Transcript: How To Engage The C-Suite For Thought Leadership Opportunities with Trish Borrmann

On this episode, I was joined by Trish Borrmann, Director, Customer Advocacy at ServiceNow. Trish really enjoys working with the C-suite and recently helped launch an executive reference initiative to bring in more C-suite customers to participate in thought leadership opportunities. We talked about the channels she utilizes to reach the C-suite, what to keep in mind when working with them, and the importance of prep work and tailoring your plan to each individual. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Trish. 

Margot Leong:  Trish, thank you so much for coming on the show. Super excited to have you join. 

Trish Borrmann: Thanks, Margot. I’m really excited to be here. Thanks for inviting me. 

Margot Leong: Let’s start off with a quick introduction. So could you share a little bit about your background and just how you ended up in customer marketing and advocacy? 

Trish Borrmann: So I started out my career in marketing communications. I was a generalist at a number of small and startup companies handling everything from events to PR to collateral and a variety of things. And I always started getting customers involved in doing things like first, it was just a few videos for an event. And then it branched out into case studies. So every company I went to didn’t have any type of customer advocacy function. So it’s something I kept doing as I went to new places and really found that it was a part of the job that I enjoyed so much, because it’s dealing with happy customers and sharing really interesting stories. 

So then a job opportunity came up at Cisco that was a hundred percent focused on customer advocacy, so that’s how I got into doing customer advocacy full time. So I spent five years at Cisco running two different programs. I started in their services program for their advanced services, which crossed all sorts of technology platforms. And then my second half there of about five years, I ran their premier accounts program, so basically their top 200 accounts doing stories about them. And that is where I also got into really doing stories at a thought leadership level and very high profile speaking engagements and things like that. 

So then I went to Fortinet, which is a major cybersecurity company and started their program from the ground up, which was really exciting, and it’s a hyper-growth company that’s still going very well. So it was great to start that up and also got into the thought leadership angle and a broader program there. I am currently with ServiceNow that has a young but robust customer advocacy program that is doing some really exciting things. So I’m enjoying the journey. 

Margot Leong: And we have a mutual friend in common, Claire Grove, who I believe is also at ServiceNow, and she was one of the earliest guests on the podcast.

Trish Borrmann: Yes. I saw that. I work with Claire every day. She is amazing and so happy to be working with her. 

Margot Leong: Talk to me about your current role at ServiceNow, what are you responsible for  working on there?

Trish Borrmann: So I have a few areas, probably break it up into two or three areas. One is I’m responsible for our global interlock, with our products and solution marketing, our business units. A number of parts of the company, like customer success and customer outcomes that all are working directly with customers and with our solutions in some fashion or another. So I interlock with them and as well as my team does, and also our industry team to really discuss and uncover where are the exciting customers and what are the stories that we want to tell? 

I also manage the story production and reference recruitment and fulfillment for all of the Americas region.

And then the third part of my job is managing the executive reference initiative, which is a new program. We started last December and it really focuses on bringing in more C-suite customers to be part of our advocacy program and part of our company efforts to raise our visibility and be more relatable to the C-suite audience out there and it involves a lot of thought leadership and higher profile engagements, content speaking, engagements and things like that. 

Margot Leong: I’d love to get into it, but I think first off, what do you enjoy the most about working with the C-suite? Why are you so passionate about this area? 

Trish Borrmann: Yeah, I’m passionate about it because C-suite folks have such a broad view of the business, and they’re usually at the forefront of innovation and change and transformation for their companies. So it’s really interesting to talk to them and draw those stories out and get that broader level of view of one, what these customers are doing that is making them so successful, and how whatever company I’m working with is helping to support that for them.

One of the most fascinating  experiences I had was when I was at Fortinet, we worked with our chief information security officer to write a book about security, best practices and thought leadership. And it was so interesting to interview 30+ chief information security officers and CIOs, and even a CMO about their views on different areas of security. And this was all talking about what are they doing today as best practices, not product specific, but just in their business. And we talked about things like, how do they engage with their board, as security was becoming a board level conversation. How do you appeal to those other board members and other members of the C-suite in your day to day work. 

So these guys who I thought would be very technical, actually a lot of them were amazing story tellers and amazing relationship builders. And we’ve just learned so much from them and it was such a pleasure to share their stories and how they work with the broader security community that everyone could learn from.

Margot Leong: How do you basically think about making those types of asks? I’d love to get into that. 

