How to Gracefully Remove Your Customer Advisory Board Member - Part 1 of 3

In my blog, Awkward Conversations with Members; I provided some recommendations on how to handle the retirement of a board member.  Today, I want to provide some additional recommendations that were shared during the conference about removing board members that just aren’t the right fit.  Everyone has had a member that is disruptive, doesn’t have the right job role/title or the member that never can seem to make each meeting.  Have you ever asked yourself the question…   

4 Men with Puzzle PiecesIs it time to ask “Joe Board Member” not to return to the next CAB meeting?

We can break down the answer to this question into two focus areas; the availability of the board member to attend board activities and the contributions the board member provides.  All members of your board were selected according to a pre-defined profile, which included things like the desired job role, strategic thinkers, geography, etc.  Even though you did your best to screen each member and select members based on a profile, potential mistakes can be made during the recruitment process.  You will find out quickly during your first board meeting whether or not you have the opportunity to make some course corrections with members.  So, the question becomes how can I respectfully ask a member not to return to the next board meeting when a change needs to be made? 

I will discuss the availability of your members in How to Gracefully Remove Your Customer Advisory Board Members – Part 2 of 3.  A little hint, your first line of defense is the Advisory Board Charter.   I will provide some recommendations on how to leverage your charter to remove a board member based on their level of participation in Board meetings and activities. 

Engaging the Sales Force Through Training

Word is spreading throughout the sales force about a new customer program called the Annual Customer Review, but the sales force doesn’t quite understand how it will impact them and their customers.  In order to dispel any myths and provide accurate information to every sales person, a training curriculum will need to be developed for the Annual Customer Review program. ABC

The team responsible for the education of your sales force should be engaged in the development and the deployment of the Annual Customer Review program curriculum early in the program timeline.  These are a few questions that will need to be answered prior to the creation of a more formal training plan:

• Who will create and deploy the training curriculum?
• What is the best method for deploying the training?
• How much will the training cost?

The answers to the questions above each have their own dependencies e.g. the training method selected will be based on the overall budget available.  The size of the sales force that must be trained on the new program is another consideration when determining training cost and deployment method.  Whether the training is done regionally, at headquarters or done via webinar the end goal is to train the sales force prior to their need to deliver a Customer Review to a customer. 

The development of an overall training strategy is an essential element for the success of the program.  Even more importantly, engaging the training organization early and keeping them involved throughout the rollout of the program. 


Awkward Conversations with Board Members

I just got back from a conference in Boston for  The attendees represented a variety of industries such as banking, insurance, software and consulting services, but what all attendees had in common was their desire to listen and learn about Customer Advisory Boards.  A topic that came up several times throughout the conference was how to handle awkward conversations with your Advisory Board members. 

walk the plankQuestion #1:  How do I handle retirement from our CAB gracefully?

Prepare for this ahead of time in the following ways…

When preparing the Charter for your Advisory Board include details around the membership commitment for your board.  When setting up a new CAB, assigning membership based on a staggered 12 – 36 month term will keep the discussions fresh and provide new perspectives to the current board.  With everything clearly stated up-front in the Charter the conversation about retiring should not be uncomfortable or unexpected.

Another way to tackle the awkwardness of asking a board member to retire is celebrate their contributions publically at their last meeting and to establish an alumni group.  The retiring board member will still feel that they are providing the insight and perspectives they were used to discussing at the board meetings, but in a new way.  They can gather at key industry events or even be included in future sub-committees, etc.

Remember, the awkwardness you feel in having the conversation with your board member might be mutual.  Stay tuned for my next 3 part blog series: How to Gracefully Remove Customer Advisory Board Members.


Keys to Communicating During Pilot

Your Annual Customer Review program is well underway at this point with activities such as pilot selection and the creation of the Customer Review document.  Our next to-do for the program is to begin engaging the pilot accounts in the Customer Review process.   The best way to communicate with a group of people that is geographically dispersed and ensure a single message is communicated is through live conversation. 

