Executive Sponsorship Redux (Part 2)

Here’s the final round of how you can get someone to spend their political capital for your purposes.

  • Make it important to them. Big P.C. comes from doing something important. You have to connect to their biggest business problems and demonstrate how your relationship aligns to those, or you will not get any real P.C. spend—you’ll just get lip service. The results have to be measureable and they have to happen quickly.
  • Big ROI. This is key. You have to show a very big ROI in one of two ways: either a huge multiple on a big investment or a huge multiple on a small one. Executive Sponsors must perceive a relatively small expenditure of P.C. to get a big win. To do this, you are going to be very specific in your requests. a. “I need for you to make this introduction on my behalf.” b. “I’ll need your direct support in getting that information from that department.” c. “I’m concerned that the person we need for this effort does not feel the sense of urgency that we do. Will you assist me in moving this up her priority list?” These things are all small P.C. expenditures for the Executive Sponsor, but are big in terms of value to us (the little guy). By being tactical and specific in your requests, you have helped them to calculate what the potential P.C. expenditure. The request is contained and manageable, so you have a higher likelihood of getting that sponsorship.
  • Make them important in the process. Vagueness serves no one in Executive Sponsor work. Often times I explain to my sponsor up front: “Here’s our experience, if you don’t provide some sponsorship in these stages of the process of our companies considering working together, the inertia of doing things the same way will keep people from making necessary change. That’s why it is so important that if you are really interested in seeing what this process might produce, that we have your early support to at least have the necessary meetings and get the information to see what is possible.” I have found that this very direct explanation gets a Sponsor’s head nodding. They begin to understand why they’re needed in the process and just how crucial their role is.
  • Make the right ask. Start with incremental requests early in the process. You want them to get comfortable with you by making small spends of P.C. before you make the big ask. This may mean getting a person to a meeting or making a request for a report or other piece of information. Don’t ask them to sell for you; they won’t be any good at it. Don’t ask them to guarantee you will get the deal; they can’t and will feel you have overstepped. Even in the “big ask,” the Executive Sponsorship Agreement, you are only asking for assistance that is appropriate, (See my blog “Executive Sponsorship Agreement”).
  • Talk them up. Wherever you are in the process, you should speak highly of your sponsor. This gives your sponsor a modicum of P.C. in his or her organization.

How to put this to work:

Set Expectations Early. Just like the example above and the document from “Executive Sponsorship Agreement,” you want to be direct as to what you are asking for and why you need to have it. The key things that you need from an Executive Sponsor are:

  • Access. His/her assistance on connecting to the right people is very important.
  • Priority. We need to figure out the appropriate level of attention for your organization so that the process is supported.
  • Interest. Communicate with him/her throughout the process and let him/her know what’s happening. Stay connected with updates on the progress.
  • Logjams. If the process bogs down, you must be able to approach the Executive Sponsor and be able to count on his/her assistance.
  • Clarity. There are times when you will need to better understand your Executive Sponsor’s company and its unique culture. If you are confused, you must be able to ask for clarity from the Executive Sponsor.

I have included an example in my earlier Executive Sponsorship post.

Negotiate half-steps when you can’t get full steps. If you can’t get someone to give you the Executive Sponsorship that you request at any step in the process, then you have to get your half-a-loaf. The request sounds like this, “Can you at least do this much for me?” and then make your request. If you are not getting this much commitment, then you are not necessarily lost, but you are losing fast.

Don’t proceed without commitment. At every step in the sales process, even the first one, you have to have an Executive Sponsor. Unless your business works on the basis of blind RFP awards, (which if it does, why are you reading about selling? That’s not selling, it’s bidding and hoping), then you cannot win at any step unless you have sponsorship.

Don’t single thread. You need executive sponsorship from everyone who will give it to you. That means that every meeting requires an ask of some fashion for one of the five things stated above. You need them to be able to win, and since we are playing to win, not playing to play, there is no sense in going forward without that sponsorship. By having multiple executive sponsors, you are increasing the potential of success from all of the players and more P.C. is being spent on your behalf.

The best people at securing Executive Sponsorship are the most fearless. They are direct, they are unapologetic in asking for what they need in the sales process and they are quick to explain why not getting what they need is bad for the prospect. Ask early, ask often and ask specifically.