If You Think Recruiting Customers to your CAB is Challenging, Check Out these 5 Helpful Tips

If you're considering a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) for your organization, but fear recruiting customers may be an overwhelming, nearly impossible task, please read on.

Have you had these worries about recruiting?

 

"Our customers will think we just want to sell to them..."

 

"We don't have relationships at the right level..."

 

​"No one will want to come..."

 

 

Fear not ... effectively promoting your CAB, explaining its purpose and the benefits of membership will get your customers to say "YES" to CAB membership. Just follow these five best practice tips:

  1. Reach out to Decision Makers - a CAB is the perfect mechanism for your Executive Sponsor, CEO or other internal leader to call on senior level executives of your top customers to extend an invitation to participate. Let them know that you need their guidance on how to continue to improve, innovate and deliver value added solutions to help them continue to be successful. Be sure to contact your customer 4-6 months prior to the meeting as executive calendars fill up quickly. 
  2. Explain the Goals/Objectives of the CAB - the program provides an opportunity to bring your most important customers together for open dialogue about industry trends, and to understand how your organization can better serve them. 
  3. Emphasize Discussions will be of a Strategic Nature - this is NOT a forum for product feature/function discussions, rather in-depth strategic dialogue and exchange of ideas on market trends, priorities and challenges they are facing, as well as guidance to your organization to influence your vision and shape future direction.
  4. Networking with Peers - your organization serves as the host to a forum for learning, sharing best practices, and building professional relationships with fellow market leaders.
  5. Ongoing Interaction with Board Members and Your Team - in the form of productive, straight-forward and actionable discussions. Express that after each meeting members can expect post-meeting reports on what was discussed, and actions your organization will take, as well as opportunities to participate in optional between-meeting work groups to dive deeper on agreed-upon topics.

 

I hope these tips help put you at ease about recruiting, while providing an approach and the right "talking points" to share with your customer executives. Bringing together forward-thinking customer decision makers to have a seat at the table to help you formulate and validate your strategy will elevate the level of contribution while enhancing customer relationships.

For more on Recruiting, download my article on Three Keys to Recruiting Success and check out our other blogs: 

Selecting the Right Customers for Advisory Board Membership

Recruiting the Right CAB Members - #1 Biggest Challenge

How to Avoid Common Customer Advisory Board Missteps – Part 2 of 3

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Develop Market and Leadership Team Alignment for 2015

 
The leadership teams of many B2B companies are beset with conflict.  Often, this conflict is based in competing executive opinions about how to best move the company ahead.  These conflicting opinions can blind them to external developments that could have a powerful affect on the company and its markets.  
 
• Rogue ideas 
• Resist change
• “Not-invented-here” mindset 
 
Further, the personal ambitions of leadership team members can stifle alignment and consensus, and limit support for critical initiatives. 
 
There is no better means of overcoming these sources of conflict than executive customers.  
 
When the leadership team of a B2B company works directly with executive customers, it becomes more unified and aligned.  These customers, especially when gathered together into a group, provide an unimpeachable source of information, insight and opinion that acts as a filter – quickly dispatching the conflicting views that can splinter a company’s strategic focus or create barriers to change.  An executive customer collective provides a single point of reference for the entire leadership team—in contrast to the information overload and endless debates, which can paralyze companies when key decisions and faster and bolder moves are most needed.  
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Drive Success and Profitability with your B2B Marketing Strategy

Ariba Live is the premier forum for sharing ideas, forging partnerships, and shaping the future of business commerce. Ariba LIVE brought together peers, partners, and prospects to explore ways to truly enable the business of tomorrow today—by driving innovation, reaching new markets, generating competitive products, and creating new channels for growth. Sean Geehan, National Best Selling Author, CEO and Founder of the Geehan Group was a featured B2B Speaker at this great event and was captured in this candid interview sharing some of his personal insights regarding the biggest challenges the B2B world faces as well as marketing strategies to drive sustainable, predictable, profitable growth in your organization.

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How to Connect B2B Buyer Needs with Your Company’s Solutions

Much has been written about the differences between the B2B and B2C buying process.  At its crux, the key difference lies in the amount of research, exploration, validation, concurrence, and approval necessary for B2B purchases due to the typically large investment they require.  All of this activity extends the length and complexity of the buying process considerably as B2B buyers take the time and diligence needed to make absolutely certain the product or service will solve present and future needs.  The success of B2B sellers, therefore, rests in their ability to assist and guide decision makers through each phase of this multifaceted process.

