Thank You, Customer Success, for Uniting Marketing and Finance

“Over the years, I have come to dislike marketers,” a CFO at a $350M company recently told me.  “I have found they just aren’t good business people.”

I couldn’t help but smile and explain to him how his mind was about to change.

During the past several weeks, I've had the opportunity to work with my colleague Sean Geehan and the smart folks at Strikedeck to better understand the nuts and bolts of B2B marketing’s new priority, Customer Success.  Before this time, the Finance snob inside of me assumed “Customer Success” was just another slick label marketing had put on the tried and true function of customer service or the practice of simply following the immortal words of James Cash Penny, “The well-satisfied customer will bring the repeat sale that counts.”

I don’t know who gets credit for the name “Customer Success,” but my cohorts in Finance should scoff no longer.  Despite its glib name, disciplined Customer Success is serious business (over $50 million committed by the US venture community on solution providers), and it can make or break players in the Cloud Subscription XaaS Economy.  According to the Customer Success Association, “Across the SaaS B2B sector, the choice is becoming clear.  You either actively manage your customer relationships as strategic portfolio assets, or you effectively cede control over them and your company’s future to chance and/or the competition.” 

Whoa. Those kind of words place Customer Success at the crux of SaaS company strategy, so much so that the CS Association advises, “The ultimate strategic goal of the Customer Success role is sustainable corporate profitability and growth.  The method is to make your customers as profitable and productive as possible.”  With such an important strategic imperative, Marketing, who has to date been driving most Customer Success initiatives in XaaS companies, is now placed in an even more significant position.  I wonder if these marketers realize their elevated status (most think they are still low men and women on the corporate totem pole), or that to take advantage of it, they get to think again about a group to whom they can't help but feel a gravitational pull: Users.

"The fate of your B2B company rests in the hands of a few people," our team has said for years about the connection between executive decision makers and B2B strategy.  While this is still extremely true, in the SaaS model, users are taking back some of the attention because the adoption and use of their seat licenses have become a significant factor in determining the economic value borne by the purchase of SaaS technologies.  And, more importantly, it has become the onus of sellers and their technology to make sure users adopt and use it.  As such, a subscription based business is probably the closest a B2B organization has been to needing to consider users and their happiness strategically in quite some time. Furthermore, the importance of keeping user cheeks happily in license seats requires Marketing and Customer Success to plan, coordinate, monitor, and possibly even design most of the major functions of service delivery.

As one example, let’s look at one of the primary drivers of adoption and use: training.  In the not-so old days as a user, it was his responsibility to learn and adapt to whatever technology the decision makers several levels above his pay grade chose to purchase and install (I am reminded of a major software conversion required at a major US bank because the CEOs at the two companies golfed together).  To learn the new system, users might get to attend a class or benefit from hands-on training, but many times it came in the form of a set of very large binders through which time had to be found to dig and find answers.  Online training later offered a more efficient Q&A search tool, but again, the content was fairly static (and boring) and nowhere near our modern day definition of “interactive.”  All in all, learning the new system on which a user performed his job was really his responsibility, if he wanted to perform well.  The technology wasn’t going anywhere, or at least until when GAAP said it could.

Today, learning the system is no longer altogether the user’s responsibility.  Users expect the technology either to be intuitive enough so that even a caveman could use it, or to teach them with on-demand “Live Chat” training and quick answers to their questions in forums and chat rooms.  In fact, when I talk to millennials about their jobs, they expect to be taught how and when they want to learn.  If they don’t feel competent quickly enough - or they just don’t like the technology - they just won’t adopt and proceed to influence a move to an alternative.  It’s “There's another app for that” mentality. There is always another app or similar technology that can do the job just as well, but maybe it has better chat rooms with more clever emojis.  When their employers see adoption is low, they can scrap the technology by unsubscribing and moving their data elsewhere.  Gone are the capital expenditures that had to be amortized and force users to use or lose.

The Technology Marketing and Sales research and services company ITMSA recently held its annual Marketing Leadership Forum which included a panel discussion of leaders from Amdocs, Cisco, and Oracle on customer experience and customer success and the role marketing must take in both functions.  In his summary of the session, ITMSA President CEO Dave Munn notes the perspective of Steve Pinedo, vice president, Oracle Global Cloud Customer Success, “the shift to the cloud is driving dramatic changes in customer expectations for technology based solutions, with new demands for immediate and frictionless support and value at every stage of the relationship.  From a marketing perspective, this puts customer success front and center, and makes reducing customer churn the number one KPI.”

Customer Churn.  This is where the finance nerd inside me really takes notice.  As Sean wrote in his recent post "Customer Success: Applying Science to the Art of Customer Engagement," churn (the rate at which customers leave) is the metric which could finally give marketing and customer engagement a measurement by which these efforts have a benchmark, and benchmarks mean funding and more importantly, credibility and stature with The ELT. 

