The Devil is in the Details

I just returned from an Executive Summit in Boston that had a full agenda with keynote speakers, panel discussions and interactive sessions with attendees. The planning and time dedicated to its success started well before the October event ever occurred. The all hands on deck approach was critical to ensuring every detail was taken care of, from the name badges to the on-site preparation with participants. devil

I wanted to share a few insights that might help with the initial planning for your next Executive Summit. In order to make your event something memorable for attendees, creating a brand for the summit and maintaining a personal touch throughout the event are areas I wanted to highlight.

Creating a Summit Brand

The selection of a summit name, associated graphics, colors, etc should be at the top of your priority list. Each of these items drives the overall summit brand and every piece of collateral that is created for the event. You want to create name recognition for the event, which perpetuates conversations about the summit long after the event has concluded. The summit brand is also extremely important if you decide to continue hosting summits into the future. Think about the brand recognition that events like Oracle’s OpenWorld or SAP’s Sapphire have within the IT space.

Maintaining a Personal Touch

The Executive Summits I have attended each included 50 attendees or less allowing the sponsoring company and each attendee to spend quality time networking and getting to know each other on a personal level. The smallest details around the attendee experience will ensure a connection is made with everyone. The connection begins with the personalized invitations and doesn’t end until a hand written thank you note is sent to each attendee.

What can you do to make your summit experience more personal?

How to Get Attendees Talking!

I realize I've written about this before - the importance of dialogue among attendees during meetings - but once again I've seen the positive results first hand.  I just returned from a very successful  Executive Summit.  What made it successful?

Attendees had the opportunity to have small group discussions on relevant topics.

You might think that's a "no-brainer" but you would be surprised at the number of leaders who think they should "present" at meetings.  They have much to say about their company and the great things they can do for customers and prospects, and often overlook the benefits of listening to what "the market" is saying - or the Voice Of The Customer.

People talkingBy "teeing up" the discussion and actively listening to the conversations among your customers and prospects, you will better understand the biggest issues they struggle with in their businesses.  It gives you important insight to develop more relevant solutions and, in turn, gives the attendees a chance to learn from one another and share what has worked for them, what hasn't worked, and why.

We find Peer Interaction to be one of the highest rated benefits of participating in Executive Summits and Customer Advisory Board meetings.  Don't make the mistake of dominating the discussions at your next meeting.  Be sure to include time for peer-to-peer dialogue and exchange.  You'll be viewed as a "listener" and you attendees will rate the meeting as a more valuable learning experience, worth their time. 

Driving Market Awareness

A common challenge executive's face is building awareness in the market about their organization or a new solution to drive sales. In the B2B world, one way to drive market awareness is through Executive Summits.   Executive Summits traditionally consist of a compelling keynote speaker that focuses on an important topic, one or more case studies from strategic customer(s) and a few sessions that stimulate thought and conversation. This creates an environment where the participants are talking 80% of the time. 

Typically, marketing events focus on the end user or even the influencer but the real opportunity is focusing on the decision maker.  In order to attract decision makers to your executive summit you need to create the right environment to entice them to attend, especially if you don't have name recognition.  Securing compelling keynote speaker, focused on a relevant topic, will make all the difference in attracting attendees because the use of a strong keynote will position your organization as a thought leader. 

Another option when planning an executive summit is to leverage an influential industry group (i.e., magazine or industry group).  This will help you to broaden your reach of decision makers in a more efficient manner (working smarter vs. harder).  Once you have speakers identified you need to think about the number of attendees you want at the event; more is not better in an executive summit.  Executives like a more intimate setting where they can have access to the keynote speaker, network, and really participate in the event.  Creating an intimate environment with no more than 50 people will allow you to do that. 

We recently executed an executive summit for one of our healthcare customers that did not have name recognition with their decision makers.  Their primary contacts within the hospital were with material management and procurement.  They knew they needed to get to decision makers in order to change the perception of their company and their brand.   They wanted to focus on patient safety and invite Chief Nursing Officers and Chief Medical Officers.  

This is where focusing on an influential group such as a trade publication gave them leverage.  They partnered with an influential magazine within the healthcare market and spoke to their editor about what they were trying to accomplish.  The editor was so impressed when she learned about the keynote speaker and the intimate environment to learn and share (80% participants talking), that she was energized to help them recruit key industry leaders to be on a panel discussion based on her own relationship with these individuals.  This gave our customer the start of the ground swell they needed. 

Our customer decided to leverage two panels which now gave them access to eight creditable executives.  Once they locked down the keynote speaker, leveraged the editor of the magazine, and recruited the panelist, the panelist were able to invite two peers in similar positions. They were now on the path to success.

An additional element that added to the success of the event was the use of social media tools such as LinkedIn and Facebook.  This enabled the head of the business unit to personally invite people as well as post and share updates to the event. 

