In this episode, Pamela Evans addresses the importance of getting executive buy-in for Customer Experience Programs and Executive Briefing Centers within an organization. When you have executive management support for your vision, only then can you up-level your program.
Guest Thought Leader:
Senior Director, Executive Briefing Center Program, Palo Alto Networks
I’m a passionate and energetic Transition Leader helping companies in challenging business times achieve organizational stability and accelerate revenue growth while maximizing cost efficiencies. I deliver award-winning executive briefing and customer experience programs.
Hello and welcome to The CXApp an interview style podcast addressing topics, trends and tips for creating real time digital experiences in a customer-first, customer-last world. This show for briefing and meeting professionals brings you authentic and unfiltered conversations with industry experts who know how to elevate customer experience across people, teams and programs. Let's listen in.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 0:37
All right. Welcome everyone to our CXApp Live podcast series dedicated to today's briefing professionals. I'm Darby Mason Warner, Senior Director, Client and Partner Strategy with The CXApp. I'm excited to be interviewing our thought leaders across the industry who can share their experiences and ideas to help us all improve our programs. And today our discussion topic is executive buy-in. As you know, we all strive to provide the best possible experience for our customers. We build relationships and trust, which adds to the bottom line for our companies. And when our executive management understands and supports our vision, we can truly up level or programs. Let's see what new ideas we can uncover to enhance those experiences through strategies to gain executive buying today. So today I'm thrilled to be joined by Pam Evans, Senior Director, Executive Briefing Program at Palo Alto Networks. Pam is a true leader in our briefing industry, with more than 25 years of experience at such companies as Oracle, NetApp, PolyCom, and now a Palo Alto Networks. Her leadership well is deep as she brings her abilities to be a strategic leader, an effective change leader, an operational leader and a relationship leader to her day to day management of the Palo Alto Networks Executive Briefing Center at headquarters in Santa Clara, California, as well as the customer briefing centers in Amsterdam and Singapore. Hi, Pam, It's great to see you today. So I'm excited for a conversation today, and I was thinking maybe we could start with you just briefly sharing how you come to the briefing industry?
Pamela Evans: 2:24
Well, it was really by accident because the briefing industry was in its infancy and I was a logistics manager working in a product development organization, and, uh, I have the opportunity to interview for a job within the same company, and it was for a briefing manager and of course I really didn't know what the job entails. I thought I had something to do with events, and I remember the hiring managers boss gave feedback from hiring manager that he didn't think I would be a good fit for this job. So I don't remember why. But at any rate, she overlooked his feedback and hired me anyway. So some 20 plus years later, here I am with a lot of passion and enthusiasm.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 3:07
That's awesome. Well, great. So thanks for that. And let's go ahead and get started with our questions for today. So we definitely want to start off with what is your philosophy around engaging with executives to ensure that they understand the value of your briefing program?
Pamela Evans: 3:25
Well, my philosophy is simply is to lean in and take those steps up the ladder to engage with your executive management team. Don't be shy. You've got to make sure that you don't hesitate to grab those opportunities to educate your executive management team on what your program is capable of doing and how it will help grow the business. Um, you don't have to have a C title to, have access to senior leaders, and to feel comfortable sharing with them the impact of your program. And after all, you're the one who knows your program best. So don't leave it to your boss or your boss's boss to advocate for you in your program. That is your responsibility as a senior leader of a breathing program, a customer experience program. And your responsibility, I think, is to demonstrate that your briefing program is not simply a beautiful conference center that does great meetings. It's a strategic program that requires resource is an investment, an executive engagement in order for it to be a success for the company. So again, that is, your responsibility as a leader to promote your program and your people. And I would say starting Day one, if you're coming into this position that you need to be ready to schedule a meeting with the CEO and the executive management team. Now you can do this one on one or collectively, but it's really important that you be ready to roll out a strategic plan that is clear and concise and brief, based on the 21 characteristic categories of management planning, customer experience and measurement. If you can do this, if you can show your C level management team how you can take your program, you can build it and you can convert pipeline to close business for them within a given timeline, I guarantee you will have champions among them.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 5:17
Fantastic. And I know you. I've known you for, like, 18 - 20 years now and I want to say I am always impressed that when you are going into a new organization, you always have that strategic plan in place and you know what your next steps are gonna be and you get those meetings and you just take off and you're able to accomplish these things because they can tell that you know what the vision is and you've got them wrapped into that vision from the very get go which I think is so important. And I love that you were mentioning the 21 characteristics you know, the world class characteristics that we have with those four pillars. It's such a guiding tool for all of us to try to make sure that we keep all those elements in mind as we are building our programs and for the management to understand. This is our vision. We are going towards these four elements, and this is a strategic program like you, said revenue. That's what they care about so great, thank you for that. And oh, and the fact that when you are first going in, you know, not being afraid to be responsible for those pieces and that you get those meetings with those C level folks whoever in that management position you need to. You're starting out really set, sets the pace and really such a foundation. Remember, you were hired as an expert. That's right. It's a build up to prove it.
