Was Your Last Meeting a Yawner?

Are you discussing topics with your council members that will provide your company with the insights to help drive your top business priorities?  I recently attended an Advisory Council meeting where several members made statements like, “I didn’t realize you were as far along with this solution” and “why haven’t I heard about this solution before?”  Have you heard similar feedback from your Advisory Council members?  If so, it is time to stop and evaluate the topics being covered with your Advisory Council members.

In order to effectively select the right topics for discussion at Advisory Council meetings, we hold an interactive Priority Mapping workshop with our clients.  The workshop is an integral step in the creation of an impactful agenda for our clients and a meeting the members can’t wait to attend.


Turning Advisory Council Insights into Actions

We all have our to-do lists.  They include things like register the kids for summer camp, call the bank about the extra service fee that showed up on last month’s bank statement, call insurance company to find out why they didn’t pay for my last trip to the doctor, etc.  We all have a way in which we prioritize that to-do list whether it is by due date, money related items or by some other means.  The companies I work with are faced with similar, albeit more daunting, to-do lists that result from each Advisory Council meeting.   How do they prioritize their to-do list?

Turning the insights and feedback gained from your Advisory Council members into action isn’t an easy task.  We have successfully implemented a process that is more engaging and interactive with our clients through a Market Alignment Planning (MAP) workshop.  As outlined in Sean Geehan’s book, The B2B Executive Playbook, MAP pulls together the inputs from the Advisory Council that will then feed directly into the strategic planning process.  A MAP workshop can turn that to-do list into a manageable list of prioritized actions that reflects the collective voice of your Advisory Council members.

And, since these are your top customers, integrating that input into your strategic planning process, will better align your organization to the needs of the market.


Striking the Right Balance with Guest Speakers

I recently attended an Advisory Council meeting which provided actionable product and marketing insights for our customer.  Because the members spend so much of their time at a Council meeting sharing, so we felt a “give” back to the Council members with a dynamic guest speaker would change things up a bit and provide a great learning opportunity for all. 

In order to ensure the speaker’s content was meeting the objectives for our customer, several sessions were held with the speaker prior to the meeting.  While there was no doubt that the speaker could talk at length about the topic, we needed to strike a balance on the right amount of lecture time and engagement time with members to create meaningful dialogue.  We only had two hours for the speaker’s session, so we kept the following tips in mind when allocating time on the agenda.

  1. Provide enough time for the speaker to convey their key points
  2. Engage Advisory Council members with the speaker through a Q&A session
  3. Capture key insights from your members during an interactive session that ties to your overall meeting objectives and the speakers content

Striking the right balance with your guest speaker will enable you to achieve your goals for the session as well as allow Council members to gain key takeaways from the time spent.


Spring Cleaning for your Customer Advisory Council

Have you given your Advisory Council member roster a good, long look recently?  I am not talking about just looking at the number of members, but really analyzing the level of engagement from each member.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with realizing there are members on your Advisory Council who may have passed their prime or just no longer fit your Council's profile.  As such, iFeather Dustert is important to review membership engagement on an annual basis.  These are just a few areas I recommend you consider when reviewing the level of engagement from each Advisory Council member:
  1. Attendance and level of participation in Advisory Council functions, such as regular Council meetings and interim conference calls.
  2. Willingness to be an advocate for your company or provide a referral.
  3. The member continues to provide a perspective relevant to the strategic direction of your company.
In order to drive sustainable, predictable, and profitable growth, you must gain the level of insight only fully engaged customer decision makers can offer. Ensure your Advisory Council is providing that direction by evaluating each member's level of engagement.

All Hands on Deck

As a project manager one of my responsibilities is developing timelines and project plans for my customer’s executive programs.  It is amazing to me as I put each project plan together, the number of individuals it takes to pull off a successful executive summit.  It trRowersuly takes the all hands on deck approach to coordinate all of the details and execute on each line of a project plan.   Key resources must be identified up front for overall program management, marketing creative, print production and communications.  Each of these areas is reliant upon the other to complete assigned tasks.

• Program Management – point of contact for all decisions regarding the summit program
• Marketing Creative – designs the graphics and printed pieces necessary to market the summit
• Print Production – prints and ships all required collateral pre-event and provides quality materials for the executive summit
• Communications – develops a strategy for messaging and executes through usage of various channels

The list of areas necessary to execute each summit may vary by organization, but the areas I listed above are the ones I recommend be top priority.  Before you begin any summit planning activities make sure that you have identified the key resources you will need to have a successful summit for your organization.  I have a few other things that you may want to check out on our Execuitve Summit Checklist.

The Devil is in the Details

I just returned from an Executive Summit in Boston that had a full agenda with keynote speakers, panel discussions and interactive sessions with attendees. The planning and time dedicated to its success started well before the October event ever occurred. The all hands on deck approach was critical to ensuring every detail was taken care of, from the name badges to the on-site preparation with participants. devil

I wanted to share a few insights that might help with the initial planning for your next Executive Summit. In order to make your event something memorable for attendees, creating a brand for the summit and maintaining a personal touch throughout the event are areas I wanted to highlight.

Creating a Summit Brand

The selection of a summit name, associated graphics, colors, etc should be at the top of your priority list. Each of these items drives the overall summit brand and every piece of collateral that is created for the event. You want to create name recognition for the event, which perpetuates conversations about the summit long after the event has concluded. The summit brand is also extremely important if you decide to continue hosting summits into the future. Think about the brand recognition that events like Oracle’s OpenWorld or SAP’s Sapphire have within the IT space.

Maintaining a Personal Touch

The Executive Summits I have attended each included 50 attendees or less allowing the sponsoring company and each attendee to spend quality time networking and getting to know each other on a personal level. The smallest details around the attendee experience will ensure a connection is made with everyone. The connection begins with the personalized invitations and doesn’t end until a hand written thank you note is sent to each attendee.

