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.

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The Gift of Giving (input) this Holiday Season

So every now and then, I like to mix it up a bit.  Rather than writing another blog post in my traditional format, I thought I would offer up a bit of Christmas cheer via the sounds of the holidays.  You will need to work with me a bit, however.  Since our blog comes to you sans sound, you will have to let the lyrics to "Let it Snow" dance through your head as you read the "customer-focused version" as presented by yours truly. 

"Oh, the market is ever changing,Snowflake
And the players are re-arranging.
Deciding which way to go . . .
Let us know, let us know, let us know."

"We're the ones you should be trusting,
It's the difference 'tween boom or busting.
We're always your friend not foe,
Let us know, let us know, let us know."

"We're on our way to innovate,
We need to hear what you have to say.
With your comments and clear insight,
There's no doubt we'll be getting it right."

"So thank you for being honest,
As year-end is quickly upon us.
We value your input so,
Let us know, let us know, let us know."

I wish everyone a safe and joyous Christmas season,

Betsy
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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.



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Damage Control - The Danger of Being Unprepared

I recently attended an advisory board meeting in an observational capacity.  What I saw was not only unfortunate, it was downright dangerous.

To provide context to this story, allow me to provide a bit of historical information.  This board has been together for five years.  New members have been added throughout the years, and they have become solid contributors.  Meeting after meeting, the feedback has always been that these meetings are productive, fun, insightful and valuable to both the host team as well as the members who have agreed to take three days out of the schedules to attend.  However, due to a change in the process of planning and managing these meetings, the positive feedback came to a screeching halt.

Although there were a lot of issues brought to the forefront as a result of member feedback, the most notable, and by far the most dangerous, was the fact that the members felt that their time had been wasted. 

But even more important was that members felt the relevance of the discussions was not up to par, with one member even commenting that perhaps this meeting was his "swan song," and that he was only invited as a matter of politely sending him on his way (which by the way, could not have been further from the intent).  Another member commented that he felt the meeting didn't really start until the end of the first full day, as the opening sessions were more "rah rah" and resulted in a feeling of "being sold to."  This, combined with the fact that no agenda was provided in advance, had members commenting that the conversations had evolved to more of a User Group or Focus Group level rather than that of strategic advisory level.

These are advisers, giving up precious time and coming to the meeting to make a valuable contribution, not to get good meals and a luxury hotel.  Counting on them to provide strategic market insight is key to moving an organization forward, and missing the mark on this opportunity not only stings for the moment, it can cause long-term ill will and a reluctance to engage further.  Add to that, some members may have left with less confidence in an organization that lacked the ability to successfully engage them at a strategic level, especially when the bar had previously been set extremely high.

Bottom line:  Never underestimate the importance of putting in the time and resources up front to assure that your executive engagement is meaningful and relevant to ALL those in attendance. 



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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/





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Innovation is Child's Play!

I just read an article by Mike Mitchell, president of Mitchell Innovation and Research, discussing the advantages of "playing" when it comes to driving innovation.  Given his permission, I would like to share some excerpts of his article with you:

"Imagine this:  a group of business executives gather in the grand ball room of a posh resort to play a child's game of musical chairs.  Boardroom demeanor soon turns to childlike scurrying as they rush to capture the few remaining chairs when the music stops.  Laughter erupts as the VP of finance finds himself on the outs and has to take a seat on the sidelines.  Victors congratulate each other with high fives while fierce competitors plot the next move that will guarantee them a chair when the music resumes.

"Is this another example of corporate types wasting time at shareholders' expense?  Are these executives out of touch with the serious business of achieving sales and profit goals?  Hardly.

"Perhaps they have discovered the value of play as a driver of creativity and innovation.  Innovation will help maintain their organization's competitive edge and will push it into a successful future.

"Numerous studies have linked play to creativity and innovation.  Playtime pays back big time in the game of innovation.  It is rocket fuel for creativity.  The value of play at work includes:

Play activates the right brain:  The contribution of this type of thinking is critical to the imagination and thus the development of new ideas.

Play builds teamwork:  Playtime can be practice ground for how to work together to come up with innovative ideas and putting those ideas into practice.

Play breaks down defenses:  When defenses are down, ideas and solutions to vexing problems have the space to bubble up.

Play creates engagement:  Doing nothing but work at work turns people into drones and machines - a dangerous recipe for creating boredom and disengagement.  Having some fun at work keeps employees engaged.  When people are engaged, they care.  When people care about their organization, they naturally want to improve it.  From their efforts to improve the organization come innovative new ideas and solutions.

I have not recently engaged in a conversation about innovation without Google coming into play, (no pun intended).  In researching their culture, they clearly subscribe to the tenets mentioned above:

"Our corporate headquarters, fondly nicknamed the Googleplex, is located in Mountain View, California. Today it's one of our many offices around the globe. While our offices are not identical, they tend to share some essential elements. Here are a few things you might see in a Google workspace:

  • Local expressions of each location, from a mural in Buenos Aires to ski gondolas in Zurich, showcasing each office's region and personality.
  • Bicycles or scooters for efficient travel between meetings; dogs; lava lamps; massage chairs; large inflatable balls.
  • Googlers sharing cubes, yurts and huddle rooms – and very few solo offices.
  • Laptops everywhere – standard issue for mobile coding, email on the go and note-taking.
  • Foosball, pool tables, volleyball courts, assorted video games, pianos, ping pong tables, and gyms that offer yoga and dance classes.
  • Grassroots employee groups for all interests, like meditation, film, wine tasting and salsa dancing.
  • Healthy lunches and dinners for all staff at a variety of cafés.
  • Break rooms packed with a variety of snacks and drinks to keep Googlers going."
Hard to argue the point, eh?

