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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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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How a Customer Advisory Board Can Help You Prepare for 2013

A Customer Advisory Board (CAB) is a high-return, high-profile event that can heavily influence your company's competitive standing. A successful CAB provides a powerful format that turns customers into true advocates and provides executives with the information needed to align customer programs with company strategy. A formal Customer Advisory Board should be in your marketing and strategic arsenal for 2013.

A well structured Customer Advisory Board is a proven and dynamic program that helps executives and decision makers develop a deep understanding of market conditions while simultaneously building relationships with key customers. A CAB is the perfect avenue for B2B Companies that have more than 60% of their sales with their top customers to receive relevant feedback that can be used in strategic business planning. A Customer Advisory Board not only helps your organization retain your most profitable customers, a CAB will help increase revenue opportunities within your customer base.

A Customer Advisory Board creates a platform where you can leverage happy customers and drive innovation through customer co-design and collaboration. The end result is an overall market alignment in offerings, communications and strategy that will prepare your organization for profitability in 2013 and beyond.

 

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Lead Innovation with a Customer Advisory Board

 

I recently read an article by Harvard Business Review that stated that: “most companies are not good at game-changing innovation.” The article goes further to state that: “Operational goals like productivity, predictability and alignment are woven deeply into management systems and processes. Innovation, experimentation and risk-taking — not so much.” 

Innovation can be the rise or fall of any organization because of the risk it involves. How can you minimize the risk involved with innovation in your organization?  The B2B Ultimate Weapon: A Customer Advisory Board.

A Customer Advisory Board when designed and run correctly is the corner stone to successfully driving innovation in any organization.  Customer Advisory Boards bring together top customers to provide a genuine market collective on key growth segments, while aligning the leadership team to the top priorities and market demands. 

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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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Mom’s Almond Sheet Cake and World-Class CABs

Every time my mom makes her famous Almond Sheet Cake, it wins the crowd over.  Everyone loves it (especially me and my dad)…and everyone wants to know, “How can I get this recipe?” 

Many people ask how their Customer Advisory Board (CAB) compares to others…or, how do they know if they are maximizing their CAB initiative.  So here’s a quick litmus test I came up with for Executives and CAB leaders alike to see if their CABs have the right ingredients to blow people away, like my Moms sheet cake.

 

 

  1. Ongoing vs. Event – many companies treat the CAB like a customer event.  We did it – it was a valuable 2 days!  The customers had a great time, etc.  Ongoing means that issues discussed will be evaluated, explored, and tested, and results reported back.  In addition the CAB members will be involved between meetings to assist, validate, test, etc.  There are usually email updates, member team calls and even sub-committees which advance specific and important issues.
  2. Strategic vs. Tactical – what areas of the business do the CAB discussions address?  If it’s feature/function, short-term, tactical, Executives rarely stay committed or engaged and begin to question long-term benefits.  If it’s viewed as part of the strategic planning process – identifying game changing acquisitions or transforming business models which provide the organization a competitive advantage – then you have something special.
  3.  P&L owner vs. sales or marketing sponsored – in order to achieve world-class, CABs must be sponsored and driven by a P&L leader (CEO, BU head, Geo President).  These are the ones whose net is cast wide enough to drive cross-functional change.  This makes integration into all go-to-market functions much more realistic.
  4. Decision Makers vs. Users – this is the final and most important ingredient to a world-class CAB.  They must have true decision makers (DMs) actively participating, engaging, and contributing.  These in-depth discussions provide rich insight, context to how DMs think, act, evaluate, etc.  Let’s face it, how many DMs take time to complete VOC surveys, satisfaction polls, etc.?  Without this viewpoint and sounding board, organizations are left to extrapolate from the user viewpoint, plan in a vacuum or simply follow the competition.  

These key ingredients are the recipe to a World-Class CAB.  For the sprinkle, dashes and timing of these CAB ingredients, read the blogs my colleagues at Geehan Group have put together.  As for my mom’s almond sheet cake recipe, send me an email and I’ll send it to you.     

