In my recent research of world-class ESP programs, one finding really struck me: most ESP programs start and restart several times, and many never get off the ground. What a shame. When planned and executed properly, an ESP is the tactic-of-choice to develop deep relationships with customer executives and increase your value to them. For the best-of breed programs, an interdependency develops between you, your customer, and in some cases, the industry, which provides predictability, sustainability and profitability at an account level. As shared with our team by an executive, “The relationships we have built with our strategic accounts enable us to help design the industry’s future standard, not follow the standard…a much preferred position.”
Make 2011 the year you launch your ESP program for the last time because this time, you have set the right expectations and planning in place. At a minimum, you must incorporate the following in your planning process in order to make your program sustainable for years to come.
Company Priority and CEO/President Sponsorship
Rolling out a program of this magnitude requires focus from the CEO/President and your executive team, as well as key sales associates across the enterprise. So, if you are serious about achieving results from your ESP program, it must be among the company’s top priorities for the New Year.
Customer Program Integration
Your organization most likely has numerous programs that interact with your customers, such as advisory councils, customer satisfaction surveys/Net Promoter Scores, and reference programs. Because most often these programs are managed by different people, there is a danger of your company saturating customers with conflicting messages and requests – or worse yet, your customers sensing a lack of coordination. Get out ahead and make sure all owners of customer programs understand the ESP program and how it will interact with theirs. This includes your sales organization.
Selecting the Right Customers
Deciding on how many accounts should be in the program and coming up with criteria to select those accounts may sound easy. However, there is quite a bit of planning that needs to happen. You need to get your key stakeholders in alignment as far as what the long-term view of the program will look like. For example, three to four years from now, how many accounts will be in the program? Keep in mind, less is more.
Selecting the Right Executives
Selecting the executives from your organization who will participate in this program is a very important planning step. A common myth is that executives from Human Resources, Legal and Finance should not be in the program. Actually, they make terrific executive sponsors because they present a broader view of your organization.
Determining who in your organization will manage the program is a key step. Based on the importance of this program to the organization and the change that this program will drive within the organization, the ideal candidate must be someone that has the knowledge and clout to successfully launch and sustain this program.
The final piece in your planning process is mapping out what you can actually accomplish in year one and year two. This is an area where expectations need to be properly managed. Nearly every organization sets poor expectations the first time they implement this program. There are a lot of complexities to launching this program, including change and culture within the sales organization. You may be asking your executives to take on additional responsibilities. Depending on the business acumen of your sales organization, your executive leaders may be tasked with having business-level conversations with your customer executive. All of these obstacles require careful planning and consideration to set you up for success.
Proper planning will make the launching and sustaining of an Executive Sponsor Program exciting and rewarding for your organization. Your organization will see increased executive relationships, executive references, and wallet share growth to position you ahead of the competition.
Wishing you much success in 2011!