Strategic Planning with Marketing and Sales

In my book, B2B Executive Playbook, I describe four steps that can simplify strategic planning, focus product development and sales and marketing efforts, and, most importantly, create a clear path to market leadership.  If implemented properly, it will also add sustainability and predictability to a B2B company’s top and bottom lines. 

As with any corporate initiative, however, success can be sidetracked if problematic modes of operating and behavior creep in.  Over my next four blogs, I’ll cover each of the top four common pitfalls that prevent B2B firms from succeeding; Inside-Only Thinking, Limiting Input to End-Users, Following a single Customer, Chasing the Competition.   Be aware of them, and act quickly if they surface in your company.

Pitfall #1: Inside-Only Thinking

The first pitfall is a mindset among the leadership team that goes something like this: “Hey, we’re smart and we’ve been in this industry for many years.  Let’s brainstorm among ourselves (internal off-site meetings) and come up with the next great solution that we can bring to market to change the game and win back our leadership position.”  The leadership teams of B2B companies do have deep stores of knowledge and creativity, but when they choose to go it alone, what they are really saying is, “We know better than our customers of what they want and need.”  And this is a prescription for failure or even disastrous results.

Far too often, the inside-only ideas and solutions that come out of these sessions are not created with current market conditions or even company resources, business models, and competencies in mind.  In fact, they are usually based on legacy customer needs, structures, business models, current competitor offerings, or misguided ideas about a problem that may not even exist in the customer’s mind.  This insular mindset and culture significantly contributes to the 60-70 percent product failure rate that continues to plague companies.

Case:  The leaders of a $1 billion company invested over $100 million in developing a single solution that they were convinced would revolutionize their market.  They did this without including of vetting the idea with a single customer.  The result was disasterous.  Virtually no customers wanted the solution because it couldn’t be integrated with their existing operations, and the few who did buy, demanded to return it for a full refund, plus damages.  The stock tumbled, the leadership team was fired, and the company was sold off at a major discount to a company one-fifth its size.

Successful B2B companies avoid inside-only thinking. At Henny Penny, for example, all innovation and planning initiatives begin with the needs of customers and the market.  “This is the backbone of our culture, strategic planning, and success,” explains Rob Connelly, CEO of $148 million Henny Penny Corporation, a family-owned manufacturer of food service equipment.  “It has enabled us to hold on to and grow our biggest customers for decades, because our plans help them serve their customers more effectively.  We work extremely closely with our top customers.  Our design and engineering teams share ideas, collaborating to provide new solutions, solve problems, or change the game.” 

One of the home runs at Henny Penny was the development of revolutionary low oil volume (LOV) fryer for McDonald’s Corporation.  “We’d been studying innovative ways of improving and shortening usage in the frying process for quite awhile,” recalls Connelly.  “Together with McDonald’s, we developed a breakthrough product, which not only yields significant cost savings, but is also easy to operate and minimizes environmental impact."

The LOV fryer earned Henny Penny the prestigious McDonald’s Global Innovation Award in 2008.  In 2009, MacDonald’s named it Worldwide Equipment Supplier of the Year and in 2010, Worldwide Equipment Partner of the Year.  That’s the kind of market clout and credibility that can’t be bought – and it led to even more sales.  In addition to sales opportunities at McDonald’s 30,000 restaurants worldwide, Henny Penny applied these innovations to stock models that were successfully rolled out to the small and mid-sized restaurant marketplace.  

Bottom Line:  With so many strategic and development alternatives to chose from, you must tap your top customers to prioritize, justify, and focus on the opportunities that will deliver the most impact.  Leveraging their industry knowledge through collaborative “outside-inside” thinking is the only way to secure true market alignment that drives Sustainable, Predictable and Profitable Growth.

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Why is Customer Advocacy Necessary for B2B Businesses?

The need for customer advocacy and its tremendous potential in business success is only recently being realized by businesses across the globe. In a nut shell, by integrating Customer Advocacy into their long-term strategic goals, businesses can enjoy higher levels of customer satisfaction, customer retention, and profitability.

What is Customer Advocacy?