Pamela Evans: 6:35
Yes, and to have the confidence to demonstrate to executive management that you know where you want to go, where you want to take your program.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 6:43
Absolutely so on that note, then knowing where you want to take that but also understanding what did the executives care about? What are the things that you focus on to ensure that you do get that executive support?
Pamela Evans: 6:57
Well, you know, at the end of the day, if you're in a for profit business, executives care about revenue. You can host hundreds or even thousands of confidential meetings, internal meetings that run perfectly well. Uh, in your center, but you'd better be able to deliver the numbers. And when we're talking about the number of briefing activities, that's one thing, and you want to show overall good utilization. But executive management is gonna want you to provide metrics on things like deal sizes. Are they getting bigger? Are deals closing faster. What additional products are being purchased as a result of the briefing. What was the customer feedback? Are we seeing more prospects now than we did a year ago? Long term value, lifetime value? LTV numbers. Are they getting larger? Are we attracting more strategic accounts? And one you might not think is that important? But it really is. What about our partners? Are we bringing in and educating the right partners to engage with the right joint customers? Do we see an uptick there and are there some new technologies we're introducing that we hope will be popular with our customers? How are we doing there? I would say in past in the lean times, and I can remember in the economic downturns. The CEO came and says Pam I need a forecast from the EBC. How many customers are telling you that they don't have travel budget to come to headquarters? Do you have an outbound program in place? Can we get to those customers? And a few months later, he's asking, are we seeing more customers coming in? That was a forecasting tool. Are we coming out of this economy? How are we doing? Is the market place growing? Oh, that's really, really important. And in today's world, I think it's not just a matter of sometimes customers don't have travel budget. It's do they have the time? I owe you a briefing? So we are seeing more videoconference briefings. We are seeing a lot of outbound briefings, and we really see the need for regional centers to help support or augment on HQ briefing or in a customer experience program.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 9:16
Absolutely. And that's so true that the time frames that you were talking about in those years, you know, that's what I had actually started the program because they needed to focus on those customers. And what is what can we do for those customers really targeting strategic accounts to really bring the revenue backup? Really? You know, show them the love, you know, bring them in. And then having that EBC forecast is really a way for them to kind of build that road map again, it's really key. And I really love what you were talking about with a number of these different kinds of metrics that you have here, you know? What do they care about the different ways that they are going to look at this now, the other thing that we know is a lot of briefing programs tend to reorg, and, you know, we go under different management. We're seeing a lot of musical executives, as I call it, moving around each one of them has a different care about, You know, they have a certain set of metrics that are important to them. So being able to have, you know, our methods for gathering all these metrics, all of these things you talked about that are really kind of higher level, more strategic kinds of metrics, not just butts and seats, so to speak, right being able to have your method in place. So no matter who your executive is that you're talking to, you're going to have those metrics for them. You're gonna be able to report back what you need to, right?
