Spring Cleaning for your Customer Advisory Council

Have you given your Advisory Council member roster a good, long look recently?  I am not talking about just looking at the number of members, but really analyzing the level of engagement from each member.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with realizing there are members on your Advisory Council who may have passed their prime or just no longer fit your Council's profile.  As such, iFeather Dustert is important to review membership engagement on an annual basis.  These are just a few areas I recommend you consider when reviewing the level of engagement from each Advisory Council member:
  1. Attendance and level of participation in Advisory Council functions, such as regular Council meetings and interim conference calls.
  2. Willingness to be an advocate for your company or provide a referral.
  3. The member continues to provide a perspective relevant to the strategic direction of your company.
In order to drive sustainable, predictable, and profitable growth, you must gain the level of insight only fully engaged customer decision makers can offer. Ensure your Advisory Council is providing that direction by evaluating each member's level of engagement.

B2B Client Programs that Drive Sustainable and Profitable Growth

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Rob Urbanowicz, Principal at Geehan Group wil be presenting at the CFG October Round Table in San Francisco October 11-13, 2011.

Session Outline:
The expanding role of the B2B chief marketer requires a rare skill and level of business savvy that is far beyond the messaging and creativity of a brand marketer in the B2C space.  Advancing the role of the B2B marketer to a strategist, innovation catalyst, growth generator, customer loyalty advocate and business partner is the new norm.

We will explore how B2B companies are rebalancing marketing budgets and focusing on the programs and relationships that propel organizations to develop executable growth strategies.  Participants will share perspectives regarding their challenges in executing customer engagement programs that drive strategic value.  Sharing real situations, Rob Urbanowicz will speak to the examples and approaches where “Top Customer” programs have advanced organizations to:
  • Engage your most valuable customers in highly relevant and meaningful ways to capture market insight, align your senior executives and deliver a market driven strategy
  • Differentiate you from other providers while systematically building deeper relationships and account penetration
For more information regarding this event please contact: meetings@cfgglobal.com

Are You on Track to Deliver Your 2011 Sales and Growth Objectives?

As the midyear approaches, have you taken a look at whether or not you are on track to reach your yearend sales goals? If you are behind or want to exceed your 2011 sales goals, now is the time to plan and execute an Executive Summit.
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Benefits of Executive Summits include:
• Customers selling customers
• Executive contact with customers
• Accelerated sales cycles

Tom Webster from i-Trade Network was quoted: "By having customers talk about their solutions, it was exponentially more credible than presenting.  It was so real in content and a huge deal flow accelerator.  Those who attended this conference showed a close rate that was 300% higher than those who didn’t.   Time-to-close for this group was nearly cut in half as well, which was great for cash flow. “

An Executive Summit is a B2B Customer Program where your best customers become your true advocates with potential customers.  A properly designed and executed Executive Summit is a proven event that successfully drives and accelerates sales, and can be implemented across mulitiple industries.

What Can a Customer Advisory Board Accomplish for Your B2B Company?

There are many different names used to describe a Customer Advisory Board but the end goal of the Board, Council or Panel is ultimately the same. A Customer Advisory Board (CAB), Customer Advisory Council or Customer Advisory Panel are all terms used to describe a program that connects executives (decision makers) with current market conditions while simultaneously building relationships with their key customers.
Customer Advisory Boards create an environment where key customers or customer advocates can contribute and help drive internal alignment with your B2B Company Strategy and provide actionable feedback.  Professionally run and facilitated Customer Advisory Boards have proven to:

• Drive Customer Loyalty to Customer Advocacy
• Drive Innovation
• Drive Internal Alignment

In the B2B world retaining your profitable customers while deepening your customer relationships, driving innovation and achieving internal alignment is crucial to your company’s success.

Gotta Love it When a Plan Comes Together!

As excited as I get when we start working with a new client on a Customer Advisory Council, Executive Sponsor Program or Executive Summit, I must admit that even more, I love the long-term relationships we have established.  And to add to that, I REALLY get pumped when I see the results of a long-term plan successfully play out.

