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How to Engage the C-Suite Technology Community

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The technology C-suite are a leadership community worth engaging. Over a private lunch, 11 enterprise marketing leaders share their lessons on building trusted relationships.

C-suite engagement has been a core task of the B2B marketing function for decades. Through the arsenal of marketing strategies at their fingertips, they have sought to engage CIOs and others for their thought leadership, experience and insights, and partnerships. The technology C-suite community is, therefore, an incredibly in-demand community. 

Over that time, two key trends have presented the most challenges and opportunities for marketing teams as they seek to engage—and keep engaging—the technology C-suite. 

The first is the emergence and eventual domination of digital technologies. Innovation in how we communicate and collaborate, live and work, birthed many new channels for marketers to utilise, whilst exploding the number of competitors crowding space and attention. The second is the rise in importance of the technology C-suite, directly linked to the above. CIOs in particular have seen a stunning transformation of their stock: from back office to board level in two decades, making them harder yet more attractive to engage for organisations. 

In 2023, with the ramifications of the pandemic still being felt across the business landscape, questions of C-suite engagement remain. With this in mind HotTopics invited together 11 B2B marketing leaders in the technology sector to compare and contrast their finest C-suite activities, the lessons learned along the way and what next for the year ahead. Joining HotTopics, and moderated by Editor Peter Stojanovic, the following leaders shared their insights over a three course lunch at a renowned London restaurant:

 

Enterprise CMO lunch speakers

Bonnie Pelosi, CMO, Microsoft UK

Emma Chatwin, VP Marketing, Europe, Fujitsu

John Watton, VP Marketing, VMware

Kritika Singh, Business Marketing Head, UKI, Benelux & TMT, HCLTech

Marie Thornton, Head of EMEA & APAC Marketing, BlueJeans by Verizon

Peter Thomas, Global Marketing & Communications Director, Innovation, Accenture

Rob Wood, Head of Enterprise Marketing, Google Cloud

Steven Goddard, Head of GTM Strategy, Nutanix

Tricia Stinton, CMO, Computacenter

Utkarsh Srivastav, Group Manager and Head, Brand & Digital, LTTS

Yafaa Ahres, Head of Marketing, Elsewhen

 

Successful C-suite engagement activities

With the first course finished and plates spirited away, Emma Chatwin of Fujitsu aptly began the conversation, given her business’ long relationship with the technology C-suite. 

“Fujitsu began building a community of technology leaders over 20 years ago in an engagement program called the Fujitsu Executive Discussion Evening Series,” she said. “And it’s still alive today.”

Both the Series’ longevity and success makes it a rarity in the industry, as Emma herself stated. 

“Its success is very much down to its non-sales platform and purpose. We all know that’s key. We have also been creative with the content they see from us; it’s intellectual thought leadership where we bring together leaders in technology and we discuss quite broad topics, technology-adjacent themes. Over that time we have engaged with thousands of C-level executives.” 

These themes have evolved with the growth of technology. Previously business-related topics are now more technology focused as more and more of them find technology at the heart of their debates. Yet one point has always been maintained: to share insights and learn from one another. 

Emma herself has been part of the Fujitsu family for 20 years, seeing first hand this community evolve, alongside their own Series. How have they had to shift their style of communication over time, in line with digitalisation?

“We’ve always accessed them through email and phone calls, and of course personal connections. To be honest it hasn’t changed all that much in 20 years—‘the old ways remain the best,’ agreed Peter Thomas—as social media isn’t an appropriate channel for this group. 

Immersive experiences

“Has anyone read Zone to Win, by Geoffrey Moore?” Steven Goddard of Nutanix asked, before he shared a highly creative experience that worked to engage key decision makers. 

Zone to Win: Organizing to Compete in an Age of Disruption, focuses on spurring next-generation growth, guiding mergers and acquisitions, and embracing disruption and innovation. Written by well-known thought leader and advisor Geoffrey Moore, Zone to Win asks companies to redefine success. It also helped Steven shape an immersive experience that drove real connections and, eventually, partnerships.

“At the time I was EMEA Marketing for Dell EMC Global Services and the biggest challenge for us was that we weren’t seen as strategic players in the boardroom,” he said. 

Reading Zone to Win proved illuminating. The zones in the book “mapped nicely with our digital transformation consulting capabilities” and Steven then reached out to the author to help run executive workshops with board members, which were supported by a crew of Cloud, Big Data, Workforce and Application consultants. Executives then spent a day with them working through zone workshops with the team and Geoffrey. 

“Over 500 FTSE 500 executives engaged with the program over the two years it was run,” said Steven. 

 Building upon the success of this partnership, Steven and his team elevated the workshops into immersive experiences—much like Secret Cinema experiences, the lunch table heard. The team built a “dystopian world and a narrative that disruption is a virus which is toxic to your brand”.  

“Creating this alternative reality took executives out of their comfort zone and drove greater engagement across the experience,” Steven explained. Both the outputs and the outcomes were positive: “KPN said it was the best thing they had ever been to, we broke into the boardroom at Barclays and the CIO of Shell said a day of my time here pays back a 1000 fold”.  

Build a trusted cohort

Bringing the table back to Emma Chatwin’s closing points, Peter Thomas, with 10 years’ experience at Accenture, spoke about the core aspects of C-suite engagement that have remained almost unchanged over the past few decades. 

