Three secrets to opening the CEO door

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Recently I had a discussion with Mark Petroff, president-CEO of Marketing Associates, a supplier of sales and marketing initiatives for blue chip companies, about technology marketing to the C-suite. We discussed some of the most effective ways for technology marketers to target CEOs.

Together, we came up with three important ways of doing this: education, experience and reference clients.

On the education side, remember that technology spending is a long-considered purchase, and education is a big part of the process. You need to educate the CEO who is very hands-on in the decisions. Make it really easy for him or her to digest the information you're providing over time.

As a marketer, before you target any CEO directly you have to ask yourself, “Is this CEO someone who is going to be a decision maker or an influencer?” Ultimately you really want to spend most of your effort on the decision maker and less on the influencer. In small-to-midsize companies, the CEO is likely to be more involved, while in larger companies the CEO will probably be less involved in the details of a decision.

As for the experiential, face-to-face approach, getting CEOs outside of work to an event where they have time to focus can make a huge difference in building a relationship. If you stage such an event, the agenda must be compelling and the venue needs to appeal to an executive audience.

Also, CEOs want to hear from someone who is agnostic. It's better if it's an industry-wide discussion and not focused on a particular vendor's point of view. Also helpful in getting the CEO's attention is providing a great speaker, a tech luminary who will draw CEOs in to listen to what he or she has to say.

Getting CEOs together and facilitating a conversation is a huge draw because they appreciate their peers being in the room. Those hosting the events are looked at as thought leaders.

How do we get your attention when you have never heard of us before? This is where the third part comes in—building credibility with reference clients. You want to look for opportunities to link your services with a customer's success.

Consider what might happen at an awards show, for example. You as the b-to-b vendor need to be there to talk about how your services helped make your customer great. If I'm a CEO, I'm going to look at the top companies to see how they use technology to drive growth. I'm going there to understand how companies became great, not to look for a vendor. Yet if the vendor is there alongside the customer, speaking about how the company partnered for that customer's success, it speaks volumes and gets my attention.

Consider these three methods of reaching CEOs with technology needs—education, experience and reference clients. It can apply to other verticals as well.

In future blogs, I plan to present more marketing advice from top executives I talk to, including non-marketing executives, and highlight (once again) three key bits of advice each time from the C-suite. Stay tuned.

Lisa Dreher is VP-marketing and business development with Logicalis Inc. ( She can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter at @LisaDreher.

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