One of my clients has literally done things by the book (and by "book" I mean The B2B Executive Playbook by Sean Geehan).  This particular organization has successfully implemented global Customer Advisory Counicls that are second to none and which have resulted in market alignment that has them emerging as an industry leader in an industry undergoing major transformation.

After the foundation of their customer engagement program was solidified via their Councils, they then began a series of Summits, leveraging some of their customer advocates through relationships which were built through the Councils.  These customers not only agreed to, Circle of Customersbut actually volunteered to speak on behalf of our client at industry functions and educational forums. Their circle of influencers has grown significantly as a result of these customer engagement initiatives.

In this day of layoffs, reduced budgets and travel allotments that have all but been eliminated, I find this next comment to be phenomenal.  The Summit they are conducting as we speak is SOLD OUT!  Industry leaders from all over the United States have gathered in California to hear what our client and their customers have to say, and they actually had to cut off the attendance more than a week prior to the event.

It's often tempting to look at customer engagement initiatives as one-off events rather than a roadmap to long-term success for sustainable growth.  But for those companies which take a long-term, strategic approach, and then facilitate the engagement of their senior leaders with the senior leaders of their top customers, the rewards can be exponential with each passing year.


2011 is the Year to Master Execution of Your Company’s Strategy

Remember the movie Miracle on 34th Street?  The little girl who doesn’t believe in Santa, but mutters “I believe…I believe” anyway? I’m reminded of that scene when I think about corporate strategy.  Until the little girl sees the present she asked for, she is hopeful, but not a true believer. 34th

Employees and leaders are the same way. They want to believe in the strategic planning process. They know they are supposed to believe in the ultimate strategy, but it’s hard. Until they see what they’ve asked for, it’s all just a bunch of words and a lot of PowerPoint. And unfortunately, years of failing to take tangible actions leave companies with wishful thinkers.

Research shows most corporations fail to compete not because their strategy is good or bad, but because they are unable to execute their chosen strategy.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise. There are countless numbers of books written by really smart people who tell us the importance of execution.

They are right. Execution is the game changer…if for no other reason than the culture of success created by following through on a plan and holding each other accountable for performance.


The NFL is a great example.  In a league of salary caps and parity, where teams are separated by just seven points, some teams flourish and others struggle to win. 


The difference is execution.

Without execution there is little chance of meaningful long-term success.  But you can take steps now to change that.  You can take steps to improve execution in 2011.

Where to start?   You must first build trust—in the process, in your leadership, and in your organization to make decisions and take actions consistent with your strategy.

To build trust in the process, you need to ensure your strategy is tied to a real understanding of the market.  Employees are savvy. They know the difference between an outside-in view and the kind that comes from “the ivory tower.”  Regardless of how smart your employees think you are, or how much they respect you, at the end of the day they want validation.

The best way we have found validate or vet strategy with the market is through interactions with key customers.  It could be as simple as a roundtable discussion of your S.W.O.T., or as sophisticated as a facilitated Advisory Council.  Either way, you gain rich feedback validating your opportunities and constraints.  You get a clear picture of the market and where it is headed.  And, you strengthen your customer relationships in the process.

This feedback and market clarity is critical as you work to build the second level of trust—trust in your leadership.  Think about what has happened to the employment contract over the past ten to twenty years.  We’ve told employees they should be loyal to their companies, even when their companies are not.  We want employees to be advocates for our brand, but we often fail to educate and support this effort.

To rebuild trust in leadership, your strategy must be relevant.  Creating an outside-in strategy is a good first step. The second is to start a dialogue.  The good news is both ends of the generational divide are actually united.  Baby boomers and millennials both desire integrity and transparency in leadership. They wish to participate in—not be spoken “at” or “to”.

While some companies are testing social media and online communities, there is still a lot to be said for facilitated face-to-face engagements.  We particularly like Root Learning’s strategy map process which is grounded in adult learning techniques.  It helps employees understand and participate in the strategy process—the need to change, the alternatives considered and the path chosen.

