Benchmarking Your Customer Advisory Council

Benchmark MetricRecently I wrote an article about the importance of bench strength for your Advisory Councils. Not only is this a best practice, but it is also a good benchmark for the success and sustainability of your program.  

To see how effective your Advisory Councils are simply count how many people you have ready and willing to step in if an opening were to occur on your Council today.

# of Ready Now CustomersRating
NoneTypical of a new council. Remember, recruitment is an ongoing effort. Plan now and you'll be ready when a retirement occurs.
1-3Good job. Be sure to maintain communications with this group and actively manage the touch points.
4 or MoreTop notch. You clearly understand the importance of proactively managing your pipeline.


Bench Strength is Good For Advisory Councils Too

We often think about bench strength as our internal talent pool--when in reality the same principles apply to our Customer Advisory Councils.

Bench StrengthBench strength ensures you have customers primed and ready to participate when an opening occurs on your Council.

Catherine Gibson-Green, Customer Advisory Council Director at AT&T, maintains a list of prospective Council members submitted by the sales force. To see how well a customer would contribute to a Council she offers them opportunities to participate in subcommittees, work groups, focus groups and surveys. In doing so, she continues to engage them, strengthens the relationship and defines the expectation of Council participation. Smart thinking!

So who are you cultivating as your next Council member?

Acquiring or Being Acquired? Don't Forget the Customers

Acquisitions are expected to pick up in 2011. Should you find yourself as part of an acquired company, here is a tip to help you weather the change.

The acquiring company may be familiar with your market, but generally they are not intimate with your customers. If you have strong customer engagement programs, you are Companies Coming Togetheran asset during the transition period.

Instead of sitting on the sideline, involve the acquiring company in your Customer Advisory Council.* They'll have the chance to meet your strategic customers, discuss the new organization, understand challenges and trends in your market and map out future opportunities with your customers.

You'll position your programs as strategic and yourself as a trusted adviser.

*Consult with your legal department and/or the transition team to understand when you can involve the acquiring company

A Key Indicator Your Relationships Aren't Where They Need to Be

A prospect told me earlier this week that their company didn't have a centralized customer contact list. In the spirit of the season, the CMO sent a note to the sales force asking for customer names, titles and addresses to send a holiday gift. The thought was thaHoliday Cardt this route would provide a backhanded way of getting the data.

Only it didn't.

So what can we learn from this lesson?  Relationships are critical...inside and outside your organization.

Your sales force needs to trust that value will be gained by sharing customer data. Only when you share the data can you start to have conversations about how and where to strengthen relationships with clients. 

If you don't have a customer contact list at the corporate level, chances are pretty good that your relationships are not where they need to be.

The good news is the holiday season presents a great way to start. Even though the CMO in my story above didn't hit the ball out of the park on the first try, seeds are being planted and will in time produce results.

So start trying.

2011 is the Year to Master Execution of Your Company’s Strategy

Remember the movie Miracle on 34th Street?  The little girl who doesn’t believe in Santa, but mutters “I believe…I believe” anyway? I’m reminded of that scene when I think about corporate strategy.  Until the little girl sees the present she asked for, she is hopeful, but not a true believer. 34th

Employees and leaders are the same way. They want to believe in the strategic planning process. They know they are supposed to believe in the ultimate strategy, but it’s hard. Until they see what they’ve asked for, it’s all just a bunch of words and a lot of PowerPoint. And unfortunately, years of failing to take tangible actions leave companies with wishful thinkers.

Research shows most corporations fail to compete not because their strategy is good or bad, but because they are unable to execute their chosen strategy.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise. There are countless numbers of books written by really smart people who tell us the importance of execution.

They are right. Execution is the game changer…if for no other reason than the culture of success created by following through on a plan and holding each other accountable for performance.


The NFL is a great example.  In a league of salary caps and parity, where teams are separated by just seven points, some teams flourish and others struggle to win. 


The difference is execution.

Without execution there is little chance of meaningful long-term success.  But you can take steps now to change that.  You can take steps to improve execution in 2011.

