The Bottom Line on Executive Sponsor Programs


The Need for Customer Loyalty and Retention

Previously, executives representing a business would pay their most valuable customers a personal visit in their office, indulging them in meaningless talk on an assortment of different subjects that have little to do with the objectives of the business and everything to do with the interests of the customer. Executives even took their clients out for lunch or dinner, encouraging the establishment of a strong mutual bond between the customer and the client.

There is no denying the fact that the fastest way to direct the corporate tide towards substantial growth is by shifting the strategic focus to the business’ core customers. However, in order to achieve this objective, prioritization of efforts is essential, as it prevents the resources and goals of the business from dilution. Once the business has drawn a fine line separating its strategic customers, the next decision involves how to maintain their interest and loyalty towards the business.imgres.jpg

Executive Sponsor Programs

Executive Sponsor Program (ESP) is a comprehensive plan devised by a business ‘key decision makers with the aim of engaging the business’ core customer in a one-to-one relationship that is set well beyond the parameters of a sales transaction. It is therefore an initiative to influence a business’ client relations so that greater penetration of existing accounts can be achieved. This, in turn, increases the retention rate of the business.

Generally, an Executive Sponsor Program involves selecting some of the most influential executives working in an organization and assigning them target accounts of core clients. The executives are responsible for establishing, fostering and sustaining good relationships with these core clients through healthy two-sided personal communication, which is carefully planned to be in the mutual interest of both sides. Deepening the roots of a healthy relationship of a client with the business encourages customer loyalty.

An Executive Sponsorship Program has its own designated manager, the role of whom is to provide executive sponsors with opportunities throughout the year, so that it aids them in their quest to meet one-on-one with their key client executives. The meetings are organized as the ideal opportunities for executive sponsors to interact freely with customers, also encouraging discussions on the most pressing issues that the customer is confronted with.

The underlying focus of these meetings is to identify the means that encourage better cooperation and understanding. Also, comprehensively devised Executive Sponsor Programs encourage round-table discussions on emerging market trends and identify new strategic priorities and directives from both organizations. Generally, the meeting commences with identification of pressing issues, followed by collaborative input and exchange of ideas, aimed at developing concrete actionable corrective measures.

The bottom line of an Executive Sponsor Program is the realization of a higher level of strategic sales opportunities along with increased account retention of key customers. In the wake of increasingly competitive markets, countless businesses have devised comprehensive Executive Sponsor Programs to encourage customer loyalty. However, when devising an Executive Sponsor Program the primary challenge faced by businesses is that of identifying key elements that encourage customer loyalty.




Achieving Client Advocacy in the B2B World

This week in Orlando, Kim Hammond (from QTS) and I had the opportunity to present at the Loyalty 360 Engagement Expo.  The audience was highly engaged as we talked about some of the common challenges organizations face Achieving Client Advocacy in the B2B World.  The top five challenges discussed were:

1)       Being focused on the wrong customers

2)       Being focused on the wrong level within accounts

3)       Disproportionate marketing spend

4)       Retention

5)       Profitable growth

As we shared there, building true advocacy comes from engaging your most important accounts at the decision-maker level in a meaningful way.  Market leaders must consider the opportunity of shifting their marketing spend to 60% on retention and 40% on acquisition.  In most organization, the reverse is the case.  In addition, investing 35% at the decision-maker level of the most important accounts will provide marketing leaders the desired retention and profitable growth.

I was energized by Loyalty’s research that came out in 2012 for marketers.  Their research shows the top two objectives for marketers in 2012 are, 1) customer retention, and 2) profitable revenue.  This reinforces what the IBM CEO and Fournaise Marketing Group studies said, which basically came down to marketing leaders need to be focused on the business, not the brand.  They need to focus on building the ROI if they want to earn a true seat at the C-suite table.

Cheers to a sustainable, predictable and profitable 2012 for all marketing leaders!


What is the Best Strategic Tool for Account Retention?

What is Account Retention?

