When clients come to us asking how to take their customer relationship programs to the next level they are typically asking how they can increase the level of relationship within the account. In other words, how do they move from vendor-type relationships with procurement to C-suite trusted partner status?
The answer: Customer Advisory Councils and Executive Sponsor Programs.
A Customer Advisory Council is the first step in our B2B playbook. This forum of 20-30 decision makers represents your best accounts. A typical program includes facilitated, face-to-face discussions twice per year with sustaining activities, such as subcommittees, between meetings to keep members engaged.
Unlike other marketing activities that are focused on lead generation or measurement, Customer Advisory Councils are solely focused on building relationships and generating the market insight necessary to keep your business ahead of the curve.
Clients who have implemented Councils have seen, on average:
- 6% increase in customer retention
- 22% increase in new sales
- 10 additional customer references
The second tool is an Executive Sponsor Program (ESP). This formal approach to one-on-one relationships is best implemented following a Customer Advisory Council.
An ESP aligns an executive within your company with an executive in the customer account. The program exists outside of the sales cycle and outside of any particular deal or transaction. The intention is, over time, to create interdependency.
In interdependency, you become co-creators with your customers. Together, you and your customer create something that neither of you could do on your own. You become part of your customer’s long-term strategy.
Used in tandem, Customer Advisory Councils and Executive Sponsor Programs strengthen customer relationships and create sustainable, predictable, profitable growth. In doing so, they require the commitment and resourcing of any major corporate initiative.
So, if you truly want to take your customer relationships to the next level, start with a Customer Advisory Council. Integrate the insights gained from the Council into your organizational planning process. As your company becomes more market focused, move to programs like ESP. Along the way, use your referral process and NPS programs to gauge how well you are moving the needle.