By rebuilding trust in the process and in leadership, you have improved your chance of succeeding.  Your journey, however, is far from complete.  To build trust in the organization you must help the organization let go of the past (i.e. destructive behaviors), while at the same time celebrate successes and hold each other accountable for performance.

Performance management is a key component to connect organizational, functional and individual performance objectives to the roadmap and behaviors.  The metrics for determining progress will need to be communicated frequently through town halls and internal communication vehicles.

We also suggest creating an internal board to monitor employee understanding of the strategy and provide feedback on how communications are perceived by different parts of the organization. By understanding how long to stay on message and when and how to adapt your messages, you’ll improve the capability of the organization to execute and you’ll greatly improve organizational trust.

Great execution is no miracle. By taking steps now to rebuild trust in your process, your leadership and your organization, you will create an organizational culture known for execution and success.



This Isn't Your Daddy's Board Meeting

I couldn't be more excited about the customer advisory board meeting I am about to attend!

Over the last few years, I have helped to deliver over 25 Customer Advisory Boards.  While they have all been great and offered a lot of value to the executive teams and their respective board members, I have a funny feeling that this one will do that and then a little bit more.

This one will be unique in its format.  This one will take advantage of emerging technology that will ultimately lead everyone to a better understanding of the generation known as "The Millennials."  This one will leverage customer advocates in new and exciting ways.  This one will take people out of their comfort zones.  This one will change the way people are asked to think.

At Geehan Group we take great pride in having a tried and true methodology for delivering world-class advisory board meetings. The formula for success is an established Customer Advisory Board process that includes injecting creative and innovative ways to dig deep into areas such as collaboration, business models and distribution.  For example:
  • We generally ask members to report back any significant insights gained through small (breakout) group discussions.  Rather than reading back a few key highlights off flip chart notes, this time members will be given video cameras to record their report backs.  These videos will then be uploaded to YouTube and viewed by the group via the host organization's YouTube channel.
  • Alumni members (having previously served roughly three years on the board) have been invited back to present to their peers as well as to facilitate breakout discussions.  Can you imagine the benefit of that for the host organization?  Here you have customers offering to take three days out of their schedules to help the host organization gain deeper strategic insights from their peers.  Not only does it solidify the relationship with the alums, but think about the message it sends to new and existing members of the board.
  • Members will be given hand-held keypads on which they can engage in real-time voting exercises.  Through the magic of a PowerPoint plug in, polls will be presented and members will instantly see the results as they and their fellow members answer questions regarding their challenges, their opportunities, their visions for the future, etc.  It will be very interactive, dynamic, time-efficient and insightful.
  • Industry experts will be brought in to give perspective and third-party insight (remember, CABs are not sales events) with regard to session topics that have long-term impacts for the host organization as well as the member participants. 
  • And finally, members will have the opportunity to work with the host organization on a philanthropic activity.  There's not a lot to add here - it's just a good thing to do.
So as you can see, this will be a meeting that will meet the overall customer engagement objectives in a way that will be exciting, cutting-edge and fun. 

No smoke-filled, windowless board room boredom for this gang; only the opportunity to engage the customer in a way that will pay big dividends well into the future.


I Want Customer Advocates!!

The title of this blog is also the answer to my last blog, Do You Want Satisfied Customers, Loyal Customers or Customer Advocates?  You definitely want Customer Advocates!

We understand the differences between satisfied customers, loyal customers and customer advocates.  But more important to understand is ... How do I go about getting customer advocates?