Pamela Evans: 10:36
And they're two things I would point out. Automation today is key. The one executive comes to you for something other than your quarterly report or your weekly staff update. Now they're gonna want an ad hoc report and they may be asking you for something you have never actually measured before or you have measured. But it's hard to get to the information quickly, right? Takes you forever to capture it somehow. So having an automation tool that is integrated with your CRM system is critical. Absolutely critical. And having a good relationship with your finance team with your metrics. Analysts yes, is really important, too, because it's critical that you know how to position the metrics. Well, just putting numbers on a piece of paper in an email will bring you a lot more questions. If you can't position them properly and clearly explain what does this mean? Is there a trend here? If you say we did 900 briefings in this fiscal year. Well, I can tell you they're gonna come back and say, How does that compare to the previous year? So you better have those metrics at your fingertips and in order to prevent the back and forth, have the comparisons with you, and you can do it in a number of different ways. You can even ask Executive Management Team. How would you like to see this information reporting exactly like a bar charge pie chart? Yes. So important to like it in bullet form in an email and metrics mean different things to different executives as well. And they're focused on certain types of metrics may change over time, depending on where the business is going.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 12:18
Absolutely. Yeah, I think that's key to being able to your allies partners that you have, like your finance team, and be able to create the information and deliver it in a way that is meaningful for those executives that you're, you know, trying to reach to make sure that they're fully understanding the full picture of what you have, what you need, where you're going, which I would also say engage with the data science team gave us everything today.
Pamela Evans: 12:44
Yeah, absolutely. So we have a very good relationship with our data science team in our business planning teams, uh, to help us again with the measurements. That's a new term for me. Data science team.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 12:57
That's really cool. I love it. All right, well, let's move from that. And how about into into funding? That's a perfect segue way. So you know, how do you go about approaching your execs to demonstrate the need for funding for either your program or your center?
Pamela Evans: 13:18
Well, first, I think you need to identify and clearly define a problem if you have one. For instance, if you're getting feedback from sales and customers that your company's message isn't clear, or that your technology differentiators aren't clear and convincing than you may need to engage the marketing leaders in the company to address this. Benchmarking other center programs with an emphasis on storytelling and messaging will give you the validation that maybe we need to improve in those areas and that executive management needs to invest there. Another area might be subject matter experts. Continue to talk features and functionality when they should be talking about value and benefits that a certain type of technology can bring to the customer. In that case, a monetary investment might have to be made in terms of discussion leader training and facilitation. I know many programs have a fully facilitated program where the briefing management team participates and plays that role. But in other programs that are trying to scale to meet larger demand, you have to train the account teams. You have to train the subject matter experts on how to lead discussions, influence customers, navigate issues, answer problems and collaborate. I look at briefings often as a kitchen table conversation. We're all getting together, and you, as a company, need to be the thought later to help guide customers. I say when you approach executive management with this problem, you don't go saying I need funding for this. Uh, just like when you interview or when you want to be promoted and you go to your boss and say, well, I've been here five years, I deserve to go to the next level. That's not gonna cut it. You have to say there is a gap that isn't being filled, and if we do this, it's going to result in X. And so I used the Mandel Communications iPad method where you need to put forth that situation, the complication that's being created. The implication if you do or don't do something, the position, your position, the action that needs to be taken in the benefit, that result that will result in. If you do that, executives will understand that quite clearly. And you'll have an easier time garnering the support and getting the investment you need.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 15:43
Absolutely. I think that there's a number of key things that you hit on there that I think is so important, you know, being able to look at funding in other areas. You know, the discussion leader training that's so important, you know, so that you don't have discussion leaders that are just talking flips and flops and features. You really need them to shift and move into the benefits and being able to give that overall picture so that they're able to highlight what some of your key initiatives are for your company and kind of move them up. You know, if you will in their abilities and and certainly the example from Mandel.
Pamela Evans: 16:21
Yes, we all keep those in mind, but this is really a great application of that where you really have to show. Here's the problem and here is the complication for it. But I've got a plan and here's my plans. So they hear you out through all of those. I think the facilitation skills, you know, that's so important. And, like you said, being able to train other people to be able to do that if it's your sales managers, because you are not able to scale up with the team that you have. But then there's another area to be able to approach. Management for resource is in the way of team members being that to bring them in any time you can.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 16:58
And speaking of team members and working with others, you know what other teams do you partner with to be able to keep your executive support? How do you bring it all together with all these other partners?