Trish Borrmann: Sure. I think the key is really appealing to what is going to interest a C-suite person. And when you’re helping them share their story at a  thought leadership or industry leadership level, that is what I find resonates the most with them. So you’re not asking them just to talk about your product or your solution, you’re inviting them to speak about a bigger topic that has wider relevance and you’re offering them positions that are visible and valuable like, keynote speaking slots at your own events or other third party events or media interviews or placements that they either might not be able to get by themselves or their company might not be positioning them for that, but if you can, that’s something of value to them, and it’s also a value to their company for brand recognition and showing they’re a leader in technology or innovation in whatever they’re doing. It helps position them as a leader in their industry. 

Margot Leong: I’d even like to back up a little bit there and even understand, okay, a bit more tactically. How do you even get to the point where you get to make the ask? So do you go through the AEs, do you go in cold? Like how have you thought about this in the past?

Trish Borrmann: Yes. There are really a variety of ways. The AEs is absolutely one avenue,  you have to sell your AEs on why this is of interest to their customer because they are the gatekeeper for good reason. We’ve also gone in through the C-suite from the companies I’ve worked at. Sometimes they have relationships and that’s a helpful avenue. I also look at people’s social profiles. What are they doing out in the industry? Sometimes reach out directly. I think you just have to be really creative in how you get to them, and when you have an offer and an opportunity that is appealing, then you can cut through the clutter.

Margot Leong: I can imagine that the selling of the AEs of why this would be of interest to the customer is a really fair point because, you know, I know that in the past, AEs can be keen, but I think they’re juggling a million other things they’re trying to hit quota or exceed quota. A lot of times, they may not even have the direct relationship with the person in the C-suite. In situations like that, how do you typically sell the AE? How do you  frame that ask? 

Trish Borrmann: I share with them the picture of, one, how we’re going to treat their customer, what we’re going to offer them, how we’ll protect our customer to make sure it’s a very white glove experience that’s very positive and what the customer is going to get out of it. Another way I’ve been successful with the AEs is to join EBCs. When we were in person, I would often step into the EBC, arrange this with the AE ahead of time to just talk about our program, meet the people, usually have higher level people coming into town for EBCs that even they may not have a strong relationship with. And I usually share examples of what we’ve done with other customers and just gauge their interest. It’s great to see their reaction and also a lot of stories come out in those in-person meetings. 

And the beauty of that is the AEs are not used to selling their customer on these types of opportunities and it actually often helps them to separate your quote marketing asks from your sales asks. So by me getting that personal introduction and then I can run with it and just keep the AE informed, and it’s one less thing on their plate, and it also gives them another point for the whole company, keeping that customer engaged. You know, the more touch points, the more stickiness you have with them. 

Margot Leong: So let’s say that, you know, you have an EBC that you’re asked to step into. What does that talk  look like, right? With  a new customer that you’ve never been introduced to. What do those slides feel like? And then what does the followup look like from there?

 Trish Borrmann: Absolutely. I think you need to know your audience and research what they’ve done before. If the people you’re approaching haven’t done much public speaking or articles, you need to have it a different level of detail and get them comfortable with that. If they’re very seasoned speakers, either way, really sharing examples of what you’ve done with other customers. you know, the pictures are worth a thousand words. So I always include examples of articles, events, other things we’ve done with other customers to give them a real sense of what the outcome will look like and also share links with them afterwards, so they can dig into that in more detail. 

 And if it’s an EBC situation, usually I can get a verbal agreement or at least verbal interest, which gives me the opening to follow up and talk about more examples. And then for each customer, I like to put together an ideal scenario, a plan of, let’s look at the next year. Here’s a few different activities timed throughout the year and make sure you gauge their interest and also get their buy-in along the way, but make it a well thought out plan, not just continuing to pick up the phone and random acts of advocacy that you’re asking for, but have something thought out.

And of course things come up, you can always add and subtract, but even just showing that level of thought that you’re putting into a plan for a customer gives them confidence and it helps them know what to expect. The benefit of that is the more tailored it is, and the more you’ve researched the fit of what you’re potentially going to ask to that specific person, the higher likelihood it is that they’re going to do what you’re asking, because it fits in their wheelhouse. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. And it sounds like you have that understanding when you’re talking to them, would it be around, you know, if this person is comfortable doing XYZ, like this person really likes to get on stage or if they prefer really to talk to the press, so then you’re kind of gathering that understanding, it sounds like whether it’s through your own research or just talking to them directly and then you’re presenting them with sort of an aspirational plan of how this might look depending or based on what their preferences are that you’ve understood in the past. 

