By Dominique Côté, Founder and CEO, Cosawi Consulting
In our organization’s work, we see much confusion and lack of clarity on executive sponsorship, even when it is in place. Clarifying the executive sponsor role, behaviors (internally and externally) and expectations is critical if we wish to leverage the role as an accelerator and create executive accountability within the account team.
In the first post of this series, we discussed the importance of establishing a SAM Center of Excellence (COE) to enable the SAM journey’s evolution, sustainability and agility. As a sequel, we would like to address the critical role of executive sponsorship, how it can impact the success of your strategic partnership when done well and, most importantly, best practices for doing so.
I remember being an executive sponsor myself in the corporate environment. During those years of leading SAM journeys, I was often frustrated by the lack of engagement among some of my fellow executive sponsor colleagues. For many of them, it was their belief that being an executive sponsor amounted to being a name on a slide and a lifeline when a critical issue or problem arose. We too often confuse strategic account sponsorship with corporate project sponsorship, where sponsorship is a way to escalate issues or decision-making when in need.
When done right, strategic account sponsorship begs to have a very different definition. I find it valuable to rebrand the concept from executive sponsorship to executive engagement. This name implies buy-in from the executive and the “be-in” mindset. The idea of executive engagement implies an accountable and engaged member of the account team, rather than a distant back-room player.
Strategic account management is a team sport and requires cross-functional, multi-tiered vertical level engagement and strong accountability. Executive sponsorship is undoubtedly critical to the team and is a key internal and customer account role. It must be part of the SAM structure that is put in place to enable, support and execute the SAM vision and strategy by enabling customer partnership, account revenue generation and achievement of objectives.
These are the four key components that we see the best companies placing at the forefront of their efforts to accelerate executive sponsorship, which I will detail below. They are:
- Leading the organizational customer-centric culture
- Clearly defining the executive sponsor role
- Adapting corporate behaviors when working in the account
- Matching the right sponsor to each account