Where to start?   You must first build trust—in the process, in your leadership, and in your organization to make decisions and take actions consistent with your strategy.

To build trust in the process, you need to ensure your strategy is tied to a real understanding of the market.  Employees are savvy. They know the difference between an outside-in view and the kind that comes from “the ivory tower.”  Regardless of how smart your employees think you are, or how much they respect you, at the end of the day they want validation.

The best way we have found validate or vet strategy with the market is through interactions with key customers.  It could be as simple as a roundtable discussion of your S.W.O.T., or as sophisticated as a facilitated Advisory Council.  Either way, you gain rich feedback validating your opportunities and constraints.  You get a clear picture of the market and where it is headed.  And, you strengthen your customer relationships in the process.

This feedback and market clarity is critical as you work to build the second level of trust—trust in your leadership.  Think about what has happened to the employment contract over the past ten to twenty years.  We’ve told employees they should be loyal to their companies, even when their companies are not.  We want employees to be advocates for our brand, but we often fail to educate and support this effort.

To rebuild trust in leadership, your strategy must be relevant.  Creating an outside-in strategy is a good first step. The second is to start a dialogue.  The good news is both ends of the generational divide are actually united.  Baby boomers and millennials both desire integrity and transparency in leadership. They wish to participate in—not be spoken “at” or “to”.

While some companies are testing social media and online communities, there is still a lot to be said for facilitated face-to-face engagements.  We particularly like Root Learning’s strategy map process which is grounded in adult learning techniques.  It helps employees understand and participate in the strategy process—the need to change, the alternatives considered and the path chosen.

By rebuilding trust in the process and in leadership, you have improved your chance of succeeding.  Your journey, however, is far from complete.  To build trust in the organization you must help the organization let go of the past (i.e. destructive behaviors), while at the same time celebrate successes and hold each other accountable for performance.

Performance management is a key component to connect organizational, functional and individual performance objectives to the roadmap and behaviors.  The metrics for determining progress will need to be communicated frequently through town halls and internal communication vehicles.

We also suggest creating an internal board to monitor employee understanding of the strategy and provide feedback on how communications are perceived by different parts of the organization. By understanding how long to stay on message and when and how to adapt your messages, you’ll improve the capability of the organization to execute and you’ll greatly improve organizational trust.

Great execution is no miracle. By taking steps now to rebuild trust in your process, your leadership and your organization, you will create an organizational culture known for execution and success.



Innovation: The Age-Old Answer to Commoditization

It seems commoditization is happening faster these days and the only way to combat it is through continual innovation.

"If you want to become a more innovative organization," says Michael Schrage in his HBR Blog, "don't hire more innovative employees, acquire more innovative customers.
Your capacity to innovate matters less than your customers' and clients' willingness and ability to exploit it."

Michael's quote hits home as a I recall recent client engagements and the importance we place on recruiting the right customers to participate in their executive programs.

Pretty much any customer can tell you their pain points. The difference between any customer and the right customer is their ability to provide solutions, to ask "What if?" When you get these customers together with your executives, around a table or as part of an Executive Sponsor Program, amazing things happen.

Do you know who your "right" customers are?

Preaching to the Choir

You know you are on the right track when the message you've been preaching for years is born out, at least in part, by the big consulting firms.

This past week I read a piece about brand being the reflection of your employees. After all, it is their execution (or lack thereof), that creates brand perception. I totally agree.

Then I read a research study about aligning your corporate culture to your business goals to bring your strategy to life. I mostly agree.

If you've read my prior posts about an effective strategic planning process, then you know that points two and three are ensuring your employees understand the plan, and then integrating the plan with your management system (gets to execution and culture).

But strategies are useless if they fail to incorporate market and competitive data. (That was point one.) Your brand and culture are useless too, if they fail to incorporate market and competitive data.

Unfortunately, businesses trying to help these companies don't. Why? They tend to provide research and tools the way businesses silos. As a result, execution winds up on the CEO's plate, almost exclusively, because his opinion is the anchor point.

The money is in making your customers the anchor points.  Listening to the decision makers in your top accounts provides you a means to understand where and how to grow, where to invest and how to shift your brand and culture to be able to execute consistently against expectations.