Armed with churn rates, Marketing may now have the words Finance has longed to hear.  Whenever Sean and I speak to a group of CFOs or financial leaders, we remind them of their right to demand ROI on the investments they make in marketing.  Unfortunately, their marketing peers have struggled to find an irrefutable number by which they can say, “Our programs elevated our position to Leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant,” or even, “Our efforts contributed to raising our market cap.”  The churn rate statistic erases this previous shortcoming as the metric becomes more heavily weighted in technology evaluations and company valuations.  Marketing leaders can now say, “Our Customer Success Program, with its new onboarding engagement plan, has lowered our churn rate and brought us a new round of venture funding.”  With this type of measurable contribution to the organization’s growth, how can a CEO or CFO not take notice?

Marketing has an excuse no longer to shy away from numbers and figures, and they should embrace this opportunity to take ownership of measuring, monitoring, reporting, and hopefully bragging about their contribution to low churn. This might be an overstatement, or even blasphemy, but marketing finally has a reason to embrace at least one statistic.  And they get to talk about user decision making behavior again.  Win-Win!

I end here by sharing a graphic I found on the Customer Success Association website because I think it effectively ties together the relationship between Customer Success, retention, and profitable growth.  It's a picture to rally around and unify all the corporate languages.

 

 

 

 

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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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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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Learning to Drive B2B Profitable Growth at Ariba Live

Business strategy books fill bookstore shelves, but none draw attention to the unique ways in which B2B organizations need to strategize and run differently than B2C companies in order to achieve true sustainable, predictable, and profitable growth.

Please join me at Ariba Live In my feature break out session, where I will identify those unique differences and demonstrating how B2B companies need to apply B2B strategies with proven approaches. Everyone attending this session will receive a signed copy of The B2B Executive Playbook.

Don't miss this amazing event where you’ll learn to optimize the connectivity and analytics made possible by business networks and the Cloud, gaining essential insights that empower you to transform business commerce. This event includes informative breakout sessions, dynamic keynotes, and engaging networking opportunities, where you'll learn how to buy better, sell more, and manage cash more efficiently.

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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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Branding and Positioning in the B2B World

One of the biggest differences between B2B and B2C is branding or positioning your company.  Many extremely successful marketing leaders in B2C have a difficult time making the much needed adjustments to be successful.  In my book, The B2B Executive Playbook, I referred to Michael Jordan’s dominance in basketball and being labeled “World’s Greatest Athlete.”  But, the world’s greatest athlete failed miserably when he tried professional baseball.

He may still be the greatest athlete, but he needed to apply his skills much differently to be successful in baseball.  What he also lacked was experience in baseball.  I’ve witnessed dozens of successful B2C marketing executives who have been met with the same results as Jordan did when they crossed over to B2B marketing. 

Commonly, I run into high-profile executives much like the one I worked with who came over from a major soft drink company.  He is a great individual.  He amassed all kinds of accolades and had great success at his former company as a brand leader of its flagship product. His honors included national advertising and marketing awards as well as several industry awards.  The financials were incredible too…market share gains, profitable growth, etc.  Then he jumped to a B2B and became the CMO in an industry which he had no experience.  The CEO was so excited to land him and even made him over product development as well.  He applied the B2C formula that made him a huge success at his old company.

Well, his new company had about 10,000 customers, but their top 50 customers were 50% and the top 200 were around 75% of the revenue of this $5 billion company.   He didn’t fully understand the impact of this and violated nearly every B2B success principle outlined in the book.  Most of what he did was in the name of branding, (new look, logo, tagline, positioning, etc.).  He committed millions to what made him wildly successful at his B2C Company…updated look and feel of logo, tagline, entertainment/event sponsorship and a broad ad campaign. 

The results were brutal:  sales went down, market share slid, margins tumbled, and because he also oversaw and shifted R&D dollars to marketing, their product started falling behind because they weren’t reinvesting like the competition.  In addition, many of their top customers were leaving them, signing exclusive long-term deals with the competition…never to return.  The only thing that collapsed more than the financial results during his tenure was the company morale. 

That CMO lasted three years. He has been gone for about three years now, and they still haven’t recovered from the damage that the B2C approaches caused to this great B2B Company.  It was like wearing a basketball uniform to a football game.  It was ugly. 

While there is no universal agreement on the definition of brand, the core is simply how the market views your company - your reputation.  It includes aspects like what your firm is known for, where the market believes you have value or have credibility, and your company’s personality and culture.

In the B2C world, the brand position is achieved much differently.  Let’s take the world’s most valuable brand, Coke.  I drink more Diet Cokes than I do anything else.  I have it stocked in my home fridge, in my work fridge and order it every lunch, etc…

The image of the Coke brand, for me as the customer, is contained to the advertising, the package design, others’ perceptions and my experience.  Think about it. Even if the package is damaged, in my head I assume my local grocer dropped it while putting it out on the shelf.  If it tastes bad when I order it at a restaurant, I put it on the restaurant for not have the right mix (syrup and water).  I actually do not know a single person who works for Coke! My touch points and interactions with Coke, as well as all my other brand goods, are similar to this (Crest, Nike, Sony, Tommy Bahama).