A weekly conference call with the pilot accounts will keep everyone on track with the actions requested of them by the program team.  The feedback you receive will proTin Cansvide your program team with new ideas, as well as information on areas that require process improvement.  The conference calls should be structured and focused.

• Explain each step in the Annual Customer Review process
• Instruct participants on required deliverables
• Invite best practice leaders
• Solicit feedback
• Review tools and templates

The Leadership Team should receive regular updates on the progress of the Annual Customer Review program.  As the pilots make their way through each milestone in the program, communicate their success.  The Leadership Team bought into the program, so keeping them informed throughout the pilot phase will ensure their endorsement during the program launch.

Another key element on any communication strategy is to publicize your accomplishments.  The success of each pilot account should be communicated throughout your company.  You can gather quotes from the pilot reps and testimonials from their customers.  Hearing directly from your customers on their experience with the Annual Customer Review will provide the sales force the proof that the program really does work.    

Remember, communicate with your pilots reps throughout the pilot phase, keep the Leadership Team informed on the success of each milestone achieved and finally, spread the word about the program by capturing feedback directly from your customers.


The Customer Review Document: Gathering Content

The last place we often look is in our own backyard when we brainstorm on new ideas.  I want to take some time today to provide some thoughts on who within your own company can provide valuable insight on the content for the Customer Review document. 

Who within your company delivers Customer Reviews today?  Seek out best practice leaders in your sales force and ask them for examples of Customer Review documents tsprhey have presented to their customers.  Evaluate the Customer Review examples to identify common elements from each.  Interview the best practice leaders and ask them questions such as:

• Who is the audience for the delivery of the document?
• Who from your company attends the meeting?
• How long does a typical meeting last?
• Where does the content for the document come from?

The answers to these questions might help steer you down the right path, but could also lead you down a black hole if you don’t keep the purpose for the document in mind at all times. Remember, the Customer Review is not a show-and-tell for your company; it is the opportunity to have an open dialogue with your customer about their business.  This type of approach might be a new concept for your sales force; take that into consideration when determining how strategic and dialogue-driven the content for the document needs to be.  The content may need to evolve over time. Begin by taking baby steps.

The Customer Review document isn’t meant to be an advertisement for your new solutions.  Use the document to present key information about the value you can provide and ways in which you can solve your customer’s biggest business challenges.  The Customer Review meeting serves as the launching pad for new opportunities and relationships with your customer; the document you present is the instrument that can help get you there sooner.  


Critical Success Factor: Engage Resources Early to Speed Deployment

In previous blogs I spent time discussing the importance of the program roles that make the Annual Customer Review program successful; such as the Program Manager, Program Administrators and the Sales Force.  These individuals run and deliver the program on a day-to-day basis, but there are two other internal teams that impact the overall success of the program, Product Management and Marketing. Hour Glass

Product and Marketing teams provide the majority of the content for the Customer Review document that is presented to customers.  Engage your product and marketing teams early, so they can assist with creating the Customer Review document template.  By utilizing a consistent template, you’ll ensure your brand and message are positioned correctly, while simplifying the process for the account team.

Product and marketing roles vary by company, so when identifying who should be involved in the creation of the Customer Review document; you need individuals that can provide answers to these questions:

Design – Who can design the overall look for the Customer Review document that will be presented to your customers?

High Level Content – Who can provide high-level solution and service offering information that is presented in a concise one-page format?

Detailed Content – Who can provide the detailed information about the solutions and services presented in the Customer Review document?

Strategic Content – Who can create the overall story that needs to be conveyed to your customers during an Annual Customer Review meeting?
Sign-off – Who can approve the final template? Knowing who these individuals are, and involving them in check points throughout the development process will help considerably when you are ready to deploy.  
Designing and creating the content for the Customer Review document will take time.  Each component in the final Customer Review document will involve the efforts of Product Management and Marketing.  Engage the right individuals early in the program and you will encounter fewer missed deadlines and produce a Customer Review document that is wildly successful with your customers.