What can you do to make your summit experience more personal?

Preparation and Perseverance Pays Off (Part 2 of 2)

My last blog detailed the preparation needed prior to extending the first invitation to a customer executive for your Executive Sponsor Program (ESP).  You are ready and your executive is ready to make initial contact with the customer executive.  There are many methods of contact, so determine the best approach for each customer executive.

• Meeting  Talk
• Phone Call
• E-mail as the last resort

In my experience the majority of the invitations to customer executives are all made via phone.  Everyone has a hectic schedule, so actually getting the customer executive live on the phone the first time is pretty low.  I would like to offer a few tips in getting the customer executive to respond to your invitation:

• Zero-out to gain access to their administrative assistant
• Find out the mode of communication preferred and the time of day they can be reached; schedule 15 minutes on their calendar
• Focus attention on the company’s key challenges, industry trends or a compelling event

If you have been unsuccessful in contacting the customer executive by phone, as I mentioned earlier, the last resort would be to reach out to the customer executive through e-mail. 

• Grab their attention in the subject line
• Keep the message brief (mobile device friendly)
• No attachments

Don’t be discouraged if multiple attempts have to be made before you receive a “yes” from the customer executive.  It is your follow-up and follow through that will make the difference to your customer executive. 

Preparation and Perseverance Pays Off

The customer list has been vetted and the customer executives have been identified…you are ready to extend your invitations.  How do you invite your customer executives, so they accept?  Here are a few things to consider:

1. Has the right person been identified to make contact with the customer executive?
2. Does a relationship exist today with the customer executive?
3. Has information been gathered on each customer to thoroughly brief the executive who is extending an invitation? Get Set

You only have one shot at inviting a customer executive to participate in your Executive Sponsor Program (ESP). Make sure you have identified the right individual.  The highest level executive that has direct ownership of the account or the executive next in line should be the one extending the invitation.  Remember, that ESP isn’t meant to be a sales opportunity, so assigning the Account Executive to extend the invitation is not recommended.

A hurdle that many of our clients face with their program is that no relationship exists with the customer executive.  If this is a problem you are facing today, you will need to create a strategy for gaining access to the customer executive.  Who do you know that has a relationship today with the customer executive?  For those of you who aren’t challenged with a relationship issue you are well on your way to the finish line.

Information is power! Before your executives begin to make contact with the customer executives, arm your executives with the information they will need to become knowledgeable about the account.  A great place to begin your information gathering is on LinkedIn.  Information that is helpful includes:

• Customer Executive Bio
• Account Plan
• Management Discussion from 10-K
• Outstanding Customer Service Concerns

I know you are anxious to begin getting customer executives to participate in your ESP, but with careful preparation and thought prior to the initial contact your ability to get a “yes” on the first attempt will sky rocket. 


How to Gracefully Remove Your Customer Advisory Board Member - Part 3 of 3

In the final installment of How to Gracefully Remove Customer Advisory Board Members I will discuss the contributions of your Board members, the second area of focus when deciding if it is time to remove a board member.  A board member should be asked to leave basedScorecard on a set of objective and subjective criteria; picture a scorecard and grade each member in the following areas:

• Overall attitude
• Level of participation
• Insight/feedback provided 

Board members were sought after based on their ability to provide insight, actively participate in all discussions and demonstrate their sincerity in wanting to see your company become a success.  Any board member that doesn’t resemble these characteristics is not delivering to the expectations set in the Advisory Board Charter.  For those who may not appear to be contributing, take some time to better understand why, i.e. their area of responsibility might not mesh with the other board members, or it could be as simple as they are no longer providing new insights.

Often the feeling of not fitting in or not realizing the time commitment is a reality felt by the board member.  With everything clearly stated up-front in the Charter, the conversation about not returning to the next meeting should not come as a surprise to the board member.  Perform a review of each member’s availability and contributions.  Remember, in the end the board belongs to your company and you owe it to the other members to have a cohesive group of like executives that all want to contribute to the success of your company. 


How to Gracefully Remove Your Customer Advisory Board Member - Part 2 of 3

When faced with the difficult task of removing a Board member that has failed to live up to their commitment, don’t take it personally.  All you need to do is perform an objective review of a member’s attendance at each meeting and their participation in the in between meeting activities.  If the availability of a board member is not meeting your expectations revert back to your Charter. 

CalendarThe Charter includes details about the membership commitment for your board; assigning membership based on a staggered 12 – 36 month term will allow you to roll a member off of the board after only two meetings.  The charter should also clearly state the number of meetings each member is expected to attend each year and the way in which absences are handled. When a member signs their commitment form for the board, they are signifying that they are aware of the time commitment and the expectations set for board meeting attendance. 

When a board member has not been meeting attendance requirements, give them the benefit of the doubt; ask the member directly what the reason is for their absence.  If the reason provided is valid and they are a contributor during board activities, it is my recommendation to put their board membership on hold and invite them to return to the board when their current obligations allow them adequate time to participate actively on the board.  If the reason for an absence clearly states the member’s unwillingness to participate, it is time to respectfully tell the member thank you for their contributions but your time on the board has come to an end.

Don’t forget that your first line of defense when removing a Board member is the Advisory Board Charter. The charter was created for a reason, so referencing the charter during each Board meeting will continue to reinforce the importance of the document and the commitment made by each member to your Board.  The contributions made by members will be discussed in How to Gracefully Remove Customer Advisory Board Members – Part 3 of 3.   I will provide some recommendations on how to leverage your Customer Advisory Board charter to remove a board member based on the contributions they provide to the Board.