Customer advocacy is a process that has essentially originated from customer services. The aim of customer advocacy is to focus on the various things that customers are most interested in, or that the business thinks are of immense appeal to them. Customer advocacy essentially redirects the strategic focus of the underlying culture of the business so that it becomes more customer-oriented or customer friendly when devising its marketing techniques and customer service agenda.

The Role of Customer Advocates

A customer advocate essentially serves as a liaison between the business and the customer where they focus their efforts on facilitating both the sides. A successful and effective customer advocacy business model is usually one that covers all facets related to customer contact. This can include products, sales, services and complaints. As a result, customer advobookcates are trained in a myriad of cross-functional roles so that they are well-equipped to assist valuable customers in all areas of the business.

Evolving Satisfied Customers to Advocates

The B2B Executive Playbook is a tremendous resource that discusses case studies of several B2B organizations that have successfully evolved satisfied customers to advocates through customer programs such as: Customer Advisory Boards, Executive Sponsor Programs, and Executive Summits to achieve sustainable, predictable and profitable growth.

 

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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.

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3 Tips for an Impactful Customer Advisory Board

I recently attended a breakfast briefing, Street Smart Secrets for Change Management, where Jeff Cole, co-author of Driving Operational Excellence, shared nine tips for changing behavior throughout an organization. I found it intriguing. In less than 90-minutes, Jeff managed to get me thinking differently about how customer advisory boards impact an organization.

I’ve seen first-hand how customer advisory boards provide strategic insight, focus marketing direction, and promote leadership team alignment.  My clients have leveraged their customer advisory boards to acclerate sales, improve customer retention, and advance product innovation. Customer Advisory Boards are proven to drive sustainable, predictable and profitable growth (SPPG), as outlined in Sean Geehan’s book, The B2B Executive Playbook. So I know how customer advisory boards can truly impact an organization. I did not consciously realize, however, that an organization’s inherent resistance to change can make transformational impact extremely difficult, or kill it altogether.Resistance

Launching a Customer Advisory Board often implies that change needs to happen in your organization.  After all, that’s why you are investing in it!  Savvy leaders see the need for change (a new direction, increased sales, improved relationships, etc.) and realize customers can provide the guidance to make it happen.  In fact, organizations that utilize advisory boards to their fullest potential have made them synonymous with continuous improvement and drivers of transformation.  But, you have got to get everyone on the same page.

To achieve truly impactful results, consider the following when developing your customer advisory board.

  • Stakeholders inherently resist change, so communicate progress, both big and small, early and often.
  • Culture impacts an organization’s ability to change, so build a tolerance for ongoing change into your corporate strategy. 
  • Change doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes time and requires a certain set of skills, so designate a change agent/architect to manage the process.    

As you can see, I had a few “Aha” moments during Jeff’s presentation. So much so, in fact, that I immediately ran out and bought his book.  I recommend it to all who aspire to be the agent of change and transformation in their organization.

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8 Building Blocks of World Class Customer Advisory Boards

Are you responsible for your organization's Customer Advisory Board (CAB) program? If so, you don't want to miss Sean Geehan's session at the Customer Advisory Board.org conference on Thursday, June 7, in San Francisco, CA: 8 Building Blocks of World Class Customer Advisory Boards.

Many companies have tried to launch successful Customer Advisory Board programs but have struggled to realize the potential and value of a World Class Advisory Board.  Sean and his team at the Geehan Group have developed and perfected bullet-proof methodologies to assist project managers and their executive stakeholders in executing World Class Advisory Board programs across multiple industries.

Sean's presentation will cover the key elements for success, from executive involvement, to strategic alignment, to recruiting the right customers, as well as best practices for designing an engaging agenda and providing a great meeting experience, to the right follow-up and communication techniques post-meeting. 

“We never could have imagined the results Geehan helped deliver from day one, which have exponentially increased since.”
Anubhav Saxena, VP & Global Head, Business Marketing, HCL

Sean Geehan is CEO and Founder of Geehan Group, the leader in guiding B2B executives to building sustainable, predictable and profitable growth.  He is also the author of the national best-seller, The B2B Executive Playbook.

