Executive Sponsors and Project Sponsors – Teams you may want to implement
This is the third in a series of three articles on types of teams you may want to implement if you want to improve customer experience. This time I cover two types of executive ‘sponsors’: those for individual large customers, and project sponsors.
Executive sponsors for strategic accounts
A ‘strategic account’ is a customer who you expect to generate a substantial portion of your revenue in the future. A sponsor should be a senior executive who is able to devote a substantial portion of his or her time to improving the relationship your company has with an individual customer. ‘Substantial’ means two to four days per month. This time is almost never spent directly in selling sessions. Examples of what customer sponsors do are:
- Brief the customer’s leadership team on the strategy of your company.
- Call the customer’s key people to discuss your latest quarterly results. If the sponsor is, for example, your CFO, they may call the customer’s CFO.
- Brief the customer on new products or services entirely outside any possible current sales opportunity.
- Brief the customer on the latest change of CEO or other senior executive.
- Call the customer to discuss their latest earnings announcement, product announcement or leadership changes.
- If the customer has a current escalation in progress with your company, the sponsor should call the senior executives to give them progress updates.
- Make a presentation about the customer to your company leadership team on a quarterly basis. A good practice is to have this as a regular agenda item. You can optionally invite the customer to present their company.
In essence, the executive sponsor’s main role is to give the customer confidence that you are going to take care of them. This is particularly important for customers who are neither very positive nor very negative about you. You should stimulate regular two-way communication.
A sponsor should have a personal interest in the customer’s business
An executive sponsor is unlikely to be successful without being personally interested in the company concerned. In my own case, an uncle founded Ireland’s first cable TV company (Phoenix Relays) and I took personal interest in the cable-encryption company Kudelski, when they were an HP strategic account. I consider this to be the most important piece of screening you do. If you have nobody who is interested in a particular customer’s business, I believe you will be better off not appointing anyone, rather than having someone who does not care.
Executive sponsors are also formal or informal escalation points the customer may naturally go to if they are upset about something and are not getting it resolved. Your formal escalation teams also need to keep the sponsor informed of anything serious that is going on at the customer site.
Executive sponsors may be able to do some of your relationship research
You can consider asking executive sponsors to do some of your relationship-survey interviews. They will only agree if the formal list of questions is very short, as in the NPS format. While they may be reluctant to ask the single rating question in such a survey, they will probably get over it. I suggest persuading them that it is a good way of finding out whether the person is willing to be a reference, and if not, what we need to improve to get there.
Doing the work well takes a lot of research and presence. If, for example, you have 20 strategic accounts, and have 20 or more appropriate leaders, they should take one customer each, and plan on spending five to ten hours a week on the sponsorship role, at least for the first few months.
The project sponsor role is defined in a White Paper by the Project Management Institute as:
- Providing clear direction for the project and how it links with the organization’s overall strategy.
- Securing project resources.
- Ensuring the project is on time, on budget and on scope.
- Providing feedback on status reports and making sure they reach the necessary stakeholders.
- Championing the project at the executive level to secure buy-in.
Both customer and internal projects should have sponsors. They have as much impact as the project manager. In the case of customer projects, you can consider asking the sponsor to formally interview customer executives about the project once it is complete, or has hit major milestones.
Customer Success teams, Customer Advisory Boards, and these two types of executive sponsors are the four main ‘non-standard’ teams I suggest you implement to improve customer experience, particularly for B2B customers. If you are in a consumer business, but work through retailers, the retailers are the ones who should be on your Customer Advisory Board. When I say ‘non-standard teams’, I mean teams you don’t need to simply survive. Your support team is an example of the latter category.
As usual, this is an edited version of something I have written in one of our books, in this case Customer Experience Strategy – Design and Implementation. Your comments are welcome below.