Customer Retention is the measure that businesses adopt to tackle customer defections. The entire process of customer retention has no defined period as it starts with the business establishing a contact with a customer and continues throughout the span of the relationship. Attracting and retaining new customers does not simply relate to a business’ products and services. A lot depends also on the manner in which it serves its existing clientele and the reputation it has maintained in the market.

Why is Account Retention Important?

When you try to replace an account that you have already lost, you waste crucial time and resources while resolutely eating away your profit margin. It is evident from most examples of trying to rebuild lost accounts that the process costs at least ten times more, as newer clients require a lot more resources and attention. When you build a following of loyal customers you get revenue that you can depend on to keep your company’s cash flow afloat while also maintaining your financial integrity.

The Key to Account Retention

The key to account retention is customer satisfaction. The best way to keep accounts is to make sure that you provide personal attention to your customers, provide quality customer service and take criticism and complains in their stride. Your reaction to a problem presented by a customer is the key to determining whether they will stick around or not. You should have the skills to appropriate the sort of reaction that enables your customers to see that you have their best interests at heart.

Customer satisfaction is established through frequent communication. One of the best strategic tools to establish account retention is through a Customer Advisory Board. You have to keep your client up to speed about any steps that you are taking that directly influences them and inform them of the process that you are making on their problems to maintain account retention. Keeping your clients informed reminds them about the significance of their company and the integral role it plays moving forward which ultimately builds strong account retention. 


Achieve Sustanable, Predictable, Profitable Growth

The Institute for the Study of Business Markets (ISBM) is a center of excellence in the Smeal College of Business at Penn State that is dedicated to expanding academic research and teaching in B2B Marketing and Sales, and improving the practice of B2B Marketing and Sales in Industry. ISBM is networked with researchers, educators and practitioners in business-to-business marketing in companies and universities throughout the world.  

Please join the ISBM and National Bestselling Author Sean Geehan for a special webinar event:

Dominating the B2B World: Sustainable, Predictable and Profitable Growth on March 22, 2012 at 1pm EST

In this webinar, Sean Geehan Author of the B2B Executive Playbook will illustrates the three key differences in the B2B world along with what to do about them. B2B companies aren’t like B2C companies. They don’t acquire and retain customers with Super Bowl ads, Twitter accounts, or cute, little green geckos. To achieve sustainable, predictable, and profitable growth, you MUST follow a different playbook.  


Customer Advisory Boards: Expense or Investment (Part 3)

For those who already have a customer advisory board and are critically assessing content and its mutual benefit for your company and board members, agenda-planning is a critical component.  What priority issues loom?  What strategic insight can you capitalize on most with these select executives from your top accounts?

An effective agenda usually contains three to five successfully prioritized areas for discussion that are relevant to your company and your customers.  Make certain the topics address business goals or competitive advantage.  Consider:

  • Discussing topics to be addressed at upcoming corporate Board meetings for broader understanding.
  • Evaluating product planning ideas before committing deeper resources.
  • Obtaining candid input about their perspectives of competitors to perfect that strategy.
  • Learning about their major challenges and obstacles for overall strategic purposes.
  • Walking through relevant market trends and brainstorming how your company can leapfrog with solutions.

It bears repeating:  These vital customers care about your organization’s success because they have a vested interest in it.  They get involved and give of their time because they want to offer strategic insight. 

BE A STAR.  Invest smartly.  Wisely use precious resources.  Make your board a strategic initiative.


HCL's Formula for Success

In October of this year the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) held their 18th Annual Marketing Conference and Marketing Excellence Awards Ceremony. Our CEO, Sean Geehan, spoke at that conference on "How Winning B2B Companies Achieve Profitable Growth."  It was exciting to be part of that conference for two reasons:
  1. The opportunity for Sean to present the principles of his new book, The B2B Executive Playbook
  2. The chance to witness one of our customers receive the ITSMA Diamond Award for Marketing Excellence in the category of Building Client Loyalty and Trust.
That customer is HCL Technologies. Evaluated by a panel of renowned industryGowri Shankar Vembu, Head of Global CACs @ HCL, receiving the ITSMA Diamond Award for Building Client Loyalty & Trust experts, organizations were judged upon innovation, execution, and business results - three critical aspects to marketing success.

