Avoiding the Pitfalls to B2B Success: Third in a four-part series

(c)Geehan Group

In my B2B Executive Playbook, I take my readers through the 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. In this four-part series, Avoiding the Pitfalls to B2B Success, I review the common pitfalls that challenge B2B firms. Be aware of them and act quickly if they surface in your company.

Pitfall #3
Following a single customer 

It’s a common story: a new CEO takes the reins and goes to visit the company’s key customers to establish relationships, make sure promises are being met, say thanks, and offer access. On each of these visits, the CEO asks the CEO at the customer company, “What are your biggest issues?” and “What keeps you up at night?”

Terrific questions. 

But then things start to unravel. The CEO hears something at one account that strikes a chord. A big idea; a game changer. He comes home and redirects the company’s development teams, strategy, and resources, based on a single conversation. 

(c)Geehan GroupImagine having your entire leadership team, including functional heads, tethered to a single reference point – and that one reference point is a group of 10 to 25 true decision makers from your most important customers. Once or twice a year, they gather offsite to discuss developments in their industries, markets, companies, and specific areas of responsibility.

Executive Customer Advisory Council meetings have a transformative effect of leader-to-leader relationships, both externally and internally. The executive customers who attended the meeting now seek you out because you provided such a valuable forum for them to network and learn from their peers. They want to do more. They have become part of your team.

Case:

The CEO of a $10 billion manufacturing services company met with the president of his company’s biggest customer. The president suggested a solution to a problem with which he said twenty other major players in his industry were also struggling. This convinced the CEO to invest more than $100 million in developing the solution. Two years later, no one, including the original customer, was willing to buy the solution. The B2B seller had rechanneled its key resources, lost credibility in the market, fallen behind its competitors, and ended up writing off the entire project. 

(c)Geehan GroupBottom Line:

The only way to secure market alignment is to enlist a market collective to validate direction and major development projects. Most B2B offerings need a market, not just one customer. ©2017 Geehan Group

 

Read the other articles in this series:

Pitfall #1: Inside-only Thinking

Pitfall #2: Limiting Input to End Users

Pitfall #4: Chasing the Competition

 


Sean Geehan is founder and CEO of Geehan Group, National Best Selling Author of The B2B Executive Playbook and a celebrated speaker. Sean has more than 25 years’ experience successfully guiding B2B executives to sustainable, predictable, profitable growth for their organizations. To schedule Sean as a speaker, contact him at (877) 226-1621 or visit www.geehangroup.com.

Looking for more information on how to be successful in your B2B business? Download Sean Geehan’s free article “B2B: A Different Game.” Click here

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Don't Let the Name Fool You: 6sense is Based in Math, Patented, and Grounded in Worldly Advice from Customers and Peers

According to 6sense CEO Amanda Kahlow, "Predicting buyers and the products they're interested in isn't magic—it's math. …And lots of behavioral, intent-related data."1 

The 6sense math is paying off for its customers. Shortly after a first round of funding in 2014, the company reported that one of its customers closed $300 million in new business as a result of the 6sense method. More recently, 6sense announced Netsuite has seen an 8x lift in conversions and $25 million in pipeline created since June of 2015, and Dell has witnessed a 2x increase in average opportunity size. Quoting Dell's Marketing Innovation Strategist, Enterprise Demand Generation Jeff Siegel, the Dell team likes to say, “If it's not 6sense, it's nonsense."3

The 6sense math is also paying off for 6sense. In July 2016, the company announced "breakthrough momentum with 4x annual recurring revenue (ARR) growth from this time last year and zero customer churn." (and their Customer Success team is still forming!)  Some of their other customers include ADP, Cisco, Cohesity, Dropbox, GE, HP, IBM, NetApp, Salesforce, and Xactly. Salesforce is also an investor, along with other lead investors Bain Capital, Battery Ventures, and Venrock. To date, over $36M has been invested.4  No hocus pocus indeed.

Born out of a consulting project with CISCO, Kahlow formed 6sense when she experienced an "Aha!" moment during a team meeting. Less than 10 years later, Kahlow continues to propel the company forward with two key moves which caught my attention.