I recently read an article that showcases perfectly the Top 7 Attributes of B2B sellers, as identified by 700 B2B buyers who collectively represent $3.1 billion in annual purchases.  According to these influential decision makers, top B2B sellers:

  1. Educate me with new ideas or perspectives
  2. Collaborate with me
  3. Persuade me that my company would achieve results
  4. Listen to me
  5. Understand my needs
  6. Help me avoid potential pitfalls
  7. Craft a compelling solution

 

With the Top 7 Attributes clearly identified by those who are living what you are sellingTM, B2B sellers must now consistently demonstrate them so decision makers recognize and value them.  Sales training and personal development can improve the individual acumen and skill in a B2B sales organization; however, this is just a start.  Institutionally, B2B organizations must also gain a more intimate understanding of the world in which their customers and prospects live.  The most effective route to gain this comprehensive view begins with an active Customer Advisory Board (CAB).

The most widely-known benefit of a well structured Customer Advisory Board is the platform it provides to help executives build relationships with key stakeholders, including customers, internal constituencies, suppliers, wholesalers, distributors, alliances, and partners.  A successful CAB is unequivocally proven to turn customers into true advocates

while helping organizations retain and increase revenue opportunities.  These results are well-documented by the companies who have achieved them.

When structured correctly, however, a CAB also helps organizations develop an unprecedentedly deep understanding of market conditions, key drivers of the industry, and how their customers are impacted by and react to them.  Armed with this insight (knowledge which cannot be learned from reading blogs, articles, or other online content), B2B sellers can now better demonstrate the Top 7 Attributes by educating, collaborating, understanding, helping, and listening to decision makers at each point of the buying process with more immediate relevance.  Therefore, the insight learned through a Customer Advisory Board enables B2B organizations to more effectively connect their solutions to buyer needs and craft solutions that are both compelling and invaluable to the decision maker.

If your organization currently operates an active Customer Advisory Board today, be sure you are developing the Top 7 Attributes by discussing key topics of their business and industry with them.  If your organization does not currently operate a CAB, you might be losing out to those who do.

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Customer Advisory Boards - An Industry Agnostic Solution

In our daily lives, we seek solutions from experts in the right industry.  Whether it's a company providing goods and services to consumers (B2C), or a business looking to partner with another business (B2B), providing the right solutions + creating customer retention = success.  As B2B and B2C organizations continually strive to improve customer retention and build customer loyalty, there is one solution across any company in any industry that can help do just that -- a Customer Advisory Board.

I recently read an article by a financial planner, Josh Patrick, CFP, and founding principal of Stage 2 Planning Partners. It's a great example of how industry agnostic CABs are, and I fully support his advice on the right way to build and maintain a CAB.

One of the benefits Josh outlines is 'synergy of the group.'  How true!  As CAB members share ideas and best practices, they not only learn from one another, they build on each other's ideas to help you.  And that leads to another benefit - by embedding their feedback into your company's new offerings and services, the bond between you and your members grows even stronger over time.  Members become loyal advocates and are willing to speak on your behalf, such as participating with you at an event and/or serving as a reference.

Our client base spans many industries from banking & financial services to healthcare to technology to media & entertainment.  I've seen first hand that regardless of the industry, the benefits of a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) program are many:

  • An opportunity to listen to the priorities and challenges of your most important customers.

  • Advice, guidance and outside-in thinking to help drive your organization's strategic direction.

  • A better understanding of market trends from your customers' point of view.

  • An ongoing initiative that helps your executive team make decisions and allocate resources with confidence and clarity.

  • Greater alignment of solutions to the market.

  • Relationship building opportunities.

The result?  Enhanced relationships with customer decision makers, loyal advocates and a greater understanding of the market you serve.

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Three Sure Fire Ways to Guarantee Customer Advisory Board Success

Are you considering starting a Customer Advisory Board (CAB), or do you have one in place and are wondering how to ensure continued success? We've executed hundreds of CAB meetings, and while there are many keys to success, when someone asks me what makes a CAB program successful, I respond with these three important elements:

  1. The right people in the room
  2. Relevant content
  3. Follow-up communication

 

The Right People in the Room ... on Both Sides

Based on your CAB strategy, make sure the customers you invite are able to help you think through key issues and areas of your business, and answer the critical questions you will pose to them that will help drive your strategy, future services and/or product direction. People who can answer these questions are typically the decision-makers and high-level influencers, and you want to hear their combined perspectives. Also, attendees from your organization should be made up of the leadership team and/or P&L owners, plus functional leaders in Marketing, Sales, Development, Finance, and Strategy. Their only requirements are to be good listeners, ask probing or clarifying questions and never, ever fall into "selling" mode.