One way is through a Customer Advisory Board program.  These initiatives are made up of 15-25 decision makers from your top accounts.  Unlike other marketing or sales activities that are focused on lead generation or closed deals, Customer Advisory Boards are focused on building and enhancing relationships at higher levels and securing market insight necessary to keep your business ahead of the competition.  These programs provide the "voice of the customer" to your executive leadership team through a structured program where you can:
  • Engage in business-level discussions to understand "their world" and the direction of the market
  • Gain the input you need to drive your organization's strategy, internal alignment and priorities
  • Integrate customer feedback to ensure market alignment, organizational direction and improve the relevancy of your offerings
  • Become a trusted advisor and deliver value that differentiates you from other vendors
By helping your top customers solve their biggest problems and achieve their biggest aspirations, they naturally become advocates for you in the market.  They are willing to tell others about their experiences with you in a number of ways: 
  • Speak at an event
  • Co-author a white paper
  • Serve as a reference
  • Participate in a case study
Earlier this year, Geehan Group conducted research of over 70 companies who operate a variety of Customer Programs.  Here is what the research told us:

How would you like to have up to 94% of your top customers Willing to Recommend your products, services and/or solutions?  Those are truly customer advocates! 

Take time today to review your list of top customers, then imagine having them all in a room together with your leadership team discussing their biggest challenges.  You'll learn ways you can help solve those challenges and build closer, more valuable relationships ... while planting the seeds for future customer advocates!

Do You Want Satisfied Customers, Loyal Customers or Customer Advocates?

Some might say, "I want it all!"  Others may have a very clear idea of which category would be most advantageous.  To confirm my thinking, I did some research before exclaiming what I thought would be the "best category" to make up my customer list.  

There are literally thousands of articles and hundreds of studies on the subject.  You could spend a long time going through Google results on this topic, which is what I did.  Here are the highlights (consolidated) from my research.

First, let's address the difference between Customer Satisfaction, Customer Loyalty and Customer Advocacy ... 

  • A Satisfied Customer means you are meeting, and hopefully exceeding customer expectations with the products / services, experience and personal attention you are delivering.  This is a requirement to do business - to "be in the game."  Unfortunately, satisfaction doesn't correlate to long-term relationships, loyalty or "share of spend." 
  • A Loyal Customer, in addition to being a satisfied customer (usually - however some loyal customers actually are not always "satisfied"), loyal customers buy more for longer periods of time - which helps you achieve profitable growth.  Loyal customers are even likely to tell more people about you.
  • A Customer Advocate is the holy grail of customers!  These are the customers who are loyal AND who will "go to bat" for you.  They support and recommend your products, services, solutions by sharing their story with others like them.  They also won't hesitate to tell you if something is wrong - which is OK, because they have confidence in you and know you will do everything you can to "fix it."  They love you!  They will actively and positively talk about the relationship you've forged, citing how great you are to work with, and how you've helped solve their problems.  And of course, you love them too!  You've spent time getting to know their business, their challenges and their aspirations.  You are proactive in helping solve their problems and are always one step ahead of them.  You've developed a strong emotional relationship, and lucky for you, those relationships bring you sustainable, predictable, profitable growth!  This is a core philosophy featured in Sean Geehan's upcoming book, The B2B Executive Playbook.

Now that we understand the different categories of customers, in my next blog I'll cover how you can move satisfied and/or loyal customers to be customer advocates.


Long-term Approach Provides Lasting Benefits - Leveraging Customer Advocates

When developing a Customer Engagement Program, it is imperative not to think of the Council meetings, Summits, and Executive Sponsor meetings as one-off events to cross off your list of things you have to do.  When viewed as an ongoing initiative, the results are much more formidable and lasting.

Case in point:  One of our long-term clients could be viewed as a poster child for how to effectively create a customer engagement program and then above that, how to leverage the heck out of it.

After 4+ years of conducting advisory councils around the globe, the list of customer advocates they have created has grown significantly.  In fact, so strong are the relationships that at an upcoming Advisory Council meeting, three council member alums have agreed to not only come back to attend the meeting, but also to take on an active role in the agenda, speaking on the topic of collaboration opportunities with their end-users.  Our client is the conduit for discussions not only between themselves and their customers, but also between peers in their particular industry.  I believe it would be hard to find someone who could argue that this interaction does not solidify account retention. 

I can't overstate the importance of including Customer Engagement in your B2B strategies.  Additionally, thinking for the long-term is of extreme importance not only for market alignment, but for creating customer advocates to help validate your standing as a trusted adviser.

For more on leveraging happy customers, go to www.geehangroup.com/services/executive-summits/