Trish Borrmann: Exactly. And that’s really important and people will surprise you. I mean, there’s definitely people who are really comfortable with public speaking and others would like to do something prerecorded or in writing. There’s also companies and brands, I’ve worked with major brands that will not do something in writing, but they’re happy to get up on stage and talk to your audience, so I usually explore all those options because you never know what they’re going to say yes to, but I like to fine tune it with having a few targeted things and then exploring what else they might like to do. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. And typically, you know, when you’re working with basically someone in the C suite side, do you find a lot of friction when trying to work with them directly? Does everything have to go through their EA? What does the nature of those conversations typically look like?

Trish Borrmann: In my experience, I’ve mostly worked with them directly. I mean, many of them have wonderful EAs that are really helpful with scheduling or guiding you if you’re trying to get hold of them and you can’t reach them, but I’ve found C-suite members to be extremely responsive once you get the relationship going. And I think that’s a testament to the value and the interest level of the activities we’re working on together. It’s not their day to day role. It’s not just another regular meeting. It’s something they’re excited about as well. 

Margot Leong:  Are there other things that you think that our listeners should keep in mind when thinking about working with the C-suite? 

Trish Borrmann: They are very busy. So you want to make every interaction and request valuable to them and be very respectful of their time. They do have long lead times and they tend to get booked up. And I think the other important thing is to just try to understand them as a person, they can be intimidating, but they’re real people. They have real relationships. They are very passionate about what they do and there’s really interesting stories there to tell. So just trying to understand them and their business and their industry takes you a long way. 

They’re all ambassadors for their company brand, so another appeal is anytime they can tie what they’re talking about to their company’s values and overarching objectives, I think that helps them in their work. I also found there’s certain C-suite personas like the CEO is always the one everybody wants, but it’s great to look beyond just the CEO. There’s many other C-level people and there’s new C-level positions being developed all the time. And those people may have less of a platform available, so appealing to those other C-level functions is an opportunity.

Margot Leong: Something else that I’ve noticed too, is that you know, the C-suites depending on the title, the tenure can be tenuous basically. So my understanding too, the more exposure that they can get, especially if they’re in that mindset is valuable so that they can also kind of keep an eye out or be better set up for whatever the next gig is, is also important to them as a motivation. 

Trish Borrmann: Absolutely. These kind of activities can definitely help position them for their next role. And I have encountered a few people who you realize that that’s what they’re looking for and that’s fine. There are different motivations and that’s pretty standard across C-suite positions that they’re going to move around, and so it’s a great win-win to help them with their goals and also help share some amazing stories. 

Margot Leong: You know, I’d love to get into this new program that you’re working on for executive references over at ServiceNow. What was the catalyst?

Trish Borrmann: Yeah, ServiceNow is a super high growth company, our solutions really have a broad appeal. So making sure that we are appealing to all levels of the C-suite for awareness is important to our growth.

We have a number of programs across the company that focus on the C-suite at different levels and this engagement was specifically to get more C-suite people as part of our references, our case studies, our thought leadership content, industry events and really emphasize that thought leadership level of content that tells that broader story.

Margot Leong: I’d love for you to kind of take us through your brain as you thought about really putting this together. So I think first is, what was the goal, right. And how would you think about measuring success? And then I think number two, then putting that in place, how did you then structure what that program would be or yeah, put in place a structure to get that plan going so that it basically turned into a well-oiled machine.

Trish Borrmann: So our goal is really to engage more C-suite members and many activities we’re already doing, especially at the thought leadership and industry leadership level. So we’ve partnered with a number of other teams across the company. We’ve looked at what our target accounts that we want to be engaged with and also looking at our existing customers. Who do we think has interesting stories to tell and how can we make that even more interesting by telling it at the C-suite level? 

And we’re measuring success in a number of ways. Of course, we have metrics of engagement with this type of content versus non-customer content or non C-suite customer content, as well as measuring just the feedback and response we’re getting to the program from the C-suite members. You can tell a lot by their level of interest, what they want to engage in, what they don’t. That helps you learn and refine your program and develop new opportunities based on the response you’re getting. 

Margot Leong: Was there anything that you learned over the course of getting this started that was surprising to you or that sort of helped inform a change or a pivot with something in the program?