 

 

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Achieve Sustanable, Predictable, Profitable Growth

The Institute for the Study of Business Markets (ISBM) is a center of excellence in the Smeal College of Business at Penn State that is dedicated to expanding academic research and teaching in B2B Marketing and Sales, and improving the practice of B2B Marketing and Sales in Industry. ISBM is networked with researchers, educators and practitioners in business-to-business marketing in companies and universities throughout the world.  

Please join the ISBM and National Bestselling Author Sean Geehan for a special webinar event:

Dominating the B2B World: Sustainable, Predictable and Profitable Growth on March 22, 2012 at 1pm EST

In this webinar, Sean Geehan Author of the B2B Executive Playbook will illustrates the three key differences in the B2B world along with what to do about them. B2B companies aren’t like B2C companies. They don’t acquire and retain customers with Super Bowl ads, Twitter accounts, or cute, little green geckos. To achieve sustainable, predictable, and profitable growth, you MUST follow a different playbook.  

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Marketing is the Center of the Universe

I recently sat down with a well respected former CMO (now President), and had a great conversation about the important role Marketing plays in a B2B company. He made a very bold statement, “Marketing is the Center of Universe.” Someone might argue that, I am biased because I hold a role in marketing, but I believe this statement to be very true. If you don’t, you should and here’s why:universe

Marketing is the common thread that weaves throughout all other business units in every B2B company. Marketing holds the potential to unleash predictable, profitable growth for your company. When Marketing is utilized to its fullest potential, it can be the driver for customer retention and increased sales, while at the same time creating executive alignment and focused strategic innovation.

How can Marketing do all this? Because Marketing is the “Center of the Universe”! Author Sean Geehan discusses all of the marketing programs and initiatives driven by Marketing to achieve sustainable, predictable, profitable growth in his national best seller, The B2B Executive Playbook. Once you read this book, I would wager  a bet, that you will believe that Marketing is the "Center of the Universe" too!
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2012 Planning - A Golden Opportunity

Have you ever experienced a “moment of fame” when everything you need for your business to succeed comes together perfectly?   It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s “golden!” 
What if you were able to take those “moments of fame” and make them a consistent practice within your organization?  Customer Engagement Programs provide the opportunity to do just that.

Recently, my client experienced one of those moments.  After conducting an Advisory Council meeting with the decision makers of his most strategic customers, he gained invaluable insight into the market, learning what his customers need, and what they are looking for from his organization.

As a member of the executive team, he walked into a strategic planning meeting with the CEO and his peers, armed with information no one else had—even better, it was validated by his most strategic customers:

  • Sunset a core product in mid-term development – a savings of $8 dollars in future development, marketing, sales, and service, not to mention resources that can be devoted to high impact products.
  • Eliminate a new solution from the product roadmap – a total savings of $3 dollars, six months in development and valuable resources.
  • Get positioned to make an acquisition – of an innovative services company.

Gaining insight from your top customers provides a tremendous amount of confidence to participate in your organization’s planning process.  Sharing this information among the leadership team was a “moment of fame” for my client.  His CEO responded, “I’m so impressed by your knowledge this early in our planning process.  You are months ahead of your peers.”

When it comes to internal planning make no mistake—you are competing with your peers for resources and dollars to make the best decisions for the organization.  As you prepare for 2012, part of your plan should include gaining market insight at a decision maker level with your most strategic customers. 

In Sean Geehan’s book, The B2B Executive Playbook, he explains in detail how the market can provide insight, and help validate the following four areas (see diagram below):

  • vennYour “Exploit Solutions” – those areas that align to your business model and for which you have a core competency – in other words, what you do well.
  • Where you should “Evolve” – the market is telling you they want something that is in your core competency, but it is not part of your business model today. 
  • What you should “Acquire” – the market is telling you they want something that would fit into your business model, but you don’t have a core competency for it.  This is an opportunity to gain additional insight for potential companies to acquire.
  • Areas to “Evaluate” – this is something that is part of your business model and it is a core competency, but the market is not willing or interested in buying it.  This is an area you should look to eliminate or sunset the solution or product.

Validate Your Plan with Your Most Important Customers

My client learned that the best way to capture the areas outlined above was through his Advisory Council.  The value of a well-managed Advisory Council is that they can help you capture strategy, marketing, sales, service, product, and merger/acquisition information all at the same time.   

