Griffith
November 22, 2017

Gaining competitive advantage through upreaching
Many B2B marketers feel the pressure to reach higher into their target customer base to gain the mindshare of corporate executives and true decision makers. That growing pressure to gain visibility and establish tighter relationships with the C-suite is the result of some important shifts in market conditions.

More diversified purchase decision teams—Technology personnel are no longer the sole owners of purchase decisions, as more and more business executives get involved in the decision process. A 2016 survey of IT decision makers by IDG showed that, on average, IT decision makers collaborated with 5.8 different functions/titles within their organization―with an average of 15.5 people in those roles.

Increased vendor/supplier consolidation—Many companies are actively looking to reduce the number of suppliers and vendors, preferring fewer, more tightly held suppliers. According to The Hackett Group, companies are viewing supplier consolidation as a major opportunity to reduce costs―not only by reducing purchase prices, but also increasing purchasing process efficiency, since fewer suppliers means fewer transactions and reduced cost of managing suppliers.

More difficult differentiation—Technology products and solutions are becoming more challenging to differentiate. Advances in technology innovations are more complex and less obvious, requiring more time and attention to get customers to truly understand. Competitors no longer regularly leapfrog one another with significant new technology advances that provide obvious superiority. So companies must seek other opportunities to gain competitive advantage. One key opportunity is to establish stronger, tighter relationships with the true executive decision makers.

Gaining the mindshare of senior management and C-suite executives starts with understanding the executive’s filter.

Because of these key purchase decision paradigms, maintaining a competitive edge will require the ability to establish and incubate strategic, trusted relationships with C-level and other executives in key decision-making roles. The effort to gain traction at elevated organizational levels within customers—and reach higher-level prospects than have been traditional in the past—is what we call “upreach.”

Upreaching to executives isn’t easy. They have very little time. In fact, a Google study showed that executives spend less than 2 percent of their weekly schedule in discussion with vendors—and this includes their already established vendors. So you’re likely competing with a long list of vendors, all trying to gain a small slice of the executive’s available attention. 

When an executive engages a new potential vendor, they will use a filtering process to ensure they’re not wasting their time.

C-suite and executive decision makers will typically use this filtering process to determine whether to give you attention and focus.
The Executive's Filter
Time: Is this worth my time and attention?
Executives don’t have time to waste, so they want to quickly decide if engaging with you is worth their time. Therefore, you need to get to your point quickly to help them understand your value and justify giving you their attention.

Relevance: Can you help me accelerate progress toward a critical goal or overcome a critical challenge?
You need to address the issues and challenges that keep executives awake at night. While these issues can, of course, vary widely, those that are top of mind tend to fall into two categories: business performance or business risk/threat.

Outcome: What specific critical desired outcome can you help me achieve?
Most executives are focused on achieving specific business outcomes, so your communications need to show a clear path to those outcomes. But decision makers are also attracted to vendors who can help them at a personal and professional level. Can you help them boost their reputation? Gain that next promotion? Be seen as a true thought leader? Don’t ignore the personal value that your products offer. They are often overlooked in messaging strategies and content, and yet can help provide a competitive edge.

Credibility: Is your value proposition credible?
Your value proposition and related claims will gain traction with executives if they are clearly valid and credible. Good sources of validation can come from the input of trusted colleagues or advisors; recommendations from peers (within the company or the executive’s industry); or from known, reputable industry sources such as analysts.

It’s important to note that the executive may not even be aware that they are employing such a filter. It’s not always a conscious process, but simply what they do naturally to focus their attention on things that matter. 

Understanding the filtering process that executives will likely use is an important part of building impactful marketing initiatives designed to successfully upreach within your target accounts. By recognizing this filtering process, you can better adapt your approach to it and improve your ability to gain the attention of senior management and C-suite executives.