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A Few Hours of Dialogue with Peers - A Game-Changing Insight

What a fun day!

I just finished facilitating an online summit, and I'm all a-flutter based on one attendee's comment at the end of the event.

Let me back up a bit.  This online webinar was no lunch hour, multitask-friendly event.  This was a four-hour summit with a small break for lunch.  In other words, it required a commitment of time and energy to attend.

The forum included a keynote speech by an industry leader, breakout sessions (complete with whiteboards that provided that "as close to being there" experience as possible, a panel discussion with three more industry thought leaders and a lively Q&A session.  Throughout the webinar, participants were encouraged to submit questions that the presenters could take on the fly.  With the limitations of not actually being face-to-face with each other, it was a remarkably casual, comfortable and interactive engagement.

Upon the conclusion of the meeting, the hosts provided the opportunity for someone to win a brand new Apple iPad.  The lucky winner's name was announced and her phone line was opened up so everyone could hear her celebrate her good fortune.  Although she was quite excited about the iPad, she surprised us more by making the following comment:

"I am so excited to win the iPad, but really what I am excited about is that after listening to my industry peers, I am now looking at my constituents in a whole new way.  I've had this all wrong."

Although she invested a good chunk of her day, the ROI on that four hours was huge for her (iPad not withstanding).  It's a testament to the power of engaging -- engaging with customers, engaging with peers, and engaging with suppliers.

While nothing compares to the benefits of face-to-face meetings, the technology we now have at our fingertips allows for interactive dialog that leads to such "A-ha!" moments.  And other than her time, it didn't cost her a cent.
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Advisory Panels - Benefits as Seen by Industry Leaders

You've previously heard me talk about the benefits of Customer Advisory Panels from the vantage point of the host company.  Among the many benefits is that these panels often create advocates, the power of which is undeniable.

Springer, a publisher of Science, Medical and Technology (STM) content just released their quarterly eNewsletter to members of their Global Library Advisory Board (LAB) program.  In it were not one, but two articles penned by members of their councils.  Not only is this significant because of what they had to say, but these members are influential within their industry and respective geographic regions, and people naturally pay attention to what they have to say.

Rob Haran, Electronic Resources Manager at Shire in the UK and a veteran LAB member had this to say about the benefits of collaborating with Springer via the advisory council:

"This innovative interaction with a major supplier benefits Shire and the other customers in two principal ways:  Firstly, we (the customers) have an early insight into future Springer developments which is essential if we are to develop our own information resources to to take advantage of these developments.  Secondly, industry has a chance to communicate directly with the supplier experts and collectively influence Springer strategy."

Council Members Discuss Strategy with SpringerAnother LAB member, Houeida Kammourie-Charara from Lebanon noted the importance of having direct access to the leadership team at Springer. 

"Springer spirit was a major factor in the sucess of the LAB.  The presence of Presidents and VPs and their interaction with other colleagues is a model that, in my opinion, should be followed by other companies."  She continued, "One of the LAB objectives was to improve the strategic partnership between Springer and their customers.  I think Springer attained this objective in a bright way."

So if you have customers who will advocate on your behalf and who clearly recognize the value of engaging in high-level strategic discussions, why would any company make a conscious decision not to take the same course of action?
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This Week in Golden Nuggets

After recently attending a webinar about Building a Thought Leadership Platform presented by Scott Ginsberg (the guy who always wears a nametag and author of "The Approachable Leader"), I thought it might be fun to throw out some little nuggets of information and insight he shared:
  • Consistency is far better than rare moments of greatness.
  • Ideas are free but execution is priceless.
  • Nobody notices normal.  Nobody buys boring.  Nobody pays for average.
  • Create a strategy for staying constantly relevant.
  • Thoughts are local; messages are global.
  • Hustle while you wait.
  • Make the mundane memorable.

And finally I leave you with this thought to ponder:
     If everyone did what you said, what would the world look like?

If you want more where that came from, go to www.hellomynameisScott.com

Have a great week!

~Betsy



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Imagine if you will, . . .

One of my colleagues here at the Geehan Group is a whiz at engaging with people via LinkedIn, blogs, discussion groups, etc.  I have learned several of the tricks of the trade from her, and am amazed at the amount of knowledge to be gained just by paying a little bit of attention to these social media sites.

This morning the thought ocurred to me -- What if you were able to get all your customers and prospects into one room, for an indefinite amount of time, and listen to and document every word they said.  What if you told them they could discuss anything with you and with each other:  the market, their challenges, your company, your products, your services, their vision of the future, their expectations of a trusted advisor vs. that of a vendor, and any other topics that were top of mind for them.  How valuable would that information be to you as you plan your strategies? Your product portfolio? Your communications? I dare say it would be immeasurable.

Now translate that same experience to that which you can have by engaging the market through online media.  Not only can you listen to what is going on "out there," you can also contribute and become a known entity to the most vocal and passionate among your targets.  There's no better place to carve your niche as thought leaders in your space that these communities.  But more importantly, there's an amazing opportunity to LISTEN to what's going on as well. 

Let me be clear -- this is not to take the place of developing in-person relationships and engaging with the market on a face-to-face, consistent basis.  But for added insight, try jumping in a conversation or two online.  I think you may be surprised at what you will discover.

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