HCL won the award based on its Customer Advisory Council (CAC) programs. HCL's global, collaborative initiatives involve over 80 of its Fortune 500 C-level customers and thought leaders who convene on a regular basis to advise HCL on industry trends, changing business priorities, and HCL's strategic direction. HCL applies the advice received from Council members into actionable plans that transform business and technology needs, creating more value for their customers. With their customers' help, HCL has achieved 25% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) over the last five years, going from revenues of $1.4B to $3.5B. The CAC also serves as an exceptional platform for HCL's customers and their industry peers to exchange ideas and best practices, and to network.

Awards such as this exemplify the value of spending time with your customers to build solid relationships, gaining a better understanding of their business, and becoming a trusted advisor over time. Customer engagement programs like HCL's Advisory Councils are key drivers for account retention, customer loyalty and revenue growth.

A fundamental reason for the success of HCL's Council program is the internal team leading the initiatives. Executive Sponsor Shami Khorana, President, HCL America, leads the team, stays closely involved, communicates to members, and attends all CAC meetings. Samir Bagga, VP and Head of Marketing, and Gowri Shankar Vembu, Associate General Manager and Head of Global CACs, are equally committed to keeping the Councils at a high-quality and strategic level. They work hard to ensure meeting agendas are robust with relevant, engaging topics, while at the same time giving members the opportunity to serve as "advisors" to HCL.

We at Geehan Group are honored to work with a company the caliber of HCL, and look forward to our continued partnership to help them run world-class customer engagement programs and continue to lead their industry with a market driven strategy, bringing company-wide internal team alignment. Congratulations to Shami, Samir, Gowri and all of the HCL team on this much-deserved award!

Too Bad Netflix Didn't Have a Customer Advisory Board!

I'm a Netflix subscriber, so, when I received my "personalized" email from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings on September 19, with the first line stating, "I messed up. I owe you an explanation," I thought to myself, "Too bad Netflix didn't have a Customer Advisory Board!" 
Hastings said that he should have been more communicative about the changes and why the company was making them, which he said was that the two divisions were becoming very different businesses, and the company wanted each to grow independently. Enter "Qwikster".

Then, on October 10, I received my second "personalized" email, this time from The Netflix Team, informing me that it was clear that many Netflix members didn't care for the "two websites" idea, so they were going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs - no change: one website, one account, one password ... in other words, no Qwikster.

Wow ... again I thought, if only Netflix had a Customer Advisory Board.  They could have avoided all of the above mess ...  they would have saved themselves much time, effort, embarrassment, lost revenue, and lost subscribers.  With a CAB, they would have proactively sought feedback and learned how the market would react to their "two separate websites" idea. Additionally, CAB members could have provided guidance on how best to communicate changes to their customers.  

A recent LA Times article stated that Netflix shares recently plummeted nearly 35% after it reported a loss of 800,000 U.S. customers in the third quarter. Even more troubling is that the defections have continued through October, leading Netflix to predict lower-than-expected growth through the end of 2012.

You would think it obvious that a price increase of up to 60% would not bode well with customers, but add to that the rebranding attempt of its DVD service, and you have a recipe for disaster. Still, had these ideas been vetted to a group of customers in an Advisory Board setting, there is no doubt Netflix would have heard the "voice of the customer" loud and clear and could have avoided the losses they have experienced.

Customer Advisory Boards have proven results for ROI.  Our clients not only see increased revenue from CAB member companies, but also receive guidance on how NOT to invest dollars in the WRONG places.  As an example, a new product in development was presented to members at a recent CAB meeting for feedback; it was "nixed" for being off-target and simply not a fit for the company.  That one recommendation alone saved our client $2 million.

Just think what a CAB could have done for Netflix ...

