How Dell is Finding the Path to Success with their Executive Sponsor Program

I recently spoke with Sherry Smith, Program Manager of the Executive Sponsor Program (ESP) at Dell to learn about the launching of their ESP. 



·         Dell built their program in January of 2010 and officially launched the program in July 2010

·         Currently there are  80 accounts in the program and 35 executives


successLike most organizations Dell has aspirations of what they want ESP to accomplish for the organization.   They want to enhance executive relationships, loyalty, retention and revenue


Through the launch phase their executives have been very supportive of the program and eager to participate. The executive matching process and the kick off calls with each Global Account Managers/Account Executives have gone well. 


As with any program launch there are always a few challenges encountered along the way. Dell faced some obstacles with solidifying an overall program sponsor, the program structure and monitoring their program. The Dell team has been working hard on these common challenges as they know it will help sustain their program long-term. 


I asked Sherry what she would have done differently when launching the ESP. She said “start with the basics first. Clearly defining what you want the program to look like and working backwards with the tools and reporting you are going to need.”


Sherry shared some advice she would have for any organization considering launching an ESP. She said there are four components that are critical to success. They are:


1.       Do it right the first time. Don’t try to do it on your own. There is an art and science to successfully launching a program.

2.       Focus on the basics – focus on setting up the proper structure so that the program can be measured and you are able to celebrate the successes along the way

3.       Program Manager – Having a Program Manager with good people and program management skills

4.       Program Sponsor – the CEO or a BU President that can play their small, but vital role to champion the effort


Driving Market Awareness

A common challenge executive's face is building awareness in the market about their organization or a new solution to drive sales. In the B2B world, one way to drive market awareness is through Executive Summits.   Executive Summits traditionally consist of a compelling keynote speaker that focuses on an important topic, one or more case studies from strategic customer(s) and a few sessions that stimulate thought and conversation. This creates an environment where the participants are talking 80% of the time. 

Typically, marketing events focus on the end user or even the influencer but the real opportunity is focusing on the decision maker.  In order to attract decision makers to your executive summit you need to create the right environment to entice them to attend, especially if you don't have name recognition.  Securing compelling keynote speaker, focused on a relevant topic, will make all the difference in attracting attendees because the use of a strong keynote will position your organization as a thought leader. 

Another option when planning an executive summit is to leverage an influential industry group (i.e., magazine or industry group).  This will help you to broaden your reach of decision makers in a more efficient manner (working smarter vs. harder).  Once you have speakers identified you need to think about the number of attendees you want at the event; more is not better in an executive summit.  Executives like a more intimate setting where they can have access to the keynote speaker, network, and really participate in the event.  Creating an intimate environment with no more than 50 people will allow you to do that. 

We recently executed an executive summit for one of our healthcare customers that did not have name recognition with their decision makers.  Their primary contacts within the hospital were with material management and procurement.  They knew they needed to get to decision makers in order to change the perception of their company and their brand.   They wanted to focus on patient safety and invite Chief Nursing Officers and Chief Medical Officers.  

This is where focusing on an influential group such as a trade publication gave them leverage.  They partnered with an influential magazine within the healthcare market and spoke to their editor about what they were trying to accomplish.  The editor was so impressed when she learned about the keynote speaker and the intimate environment to learn and share (80% participants talking), that she was energized to help them recruit key industry leaders to be on a panel discussion based on her own relationship with these individuals.  This gave our customer the start of the ground swell they needed. 

Our customer decided to leverage two panels which now gave them access to eight creditable executives.  Once they locked down the keynote speaker, leveraged the editor of the magazine, and recruited the panelist, the panelist were able to invite two peers in similar positions. They were now on the path to success.

An additional element that added to the success of the event was the use of social media tools such as LinkedIn and Facebook.  This enabled the head of the business unit to personally invite people as well as post and share updates to the event. 

The event was a huge success.  Our customer's goal for this event was to build awareness, executive relationships, and form a clinical advisory council.   They achieved the following:

·         50 healthcare executives in the room that saw our customer's organization as a thought leader

·         Attendees rated the Summit as the best event experience ever

·         100% of the attendees want to be involved in future events

·         Created solid candidates for their Healthcare Advisory Council

An additional benefit for our customer was that their internal leaders who attended the event also got to see first hand that they can be relevant with executives, which helped give them the overall confidence they needed to make some key decisions about where they wanted to go in the market.  

If you are serious about driving market awareness and growth at an executive level conducting an Executive Summit is the way to go.   Our experience continues to show that when Executive Summits are done in conjunction with an Executive Advisory Council, the results of increased brand awareness, revenue, and executive relationships accelerate even faster.


Make Your Executive Sponsor Program Unique

In the B2B world, most of the fortune 50 companies have an Executive Sponsor Program (ESP). If you’re in the high tech space and your target decision maker is a CIO you will be competing with at least 10 companies for the CIO’s “attention/acceptance” into the program. Most high tech companies such as Microsoft, IBM, and Xerox have had their program for ten plus years.
With a large number of companies well ahead of the curve in executing an ESP, you will need to be well prepared when implementing your program in order to make your ESP unique. Creating the memorable and unique experience begins with two key components; Program Structure and Customer Experience. 

