Three Sure Fire Ways to Guarantee Customer Advisory Board Success

Are you considering starting a Customer Advisory Board (CAB), or do you have one in place and are wondering how to ensure continued success? We've executed hundreds of CAB meetings, and while there are many keys to success, when someone asks me what makes a CAB program successful, I respond with these three important elements:

  1. The right people in the room
  2. Relevant content
  3. Follow-up communication

 

The Right People in the Room ... on Both Sides

Based on your CAB strategy, make sure the customers you invite are able to help you think through key issues and areas of your business, and answer the critical questions you will pose to them that will help drive your strategy, future services and/or product direction. People who can answer these questions are typically the decision-makers and high-level influencers, and you want to hear their combined perspectives. Also, attendees from your organization should be made up of the leadership team and/or P&L owners, plus functional leaders in Marketing, Sales, Development, Finance, and Strategy. Their only requirements are to be good listeners, ask probing or clarifying questions and never, ever fall into "selling" mode.

 

Relevant Content ... and Listening

Put an agenda together that includes topics of interest to your customers as well as to your internal team. What are customers' market needs and aspirations? Identify gaps; understand where they believe your organization may be able to help. What does your internal team need feedback, guidance, and input on - strategy, marketing, sales, product? Use this forum to listen and validate your team's perspectives on how they view customer needs. Leverage your time together to share ideas and learn from each other.

 

Follow-up Communication ... and Act

The final element to ensure CAB success is to follow-up with your advisory board members after the meeting. Based on their feedback, determine with your executive team what actions to take, who will be accountable, and the timing to complete. Let your CAB members know you've taken their feedback seriously by developing an action plan and sharing it with them. See another blog I wrote on this topic: Take Action After Your CAB Meeting.

 

 

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Social Media’s Role in Identifying and Acquiring Customers

 

If you are a B2B or a B2C organization, your next potential client is most likely searching on Google right now for information regarding your services. That might be a pretty scary statement to read if you don’t have an online presence other than a website. Getting found on the Internet is no longer limited to Google Ads or maintaining a website. In order to have a strong online presence, every business large or small must utilize social media.

 

The first step in Building Customer Advocacy through Social Media begins with both Marketing and Sales engaging with customers in Social Media Channels.

·      Marketing Role: Identify and engage in discussions regarding product/application solutions to potential/target clients via LinkedIn discussion groups, online forums and Twitter# tags

·      Sales Role: Networking among peers of target industries to identify potential/target clients

Social Media has quickly jumped to one of the top ways to identify, acquire new and keep existing clients. A recent survey by Dimensional Research reported that 90% of Customers said their buying decisions were influenced by online reviews from social media: Twitter, FaceBook, Yelp and Company Sites. This means Marketing and Sales need to work together on the 4 Functions of Social Media in order to identify new clients and Acquire new customers.

 

 

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Is the Revenue Decline at Oracle a Blip or a Sign of Major Industry Shift?

What’s happening at Oracle isn’t isolated.  It is a symptom of what looms largely ahead for the information technology industry.

According to the Wall Street Journal's Don Clark and Steve D. Jones in WSJ's CIO Journal, Oracle blames its sales force for the decrease in sales…WOW!  But, it’s true. Oracle, and the other technology companies who have been kicking everyone else around, have made their bread and butter selling to IT leaders.  These IT leaders are also by definition, "leaders in IT."  As buyers, they understand and can translate the bits and bytes of technology offerings. They make the final purchase decisions and oversee implementation and support.  They also get to be their own judge and jury by defining their own success criteria, which are typically the factors most relevant to IT (uptime, response rates, etc.).

With technology solutions migrating from in-house applications which are purchased and managed by the IT department, to cloud and other delivery platforms outside the data center, purchase and evaluation decisions are being made by the business unit leaders the IT leaders have traditionally supported.  And also by definition, "leaders in business" have a completely different way of analyzing, managing, and buying the services that support their business.  My favorite quote so far which highlights the difference between IT and the new untraditional buyers of technology comes from Michael Hickins, the Editor of The Wall Street Journal's Morning Download, “Indeed, many of them are heads of marketing who used a credit card to pay for cloud based marketing automation or reputation management applications."  According to Nucleus Research Inc. analyst Rebecca Wettemann, "Among that customer set, 'there’s some trepidation' about dealing with Oracle."  Again, WOW!