Take Action After Your Customer Advisory Board Meetings

Show YoActionur Customers You Are Listening
One of the biggest keys to success with your Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) is to identify the actions and/or next steps your organization will take following the meeting. 

Your customers devoted their time and talent, and spent a few days with you to engage in discussions to help you better understand "their world" - their challenges, their concerns, what is working and what is not working - and what the future may hold for both of you.  In return, your ultimate responsibility is to respond with specific actions you will take based on their feedback.  Taking action lets them know their time was well spent, you were listening, and you took their ideas and recommendations very seriously.  Taking action will keep them coming back to participate in future CAB meetings.

Plan Ahead for Post-meeting Activities
Even before your CAB meeting takes place, you should schedule an organizational planning meeting a week or two after the CAB meeting.  This prepares your stakeholders for providing their key takeaways and thoughts on how to move forward on member suggestions, ensuring better market alignment.  As a team, determine one or two next steps the organization is willing and able to address.  Ensure you have:
  • Support and buy-in from the team
  • A plan and structure for addressing the issue(s), with associated timing and milestones
  • Accountability from team members to make it happen

Typically within 30-45 days after the CAB meeting, you will want to communicate to the members with a meeting summary and details of your Action Plan.  Send periodic updates on the progress you've made, showing how they have impacted the strategic direction of your organization.  You'll benefit from improved customer relationships and achieve sustainable profitable growth as a result!

B2B Client Programs that Drive Sustainable and Profitable Growth

cfg logo
Rob Urbanowicz, Principal at Geehan Group wil be presenting at the CFG October Round Table in San Francisco October 11-13, 2011.

Session Outline:
The expanding role of the B2B chief marketer requires a rare skill and level of business savvy that is far beyond the messaging and creativity of a brand marketer in the B2C space.  Advancing the role of the B2B marketer to a strategist, innovation catalyst, growth generator, customer loyalty advocate and business partner is the new norm.

We will explore how B2B companies are rebalancing marketing budgets and focusing on the programs and relationships that propel organizations to develop executable growth strategies.  Participants will share perspectives regarding their challenges in executing customer engagement programs that drive strategic value.  Sharing real situations, Rob Urbanowicz will speak to the examples and approaches where “Top Customer” programs have advanced organizations to:
  • Engage your most valuable customers in highly relevant and meaningful ways to capture market insight, align your senior executives and deliver a market driven strategy
  • Differentiate you from other providers while systematically building deeper relationships and account penetration
For more information regarding this event please contact:

How Dell is Finding the Path to Success with their Executive Sponsor Program

I recently spoke with Sherry Smith, Program Manager of the Executive Sponsor Program (ESP) at Dell to learn about the launching of their ESP. 



·         Dell built their program in January of 2010 and officially launched the program in July 2010

·         Currently there are  80 accounts in the program and 35 executives


successLike most organizations Dell has aspirations of what they want ESP to accomplish for the organization.   They want to enhance executive relationships, loyalty, retention and revenue


Through the launch phase their executives have been very supportive of the program and eager to participate. The executive matching process and the kick off calls with each Global Account Managers/Account Executives have gone well. 


As with any program launch there are always a few challenges encountered along the way. Dell faced some obstacles with solidifying an overall program sponsor, the program structure and monitoring their program. The Dell team has been working hard on these common challenges as they know it will help sustain their program long-term. 


I asked Sherry what she would have done differently when launching the ESP. She said “start with the basics first. Clearly defining what you want the program to look like and working backwards with the tools and reporting you are going to need.”


Sherry shared some advice she would have for any organization considering launching an ESP. She said there are four components that are critical to success. They are:


1.       Do it right the first time. Don’t try to do it on your own. There is an art and science to successfully launching a program.

2.       Focus on the basics – focus on setting up the proper structure so that the program can be measured and you are able to celebrate the successes along the way

3.       Program Manager – Having a Program Manager with good people and program management skills

4.       Program Sponsor – the CEO or a BU President that can play their small, but vital role to champion the effort