Critical Success Factors: Piloting the Annual Customer Review Program

The execution of pilots is a critical success factor when launching any program, allowing you to effectively measure the usefulness of the tools and processes being created.  The accounts selected as pilots for the Annual Customer Review program will provide vital feedback on the processes and tools, as well as the impacts the program has made on customers.  When determining which pilots to select for the program you will need to determine what the attributes of a pilot account are for your company, the skill set required of an account manager and the number of pilots to select.
Pilot Selection CriteriaKey

When selecting accounts for pilot there are three (3) key areas to consider:

1. Strategic Account – potential for your company’s solutions and opportunities has been identified; a customer that wants to further their relationship with your company
2. Financially Stable – the account is not under any contract negotiations or requests for proposal (RFP)
3. Existing Customer  - account is more than one year old and a level of success has been demonstrated

Account Manager Characteristics

You can select the best pilot accounts in the world, but if the account manager doesn’t have what it takes to execute, your pilot can be a total failure.  The account managers included in the pilot process must be able to demonstrate the following:

1. Ability to effectively perform account planning
2. Willingness to contribute program feedback on processes and customer impacts
3. Exemplifies what a good sales person looks like for your company

Number of Pilots

Now that you are thinking about which accounts and account managers will make up your list of ideal pilots, you will need to land on the number of pilots required to thoroughly test each aspect of your program.  Here are a few questions you will need to answer:

1. Will the processes and tools created differ by business unit?  If the answer is yes, you will need a pilot for each business unit.
2. Will the program include countries other than the United States?  If so, you may need representation in the pilot group from each theater/region (EMEA, APAC, etc.).
3. Based on the size of the Program Office staff managing the pilot process, how many accounts can be effectively managed?

The pilot phase of the Annual Customer Review program is a critical step to a successful program launch.  You will need to consider your pilot selection criteria, account manager characteristics and the number of pilots before you are able to take the larger step of rolling out the program to the entire sales force. In my next blog I will review another critical success factor in launching an Annual Customer Review program: engaging Product Management and Marketing.

Tales from a Sales Leader: Customer Review Program Performance Requirements

In the final discussion of “Tales from a Sales Leader”, I focused the remainder of our interview on what the Sales Executive’s company does to drive desired program behaviors.  He said it is pretty simple; ”just include the requirements for the delivery of customer reviews in each sales persons annual performance review.”  He was quick to point out that it is not just the sales force that is measured on the delivery of customer reviews; Sales Leadership also has a customer review requirement in their performance objectives.  Everyone in sales has a vested interest in the Annual Customer Review program.
blue ribbon
Objectives are set each year for the number of reviews required for a sales person to achieve their quota, and to be qualified for the annual sales recognition trip.  The current objective for each sales person is ten (10) customer reviews for the year, while the leadership team is ranked on the number of customer reviews attended.  The overall program goal is to deliver one (1) review to a customer every two (2) years. 

The performance requirements for all associates responsible for delivering a review should start small during the program launch and grow over time as the program matures.   The objective set by our Sales Executive’s company during the program launch was the delivery of two reviews for the year, but has grown to 10 reviews after three (3) years.  The benefits of starting small and ramping to a larger number of deliveries per year include:

1. Allowing the Program Office time to incorporate feedback from customers and field resources
2. Assessing the demands on internal teams for document creation
3. Improving the overall customer review document content
4. Gaining the acceptance of the program by the sales force

Incorporating performance requirements into the Annual Customer Review program plan is an important element in creating a successful program.  If you don’t inspect what you expect, the program will struggle to get off the ground.   The Sales Executive wanted to stress that the attainment of the sales performance objectives by the sales force was not difficult.  In fact, every Annual Customer Review delivery has netted at least one solid opportunity for every sales person.  If the expectations are set correctly up front, while building each component of the Annual Customer Review program, all of those involved will find success.



