Building Intimacy with The C-Suite

A few years ago I interviewed a top performing salesperson at a major software company. He’d just picked up the accolade of top performer for the year. What was interesting was he also scored the lowest score for “likeability” in the annual customer satisfaction survey. So I asked “are the two factors linked?” His reply was unequivocal.

“I don’t need to be liked. At a mid-management level, they openly say they don’t particularly like me. But I spend as much time as possible at the most senior level where being liked isn’t important. Bringing insight, even if that insight is uncomfortable or critical, is what’s important. It’s what buys me time with this audience.” It’s a challenging message, but psychology supports his point of view when it comes to building relationships with senior people.

The c-suite doesn’t need friends. They have lots of those, and many more who want to be friends too. What they need is people who are honest and add value. People who are prepared to challenge the status quo and (at times) call their baby ugly. And yet, most c-suite marketing (and selling) seeks to “build relationships”. Often this is interpreted as becoming friends. But actually, what we need to do is build relationships of intimacy. Let me explain…

The five stages to human relationships

There are five stages to human relationship building. The first stage is called Withdrawal – most of us don’t naturally seek conversation with strangers so we withdraw from such interactions. In business we are often thrown together and at times like this we follow a set pattern such as shaking hands and saying “it’s a pleasure to meet you”. This is Ritual.

After that most relationships develop into Past Times, asking questions about where we live, what we do – nice, gentle questions that allow us to build bridges and find commonalities. If we pass this test, we move to Gaming, a stage where we joke with each other and explore boundaries. But it’s the last stage that remains most elusive.

The Intimacy stage is when we share important, personal information. In your friendship circle you may have hundreds of friends, 50 you’re excited about going to dinner with, but only a handful you would turn to at a time of crisis. These are the people with whom you are intimate.

In business it’s the same. A c-suite exec is not interested in having a coffee [overcoming Withdrawal]. They are not interested in how friendly you are [Ritual]. Neither are they interested in how much you have in common [Past Times] nor how much you get on [Gaming].

They are interested in the value you bring to the table. Not your product or generic benefits. The value to them specifically – the stuff that impacts them personally [Intimacy]. By all means, invite them to the rugby or the football or F1. And they might come, but there needs to be value back in the boardroom for business to be done. The relationships the c-suite value are those that bring a different (even surprising) point of view that is both credible and relevant. The rest is just noise – conversations that feel nice, but don’t matter.

So what does this mean to the c-suite Marketer?

Well, it means two things. Firstly, you need to find a way to articulate intimacy. That means communicating opinion changing points of view and issues that hit people in the gut. Secondly, you need to establish credibility. Without credibility your opinion is nothing. Credibility comes through third party endorsement, social proof. It answers the question “why should I listen to you?”

Do these two things and the c-suite will pay attention.

Whether this is important, strategy changing insight or just an interesting blog is down to you and your situation. If your marketing currently focuses on benefit statements and claims of your product’s greatness you are missing the mark. You need to shake the c-suite to win hearts, minds and time in their diary.

The Definitive Guide to C-Suite Marketing
  • Ross Hall
    Posted at 15:09h, 12 August Reply

    “I don’t need to be liked. At a mid-management level, they openly say they don’t particularly like me.”

    Which isn’t necessarily a sustainable approach as the middle management levels have a nasty habit of getting promoted.

  • Pingback:Five Proven Elements of B2B C-Suite Marketing |
    Posted at 17:50h, 14 May Reply

    […] you don’t have time to build a relationship based on intimacy with someone, in the long run the C-suite likely ignore you […]

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