Motivating the CEO

I just had a call from a client we’ve been after for a long time – they’re the world’s largest operator in a high profile leisure sector. We’ve been talking with them on and off for the last few months, but things had gone a little quiet.

Now, in a recession, new business prospecting is hard. In fact, as an eCRM agency we’re pretty much honour-bound to concentrate on retention, delivering more bang for our clients’ bucks and making sure what we do really works. The corollary is that (hopefully) word then might get around and we’ll win more business. The truth is that the majority of our new business this year has come from existing clients, and previous concentration on winning multi-brand groups has turned out to have made perfect strategic sense.

So it was very nice to find myself on the receiving end of a forty-minute phone call clarifying exactly what the first few steps in a relationship might be. One of the questions I asked during the conversation was what had prompted the call. Seems the CEO had got in touch with the head of customer relationships and told him that retention was a highly strategic issue and that the brand needs to invest in eCRM. Client’s pleased, though I suspect he might have wished for the buy-in sooner. Agency’s happy, because as long as the client’s goals and the budget are right, who’s worried what the trigger is?

But I am. I’d love to know why, after 18 months, the CEO has had an epiphany about digital and retention. It’s slightly like the old days, when we could speak with marketers all day long but it was the CEO who bought the website (and when I say old days, I mean 1995). I’m fully aware that reducing expenditure and improving margins are highly strategic issues, and I’m also aware that digital can address these head on. But I’m wondering why the sudden awareness of eCRM. I’d love to think it was articles in magazines like Revolution, but I’m not certain CEOs read them. I’d be flabbergasted if this particular CEO was following my Tweets about eCRM.

However, I do know that digital has become a strategic issue amongst some business leaders, forced by recession to take a long hard look at how and why the world is changing around their brands. Social media is turning sales funnel-oriented acquisition on its head, Forrester Research are re-educating business strategists with robust models for initiating change – both through listening to what they’ve called the groundswell and by using different approaches to segmentation to drive customer engagement. Don Tapscott’s Grown Up Digital is showing up at CEO professional development organisations like the excellent Vistage. CEOs are really taking note of a (rare) opportunity to leverage the changes wrought by recession that incorporates a new marketing world view driven by customers in a medium that is digital.

Ultimately I guess it’s the CEO’s responsibility to ensure the senior team – and particularly marketing and sales – are on the right track to support the strategic goals of the business. And these strategic goals are not just weathering the storm, but preparing for the opportunities to come.

I’m hoping it means I might get a few more calls.

PS. If you are a CEO, and you’re reading this, that last sentence was a hint ;)

You should follow me on Twitter here.

This post first appeared on my Revolution Blog on BrandRepublic.

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