First, to help secure and fuel future growth, 6sense shrewdly patented its method. Crediting Kahlow as the inventor, the USPTO patent covers a “machine implemented system and method of predicting future sales, leads and opportunities based on static data and/or intent buying behavioral data by connecting data from one or multiple sources.“ 

That's a mouthful. More simply put, the 6sense “network of intent data” looks at activity on thousands of B2B publisher sites, directories, blogs, communities, and forums, and combines that data with 6sense customer activity (weblogs, CRM, and marketing automation) as well as descriptive attribute data about the customer's products to make predictions about buyers. The real power of their method, according to Kahlow, is the descriptive information provided to their customers about what buyers want and where they are in their particular buying cycle, which is richer and more directional than a simple scoring of leads already in the funnel. By 6sense estimates, between 60% and 90% of B2B purchasing decisions happen before a customer makes it into a company’s sales and marketing systems. “That is, before that customer raises their hand and asks to be called."2 Those are the informed, motivated, and funded buyers 6sense finds for its customers.

According to the company press release, the patent "validates 6sense's unique formula and market leadership." So does the aforementioned results.

But what really caught my attention is the company's B2B Executive Playbook move to form a Customer Advisory Board (CAB). We have seen many companies like 6sense, whose founders lead the company to impressive growth (and several rounds of funding), lull themselves into complacency (and stagnating growth) with inside-only thinkingthe mindset that the collective brainpower of the internal team is the only store of knowledge and creativity needed for innovation and strategyUnderstandably, it is easy to rely only on the brilliance of the team who's got you there so far. Why change the formula? 

Unfortunately, inside-only thinking produces insular ideas and solutions which are not rooted in customer or market needs, especially as the leadership and product development teams get farther and farther away from direct interaction with customers, and more importantly, decision makers. They simply lose touch, and this thinking in a vacuum approach "contributes to the 60-70 percent product failure rate that continues to plague companies."5

6sense looks to avoid this pitfall with its CAB. Chartered to formalize the process to align product development with customer needs, Chief Strategy Officer Mark Dye, says their CAB allows 6sense to continue to innovate their platform and roadmap alongside the business goals of their most engaged customers.Taking customer engagement one step further, 6sense timed the launch of their CAB in conjuction with their recent Predictive Intelligence Summit, B2B ESP. With speakers from CISCO, Dell, and Forrester B2B sales and marketing industry analyst @lauraramos, 6sense seems to understand that the best results come from the thinking both inside and outside themselves. As CEO Kahlow notes, "We are thrilled to be working with some of the brightest and most innovative minds in B2B marketing and sales."With this approach coming straight from the top, I have a feeling she will keep this extended 6sense team on the path to sustainable, predictable, profitable growth.5

To my favorite skeptic's delight, I found a greeting card which proclaims, "Magic is everywhere, if you don't understand science."  Although I still like to believe in a little magic, I certainly appreciate when we can use math and science to create a sense of awe. Kahlow perhaps says it best, “The universe is a really incredible place if you put it to good use.”7 

That she is.

 

Resources.  Here are just some of the great resources I found to learn about 6sense:

1  http://www.fiercecmo.com/story/6sense-launches-tool-designed-pinpoint-b2b-buyer-intent/2014-08-06

2  https://techcrunch.com/2014/05/19/6sense-a-predictive-sales-intelligence-tool-exits-stealth-with-12m-led-by-battery-venrock/

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/6sense-announces-4x-growth-in-annual-recurring-revenue-300304671.html

4  https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/6sense

5  http://www.geehangroup.com/featured-publications

6  http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/6sense-establishes-customer-advisory-board-to-drive-customer-centric-innovation-300307442.html?tc=eml_cleartime

http://venturebeat.com/2014/05/29/hard-knock-life-for-this-family-led-to-3-ceos-4-startups/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 Keys to Retaining and Growing B2B Revenue

In the B2B World, 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers. The reality is that losing just 5% of those customers could potentially sink your organization. So in this age of big data and rapidly evolving technology, what are the best ways to retain and ultimately grow those customers?

B2B companies must meaningfully engage with their customers to evolve loyalty into advocacy, and engagement begins with a relationship.  Through our work with over 50 leading B2B companies, we have found time again the following three key relationship building practices lay the foundation for account retention and growth:

1.    Educate, Don't Sell.  B2B relationships start with education, not a sales pitch. Educate yourself on your customer's industry, market, challenges, and opportunities, and then demonstrate how you can show them a path forward.  Providing relevant content through discussions and forums, blog posts and articles, and research is an excellent way to establish your credibility and begin the customer loyalty to advocacy journey.