The event was a huge success.  Our customer's goal for this event was to build awareness, executive relationships, and form a clinical advisory council.   They achieved the following:

·         50 healthcare executives in the room that saw our customer's organization as a thought leader

·         Attendees rated the Summit as the best event experience ever

·         100% of the attendees want to be involved in future events

·         Created solid candidates for their Healthcare Advisory Council

An additional benefit for our customer was that their internal leaders who attended the event also got to see first hand that they can be relevant with executives, which helped give them the overall confidence they needed to make some key decisions about where they wanted to go in the market.  

If you are serious about driving market awareness and growth at an executive level conducting an Executive Summit is the way to go.   Our experience continues to show that when Executive Summits are done in conjunction with an Executive Advisory Council, the results of increased brand awareness, revenue, and executive relationships accelerate even faster.


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.

Highlights From Our 2011 B2B Executive Summit

Earlier this year, the Geehan Group team gathered 45 top B2B C-suite executives to participate in the 2011 B2B Executive Summit, Navigating Growth and Transformation. The main objective for this highly interactive Summit was to share best practices from leading industry thinkers and practitioners while providing peer-to-peer networking. We purposely kept this event small so CXOs could talk directly with the speakers and with each other.  Our event highlighted two best-selling authors influential to leadership and growth: Peter Luongo, The 10 Truths about Leadership and David Thomson, Blueprint to a Billion.

At the conclusion of the 2 days in Arizona, attendees commented on the value of attending the Summit:summit bro

“When you can get executives of the quality you had from such a variety of industries who are working on really big and important things for their own companies to be that attentive for two days, talking about issues facing their business, you must have really, really rich content. You did it and created a dynamic environment where people have stayed in touch. That’s rare.”
            - Joe Morgan, CEO Standard Register

This far surpassed my expectations.  From the quality of attendees, to the value of the presentations, to the opportunities to interact, it was all superb.”
            - Jeff Tinker, SVP Wells Fargo

“It was the best investment of my time I've ever made in a business conference as a CEO.  The content was exactly what I needed to take my skills as CEO to the next level.  There was great collaborative learning and networking opportunities.”  
            - Margie Traylor, CEO Sitewire

“Rarely do you find an approachable business environment that invigorates your social senses with intriguing conversations, collaborative exchange of inventive ideas, fascinating speakers with applicable war stories, and the urge to network well beyond the two days.”
             - Greg Jorgensen, CMO Verisign

What I relished most about this experience was that everyone was completely engaged throughout the entire 2 days and everyone was given a chance to contribute. The level of interaction, sharing of experiences and openness was unmatched by any event I’ve attended. Checkout the highlight video of the event: click here.

The social elements were just that, social…getting to know each other as people, smiling, laughing and even riding motorized scooters. When everyone departed it was as if we had known each other for years. I can’t wait to gather my new friends again soon at the next Summit!


Key Takeaways From the Geehan Group 2011 B2B Executive Summit

Earlier this year, Geehan Group gathered a select group of senior executives from the B2B sector to participate in a two day summit focused on: NasumbroNavigating the Path to Growth and Transformation. The two day summit yielded a collaborative event where thought leaders shared their first hand experiences on how to develop strategies to lead growth and success.

The Summit was designed to provide fresh and proven ideas to take B2B Businesses to the next level. The Key note discussions included these topics: Blueprint to Exponential Growth, Winning with an Outside-In Strategy, Key Truths to Transformational Leadership, and From the Eye of the Storm-What I have learned about Change.

Attendees at the summit all agreed that they learned about the keys to successfully manage growth and transformation to achieve sustainable, predictable, profitable growth. A brief summary providing the key takeaways from the Geehan Group 2011 B2B Executive Summit is now available on the Geehan Group website.


How Executive Summits Can Help You Reach Your Year-End Sales Goals

For any company concerned with year-end sales goals, the logical question is how can I accelerate prospects through the pipeline and convert them to sales? The answer is an Executive Summit. An Executive Summit provides a non-sales gathering between executive peers to learn and explore services and solutions offered by your B2B Company. A well planned, organized and executed Executive Summit accelerates a call to action from all prospects and can yield a 50% conversion rate. Can you say that about other Marketing Campaigns or Sales Tactics, or are you just throwing money at a target hoping you hit a bull’s eye?

The next natural question to ask is can your company justify the cost of an Executive Summit? Marketing teams are always challenged to provide ROI justifications in order obtain funding for campaigns. Because an Executive Summit’s costs and results are completely measureable (you know how much you spent, and you know how much in sales it directly generated), it provides a highly effective, easily funded program.  As a result, marketing groups are able to score an bull’s eye with all executives on their company’s leadership team, especially the financial leaders who hold your purse strings.

When is the right time to address meeting your year-end sales goals? From the perspective of a financial leader, Suzanne Smith, Chief Financial Officer of Geehan Group who has also managed several large IT outsourcing budgets states, "While it is a concern throughout the year, third quarter is the time most companies look to see if they are ahead or behind to meet year-end sales goals." An Executive Summit provides reliable and predictable sales results and truly is the Ultimate Weapon to reach your sales targets.


