If you’ve ever tried scheduling a phone call with a C-level executive, you know they can be difficult to reach. That’s by design. Executive time and attention are valuable assets, and companies have good reason to safeguard them. Breaking through and making a lasting impression takes ingenuity, persistence, and good storytelling.
Executives are used to getting pitched. A lot. A global executive survey by Quartz found that 78 percent of executives are open to reading branded content, yet only 42 percent found the last piece of content they read useful.
While their employees focus on details and moving projects forward, executives spend their time with the biggest, most complex problems facing their business. They’re voracious information consumers with finely-tuned BS detectors. If you can offer a novel solution to a problem they’re wrestling with, you have a very good chance of getting their attention. But you won’t have much time to convince them, so you need to make sure every word of your pitch, email, or collateral is fine tuned to your audience.
Here’s how to reach C-level executives with the kinds of stories that resonate with them.
The right audience
While a story might seem like the last thing a busy executive has time for, stories can make your offer more memorable than a presentation listing nothing but facts and data. Stories engage with our emotions, and scientific studies suggest we make decisions based on emotional factors more often than rational ones.
Every story needs an audience. To understand yours, start with refined buyer personas and a thorough understanding of the company’s purchasing process. Who is involved in the decision to buy your solution? What are the time and budget constraints? Is there internal resistance to overcome?
Understanding what motivates your high-value accounts is the foundation of account-based marketing (ABM). ABM tailors marketing messages and campaigns to the needs and preferences of individual accounts. Selling to high-level executives is most effective with mid-market companies, and it requires this kind of tightly targeted, well-informed strategy.
Once you understand who you’re trying to reach, you can start building your story. Great brand stories help your audience understand how their pain points can be solved by your unique selling proposition (USP). You’ll need three basic building blocks for your story: a hook (a problem to be solved), a hero (someone uniquely positioned to solve it), and a resolution (the happy place).
If you’ve done a good job with the preliminary work of account awareness and buyer personas, you’ve chosen a problem your target executive is wrestling with right now. That problem is your hook.
Good stories create tension — like the suspense we feel when reading a murder mystery, or the excitement when the action heats up in a summer blockbuster. Your pitch can create tension by casting your prospect’s problem in a new light. Your prospect is aware the wolf is at the door — your job is to show just how much damage that wolf is primed to do. Maybe you’ve done original research showing the unseen costs of the problem. Maybe you have evidence from clients who came to you with declining productivity or constrained growth. Or you might have research showing how existing solutions are failing the industry.
Layering tension into your hook can help you shed new light on a familiar problem, and that is a sweet spot in executive communication. Showing a C-suite prospect that you understand the problem and can provide fresh insights into it opens the door to a potential conversation.
Hook your prospect with early-stage marketing outreach such as a targeted email campaign with an invitation to explore an e-book or white paper. Use insights, data, or original research the executive hasn’t seen before to pique their curiosity about your offer.
The hero in a marketing story is your solution. Every great hero’s journey features a hero with singular gifts for tackling this particular challenge. If your executive prospect is under siege by Doctor Octopus, your product is Spider-Man. If you’ve done sufficient competitive analysis to arrive at a truly unique selling proposition, you know what sets your offer apart. How can you connect it to the problem you’ve outlined to show what makes it so powerful and capable?
Your brand is key to this part of your story. It’s what makes your hero personal and exciting. Features and benefits and a compelling USP are the DNA, but there’s also an X-factor that comes from your culture and values. Maybe you have the only mobile app in your industry, and that’s central to your pitch. But that benefit may sit within a wider identity of always being first-to-market with new tools, or being laser-focused on user experience. Your hero has an identity, not just superpowers and a mission.
This is the stage for heroic gestures like direct mail campaigns with gifts—here’s a remote-controlled plane, schedule a meeting to get the controller—statement pieces that show not just what you can do, but who you are and what you’re about.
Another quality that defines a compelling hero is action. The Quartz survey found that executives were most drawn to content that featured engaging data visualizations, photography, and interactive features and videos. Illustrating key concepts with graphic elements gives executives the fresh information they crave in the quick, scannable format they need to grasp the story and move on.
If you’d like to learn more about campaign strategies for high-value accounts, check out our Step-By-Step Guide to Account-Based Marketing.
The happy place
You’ve pitted the hero against a seemingly insurmountable foe, whether that’s costly production delays, quality defects, or administrative time-sucks. To wit, you’ve shown this is a problem that must be overcome and that you’re the only one who can rise to the occasion. Now, it’s time to relieve the tension and bring about a happy resolution.
Where will your client be once your solution is in place? What does their world look like when their big problem is solved? Case studies can show clients relieved now that they’ve been rescued. ROI calculators can demonstrate savings piling up. Videos illustrating improved workflows or company growth can help your prospect envision a better future enabled by your solution.
You are up to the challenge
Communicating directly with the C-suite isn’t a hopeless cause, but it does require precise campaigns and compelling content. Account-based marketing is an ideal framework for telling your story to executives and other buyers at high-value accounts. With optimized messaging and strategies, ABM can ensure that your story is primed for the C-suite and delivered through the best channels at each step in your journey.
Want to engage B2B executives with your brand’s unique story? Contact PMG to learn how we can help you leverage account-based marketing for better results.