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.

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.



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.


Using the Voice of the Customer to Create an Outside in Plan

In my last post I discussed three key elements for strategic planning:
  1. Use the voice of the customer to create an outside-in plan
  2. Ensure the plan is well understood by employees
  3. Integrate the plan in your management system

Let's focus on the first element: an outside-in approach.

Your business in constantly changing. Agreed? The individuals closest to this change are your customers. Still with me? By tapping into their knowledge base, you stay ahead of the curve and create strategy that can live, grow and adapt with your organization.

Your customers know what is happening in their business. They know where they want to be in the next 12-24 months and they can tell you what you need to do to be a partner in getting them there. So to have a dynamic and organic plan, you have to be connected to your customers and you need to have deep relationships with your most strategic customers.

How do you do this? Through Customer Advisory Councils (CACs). This is a formal program involving the decision makers from your top customers (define top as largest revenue, most profitable, or most strategic). 

Geehan Group research shows most B2B companies have 80% of their revenue tied up in as little as 20% of their accounts. What does this look like for your organization? Segment your base and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised to find this is true.

Imagine what you can learn about your direction and strategies from the customers driving 80% of your revenue. Now imagine the impact these customers can have on future growth when you start building relationships with them and enabling them to advocate on your behalf. 

During the initial meeting you can gain market insight to help drive your strategic plan. At a follow-up meeting you can validate elements of the plan or gain input for your product/service/solution roadmap, brand position, innovation...you get the idea.

This group becomes an integral part of your strategy development process. They also become tightly linked with your company and an advocate for your success.

In the next blog we'll look at what to do with information gained from your Customer Advisory Council.


Are You on Track to Meet Your 2010 Sales Goals?

For those of us on a January-December fiscal year, Q3 is NOW – and it is the time when we are very aware of exactly where we stand for meeting our year-end sales goals.  If you're concerned about reaching your goal, you might want to consider forming a Customer Advisory Council (CAC). 

Over my six years with Geehan Group, I’ve worked with many CACs.  I've seen our clients bring together decision makers from their top customers ... and it's a powerful thing!  Listening to what those customers have to say is even more powerful, and I’ve witnessed the incredible insights uncovered as well as the positive benefits as a result of our client taking action based on their customers' feedback. 

Learning from Your Top Customers
What happens when you engage key customer decision makers directly with the leadership team?  You gain an intimate understanding of their needs, aspirations, and the direction of the market.  Those learnings then become the foundation from which your strategy, planning, marketing, innovation, acquisitions, sales and service will be designed, executed, and altered to maximize organizational success.

Your leadership team listens as your customers discuss their biggest issues, challenges, aspirations and priorities.  You learn how they think, how they manage, lead, and make key decisions; how their environment is changing, and what they are doing to address it.  You have the opportunity to understand their world through the eyes of the decision makers who will ultimately decide how their resources and dollars will be allocated.

Driving Predictable, Sustainable, Profitable Growth
All of this gives you an edge … an edge your competitors don’t have.  Your strategic direction is guided by those top customers - and they see the value of their role on the Council.  Their feedback becomes instrumental in both business and product planning.  They become personally and emotionally invested in your success; they become advocates for you in the market.  In addition, they help identify new prospects, drive market awareness, accelerate sales cycles and close deals.

By listening and investing resources in areas that are viable and important to the decision makers of your most important customers and markets, you will consistently drive your firm’s revenue.  It will also cut out the time, energy and money investing where there is little or no business value.

If you’re not currently gaining the insight from your top customers through a Customer Advisory Council, perhaps now is the time to take action.  Engaging your top customers will drive revenue for your company – I’ve witnessed the results firsthand!  Make the last two quarters of this year a success – build a powerful link to your customers and ensure you meet – or better yet, exceed – your year-end sales goals! 



Is the Customer Experience Important in B2B?

Sure, I have an opinion, but after discussions with numerous companies whose sole focus seemed to be cost cutting, reorganization and internal initiatives, I began to wonder.

