Reinventing the Executive Briefing

Michelle Limbocker of Nutanix is pioneering a program to create online versions of high-level get-togethers that are central to driving sales for large companies.

By Tom Mangan

By Tom Mangan August 24, 2020

Social distancing is bringing a reckoning in the rarified world of executive briefings. Traditional executive briefings are in-person confabs where companies with something to sell fly in the leaders of a potential client in the hope of inking a big deal that could make both companies richer. Handshakes, sales pitches, eye contact, charisma and intellect come together to forge distinctly human bonds.

COVID-19 changed all that. Who wants to risk their C-suite employees inhaling a virus and infecting their leadership ranks?  

Virus or no virus, big companies will find a way to conduct executive briefings. The question is how.

Michelle Limbocker is coming up with answers. Limbocker directs global executive briefing programs at Nutanix, the Silicon Valley hybrid-cloud software provider. She’s taking everything she learned in two decades of running executive briefings and creating virtual equivalents of these vital sales tools. 

Before the pandemic, Limbocker’s job included lining up travel arrangements, syncing executive calendars, hiring caterers and making sure her company’s CEO and top execs had all the information they needed to win over potential clients. She convened these briefings on the ground floor of Nutanix’s corporate headquarters in San Jose, California and in-person gatherings around the world. It’s a wide-open expanse where visiting execs can see the company pool table and employees going about their business.  

“It really gives customers a sense of who we are as a culture,” she said. “Our people are right there, walking past them.”

COVID-19 forced Limbocker and her team to find another plan. Like many companies, Nutanix switched to remote work in a matter of days. The company’s sales teams quickly started lining up client calls on Zoom and other online-collaboration platforms.

“Our salespeople are getting much more adept at showing demos online and incorporating digital whiteboarding sessions,” Limbocker said. “Now, we’re taking the virtual experience to the next level.”

Limbocker’s next level is called Executive Briefing Experience, or EBX. It starts with physical studios in San Jose and Amsterdam staffed by producers who work much like the people in TV news: directing cameras, setting up lighting and delivering content like videos and slideshows.

Moderators in the studios will conduct immersive, multimedia-rich executive briefings that provide a constant flow of content and enable digital interactions between participants.

“We start with a moderator standing in the middle section of our virtual studio,” Limbocker said. The moderator will introduce people like Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey, who started the company with two friends in 2009. In the background, the producers work from a script and push content onto video screens.

Nutanix does two basic kinds of executive briefings: one-to-many meetings where company subject matter experts explain concepts and technologies to a large group; and one-to-one affairs, where Nutanix leaders answer questions from a group of leaders of the same company. 

Either way, the company has tools to keep doing business with leaders around the world.

How it All Started

In February of 2020, Nutanix was staring down a serious challenge for its executive briefing program. “We do about 450 briefings a year worldwide, which is a lot for a small to medium-sized program like ours,” Limbocker said.  

Limbocker couldn’t help thinking that the world of work changed permanently with the pandemic. So many tasks can be done online that it was worth considering a virtual version of her team’s work. Sales teams quickly proved that they could engage with customers online without sacrificing performance.

That realization inspired the creation of EBX.

“We really wanted to take things to the next level of digital experience, reinventing the executive briefing to reassure customers that if they can’t come to us, we will come to them,” she said.

[Caption: The Nutanix team tests the digital Executive Briefing experience] 

Limbocker also had a popular Silicon Valley concept in mind: first-mover advantage.

“I looked at the landscape and decided I didn’t want to be the status quo,” Limbocker said. “I know all my peers in the industry in the valley. Nobody is taking their briefing program to this level at all yet.”

Facing the Online Challenges  

EBX has had to bow to the realities of online interactions. There’s no catered food, though people do get gifts that might include free meals. Virtual sessions are limited to three or four hours, unlike in-person meetings that could last all day.

Nutanix partnered with an outside production company to design the virtual environment and keep all the content current during the EBX sessions. Moderators and guest speakers have to figure out how to interact in real time. Feedback must be gathered from participants to work out the bugs and fine-tune the presentation. Thus far, Limbocker is committed to conducting four EBX sessions a week.

Will people miss the in-person connection of traditional executive briefings?

“I absolutely believe there’s a sacrifice when we do this online,” she said. “Our goal in going down this path is to make it super-interactive and as collaborative as we can.”   

Keys to Succeeding with Virtual Executive Briefings

Limbocker knows what’s at stake with EBX. For starters, digital briefings need to generate enough genuine engagement with potential customers to overcome the absence of in-person contact, where body language and intuitive connections help nurture a sense of trust.  

“We want customers to feel just like they're in the room with us,” she said. “That’s really a big thing for me personally because I am all about the customer experience. I want them to walk away understanding that we’re here to be their partner for life.” 

Though virtual briefings bring company bigshots together to carve out the fates of their respective enterprises, it’s important to remember another constituency that these meetings must win over: the sales staff. 

“You have to provide a fantastic program to your sales organization that's going to keep them interested in using this as a sales tool,” she said. “Otherwise, you're going to lose them.”  

Nutanix launched EBX in June 2020 and is still working out the kinks. We’ll provide an update soon in The Forecast with details on how it works and feedback from participants.

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Tom Mangan is a contributing writer. He is a veteran B2B technology writer and editor, specializing in cloud computing and digital transformation. Contact him on his website or LinkedIn.

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