top table
September 29, 2014

How can you better influence your top table C-Suite team?

By Paul Laughlin

As more Customer Insight leaders rise in seniority within blue chip companies, do they have the skills to influence at the top table?

This is not just for Customer Insight Directors (CID), although that role and it’s American cousin (CKO, Chief Knowledge Officer) are appearing in more and more companies.

Whether or not you have risen to the seniority of being called a CID, you are hopefully finding that your executives want to hear from you. So, when you get that call or a regular appointment at the top table, what should you do?

Here are just a few tips I learnt through getting it wrong to start with:

Find out what is already on top table agenda

To start with, don’t try to raise your own agenda topics, based on current work from CI team. Instead find out what is on their agenda. Bringing extra insight to one of their current dilemmas, a customer perspective that can be acted upon, will increase your influence.

This is just akin to Stephen Covey’s classic advice to focus on your circle of influence not your circle of concern.

Bring a regular customer update to top table

Being the voice of the customer at the top table is almost a moral responsibility for any organisation’s customer insight leader.

However, it’s important to focus on where you can add extra value to what they know already. I found one approach was to take responsibility for the existing customer metric that they track (whether that be NPS, CSat or CES). Then enhance that programme to bring a more granular understanding which enables follow-up actions and evidence of impact.

For example additional questions captured in line with your learning of top concerns from qual research, plus then analytics to both evidence behaviour and impact when experience is changed.

If your data and controls are sufficient, you may even be able to evidence retention rate impact from customer experience improvements and as a result the direct financial benefit.

Bring a regular commercial update to top table

Whilst not as expected from Customer Insight teams, I found bringing an update on the performance of our targeted leads, direct marketing etc helped changed perceptions. Repositioning the customer insight function as being a commercial team.

This was further improved by taking responsibility for measuring marketing effectiveness (with a combination of econometrics and other methods) and by sharing commercial targets. Once the top team realise how much of top line performance is actually driven by targeting and insight-led media mix, the demand for updates on these parts of balanced scorecard increases. As does your team’s reputation.

Update jointly with Marketing or Operations

Most of the CEOs I have known over the years are looking to see the kind of behaviours from their leaders that give them confidence in their leadership pipeline.

One of these is the ability to take a cross-functional view, to not just be concerned with achieving your targets or the reputation of your function. Rather, looking to the good of the whole organisation.

Updating jointly with Marketing and Operations and allowing them to take some of your ‘glory’ is a way to demonstrate this. It focusses, rightly, on what you do with insight and shows your collaborative approach. I recommend taking this risk.

What have you found helps at your top table?

I hope that helps. What have you found helps you have most impact at your top table? What gets those big business decisions to be increasingly insight-led?

If you aren’t having the impact you want – try doing something different. Hopefully the ideas in this post give you at least one thing to try.