Change of this magnitude and pace may rewrite the entire IT ecosystem and power structure.  Oracle out, Workday in?  Not yet sure where to place the bets, but the opportunity couldn’t be bigger for those who can translate the facts and figures of technology services into a vision that inspires the hearts, souls, and ROI targets of business (versus IT) buyers.  As such, I will be sure to use my AMEX to pay for our new IT system and make sure I get all my Delta Frequent Flier miles too.

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Why a Customer Advisory Board is NOT the Same as a Focus Group

With the myriad customer engagement programs so popular today, Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) and Focus Groups often get “bucketed” together, yet they have clear and very different objectives.

Here's a "quick reference" chart detailing some of the key differences: 

Participant Attributes

The diagram below shows the core attributes of participants for CABs and Focus Groups, and another reason why these two programs are so different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sample Discussion Topics

And finally, here are some sample topics most common among the two initiatives.

Customer Advisory Board

  • Strategy
  • Direction of industry
  • Organization's goals/objectives to develop alignment
  • Discussions on: what services or offerings are missing; pricing/business models; overall product roadmaps; go-to-market programs (sales, marketing); account management

Focus Group

  • Reaction to logo/tagline
  • Emotional state (look and feel)
  • Usability study
  • Behavioral patterns/processes
  • Product feature/functionality

As you plan your customer engagement programs for 2013, be sure to target the right program format for the input you are seeking.  If you want to gain a deeper understanding of your customers' business, build closer executive relationships, and gain strategic mid- to long-term market insight, a Customer Advisory Board is the answer.  If on the other hand, you need qualitative short-term feedback on a product or branding message; or opinions/perceptions on a concept, service, packaging, etc., then a Focus Group is the right program.

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Top 3 B2B Marketing Challenges from 2012

The end of the year always sparks a time of reflection, while the beginning of the year represents a new journey. The three articles below are my top picks for Marketing's biggest challenges faced in 2012 and a playbook that contains the best strategy to face these issues while providing the biggest opportunities for all B2B CMO's in 2013. 

Marketing’s Broken Foundation Measurement

Data is the foundation for analytics. Analytics is the foundation for marketing driven by data and insights.

Think Like a CFO to Gain C-Suite Credibility

Information technology is about driving business results through revenue growth, leveraging economies of scale, and optimizing business decisions through analytics.

Have we Lost the C Suite by Measuring the Wrong Things?

If the latest surveys are to be believed, B2B marketing is on the verge of a “crisis of confidence” within the C suite.

The B2B Executive Playbook

The B2B Executive Playbook describes four steps that can simplify strategic planning, focus product development and sales and marketing efforts, and, most importantly, create a clear path to market leadership.  When implemented properly, it will also add sustainability and predictability to a B2B company’s top and bottom lines. 

 

 

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How a Customer Advisory Board Can Help You Prepare for 2013

A Customer Advisory Board (CAB) is a high-return, high-profile event that can heavily influence your company's competitive standing. A successful CAB provides a powerful format that turns customers into true advocates and provides executives with the information needed to align customer programs with company strategy. A formal Customer Advisory Board should be in your marketing and strategic arsenal for 2013.

A well structured Customer Advisory Board is a proven and dynamic program that helps executives and decision makers develop a deep understanding of market conditions while simultaneously building relationships with key customers. A CAB is the perfect avenue for B2B Companies that have more than 60% of their sales with their top customers to receive relevant feedback that can be used in strategic business planning. A Customer Advisory Board not only helps your organization retain your most profitable customers, a CAB will help increase revenue opportunities within your customer base.

A Customer Advisory Board creates a platform where you can leverage happy customers and drive innovation through customer co-design and collaboration. The end result is an overall market alignment in offerings, communications and strategy that will prepare your organization for profitability in 2013 and beyond.

 

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Strategic Planning with Marketing and Sales

In my book, B2B Executive Playbook, I describe four steps that can simplify strategic planning, focus product development and sales and marketing efforts, and, most importantly, create a clear path to market leadership.  If implemented properly, it will also add sustainability and predictability to a B2B company’s top and bottom lines. 

As with any corporate initiative, however, success can be sidetracked if problematic modes of operating and behavior creep in.  Over my next four blogs, I’ll cover each of the top four common pitfalls that prevent B2B firms from succeeding; Inside-Only Thinking, Limiting Input to End-Users, Following a single Customer, Chasing the Competition.   Be aware of them, and act quickly if they surface in your company.