Leveraging Your Supply Chain Partners - Collaborating for Mutual Growth

Most of the programs I work on are initiatives that include our client's top customers and prospects.  This can be in the form of a Customer Advisory Council, Executive Sponsor Program, Executive Summit, etc.  The role of our client is to listen to the needs and aspirations of their top customers, understand their challenges, and ask clarifying questions so they can in turn respond with a plan of action to meet their customers’ needs.

For the last year I have worked with a client to develop a different kind of Council – rather than a select group of customers, this Council is made up of my client’s top Supply Chain Partners.  This changes the dynamics of the typical “advisory” council where customers tell the client what is going on in the market and identify their related challenges.  For this Supply Chain Council initiative, my client has identified their biggest challenges – key issues they are facing as they transform their business.  Hence, the role of their Supply Chain Partners is to collaborate on ways they can help by providing guidance and assistance in areas where they have experience and expertise.  They do this because they have a vested interest in my client’s success – they are top suppliers, so anything they can do to help my client be successful helps them, too. 

Program Planning
As you might imagine, program planning is a bit different for this group as well.  The agenda topics focus on specific issues my client seeks guidance on, so much thought went into providing clear context around those issues.  Extensive planning was done up-front to:

  • Agree on the top challenges to be presented to the Supply Chain Partners
  • Develop a clear-cut definition of each challenge
  • Provide Council members pre-reading material to help prepare them for the discussions

Additionally, we arranged a pre-meeting conference call to address any questions and provide further clarity around the topics.  The call was well attended, which told us the Council members wanted to come to the meeting prepared and ready to help! 

Rich Dialogue
Our most recent meeting was just a few weeks ago – the group’s second meeting.  The response from the Supply Chain Council members was phenomenal.  For topics outside of their area of expertise, many members brought information gathered from their colleagues ahead of time to share with our client.  Roundtable discussions were rich in dialogue and members fully immersed themselves into helping our client, offering to open the doors of their companies to do so. 

Actionable Results
During the post-meeting debrief with our client, the leadership team carefully reviewed all the input, focusing on the items that were most relevant and strategic to the issues they were facing.  In the end, the team settled on a list of seven prioritized follow-up items which they communicated to the Supply Chain Council members. 

Continuous Engagement
We are currently developing Mission Statements for each activity and arranging meeting schedules, which include engaging with the Supply Chain Council members one-on-one as well as in small sub-committee groups.  I look forward to assisting in this process, helping my client gain the collective guidance from their important Supply Chain Partners as they join in collaborative next steps.


Face It … A Great Way to Build Executive Relationships

I recently read a very interesting article from Forbes Insights called The Case for Face-to-Face.  Forbes surveyed over 750 business executives about their meeting and travel preferences, and what they see as benefits from different meeting options.  While 58% said they are traveling less for business, and 59% said they are using technology-driven meetings more since the recession, 84% of executives expressed an overwhelming preference for face-to-face meetings.  The reason?  Here is what 85% of respondents said: “Face-to-face meetings help build stronger, more meaningful relationships.”

Not surprising.  I've seen the power of face-to-face executive dialog in a variety of customer program settings - advisory boards, executive sponsor programs, summits and more.  When you have a seat at the table with your key customers for input and direction on how you can help solve their business issues, you gain collective knowledge to help guide your strategic direction.  These in-person engagements foster collaboration, brainstorming and sharing of best practices ... and more importantly, build solid customer relationships.


Developing Executive Relationships; Becoming "Indispensable" to Customers

Like many people, I’m a big fan of the Harvard Business Review. While traveling recently, I purchased one of the books in their Results-Driven Manager series, “Connecting with Your Customers.”  Right off the bat, before I even got to the first chapter, I knew that I was going to have a lot in common with this book! I found myself highlighting nearly every other word and scratching notes in the margins on nearly every page. Yes, I’m the one sitting next to you on the plane with her nose stuck in a book and yes, I carry a highlighter with me everywhere I go!

Anyway, back to my new favorite book… it talks about understanding the needs of your customers, which is what we at Geehan Group do every day… help our customers to better understand what their customers need and what their challenges are. It also talks about communicating with customers and enhancing customer loyalty. Guess what? We help our customers do that too. And more!

Customer-facing programs are our core competency. Customer Advisory Boards, Executive Summits and Executive Sponsor Programs are all designed to help our customers learn about their customers, to help them understand their world, their challenges and their opportunities. They’re designed to help them “dig-deep” into pressing business and industry issues and to discover what keeps their customers up at night. And, they’re designed to help them develop strategic, executive relationships that turn customers into “advocates,” who view them as “indispensable.”

Isn’t that what you strive to be…“indispensable” to your customers? Being “indispensable” is a win-win for everyone. Your customers win through the value you bring to their organizations; you win through accelerated sales, account retention and expansion, and a strategic direction that is aligned with customer needs and the market! It doesn’t get much better than that!

Until next time,
~ Misty