Program Structure should focus on:  Account Selection, Executive Matching and Executive Expectations. The questions you should be asking are:
What are the right accounts to include in the program?
What attributes should be used to match your executives and your customer executives?
What is the best framework to set expectations and messaging to maximize executive-level brand with every interaction?

Customer Experience should focus on the type of engagement your executives have with your customer executives.

When building an ESP, do not overlook the memorable experience you are trying to create between the customer executive and your organizations executive. You will know that you have created a unique ESP when your executives have no problem establishing a roadmap for the second meeting and beyond.

How to Drive Success in Customer Advisory Councils with Smaller Attendance

I just completed an inaugural Advisory Council meeting in Orlando where our client had only had a few of their customers attend the meeting. Our client was nervous about the meeting overall because these were executives from their most strategic accounts (Vice Presidents of Supply Chain) that for the most part, they do not have a relationship with today. What added to our client’s nervousness was the fact that only six memcab tablebers could make it to the first meeting.

There are three keys to a successful meeting with limited members:

1.    Client Team – We advised our client to not have more than four members of their team present. You don’t want to overpower the members, especially at an inaugural meeting.

2.    Setting the Pace – For a one day meeting we had our client kick off the day with sharing their strategy for sixty minutes and had three 90 minute sessions. The sessions were heavy dialog vs. monologue, which meant that we could dive into greater detail and gain even more insight. The result was a productive yet relaxed feel to the day which the members and our client enjoyed.

3.    Environment – With six members you can be more informal. As the presenter, I was standing up front, but when we introduced the next session, I had my client stay seated to talk about what they wanted to accomplish from the their session. The key was my client stayed at the member’s level, which provided a more intimate setting.

The quality of the members that arrived and the design of the meeting resulted in a successful Advisory Council meeting. The Vice President of Sales told me during the debrief at the end of the meeting that he was very skeptical about how it would work with just six members but in the end, he was thrilled with the results as were their new members.


Big Brother Alliances

The topic of Big Brother Alliances quickly became the focus of the discussion in a session lead by Pete Luongo, Joe Morgan, and David Thomson. Big Brother Alliances are all about leveraging partnerships with big companies to accelerate your growth.  The executives in the audience engaged in a lively discussion on the topic of Big Brother Alliances to answer two questions:  
•         How can big brother alliances help you drive growth in your organization?
•         What are the challenges in developing and overcoming these alliances?

Driving Growth
The executives brainstormed and came up with several ways that Big Brother Alliances can drive growth.  The first is getting your internal executive team in alignment on where your core competencies are and how that fits into your business model so that you can identify where you have potential gaps that would add more value to your customers.  If you have an Advisory Council in place today you may have this information.  If you have a decision maker/executive Advisory Council, but have not gleaned their insight in this area then this would be a great opportunity for a session at the next Council meeting to flush this out.
Once you have a clear eyed view of the market from your Advisory Council and have internal alignment, you want to identify who the right potential alliance partners would be that would fill your gaps or strengthen your position.  These could be supply chain partners or organizations in the same industry where there solutions help organizations solve different problems (i.e., you could provide a "bolt on" to their products or services) or it could be an organization where you may compete on some level. 
Tom Baird, CEO of AppSmyth shared one of his keys to success has been focusing on the quality vs. the quantity of alliances.
Challenges & How to Overcome Challenges
When trying to establish Big Brother Alliances, these executives have faced many challenges.  The executives brainstormed and then prioritized to come up with the top three.  The executives then brainstormed on how to overcome these top three challenges.
They three top challenges were:  bigbro eye
•         Identifying the Right Partner
•         How to Sell an Alliance
•         How to Sustain an Alliance
Identifying the Right Partner
The executives felt that when trying to Identifying the right partner the first thing that needs to be done is identifying the potential alliances that fit into your core competencies and business model.  Once you have completed the list, it's time to start initiating conversations with them.  Second, in preparation for the meeting research needs to be done to uncover as much about their strategy as possible.  (i.e., conducting a needs analysis to understand the gaps).   Third is having the discipline to execute and follow-up.
How to Sell an Alliance
When trying to sell a Big Brother Alliance the executives' experience was that you needed to first focus on the challenges the potential partner had today and to identify if your organization could fill some of those gaps through the alliance.  Second, component was to find and build sponsorship for the alliance with the potential partner as well as internally within your own organization.  
Kurt Cummings, Vice President Business Development at VeriSign shared that "when selling an alliance, don't underestimate the amount of internal selling you will need to do for this partnership to be successful". 
Once you sell the alliance with the potential partner and within your organization you need to structure it for success.  The executives felt that focusing on the goals and objectives on both sides throughout the selling motion is important.   Also a key element throughout this process is building relationships.  The executives agreed that truly identifying the mutual value for both companies was the best roadmap for long term success.
How to Sustain
After the Alliance has been built, the hard work truly begins in sustaining the Big Brother Alliance.   The first thing that you have to realize is that this Alliance represents change for both organizations.  The executives felt that having the discipline to manage the people side of the change was a critical success criterion.
Second, is answering these questions:  what resources will we need on both sides?  How will we compensate the resources/sales force? How will you track/measure the success so that both sides will know what success looks like?  These are a few of the critical questions that need answered before the deal is sold so that you are setting the alliance up for success.
Third, the executives felt that having periodic check points along the way is very important.  As with any large initiative, celebrating milestones and finding quick wins are critical success factors in sustaining a program long term.
Laura Ramos, VP Industry Marketing at Xerox shared that "sustaining your big brother alliances is the most difficult part of the journey".
In summary, all the executives agreed that Big Brother Alliances are not easy, but essential to driving exponential growth.  It takes proper executive alignment, structure, ability to executive and the ability to effectively manage the change that will be required on both sides to ensure success