 

Relevant Content ... and Listening

Put an agenda together that includes topics of interest to your customers as well as to your internal team. What are customers' market needs and aspirations? Identify gaps; understand where they believe your organization may be able to help. What does your internal team need feedback, guidance, and input on - strategy, marketing, sales, product? Use this forum to listen and validate your team's perspectives on how they view customer needs. Leverage your time together to share ideas and learn from each other.

 

Follow-up Communication ... and Act

The final element to ensure CAB success is to follow-up with your advisory board members after the meeting. Based on their feedback, determine with your executive team what actions to take, who will be accountable, and the timing to complete. Let your CAB members know you've taken their feedback seriously by developing an action plan and sharing it with them. See another blog I wrote on this topic: Take Action After Your CAB Meeting.

 

 

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Don't Think You Have Enough Customers to Warrant a Customer Advisory Board? Think Again!

A Customer Advisory Board (CAB) or Council, is made up of your top, most strategic customers – whether that equals 7, 12 or 20, they are the driving force of your success. Having a CAB program in place gives the leadership team the perfect forum to meet with these important decision makers.

How Many Customers Should You Have Before Forming a CAB?

We’ve delivered CAB meetings with as little as 5 customers to as many as 22 and found that the smaller groups are just as powerful as the larger ones. A good example is a $3B client of ours with 9-10 customers who account for 90% of their revenue. They typically have 5-8 members in attendance at their CAB meetings. Alternatively, another example would be a much larger $20B client with hundreds of top customers. Their CAB meetings typically have 20-25 attendees and we include breakout groups and roundtables, allowing all members an opportunity to provide feedback and share in smaller groups. These very different companies get the same benefits: robust discussions, collaboration, brainstorming and clarity on our client’s strategic direction.

Would a Customer Survey be as Effective as Holding a CAB Meeting?

Nothing really takes the place of face-to-face meetings for better understanding your customers and building relationships. So if you’re considering surveying customers as an alternative to a face-to-face meeting, just know that your results will be much different. Without a ‘live’ audience to provide context to, you’re more likely to get just a ‘snapshot’ on something more specific. You won’t benefit from the dialogue among customers that occurs at face-to-face meetings; there won’t be peer-to-peer sharing and learning; and last but not least, a survey doesn’t offer much in the way of relationship-building opportunities.

Building a CAB program and holding in-person meetings (once or twice a year) creates a “safe” environment for an open, interactive exchange of ideas. While surveys serve a purpose, don’t use them in lieu of a face-to-face meeting – use surveys for more quantitative feedback. Hold in-person CAB meetings to allow members to build on one another’s thoughts and work on solutions together. This peer exchange will also create an emotional commitment, strengthening relationships and improving retention.

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Why a Customer Advisory Board is NOT the Same as a Focus Group

With the myriad customer engagement programs so popular today, Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) and Focus Groups often get “bucketed” together, yet they have clear and very different objectives.

Here's a "quick reference" chart detailing some of the key differences: 

Participant Attributes

The diagram below shows the core attributes of participants for CABs and Focus Groups, and another reason why these two programs are so different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sample Discussion Topics

And finally, here are some sample topics most common among the two initiatives.

Customer Advisory Board

  • Strategy
  • Direction of industry
  • Organization's goals/objectives to develop alignment
  • Discussions on: what services or offerings are missing; pricing/business models; overall product roadmaps; go-to-market programs (sales, marketing); account management

Focus Group

  • Reaction to logo/tagline
  • Emotional state (look and feel)
  • Usability study
  • Behavioral patterns/processes
  • Product feature/functionality

As you plan your customer engagement programs for 2013, be sure to target the right program format for the input you are seeking.  If you want to gain a deeper understanding of your customers' business, build closer executive relationships, and gain strategic mid- to long-term market insight, a Customer Advisory Board is the answer.  If on the other hand, you need qualitative short-term feedback on a product or branding message; or opinions/perceptions on a concept, service, packaging, etc., then a Focus Group is the right program.

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