If you are on a January-December fiscal calendar then you are entering the dreaded strategic planning cycle. Why is it dreaded? Usually it's because reams of data are poured over by strategic planners who create organizational thrusts and send them up the chain for review--only to be asked for a different slice or direction by senior leadership. I often hear organizations refer to the early stages of strategic planning as "analysis by paralysis." There is lots of great data, but no real compass to direct the analysis.
Where do you fit in this cycle? Are you the frustrated executive or the frustrated planner? Where is your presentation or binder from the past year? Please say it's not sitting on the shelf.
Materials on shelves are good for reference, not for day-to-day execution. The best strategic plans live within the organization.
...and a decline in:
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:
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.
"...the level of support we got from you – as well as from the whole [Company] team – during our stay has been simply outstanding and may be well considered as a benchmark, in terms of professionalism AND empathy.
I really appreciated it and I know for sure that it was not definitely simple for you and your colleagues to cope with such an extraordinary situation: in my understanding this means that your approach is something different from the usual “customer care”: you took care of the people, not simply of the librarians, and I really appreciated it."
My client has frequent interaction with their customers, values their opinion and takes care of them when times are tough. They see this as "normal." Their customers, and others like me, think it is exceptional. Regardless of whether it is normal or exceptional - ROI studies show this level of customer care pays.
So while we were stuck in Amsterdam for several additional days, I've have to admit it really wasn't so bad...for any of us.
Sure, I have an opinion, but after discussions with numerous companies whose sole focus seemed to be cost cutting, reorganization and internal initiatives, I began to wonder.
I posted this question to the B2B Marketing group on LinkedIn and here were some of the responses:
"The customer experience is undoubtedly critical in B2B if only because of the buying process. Whereas in B2C, where the number of buyers and/or influencing parties are typically small in size, the buying process in B2B typically involves multiple audiences, job responsibilities, and in many cases, many channels as well. For these reasons, especially when we live in society governed by immediacy and specific relevancy to *me*, nothing could be more critical than a specific, user-relevant, positive customer experience. And if done correctly, especially on B2B web sites with strong analytics, the results from a positive customer experience can be *very* lucrative in terms of sales leads and revenue growth." - Lance Baird, Vice President, Sales and Marketing at Godfrey
“Customer Experience is absolutely critical especially in services or complex solution sales environments. I learned LONG ago that the sales person might get the first sale, but it i s the customer services, i.e. customer experience, that gets the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and so on. That lesson supports the idea of growing customer share or insuring customer loyalty. Of course the other aspect of that is, it's of course also an imperative to growing market share. It is more than difficult to gain new customers if current customers are not willing to be a reference or even better an advocate for your products and services.” – Rick Volz, Sales Executive
“’You can fool some of the people some of the time but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.' Customer experience is everything in B2B. You can acquire customers using transactional techniques in the B2B space just as you can in the consumer space but to grow them into advocates requires that the whole experience by all of the people engaged in the relationship from user and buyer of the service is required to before you can develop the relationship any further. And just to make it even more complex those buyers and users are human and they change on average every two or three years. So understanding customers is much more complex in B2B and the relationship needs to be monitored all of the time. There is no room for complacency.” Iain Lovatt, Founder & Executive Chairman Blue Sheep Limited