Executive Sponsor Programs, One Size Doesn't Fit All

As I’m out talking to companies about their Executive Sponsor Programs, I meet various people along the way who have worked for larger companies in the past that have had Executive Sponsor Programs. As you would expect, everyone has an opinion about what a good Executive Sponsor Program looks like. As the organization looks to launch the program, they want to apply some of the same aspects at their new company, which in theory is a great idea. However, with Executive Sponsor Programs, one size does not fit all. What worked at one company doesn’t mean it will work where you are now. Why? There are several factors that come into play when launching and sustaining a successful Executive Sponsor Program: puzzle
  •  Relevance of your company to the executive you want in the program?
  •  Business acumen of your sales force? (level of current relationships)
  •  Sales force structure & compensation
  •  Portfolio of products or services
  •  Structure of the program
Case in point:
I had a very savvy executive who came from IBM say, “I want my sales leaders involved in the program as Executive Sponsors and in the next sentence he stated he wanted to leverage a portion of the accounts in this program to be a “door opener.”

The first expectation of having the sales leaders involved in the program threw up several red flags. We have found that if your sales force has low business acumen, this practice is not recommended during the launch phase. They would be sending a very strong message to their customers that this was a sales program/campaign vs. a company program that is outside of any sales transaction.

The second expectation of using this for a “door opener” might work for some organizations, but based on where this organization is right now, this, in combination with having their sales leaders involved as Executive Sponsors, would be a recipe for failure. At IBM, they do leverage their sales executives in the program and it works well for several reasons. First, this program has been ingrained in their culture for over 10 years. Second, based on IBM’s portfolio of services, they call across the enterprise and are relevant to the customer executive in the program.

Third, the account teams have very strong business acumen. This means that the sales associates and leaders are not viewed as product sales people. Therefore, it works extremely well for them having their sales leaders in the program. Launching and sustaining an Executive Sponsor Program is a journey.

Determining where you are in the journey and the makeup of your sales associates and executives will help you develop the right approach for your organization.

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