build an executive sponsorship program

7 tips for building a successful executive sponsorship program

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Posted by: Lucid Content Team

When it comes to building a successful company, every employee plays a pivotal role. However, as modern work becomes more connected and cross-functional, there are also opportunities to collaborate and optimize the way work gets done.

For example, marketing and sales work closely together to set new accounts up for success. Sales reps and engineers work with implementation teams to get new clients off to a healthy start. 

Executive leadership can also play an active role in these partnerships—not just when it’s time to sign on the dotted line but throughout the entire sales process. Let’s discuss how building an active executive sponsorship program can help your sales teams. 

What is an executive sponsorship program?

When it comes to professional development, we’ve all heard buzzwords like “executive sponsor” and read articles about the differences between a “mentor” and a “sponsor.” What we’re talking about here is a bit different. An executive sponsorship program is a formal program that your company can put in place to pair senior executives and account managers together to deliver white-glove service to your top clients.

Studies have shown that when account executives involve senior executives in deal negotiations throughout the process, account executives can close deals faster and establish more long-term relationships with clients. 

Putting an executive sponsorship program into action

Here are some practical tips to consider when establishing an executive sponsorship program.

1. Define who owns the program

Consider the program’s impact on revenue and determine who owns the program, whether it’s a team member from sales, marketing, or customer success. The more important consideration, however, is who the role reports to. 

The executive sponsorship program owner often reports to the CEO or other executive leadership. This organizational structure creates a direct line of communication with executive leadership and ensures that the program is aligned with the business’s larger strategic goals.

2. Establish clear lanes: Executive sponsor vs. account manager

Selling is a team sport, but your executive sponsor won’t be engaged in every conversation. It’s best to reserve their engagement for strategic steps in the deal. Beyond that, it’s critical to make sure they’re adequately briefed and coached before they engage with any prospect or customer. 

When briefing your executive sponsor, it’s important to lay out which conversations have occurred and which concerns have already been addressed. Have a pre-call meeting where you discuss the next steps in the negotiation process and clearly map out talking points or a call script.

Make sure you’re aligned on the strategic approach of the account. By establishing clear lanes between executive sponsors and account managers, you can avoid any embarrassing miscommunication and help deals move more swiftly.

3. Choose the right accounts and the right sponsor

It’s simply not possible to involve senior executives in every deal in your pipeline—and it’s also not an efficient use of time. 

Use data to match the right accounts with the right kind of sponsorship. It comes down to ROI, so consider which accounts offer the most strategic value, competitive advantage, or revenue and potential growth opportunities to the business. Existing accounts that are at risk for churn are also good candidates for an executive sponsor to rebuild trust and show investment.

Also think about your customer’s perspective of your value—do you offer a business-critical service or tool? Keeping an executive sponsor involved in these accounts will build trust and potentially result in loyalty and referred business down the road. 

Engaging in regular deal reviews and quarterly business reviews (QBRs) with your team can also provide excellent opportunities to assess where your clients fit in your company’s overall big picture. 

Platforms like Lucidchart can help sales teams make these critical account decisions. Account maps make it simple for account managers to track deal progress. They also showcase the relationships between different people at each company you work with and highlight the key decision-makers that you should be contacting. By diving deeper into deal status and relationships, it becomes clear where your executive will have the most influence. 

4. Get executive sponsors involved early on 

Clients and prospects can see through showy sales tactics and the presence of an executive sponsor alone won’t do much to move a deal forward. With that in mind, along with thoroughly debriefing executive sponsors on the details of an account, it’s important to include the sponsor early in the process. 

Get the sponsor out on the floor with the reps and provide an opportunity for multiple touchpoints with the account over time. This will build trust with both customers and sales reps. Create a series of scheduled checkpoints where the executive sponsor reviews account progress. 

Finally, encourage your sponsor to connect with their counterpart at the other company at regular intervals from the very start of your relationship. This is the kind of attention that really makes an impact and that leaves a positive impression. 

5. Determine how executive sponsors can help close deals 

Executive sponsors should also be account sponsors. While account managers manage the day-to-day communications and touchpoints with existing and potential clients, it can be useful to give executive sponsors the flexibility to build their own or additional relationships with senior decision-makers at the company. 

Once they’re involved in tactical discussions, they can provide a more visionary perspective of the solution to the customer. This optimistic approach will be that much more effective and credible if they’ve worked closely with the account manager to truly understand the needs of the account.

So how can executive sponsors move the deal forward? By reassuring customers when they express doubts and by providing the encouragement customers need to take the next step. Sometimes this means offering a discount or other financial incentive to make the deal even more appealing. Other times, just listening and talking through issues will be enough. Never underestimate the power of human connection. 

6. Focus on mentorship opportunities

A chief concern when establishing executive sponsor programs is making sure account managers do not feel marginalized when a more senior executive becomes involved.  Putting effort into making it clear to the executive that the account manager still owns the relationship is critical to the program’s success. The executive must respect the relationship the account manager has already established with the client and be responsible enough not to overstep any boundaries.

Executive sponsorship programs give executives at the company the opportunity to establish relationships with junior employees in the company. When you pair individuals who have “made it to the top” with junior employees who are hopeful about their futures, you create an environment where future leaders are being trained by default. 

Establishing an executive sponsor program requires the direct input of the CEO of the company. Having the CEO directly involved benefits everyone in the organization. When the CEO communicates their strategy to everyone on the team, it’s easier to align goals and increase transparency. 

7. Measure success regularly

From removing barriers in bureaucratic processes to fostering effective negotiations, there are several ways a successful executive sponsorship program can help boost metrics and drive results in your sales process. Regular check-ins with your CEO, combined with taking a data-driven approach to track the rate of deal closures, is critical to the success of your executive sponsorship program. 

Executive sponsors should create metrics for clients assigned to them and gauge success against this data. Retention rates, Net Promoter Scores, and revenue are all good measures of success over a customer’s lifecycle.

It’s also important to remember that not all success is measurable. An executive sponsor may be able to use their political capital to advocate for the resources the account manager needs to close a deal. And an executive sponsorship program focused on partnership can shine a light on outstanding account managers who may not be known to the leadership team. These types of partnerships can build trust, elevate individual team members, and drive results. 

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