Trish Borrmann: I think there’s always surprises in which customers want to engage in which activities. So to me, that’s usually the biggest surprise. There’s always somebody that I think, oh, they’re not going to be interested in this. And lo and behold they are. So I’ve learned, over my career to leave no stone unturned. You may ask them about three things and they say no, and you’re ready to give up, but you ask them about the fourth thing that’s completely different and they jump on board. So I think you have to just be really open-minded and creative because customers will surprise you. 

Margot Leong: And so you mentioned a few different things, right when it comes to getting more C-suite people as part of your pipeline for references, right. So you said, case studies, thought leadership industry type content. Would that be like eBooks, white papers, that sort of thing? 

Trish Borrmann: More like media articles, speaking on industry related topics, you know, talking about what are the big challenges in their industry and their profession as well that are challenges for their peers as well. And, you know, peer networking is another appeal. I’ve done a lot of panels with a number of C-suite customers on a panel, and sometimes non-customers, I’m open to inviting prospects and other industry experts that aren’t necessarily a customer of my company to be part of a panel and a discussion. I find they love a lively debate and a friendly debate, even if people have differing views, that’s what makes the discussion really interesting. And they get some peer networking and they learn from each other. 

Margot Leong: How do you weight the requests that come in versus the target accounts you’re going after. So, are you open to working with any C-suite person on the customer side that puts their hands up? Or do you have to balance that with existing resources and, deciding like when to go after that or  are you basically open to every opportunity that comes up?

Trish Borrmann: That’s a great question. You do have to evaluate every opportunity, whether it’s an opportunity for a customer you’re already engaged with or a new customer that has raised their hand. To find the opportunity that fits for them, I always look at, what is the story they have to tell. It’s not about their company size as much as it is about what they’re doing in their business. You know, are they innovating? Are they solving new problems, addressing new challenges? So I look at it more from the content perspective and my company can offer them because you want it to be a match for everybody. You need to have the right platforms for them. I don’t always say yes to every single C-suite person, because if I don’t have the right thing for them, then it’s not going to be a successful experience for them. And I don’t want them to go away disappointed. 

Margot Leong: Is that a hard conversation to have you know, when that, when that comes up? How do you manage that with the AE as well? 

Trish Borrmann: I think you just have to be really diplomatic about it and really it’s a matter of talking about the types of opportunities and whether it’s a fit for that person or not. I think they’re all very smart people, so they’ll realize too, if your plate of opportunities is not something of interest or a fit to them, then it comes to its own natural conclusion. 

Margot Leong: You also mentioned, right, you are partnering with different teams, thinking about them almost as channels, right for recruiting and, and getting in new pipeline for new people on the C-suite side. Can you delve a little bit more into what departments you’re working with?  

Trish Borrmann: Sure on the recruiting side, we work across the company. Of course, like everyone, you have access to your databases and information where you can see who your customers are. You know, figure it out backwards, who the C-level people are. I also work with our executive team to find out who they have relationships with and many of our sales team as well come forward with C-suite relationships that they have, that we might be interested in  tapping into, and also folks who have come to them and volunteered to be a spokesperson. 

The key for me is understanding the person, not only their personality and their industry, as well as their interests and finding that right fit that works for them as far as matching opportunities and interests.

Margot Leong: At the end of the day, right, it’s also just, as you said, humans, right? The more work you put into understanding how that person thinks and how they tick, right. And the more customization or really just showing that you’ve put in that work and put in that effort, it sounds like the success rate would naturally be higher versus being like, yeah. You know, we’ll reach out to you for any opportunities as they kind of come up. 

So I think that’s a perfect place to end and a really good takeaway. Trish. Last question. If people would like to connect with you, chat with you more about how you think about connecting with the C-suite, what’s the best place for them to find you?

Trish Borrmann: Sure they can reach me on LinkedIn. And I’m also on Twitter @tborrmann. 

Margot Leong: I will put that into the show notes. Thank you so much for taking the time, Trish. 

Trish Borrmann: Thank you so much for having me Margo. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Thanks for tuning into this episode of Beating The Drum. For more interviews with advocacy leaders and tips on creating customers that will sing your praises, head on over to our website, beatingthedrum.com. If you enjoyed today’s show, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to rate and review us. If you know someone that would be a great fit for the show, I would love to hear about it. You can reach out at beatingthedrum.com. Take care, everybody. 

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