“The basic components of getting the C-suite together haven’t changed,” said Peter. “Bespoke content, something unique, exclusive and differentiated, and relationship-led, allows you to build a trusted cohort. Roundtables in particular still hold merit.

“What has changed however is measurability. Marketers can now better validate their activities.”

“Leaders also want to know how to be better leaders, so will look for advice on this,” said Utkarsh Srvastav.

Bespoke content and joint programs with universities on leadership and strategy help nurture and grow these individuals along the path to C-suite engagement, having the dual-benefit of promoting trust between your brand and this community, and positioning yourself as a thought leader and partner aligned to this community, not a vendor that just sells to them. What supercharges this strategy is who they’re run by. 

“These relationships need to be actioned and owned by marketers to build in that trust over a longer period of time, rather than sales,” added Utkarsh.

Closing this first conversation before the arrival of the main course, John Watton on VMWare reflected on his most successfuL C-suite activity whilst at Adobe, CMO.com.

“C-level executives have a hierarchy of needs: how do they make money; how do they save money; how do they save jobs; and how do they be a hero.

“For CMO.com we built a community of senior marketers to share their views with an independent editorial team, with no measurement—and most people profiled weren’t customers. 

“We framed articles and posted them to these CMOs, who took photographs and sent them back to us! The kudos was very appreciated.”

Lessons learned from past campaigns

“It’s all about psychology: people connect with people,” announced Marie Thornton, beginning the second part of this three-part lunch.

Marie explained that that lesson now forms the central part of her activities today. “It’s lonely at the top,” she continued, so to be able to offer C-level forums where Chatham House Rules are respected and you can truly share your challenges without worry and get peer-to-peer guidance and advice is invaluable. 

But if you host advisory boards “you need to honour what you set up,” she said. “If you’re going to ask customers to advise you, you need to play back how their advice has actually been adopted and changed something. Trusted advisors need to feel trusted.”

If done well, these kinds of events are an Aladdin’s cave of insight that can form your messaging and activities for the future, Marie concluded.

Seasoned CMO Bonnie Pelosi explained her key lesson learned is making sure all your own department heads are bought into any programme around C-suite engagement. Whether you’re building a local event or connecting with global leaders, regional nuances mean you don’t miss unknown hurdles and keep more people connected to the success of the strategy.

“A CMO role knits together the whole organisation and you have to ask yourself what success looks like for them,” explained Bonnie, when describing how to try convincing heads to work with the marketing team.

Tricia Stinton of Computacenter extrapolated that perspective with her own. 

“Your own senior executives need to understand what’s special about your business, as well as what customers and clients are seeing and saying. That pragmatic, authentic blend of leadership will diffuse well into your own strategies and they will see you as a more honest brand.”

Other CMOs around the table brought up similar points about who marketing teams should bring on to co-own these relationships. From the product teams to individual thought leaders, who marketing teams choose to network with the technology C-suite can have huge ramifications for the success of those relationships. Rob Wood of Google Cloud, Peter Thomas and Steven Gerrard all voiced this concern as a major less learned.

Marketing teams should also be aware of proactively evolving these communities themselves. The facets of diversity, especially in the modern era, mean some communities of C-suites (especially given the space) are no longer “fit for purpose”, felt these CMOs. They need to be “reflective of our new reality”, we heard.

 

2023 priorities for C-suite engagement

As the pudding course was taken away and coffees were brought out, the B2B CMO table mused on their priorities for 2023, having discussed the above. The following priorities, in no particular order, were agreed upon by the whole group:

  • Explore the new areas, both physical and digital, where the C-suite are increasingly choosing to spend their time. The old guard of events are beginning to lose their appeal; new, innovative experiences will capture the attention and imagination of the C-suite, said Kritika Singh of HCLTech.
  • Determine the right mix of hybrid experiences—and whether they are appropriate for your budgets.
  • Examine your purpose for engaging the C-suite and double-down on it to ensure that’s known through the community. Having a why is vital.
  • Marketing needs to be braver about owning the relationships that require nurturing. Sales hasn’t proved it has the medium to long term vision to nurture.
  • Patience is the most vital attribute of a B2B marketing leader(!), said Yafaa Ahres of Elsewhen.
  • When engaging the technology C-suite, not all events should be events; marketers have a whole toolkit to utilise: use them. 
  • Partnering to build bespoke events can often be the most successful, when chosen well and strategically.

 

Editor’s review

Given HotTopics’ position both as a conduit for the intelligence and experience of the global industry’s C-suite and as a platform to showcase their profile, this topic, all around C-suite engagement sits at the heart of our purpose. Yet with a constantly evolving world, the leaders that have a hand in shaping that evolution require constant support. That support could be educational resources, inspirational content, experiential events or peer-to-peer networking. Although different in their actions they all have the same aim: to curate and support a community. If there is one lesson I learned moderating this conversation over a delicious meal, it is that the C-Suite technology community must be treated as a community. That means, with patience, respect, authenticity, empathy and, where appropriate, the help of trusted partners.

 

About HotTopics

HotTopics is a community of 15,000+ C-level executives, including 4,000+  technology leaders, with representation from 75% of the Fortune 500. This community is brought together through premium thought leadership, Top 100 Awards and our flagship event for the technology C-suite, The Studio.

To learn more about The Studio, discover the experience for the technology C-suite here.

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