I posted this question to the B2B Marketing group on LinkedIn and here were some of the responses:

"The customer experience is undoubtedly critical in B2B if only because of the buying process. Whereas in B2C, where the number of buyers and/or influencing parties are typically small in size, the buying process in B2B typically involves multiple audiences, job responsibilities, and in many cases, many channels as well. For these reasons, especially when we live in society governed by immediacy and specific relevancy to *me*, nothing could be more critical than a specific, user-relevant, positive customer experience. And if done correctly, especially on B2B web sites with strong analytics, the results from a positive customer experience can be *very* lucrative in terms of sales leads and revenue growth."  - Lance Baird, Vice President, Sales and Marketing at Godfrey

“Customer Experience is absolutely critical especially in services or complex solution sales environments. I learned LONG ago that the sales person might get the first sale, but it is the customer services, i.e. customer experience, that gets the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and so on. That lesson supports the idea of growing customer share or insuring customer loyalty. Of course the other aspect of that is, it's of course also an imperative to growing market share. It is more than difficult to gain new customers if current customers are not willing to be a reference or even better an advocate for your products and services.” – Rick Volz, Sales Executive

“’You can fool some of the people some of the time but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.' Customer experience is everything in B2B. You can acquire customers using transactional techniques in the B2B space just as you can in the consumer space but to grow them into advocates requires that the whole experience by all of the people engaged in the relationship from user and buyer of the service is required to before you can develop the relationship any further. And just to make it even more complex those buyers and users are human and they change on average every two or three years. So understanding customers is much more complex in B2B and the relationship needs to be monitored all of the time. There is no room for complacency.” Iain Lovatt, Founder & Executive Chairman Blue Sheep Limited

Finally, after 14 posts, someone asked the question I was dying to know…

“What it is interesting is, that if we all feel so strongly that customer experience is so vital in B2B why is it so overlooked? Or is now the time for Business Leaders to understand that the brand is defined (whether we like it or not) by the experience we give and that to have a sustainable advantage and to be different in your market you MUST start with the Customer Experience?

It would be great to hear what you all believe are the barriers? I'll start with a couple:

- the lack of understanding of the importance (although this is changing) of the brand
- not enough listening to customers about how they feel about working with "company X"
- the B2B focus on quarterly results at the expense of the longer term plan
- the complexity of CX design in B2B

- .... (over to you) ...” - Richard Bush, Managing Director, Base One

There were several more posts about the importance of the customer experience in B2B), but only two that really answered the question posted by Richard about why it is often overlooked.

“Having been Head of Enterprise Customer Experience at Vodafone UK I speak from 'head in hands' experience of the complexity of getting the end to end experience right for business customers. Consumers, I would argue, are much less complex in their decision making, but businesses, well.... how complex can you get - certain people within a company may search for the right product, others may purchase it, others may use it and a different set may pay the bill (this applies to larger SMEs and definitely corporates). Getting the 'experience' right for all of those decision makers is hard but not impossible! I personally think B2B Customer Experience is a really interesting space and one that is just starting to get the attention it rightly deserves, but I definitely agree with the earlier comment from Richard Bush that there are many barriers to making B2B experience work. The biggest barrier I have found both as a client side practitioner and more recently from my consultancy work with B2B clients is that senior management (small business owners up to corporate boards) sometimes talk a good game but are less reluctant when they have to commit to the budget required for chance.” - Melanie Gray, Owner of GrayMarketing, a B2B marketing consultancy that specialises in Customer Engagement.

“... B2B transactions are based on an exceptional high level of trust. If trust is not present between you and the client from the outset, it’s almost impossible for a positive client/customer experience to be achieved (depending on what is the procurers driver). For my company this is our emotional trigger for our brand and one that resonates with our stakeholders. It’s not just about making relationships in B2B, it’s about maintaining them...” - Chris Hedges, Marketing Executive for Appleyards Ltd

I agree with Melanie and Chris that customer experiences in B2B are more complex because they are about relationships and trust at multiple levels and functions within the customer account. ..BUT if it’s the lifeblood of your organization, shouldn’t it be more than a nice-to-do? I'd love to hear your comments on why customer experience appears to be an afterthought instead of a managed process.