2.    Customer Advisory Boards create a platform where you can leverage happy customers and drive innovation through customer co-design and collaboration. The end result is overall market alignment in offerings, communications, and strategy.

3.    Executive Summits bring key decision-makers together to preview a strategy, product, or market innovation. Through these focused exchanges, customers become first-to-know, first-to-buy, and first to advocate your solution in the marketplace.

Structured, proven, and dynamic educational forums, customer advisory boards, and executive summits help organizations develop a deep understanding of market conditions while building the rapport with key executives. This powerful formula turns customers into true advocates and is the best recipe for retaining and growing your top customers.

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DCR Workforce: Texbook Orchestration of B2B Growth Strategy

Holy Beethoven!  I read dozens of articles about innovation and strategy each week, but none of them reflect the simple foundational melody of B2B growth: engage your customer decision makers and provide a mechanism for them to collaborate meaningfully with your team. 

So imagine the music to my ears as I read "DCR's Customer Advisory Board: Orchestrating Innovation," a publication DCR Workforce (DCR) released along with its recent announcement outlining the collaboration between DCR customers and the company's product managers, solutions group, and internal implementation team.

In its press release, DCR, a provider of Vendor Management System (VMS) solutions, describes "the successful collaboration of its Global Implementation Summit in conjunction with its Customer Advisory Board Innovation Summit to produce the next generation of industry innovations."  Sequenced throughout the year, DCR meets with decision makers and ties their input directly to nearly all aspects of the company's product development and management processes. "DCR Workforce works closely with VIP clients in identifying industry trends and assisting in developing the overall strategic vision for our product."  The company describes getting feedback on both the current and new, including product roadmaps on recent releases, procedures for new customer onboarding, roll-outs of new features, specifications for more established, advanced users, and new innovative ideas the DCR team is "composing."  According to Rich Piva, Director of Implementation and Client Services, "We're orchestrating innovation together with our valued customers.  And this synergy continues to grow and make Smart Track the best VMS in the industry." 

Most importantly, DCR leadership understands its role in the B2B executive engagement process. "Our most important job during these Summits is to ask the big questions, then sit back and listen," says Naveen Dua, CEO and Vice President of Solutions. "We want our customers to know that we are true partners with them and take their needs very seriously."  It may sound elementary, but unlike Mr. Dua, a surprising number of very smart and successful executives continue to struggle with surrendering the PowerPoint.  I don't suspect this reluctance is necessarily a habit inherent to a generation, but rather a habit inherent to a career path which has been paved with having all of the answers.  Wisdom tells us, however, that oftentimes the roadmap which leads to one point of your journey won't necessarily be the same guide to your next. Let go of the clicker, and see your growth soar.

Bravo, DCR!  I look forward to reading your results over the next eight quarters and hearing the sweet music of B2B Sustainable, Predictable, Profitable, Growth.

 

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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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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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3 Keys to Retaining and Growing B2B Revenue

In the B2B World, 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of your customers. The reality is that losing just 5% of those customers could potentially sink your organization. So in this age of big data and rapidly evolving technology, what are the best ways to retain and ultimately grow those customers?

B2B companies must meaningfully engage with their customers to evolve loyalty into advocacy, and engagement begins with a relationship.  Through our work with over 50 leading B2B companies, we have found time again the following three key relationship building practices lay the foundation for account retention and growth:

1.    Educate, Don't Sell.  B2B relationships start with education, not a sales pitch. Educate yourself on your customer's industry, market, challenges, and opportunities, and then demonstrate how you can show them a path forward.  Providing relevant content through discussions and forums, blog posts and articles, and research is an excellent way to establish your credibility and begin the customer loyalty to advocacy journey.

2.    Customer Advisory Boards create a platform where you can leverage happy customers and drive innovation through customer co-design and collaboration. The end result is overall market alignment in offerings, communications, and strategy.

3.    Executive Summits bring key decision-makers together to preview a strategy, product, or market innovation. Through these focused exchanges, customers become first-to-know, first-to-buy, and first to advocate your solution in the marketplace.

Structured, proven, and dynamic educational forums, customer advisory boards, and executive summits help organizations develop a deep understanding of market conditions while building the rapport with key executives. This powerful formula turns customers into true advocates and is the best recipe for retaining and growing your top customers.

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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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