Pamela Evans: 17:14
I pretty much have to say we have to work with and want to work with everybody in in the company. Yeah, you normally think of sales and marketing, and it doesn't matter whether you report up through marketing. You report up for sales. Sales is usually the primary constituency because you're serving them and the needs of the customers and partners. But if you were in marketing, it's your responsibility. Help get that message out to the customers and help support the sales team in doing that. But often, you know, think of channel sales. You know, we want to encourage our partners to bring in joint because you're having a really good cross functional relationship with channel sales. Is key product management product marketing, an engineering there, the source of your discussion leader pool. So having good relationships with individuals, and not just the staff members but individuals on the team who were your subject matter experts. And then, of course, you often forget security and facilities. You know, just the other day with a customer who wanted to have a security announcement made before we started the briefing. That's not a commonplace thing, but we do live in an area where we could be threatened by fires or earthquakes, and this particular company took that very seriously. So we called upon security to help us be prepared to make that announcement. Great. We mentioned finance before we could, you know, go on. I do not want to underestimate again. The engagement that we have with the executive management team as individuals and also with the executive assistants who support them. Oh, they're really important to our success because they often have to jump through hoops to make it happen for us. And we respect them very much, and we appreciate what they do. And on the other hand, we get that in return. So again, we have to have great, dysfunctional and wonderful personal interaction skills to have a successful program.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 19:20
Absolutely. I think you touched on a really key one there. At the end, the exec admits, are the most important bridge. I think that we can keep them educated and informed about the program, what are key large accounts that are coming in, or even if you've got either an executive deck or an executive sponsorship program so that they know when they can plan ahead. If you can give them advance notice, then they're able to help you out and be able to schedule those execs far out so you can count on that. And you've got that set for your briefing planning. You know, I just think what you said about reciprocity when folks are needing your assistance. You know, I'm sure that you allow folks to use your space when needed. You know, not all the time. But there's occasions that that might be the case, and they know they can reach out to you. And you know you can reach out to them if if you need some additional support. I think that's what is so great about our programs. You know, we really see the whole company. We bring in folks from different areas. We understand how a lot of the corporation works. We're bringing folks in from customer service and quality, and certainly marketing and engineering like, he said, but also being able to work with all those other team members, you know, catering team and having certain service level agreements set up with them. And, you know, they know that they can count on you for support too. You want to be a good corporate citizen, and you want to be someone that no one hesitates approaching.
Pamela Evans: 20:57
Yes, and I always teach flexibility, because, of course, you have systems and processes by which you abide. But there are exceptions to rules. And you need to be able to be nimble and quick and flex when the time is right and make a sound decision that's going to be good for the company as a whole, right?
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 21:19
Exactly. We're all in it together. So, you know, we're all on the same team, and yeah, I think it's super important. Um, great. All right. So with that, let's see about would you be willing to share maybe some mistakes along the way. And what did you learn from that you can share with our audience?
Pamela Evans: 21:45
Well, let's see. Well, I would say that this is a common mistake, and I made it over time. I thought that managing a well oiled machine would get me the visibility and recognition that my team and I deserve. I was wrong. You know, I expected my boss again to champion as to market us, and I didn't realize that I have my own personal power to be able to do that. For many years I just thought doing a good job was good enough and people would enjoy using the program, which they did, but they really didn't understand the contribution that my team and I were making so again that goes back to one of your biggest responsibilities as a strategic leader of a briefing program or a customer experience program is to advocate for your program for your people. So other people know that the hard work they're doing is making an outstanding and differentiated customer experience for the company. It's just not sufficient to think that you and your program is going to receive the recognition they deserve by just doing a good day to day job. You've got to keep marketing your program in a very purposeful and strategic way. I would say another mistake I made looking back in my rear view mirror was trying to solve all my problems as a manager is a leader myself. I would say you see a wave coming that you don't think you can jump. It's best to alert your direct manager so that he or she can work with you to solve the problem before it becomes an escalation. I remember one time I was getting ready to leave out of the country for a business trip and I had an issue surfacing and I thought, well, I'll wait till I come back to tell my boss I don't want to worry her and I'd really just like to put it out of my mind. But my gut told me that, hey, this could surface while I'm out of town. And although I was going to be in fairly close, communication had a time difference and all that. I thought, you know, I'd better tell her and I'm so glad I did, because she appreciated the heads up and she started working on how we could tackle this issue together. So I would say no one's perfect. I always tell my teams to strive for excellence. That's what I tried to do and try to do the best job I could possibly do. But when I need help, I ask for it. And I asked for it early and I would say Don't try to handle all of the issues by yourself. You have people around the company who are experts in various areas who can help you and, uh, use the corporate equity you have right to help you be stronger and make decisions that are going to take your program forward.