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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Just Listen: You Might Just Learn Something!

I spent some time earlier this week cleaning out some old files and came across an article by Matthew Swyers that was published nearly a year ago on Inc.com. It shares the story of when and how he learned to keep quiet, and advises that if you really want to learn something, listen more than you speak. In this week before our presidential election, it really resonated with me. I find myself wanting to say this to so many people throughout the day…. to the news anchors on television who constantly interrupt their guest commentators, to my friends and acquaintances (and perhaps even a few family members) who have a need to sway my opinions and debate everything that is said. And yes, I even find myself wanting to say it to our politicians…shut up and listen to what others have to say. You might just learn something!

I was reminded of this advice again this afternoon during a planning call with the leader of an upcoming advisory council session. He is already anticipating how his advisors might respond to some of his questions, so he is planning a lengthy presentation to pre-empt their thinking. He’s planning his rebuttal too! He wants to be sure they understand what he has already done, what solutions have already been tried without success, and why their anticipated suggestions won’t work. After all, he knows his business and industry better than anyone else. He knows what he’s doing. Doesn’t he?  

Maybe…but maybe not as well as he would like, or he wouldn’t have formed a customer advisory council and invited his customers to help him! After all, that is the over-arching purpose of an advisory council… to develop a deeper understanding of the market from your top customers, while simultaneously strengthening your relationships with them. This market insight, when incorporated into your strategic planning, ultimately leads to sustainable, predictable, and profitable growth. And that cannot be done if you’re talking the whole time!

So shut up and listen! Ask questions. Let your customers answer. Ask for clarity if you don’t understand, but let them do most of the talking. You may or may not like what you hear and you may or may not take their advice. But listen to what they have to say.  You might just learn something new, something important, or something that changes the game. But you won’t learn it if you’re not listening… so shut up and listen!  

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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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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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Accelerate Sales in a Decelerating Economy

In today’s economy factors like increasingly shrinking budgets, fading staff and an incredible rise in competition for even the most minor of sales have created the need to make use of opportunities and resources as thoroughly as possible. In a nutshell, most companies have to find a plausible way to produce an increased number of better qualified leads with half the amount of people and a lot lesser resources than the number actually required.

How will you Accelerate your Sales?

With the threat of downsizing looming around the heads of employees in any basic firm, the whole concept of ‘working smarter’ has become the lifeblood and sustenance of employees in a work place, given the demand of efficiency despite the sparse budget and abysmal headcount.

What are the best tips for Accelerating Sales

There are some ways in which you can efficiently cause accelerating sales which benefit your company and its employees. These include Customer Advisory Boards or Councils and Executive Summits

Customer Advisory Boards (CAB) or Counciils (CAC)

A Customer Advisory Board 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.

Executive Summits

Executive Summits are one-time centralized or regional events – that 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.

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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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