Pitfall #1: Inside-Only Thinking

The first pitfall is a mindset among the leadership team that goes something like this: “Hey, we’re smart and we’ve been in this industry for many years.  Let’s brainstorm among ourselves (internal off-site meetings) and come up with the next great solution that we can bring to market to change the game and win back our leadership position.”  The leadership teams of B2B companies do have deep stores of knowledge and creativity, but when they choose to go it alone, what they are really saying is, “We know better than our customers of what they want and need.”  And this is a prescription for failure or even disastrous results.

Far too often, the inside-only ideas and solutions that come out of these sessions are not created with current market conditions or even company resources, business models, and competencies in mind.  In fact, they are usually based on legacy customer needs, structures, business models, current competitor offerings, or misguided ideas about a problem that may not even exist in the customer’s mind.  This insular mindset and culture significantly contributes to the 60-70 percent product failure rate that continues to plague companies.

Case:  The leaders of a $1 billion company invested over $100 million in developing a single solution that they were convinced would revolutionize their market.  They did this without including of vetting the idea with a single customer.  The result was disasterous.  Virtually no customers wanted the solution because it couldn’t be integrated with their existing operations, and the few who did buy, demanded to return it for a full refund, plus damages.  The stock tumbled, the leadership team was fired, and the company was sold off at a major discount to a company one-fifth its size.

Successful B2B companies avoid inside-only thinking. At Henny Penny, for example, all innovation and planning initiatives begin with the needs of customers and the market.  “This is the backbone of our culture, strategic planning, and success,” explains Rob Connelly, CEO of $148 million Henny Penny Corporation, a family-owned manufacturer of food service equipment.  “It has enabled us to hold on to and grow our biggest customers for decades, because our plans help them serve their customers more effectively.  We work extremely closely with our top customers.  Our design and engineering teams share ideas, collaborating to provide new solutions, solve problems, or change the game.” 

One of the home runs at Henny Penny was the development of revolutionary low oil volume (LOV) fryer for McDonald’s Corporation.  “We’d been studying innovative ways of improving and shortening usage in the frying process for quite awhile,” recalls Connelly.  “Together with McDonald’s, we developed a breakthrough product, which not only yields significant cost savings, but is also easy to operate and minimizes environmental impact."

The LOV fryer earned Henny Penny the prestigious McDonald’s Global Innovation Award in 2008.  In 2009, MacDonald’s named it Worldwide Equipment Supplier of the Year and in 2010, Worldwide Equipment Partner of the Year.  That’s the kind of market clout and credibility that can’t be bought – and it led to even more sales.  In addition to sales opportunities at McDonald’s 30,000 restaurants worldwide, Henny Penny applied these innovations to stock models that were successfully rolled out to the small and mid-sized restaurant marketplace.  

Bottom Line:  With so many strategic and development alternatives to chose from, you must tap your top customers to prioritize, justify, and focus on the opportunities that will deliver the most impact.  Leveraging their industry knowledge through collaborative “outside-inside” thinking is the only way to secure true market alignment that drives Sustainable, Predictable and Profitable Growth.

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Why is Customer Advocacy Necessary for B2B Businesses?

The need for customer advocacy and its tremendous potential in business success is only recently being realized by businesses across the globe. In a nut shell, by integrating Customer Advocacy into their long-term strategic goals, businesses can enjoy higher levels of customer satisfaction, customer retention, and profitability.

What is Customer Advocacy?

Customer advocacy is a process that has essentially originated from customer services. The aim of customer advocacy is to focus on the various things that customers are most interested in, or that the business thinks are of immense appeal to them. Customer advocacy essentially redirects the strategic focus of the underlying culture of the business so that it becomes more customer-oriented or customer friendly when devising its marketing techniques and customer service agenda.

The Role of Customer Advocates

A customer advocate essentially serves as a liaison between the business and the customer where they focus their efforts on facilitating both the sides. A successful and effective customer advocacy business model is usually one that covers all facets related to customer contact. This can include products, sales, services and complaints. As a result, customer advobookcates are trained in a myriad of cross-functional roles so that they are well-equipped to assist valuable customers in all areas of the business.

