If I received a dollar every time a client said the target audience for his or her marketing and sales program is the C-suite in Fortune 2000 or the Global 1000 companies, I would be rich.
Now I fully understand why business-to-business companies desire the attention of C-level executives, but I have to ask, is this really the right target? Is Jeffrey Immelt, GE’s chairman and CEO, truly going to make the final decision or even influence the decision about a new manufacturing line that will be purchased for a GE Aviation plant? Or for that matter, will David Joyce, president and CEO of GE Aviation, be that involved in the decision? Many exerts would say no.
“C-level executives (CLEs) rarely get up in the morning thinking about interacting with salespeople.” (Selling to the C-Suite). In fact, when asked what keeps them up at night, most CEOs said shareholder value, not what new supply chain processes and equipment they want to explore and purchase for their company.
In addition, the actual numbers of CLEs is quite small. According to Steve Lutz, “As there is no listing for C-level executives in the census, let’s estimate the number of C-level executives in the B2B selling world using the Global 2000 list of companies. If we estimate that the Global 2000 on average has five C-level executives—CEO, CFO, COO, CIO, president—and seven additional ‘close to C-level executives’—EVP sales, SVP marketing, SVP HR, divisional president, etc.—then we arrive at a total of approximately 24,000 senior executives for the entire pool of over 10 million U.S.-based salespeople to call on.”
So, what’s a B-to-B company to do, since most C-suite members are not interested in being marketed or sold to?
“You marketing guys are all alike. You think that because I’m the CIO you have to send everything to me. I get tons of stuff from you and all your competitors. Let me tell you something, this is not how we make decisions. I have talented people responsible for their own areas. You’re using me as an executive mailroom, and I don’t appreciate it.” Excerpted from Marketing to the C-Suite, by Scott Hornstein.
Perhaps a better spend for marketing and sales is to focus dollars and attention on the group-decision gauntlet that is at the core of the B-to-B purchase process. Most B-to-B purchases involve a team of at least five employees from various departments; this team is corralled to find the right supplier/partner/vendor for the company’s need. There is rarely a C-level executive or even an EVP in the group. So, wouldn’t it be a better investment to create marketing communications that address the specific needs and motivations of middle management since CLEs delegate the task of vetting potential solutions to these people?
However, if you do believe it is critical to target the C-suite, make sure you have a compelling message. Remember, the C-suite cares “less about the widget and more about return on investment.” Messaging to the C-suite should be personalized, specific to the issues facing the company, and unique.
by Carolyn Ladd
Vice President, Planning