At their inaugural Council meeting, members were presented three specific initiatives for feedback.  The first was a legacy product they had for years—a “me too” in the market. The second was a new product they were getting pressure from sales to develop.  And finally, the third was to look at potential acquisition targets that would fit their business model, but for which they did not currently have a core competency.

The result of the feedback is what my client shared with his leadership team outlined in the beginning of this article.  And it saved his company over $10 million … all from listening to his customers.

Make 2012 a great year by seizing your Golden Opportunity.  Engage the decision makers of your most strategic customers to gain valuable market insight to help drive your strategic planning.

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HCL's Formula for Success

In October of this year the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) held their 18th Annual Marketing Conference and Marketing Excellence Awards Ceremony. Our CEO, Sean Geehan, spoke at that conference on "How Winning B2B Companies Achieve Profitable Growth."  It was exciting to be part of that conference for two reasons:
  1. The opportunity for Sean to present the principles of his new book, The B2B Executive Playbook
  2. The chance to witness one of our customers receive the ITSMA Diamond Award for Marketing Excellence in the category of Building Client Loyalty and Trust.
That customer is HCL Technologies. Evaluated by a panel of renowned industryGowri Shankar Vembu, Head of Global CACs @ HCL, receiving the ITSMA Diamond Award for Building Client Loyalty & Trust experts, organizations were judged upon innovation, execution, and business results - three critical aspects to marketing success.

HCL won the award based on its Customer Advisory Council (CAC) programs. HCL's global, collaborative initiatives involve over 80 of its Fortune 500 C-level customers and thought leaders who convene on a regular basis to advise HCL on industry trends, changing business priorities, and HCL's strategic direction. HCL applies the advice received from Council members into actionable plans that transform business and technology needs, creating more value for their customers. With their customers' help, HCL has achieved 25% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) over the last five years, going from revenues of $1.4B to $3.5B. The CAC also serves as an exceptional platform for HCL's customers and their industry peers to exchange ideas and best practices, and to network.

Awards such as this exemplify the value of spending time with your customers to build solid relationships, gaining a better understanding of their business, and becoming a trusted advisor over time. Customer engagement programs like HCL's Advisory Councils are key drivers for account retention, customer loyalty and revenue growth.

A fundamental reason for the success of HCL's Council program is the internal team leading the initiatives. Executive Sponsor Shami Khorana, President, HCL America, leads the team, stays closely involved, communicates to members, and attends all CAC meetings. Samir Bagga, VP and Head of Marketing, and Gowri Shankar Vembu, Associate General Manager and Head of Global CACs, are equally committed to keeping the Councils at a high-quality and strategic level. They work hard to ensure meeting agendas are robust with relevant, engaging topics, while at the same time giving members the opportunity to serve as "advisors" to HCL.

We at Geehan Group are honored to work with a company the caliber of HCL, and look forward to our continued partnership to help them run world-class customer engagement programs and continue to lead their industry with a market driven strategy, bringing company-wide internal team alignment. Congratulations to Shami, Samir, Gowri and all of the HCL team on this much-deserved award!
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How Winning B2B Companies Achieve Profitable Growth

B2B companies require a different playbook than their B2C counterparts. Please join Sean Geehan, Author of The B2B Executive Playbook and Anubhav Saxena, HCL Technologies in the upcoming Norcal BMA session November 30, 2011. As a recognized expert in B2B leadership, Sean will discuss executive programs that explore innovative ideasbook to drive business transformation and growth in the B2B environment.

• Increase Marketing’s credibility among Leadership teams
• Align organizations to the market
• Engage companies’ most valuable customers, and generate powerful results through sales and marketing collaboration
   


Date/Time:
Wednesday, November 30th
5:30 - 6:30pm:    Check-In / Networking
6:30 – 7:30pm:    Presentation
7:30 – 8:00pm:    Wrap up/Networking
     
Location:
EMC – Santa Clara
2441 Mission College Boulevard
Santa Clara, CA 95054
Map/Directions
 
Discounted Pricing:

BMA Members:   $10
Non-Members:    $35
$5 extra at the door for walk-ins
    

For phone reservations, please call 650-631-4BMA (4262)        
 To register please visit:

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