Evolving Satisfied Customers to Advocates

The B2B Executive Playbook is a tremendous resource that discusses case studies of several B2B organizations that have successfully evolved satisfied customers to advocates through customer programs such as: Customer Advisory Boards, Executive Sponsor Programs, and Executive Summits to achieve sustainable, predictable and profitable growth.

 

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Mom’s Almond Sheet Cake and World-Class CABs

Every time my mom makes her famous Almond Sheet Cake, it wins the crowd over.  Everyone loves it (especially me and my dad)…and everyone wants to know, “How can I get this recipe?” 

Many people ask how their Customer Advisory Board (CAB) compares to others…or, how do they know if they are maximizing their CAB initiative.  So here’s a quick litmus test I came up with for Executives and CAB leaders alike to see if their CABs have the right ingredients to blow people away, like my Moms sheet cake.

 

 

  1. Ongoing vs. Event – many companies treat the CAB like a customer event.  We did it – it was a valuable 2 days!  The customers had a great time, etc.  Ongoing means that issues discussed will be evaluated, explored, and tested, and results reported back.  In addition the CAB members will be involved between meetings to assist, validate, test, etc.  There are usually email updates, member team calls and even sub-committees which advance specific and important issues.
  2. Strategic vs. Tactical – what areas of the business do the CAB discussions address?  If it’s feature/function, short-term, tactical, Executives rarely stay committed or engaged and begin to question long-term benefits.  If it’s viewed as part of the strategic planning process – identifying game changing acquisitions or transforming business models which provide the organization a competitive advantage – then you have something special.
  3.  P&L owner vs. sales or marketing sponsored – in order to achieve world-class, CABs must be sponsored and driven by a P&L leader (CEO, BU head, Geo President).  These are the ones whose net is cast wide enough to drive cross-functional change.  This makes integration into all go-to-market functions much more realistic.
  4. Decision Makers vs. Users – this is the final and most important ingredient to a world-class CAB.  They must have true decision makers (DMs) actively participating, engaging, and contributing.  These in-depth discussions provide rich insight, context to how DMs think, act, evaluate, etc.  Let’s face it, how many DMs take time to complete VOC surveys, satisfaction polls, etc.?  Without this viewpoint and sounding board, organizations are left to extrapolate from the user viewpoint, plan in a vacuum or simply follow the competition.  

These key ingredients are the recipe to a World-Class CAB.  For the sprinkle, dashes and timing of these CAB ingredients, read the blogs my colleagues at Geehan Group have put together.  As for my mom’s almond sheet cake recipe, send me an email and I’ll send it to you.     

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3 Tips for an Impactful Customer Advisory Board

I recently attended a breakfast briefing, Street Smart Secrets for Change Management, where Jeff Cole, co-author of Driving Operational Excellence, shared nine tips for changing behavior throughout an organization. I found it intriguing. In less than 90-minutes, Jeff managed to get me thinking differently about how customer advisory boards impact an organization.

I’ve seen first-hand how customer advisory boards provide strategic insight, focus marketing direction, and promote leadership team alignment.  My clients have leveraged their customer advisory boards to acclerate sales, improve customer retention, and advance product innovation. Customer Advisory Boards are proven to drive sustainable, predictable and profitable growth (SPPG), as outlined in Sean Geehan’s book, The B2B Executive Playbook. So I know how customer advisory boards can truly impact an organization. I did not consciously realize, however, that an organization’s inherent resistance to change can make transformational impact extremely difficult, or kill it altogether.Resistance

Launching a Customer Advisory Board often implies that change needs to happen in your organization.  After all, that’s why you are investing in it!  Savvy leaders see the need for change (a new direction, increased sales, improved relationships, etc.) and realize customers can provide the guidance to make it happen.  In fact, organizations that utilize advisory boards to their fullest potential have made them synonymous with continuous improvement and drivers of transformation.  But, you have got to get everyone on the same page.

To achieve truly impactful results, consider the following when developing your customer advisory board.

  • Stakeholders inherently resist change, so communicate progress, both big and small, early and often.
  • Culture impacts an organization’s ability to change, so build a tolerance for ongoing change into your corporate strategy. 
  • Change doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes time and requires a certain set of skills, so designate a change agent/architect to manage the process.    

As you can see, I had a few “Aha” moments during Jeff’s presentation. So much so, in fact, that I immediately ran out and bought his book.  I recommend it to all who aspire to be the agent of change and transformation in their organization.

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