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Why Listen to the Voice of the Customer?

If your organization wants to spearhead continuous improvement, it is absolutely imperative you first identify the major factors that are important to your customers and what motivates them to stay loyal to your business.  We all hear this commonly referred to as "listening to the voice of the customer," and most businesses are willing to go an extra mile to find and identify the voice of the external customer.  Once found, however, what do you do with it?

Improve Retention through Alignment and Closing Gaps. The primary concept of listening to the voice of the customer requires a business to first assess and determine whether a business process is achieving optimum efficiency and, more importantly, reaping maximum returns.  Where customers are generally concerned about the effectiveness of a particular process, businesses tend to focus more on optimizing the efficiency of their process.  Listening to the voice of the customer helps close that gap so you don't continue to improve upon something your customers will eventually retire or replace because it does not meet their business needs.

Improve Product and Service Development. Through regular discussions and brief interactive sessions, businesses are able to collect invaluable information and details on the most important needs of their customers. The business can then deploy resources to mold generic needs of customers into specific products and services, sometimes known as “critical-to-quality” requirements or CTQs. The business can then analyze the new product or service to establish whether the CTQs are aligned with the requirements of the customers.

The Voice is a Chorus, Not a Solo.  When seeking out and listening to the voices of your customers, use caution when relying upon one or two strong altos or sopranos.  All too often, a customer can inadvertently use its influence and purchasing power to enlist support of its own needs, which may not necessarily be the needs of a large share of your market.  To avoid sinking R&D dollars into an initiative that only one or two customers will buy, organize a customer advisory board or council to facilitate interaction between your executives and a group of customer decision makers who represent a larger segment of the market.  Listening to a group of decision makers together allows businesses to gain insight into the requirements of a collective of customers in order to effectively identify and translate their needs into meaningful and profitable results.

In order to achieve long-term sustainable growth, a business must have the capacity to effectively identify and listen to the collective voice of the customer through ongoing, interactive sessions.  As obvious as it may sound, customers will play a crucial role in the overall development of the business as well as its long-term success - as long as you are willing to listen to them.

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Six Best Practice Tips for Facilitating a Customer Advisory Board Meeting

 

The Importance of the Facilitator RoleSituation:  Your agenda is finalized, your content is crisp, your members have confirmed, all hotel details are taken care of, and you are ready for a great Customer Advisory Board (CAB) meeting.  You even have an expert facilitator to emcee the meeting.  All is in order ... or is it?

Reality Check:  A well-facilitated CAB meeting requires an experienced facilitator who is familiar with the host company's industry, is able to adapt to unexpected changes, and has the right tools to keep sessions engaging and interesting.  When working with your internal tFacilitatoream and facilitator, consider the following:

 

  1. In addition to the facilitator, will you have the right Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in the room to respond to specific questions? 
  2. Have you developed interactive sessions that will foster dialog among members and the host team? If so, make sure your facilitator has the right tools to run those sessions.
  3. Have you given consideration to the best way to capture member feedback? How many team members will be assisting with capturing that feedback? Facilitators have to concentrate on the mechanics of the session while thinking ahead to the next question. Having a team member who is familiar with the content and context of the discussions to assist with note taking is always helpful.
  4.  Will there be breakout sessions (smaller group discussions) running simultaneously?  If so, be sure to assign a facilitator and note taker to each session.  
  5. Flipcharts are your friend in CAB meetings, so be sure to have plenty on hand.  Take a quick survey of the meeting room early and decide how you will display the flipcharts.
  6.  Be sure your facilitator knows your customers' personalities and set expectations for him/her.  Identify those who may be particularly vocal or a bit shy - a good facilitator will know how to ensure balanced participation across the group.

Conclusion:  You should be able to count on your facilitator to keep the energy level high, setting the pace for the meeting.  They should also understand the "power of the pen" and the importance of recording the participants' words (not necessarily all of them) instead of their own.  And finally, they should be able to carry the group through the process of each session - smoothly transitioning from one topic to the next, using check points along the way, giving accurate, clear and concise instructions. 
 

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