All of these B2C companies invest millions into understanding the various personas, segments, demographics, geographical nuances, etc. to determine how to position and manage these brands.  The same is true about all respected B2C CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) brands.

There are two additional elements in the other major B2C category: Retailers.  For  retailers such as Starbucks, Disney, McDonalds, Target and others, the brand is also impacted by the store (look, experience, etc.) and the people (knowledge, culture, interactions, etc.).

In the B2B world, the brand position is also established with all of the above-mentioned brand-building components.  The difference, however, is the priority and weighting these elements are assigned, as well as the impact that a very few customers can have.  And while it’s only one element, that impact can be the difference between Branding Nirvana and losing your job (CMOs have the shortest tenure of all C-level positions and functions). 

Why are the customers more important in branding a B2B?

Because in the B2B world, the people you are selling to are industry veterans and most are also subject matter experts.  Simply put, they are living what you are selling.  They live and breathe in the industry you are supplying.  When GE Aviation sells jet engines to Boeing, the people that are evaluating and making the decision are engineers that have been in the Aviation industry for 15-25 years on average.  When Harris Broadcast sells content distribution solutions to Disney, the people evaluating and making the decisions are have 15-10+ years in the media industry.  The expertise, level of complexity, layers of customer contacts and overall sophistication of the prospect is exponentially different.    

In the B2C world, in a blind taste, 90% of the population can’t tell a $10 bottle of wine from a $100 bottle.  Nor can they tell the difference from free tap water and a $5 bottled water of Fiji.   But a sophisticated and highly emotional marketing and branding program can yield premium dollars for something which the buyer honestly can’t tell the difference. 

In the B2B world, it’s just the opposite.  While they may not know your specific offering, they usually know their industry better than those who supply it and how they will uniquely apply your product, solution or service.  They will scrutinize, compare, benchmark, test, and go to third parties and associations for references and validation. 

Think about the CIO who has worked in the financial services industry for 22 years. If you have IT solutions to serve this market, your company better know his needs, priorities, his environment and requirements…and most of all, you better have peers (fellow CIOs) he can talk to about working with your firm.  If you don’t have this, a well-designed logo, powerful tagline, slick campaign, elaborate brochure or PPT presentation will not overcome the lack of credibility to support a premium position.  Too much is at risk in his world: security of the bank assets, privacy issues, government compliance, the customer experience and the CIO’s reputation and career.   In fact, in a recent meeting, CIOs rated peer input as the #1 credible and trusted source for supplier selection.

In the B2B world, the most effective way to build or reposition a strong credible brand is through your current customers.  It’s how they describe their experience working with your company; it’s what they say you successfully delivered to them (or fell short of).  And the higher level they are, they more impact they will have.

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Is the Revenue Decline at Oracle a Blip or a Sign of Major Industry Shift?

What’s happening at Oracle isn’t isolated.  It is a symptom of what looms largely ahead for the information technology industry.

According to the Wall Street Journal's Don Clark and Steve D. Jones in WSJ's CIO Journal, Oracle blames its sales force for the decrease in sales…WOW!  But, it’s true. Oracle, and the other technology companies who have been kicking everyone else around, have made their bread and butter selling to IT leaders.  These IT leaders are also by definition, "leaders in IT."  As buyers, they understand and can translate the bits and bytes of technology offerings. They make the final purchase decisions and oversee implementation and support.  They also get to be their own judge and jury by defining their own success criteria, which are typically the factors most relevant to IT (uptime, response rates, etc.).

With technology solutions migrating from in-house applications which are purchased and managed by the IT department, to cloud and other delivery platforms outside the data center, purchase and evaluation decisions are being made by the business unit leaders the IT leaders have traditionally supported.  And also by definition, "leaders in business" have a completely different way of analyzing, managing, and buying the services that support their business.  My favorite quote so far which highlights the difference between IT and the new untraditional buyers of technology comes from Michael Hickins, the Editor of The Wall Street Journal's Morning Download, “Indeed, many of them are heads of marketing who used a credit card to pay for cloud based marketing automation or reputation management applications."  According to Nucleus Research Inc. analyst Rebecca Wettemann, "Among that customer set, 'there’s some trepidation' about dealing with Oracle."  Again, WOW!

Change of this magnitude and pace may rewrite the entire IT ecosystem and power structure.  Oracle out, Workday in?  Not yet sure where to place the bets, but the opportunity couldn’t be bigger for those who can translate the facts and figures of technology services into a vision that inspires the hearts, souls, and ROI targets of business (versus IT) buyers.  As such, I will be sure to use my AMEX to pay for our new IT system and make sure I get all my Delta Frequent Flier miles too.

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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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