Launching an Executive Sponsor Program Webinar

Thinking of launching an Executive Sponsor Program and you are not Sure where to start?

Please join me as we will discuss the myths and gain insight from Julie Tung, Vice President of Global Customer Programs at Oracle and Virginia Chambers, Director of ACE Partners Program at AT&T as they share personal experiences of why something that looks so easy is not and what you can do to drive success in your organization.

Here is a sneak peak at one of the most commons myths we will be discussing:
Research Picture

The majority of the companies from our research have launched their Executive Sponsor Program more than once; 63% of the companies have made two or more attempts and only 37% with success during their first program launch.  Ensuring you have executive alignment, a formal process and structure for the implementation of the program and the right pace for launching each customer will significantly increase your success rate on your first Executive Sponsor Program launch.

Please click the link to register for the webinar:

© Geehan Group 2011, All rights reserved.

How Your Major Accounts Program Can Compliment Your Executive Sponsor Program

Most large organizations have a Major Accounts Program or Global Accounts Program today.  You may be asking yourself, “How can the Executive Sponsor Program and Major Accounts Program complement each other?” If you look at what each program is chartered to do, it will become clear how they can work well together.huddle

  • The Major Accounts Program is focused on account penetration and account growth within the account.  These programs are typically run out of the sales organization.  The Major Accounts Manager will leverage executives from your company when working a deal (deal focused).
  • The Executive Sponsor Program (ESP) is focused on a dedicated relationship/ownership with an executive from your company and your customer executive.   As I have discussed in previous blogs, the benefits are more long term (enhanced executive relationships, retention, loyalty, wallet share/revenue and innovation.)  

Gary Vastola from Xerox commented on how their Major Accounts Program fits with their ESP: “Our Focus Executive Program (ESP) complements our Major Accounts Program by fostering partnerships between our Focus Executives and Account Teams to build client relationships and maximize customer satisfaction.”

If you don’t have a Major Account Program and you are considering one, starting with a Major Accounts Program first will set the organization up for success to establish broader Executive Level Programs such as Advisory Councils and ESP.  How?  Major Account Programs drive certain key processes and behaviors that ultimately set an ESP up for success. These methodologies and processes include a standard sales process, account planning, logging information into a CRM tool and compensating your major account managers for the behavior you want. 


2011 is the Year to Launch and Sustain an Executive Sponsor Program

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.”esp

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.

Program Management
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.

Program Roadmap
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!


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.

Common Myths 7 & 8 in Launching and Sustaining an Executive Sponsor Program

I have found eight common myths when rolling out an Executive Sponsor Program.  They are:

1. We don't need the CEO and/or President involved to be successful.
2.  Each Executive Sponsor can effectively handle 10 accounts.
3. The Executive knows how important this is.  They are senior people; they don't need training/overview.
4. As long as they are considered to be an executive, they should be expected to take accounts
5. We have 40 executives; let’s give everyone 2 accounts. We need 80 accounts.
6. We can assign 100 accounts in 90 days and still be successful.
7. We don't need anyone to manage this program.  Everyone will know what to do.
8. Just have our Executive meet with the Customer Executive.  We don't need a lot of structure.

Today, I’m going to focus on Myths 7 and 8.

Myth #7 - We don’t need anyone to manage this program.  Everyone will know what to do.

People are always amazed at first when I tell them to launch a program of this magnitude will take 50% of a program manager’s time for the first 90-180 days.  As you can imagine, we are the other 50% that brings the experience, best practices and tools for success.   

Once we get to the launch phase, no matter how much we prepare our customers up front, they are surprised by what needs to be done and what it’s going to take to sustain a program like this.   Depending on the size and scope of your organization (how structured), this may be a person’s full time or part time responsibility to manage this program.

Myth #8Just have the Executive Sponsor go meet with the Customer Sponsor?

The question you have to ask yourself is what does a good Engagement look like?  I have seen a variety of answers to this question. 

Candidly, if you think having an executive go to dinner or have a one hour meeting once a year with quarterly touch points is going to reach your objectives for this program, I think you will be very disappointed.  Why?  You will have pockets of excellence, when an executive that goes beyond just having that dinner or annual engagement with their assigned executive will become your super stars.  The rest of the executives either don’t know are don’t care about growing the customer relationship over time. The answer to the question, “what does a good engagement look like,” will drive how structured your program needs to be and what kind of resources you’ll need to sustain the program after the launch.