Tales from a Sales Leader: Customer Review Program On-going Challenges

Our Sales Executive took some time during our interview to reflect on the challenges his company faces today, now that their Annual Customer Review program has been in place for over two years.  The on-going challenges for their program revolve around the sales forces inability to effectively gather key customer information required to submit a customer review request.  One of the key components of the customer review document outlines the customer’s top priorities and mission.  This information can’t be made up or pulled from a website.  The sales force is required to accomplish customer discovery prior to submission of a customer review request, unfortunately this key step is often ignored.  By not putting the right amount of effort into customer discovery, the result can be a less than favorable review with their customer.  The customer will know the information being presented is inaccurate; resulting in the sales person immediately losing credibility.  These types of missteps are often identified by sales leaders who are responsible for approving each customer review document, but that doesn’t mean that every mistake can be caught during the approval process.

As the Sales Executive thought about other areas of the program that require improvement, he said that the sales people often lack the skill of carrying out meaningful business discussions.  The delivery of the content is easy, but making the pages in the review document come alive through thought provoking questions and best practice examples takes a fair aClimbermount of preparation prior to the delivery of a customer review.  I can’t stress enough, the importance of reviewing the customer document ahead of time and working with subject matter experts on the best methods of delivering the customer information.  Sales leadership should be providing coaching to their account teams, and the sales training department offering courses on how to have business discussions with customers.  Leverage the resources available to you; you only have one shot at making the review impactful for your customer…make it count!

Every customer will face their own host of challenges throughout the life of any customer program, so it is critical to anticipate challenges and have plans in place to address them.  One of the biggest mistakes is not anticipating the impact to the sales force, as they can make or break your Annual Customer Review program.  I will continue my interview, with our sales executive to review the performance requirements his sales force has for the delivery of reviews to their customers.

Tales from a Sales Leader: Customer Review Program Launch Challenges

In order to bring the Annual Customer Review program to life, I interviewed a sales executive who leads a $1 billion sales force delivering Annual Customer Reviews.  It was crystal clear after the interview that the vision one has for the program and the reality once the program has been launched are often very different.  If you understand the importance of gathering feedback from the field to improve upon the process and then adjusting your course to make program improvements, the overall goals for the Annual Customer Review program can eventually be realized.

When I asked the sales executive to identify the biggest challenges his company faced during the program launch, he noted that the first challenge he encountered was poor adoption of the program by the sales force.  Headquarters was asking the sales force to do something they had never done before, i.e. deliver information to a customer in a structured format that was created by someone else.  Tug of warThe information presented didn’t always tell a great story about the customer’s business, and the sales force wasn’t comfortable with delivering the message.  The sales force eventually became accustomed to delivering the right message, but it took a fair amount of leadership coaching and support materials to get the sales force over this hurdle.  Coaching documents were created to provide the sales force with the right messaging for each major data point delivered in the review document, and sales leaders provided necessary coaching prior to delivery of a customer review.

The second challenge he faced during the program launch was getting the content in the Annual Customer Review document to be meaty enough.  The document that was delivered to the customer had been creatively put together, but the information didn’t provide a compelling story or have the substance necessary to keep the customer participants engaged in a meaningful business discussion.  Over time, the content in their customer review document has improved.  The document now contains key data points that are understandable to the customer audience, and drives the interactive dialogue that was intended during the initial launch of the program.

There must be an adequate amount of awareness and training provided to the sales force well in advance of a program launch to drive the desired behaviors and results.  The challenges faced by our sales executive during program launch are not uncommon.  An assessment of his sales force prior to launch may have prevented some of their early program challenges. In part two (2) of my interview with our Sales Executive we will uncover the on-going challenges faced with his Annual Customer Review program.