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 24:33
I think that's so important for folks that are listening right now to to really know that you know, they don't have to solve all these problems on their own. And you know, when something is a rising, you know, calm those folks who have maybe been some of your trusted advisers within the organization and get their point of view. And how are we going to maybe solve this together? You know, So like you said, sooner rather than later, in that way it's not lingering, and obviously it can get something faster to So you think that's a great and you know I love what you said to about you know having recognition for the program, but also for your people, the people within your organization, because we don't know how much work it takes to prepare for each and every one of these visits that we have, you know? And it doesn't matter, really. You know, if it's 1/2 day or full day or executive level or engineer, that it's all got to be customized. And we put so much effort into making sure each and every one of those details is covered. So being able to recognize our teams for that and promoting your successes, promoting you know, how many briefings did you do? Great. But how many revenue dollars did you see or hey, you know? Hey, everybody, we got a big win from that visit that happened three weeks ago, you know, and everybody can kind of celebrate together. I think those are really important things for us to do so true as managers. Yeah, and being able to, hopefully have our audience be listening. You know, folks who maybe were in the briefing program management role right now preparing all those everything's who were thinking about wanting to take the next step and maybe they want to be managing the room program. I think these kinds of things that you've given us for, you know, all of these questions we've gone through today have been fantastic. So so thank you for that on. I want to see, you know, do you have any other kind of final thoughts that you'd want to share with the briefing industry, folks?
Pamela Evans: 26:23
Well, since we're on the tough topic of executive buy-in they would say, never accept a job if you suspect that executive management doesn't really have the appetite to be educated about your program or you don't feel they're gonna have the time to be engaged with you and your customers or they're not gonna be willing to invest the adequate resource is you need to help build and manage a program. You need executive management sport to be successful. So don't be lured into a position because of title or compensation. If you think you're not going to have champions, who will help you on bottom line? You want to work with an executive management team who is passionate, open minded and engaged with you and your team. That's the only way you can create a world class program and continue to help the company building strength and customer relationships and accelerate the business growth. Um, when I came into this company five years ago, I had that executive management support from the start. I have it today through my boss, my boss's boss and the other executives around them. I have the support of my team and all the cross functional organizations that I manage, And I just don't think the program would be successful as it is if we didn't have that buy in right. So again, uh, having a mutual understanding among the people who matter about the value of your program and what it offers will put you on that road to success and keep you on the road to success.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 28:01
So I just think that's so great, too. Really think about that. You know, we have to follow our gut. We have to really follower intuition. If we know that, it's just not the right path, you know, move on to the next and be able to you know, be okay with that because you know something better is is coming along, you know, and having that foundation. Having that foundation piece from the very beginning is so incredibly important for us to be able to then take our vision and build on it and, you know, continue to grow and bring new pieces to that overall program and, you know, reach that vision that we have put together. So just thank you so much for today, Pam. Really appreciated you. Being here has been fun chatting with you about this. And I just know our audience is gonna really appreciate all of the tips that you have to share.
Pamela Evans: 28:48
Thank you, Darby. It's been my pleasure and a lot of fun to know.
Darby Mason-Werner (host): 28:51
Good. Thank you. All right. And thank you to everybody else for listening today. You can listen to this and other podcasts in our series by visiting www.thecxapp.com website. And if you have any thoughts or questions about today's podcast or you have ideas for the future briefing industry podcast topics that you'd like to hear most we would love to hear from you. And you can reach me at my email on email@example.com. So thanks very much and look for our next podcast soon. Thanks for joining.
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