When you develop a strategy based on market insight and then align your resources to the strategy in a meaningful way, you will be on your way to sustainable, predictable, profitable growth. Now, doesn't that sound sweet?


These Marketing Tactics are Becoming More Important to the Marketing Strategy

A CMO told me the other day, "I know which customers are strategic to my company. My challenge is making my company strategic to those customers."

His comment demonstrates the shift in marketing that is currently occurring within high-tech and service companies. In these organizations the marketing function is no longer about awareness, brand or feel-good programs. It is a results-oriented entity enabling the relationships and market position necessary to increase customer value and drive revenue.

As a result of this shift, 2010 ITSMA research shows an increase in the following tactics as part of marketing strategies: 

  • Thought leadership development
  • References and testimonials
  • Senior level relationship management programs, customer advisory boards, councils

...and a decline in:
  • Collateral (brochures, datasheets, etc.)
  • Hospitality
  • Sponsorships of sports/Cultural events
  • Print-based direct marketing
  • Traditional print/media advertising
  • Public trade shows

Source: ITSMA, Budget Allocations and Trends: Key Metrics Survey, 2010

Has your company made the shift? If not, what's holding you back?


Inside-Out or Outside-In?

I just read an article by Chief Learning Officer that states "Alignment Starts From the Inside Out." The article is based on research of 1,500 chief learning and development executives who say their organizations will align more closely to organizational objectives this year.

The article describes how performance management, competency development and leadership need to align to organization priorities. I fully agree. Having worked in and with a number of dysfunctional organizations I concluded years ago that companies need an inside-out approach.  I even started a consulting firm to help companies gain this alignment. 

As my blog title suggests, I now question my initial conclusions. Based on discussions with executives it became clear they really didn't have an anchor point to use for the alignment journey. They agreed with my value proposition and asked for proposals on how to achieve alignment, but at the end of the day they had to admit their strategic plans weren't very strategic and their brand destination not well defined. 

Of course this wasn't true of every company. It was true, though, of organizations that most needed my help and were struggling to transform themselves.

So what do well performing organizations do? They continually gain market insight and build relationships with users, influencers and decision makers who keep their organizations on the front end of change. In essence, they use an outside-in approach. I see it time and time again in my work here at the Geehan Group.

The Chief Learning Officer article references the use of customer sat metrics to create feedback loops and even states alignment shouldn't be based on internal HR processes--rather on what clients and employees want.

At the end of the day I'm pretty sure we're saying the same thing. You don't build a company and then find the market. You find the market and then build the company. Whether you call it inside-out or outside-in, what matters is alignment of resources to a market-based strategy. 

What do you think?

How to Make Your Marketing Dollars Go Further

"If sustainable, predictable, profitable growth is the holy grail you are seeking, you have to build relationships with decision makers," says Sean Geehan, founder of the Geehan Group and author of the upcoming book The B2B Executive Playbook.

This assertion at a recent Columbus AMA Special Interest Group Meeting prompted an interesting question from the audience.

"Are you suggesting we focus all our relationship efforts on decision makers?" asked a B2B marketer. 
I like this question because I think it is at the heart of a fundamental change we are making not just as marketers, but as selling organizations. More and more companies are asking for assistance in "moving up the food chain"--being able to call on and have relationships with higher level executives.

They realize that customer satisfaction and NPS scores are only a portion of what we need to do with regard to customer loyalty and retention. To sell solutions, to solve problems, to become trusted business partners means we have to build relationships at the decision maker level. We have to understand their business aspirations and we have to deliver value. And to answer the gentleman's question, we have to do this while maintaining our relationships with users and influencers.

Wow! A big job to be sure. But I think we are up to it. We've mastered expense control and quality management. We've seen our organizations through mergers and divestitures. There's no reason why we can't step up and help our organization's build profitable customer relationships with decision makers.

And, as Sean shared in his presentation, this can be accomplished without spending any additional money. We simply need to re-balance the money we are spending today.


Where is your organization at today? Where do you want to be? What are you doing to help your organization make the shift? I'd love to hear your comments.