Is the End the End or Just the Beginning?

Do you feel relieved when your Customer Advisory Board meeting is over and your customers have gone home? Enjoy that thought for just a moment; now come back to reality and think again! The end isn't the end after all; it's just the beginning. The real work is just getting started!

All too often, when companies think about their Customer Advisory Boards, they think about individual meetings. They know their advisers meet twice a year (say April and October) so they begin reserving hotel rooms and planning an agenda for each meeting three months out. That's easy enough, isn't it? No! In fact, it's a big mistake. That mindset needs to change!

A Customer Advisory Board is much more than just an event! To really be successful, it needs to be part of an ongoing engagement program that impacts decision making, not just another customer meeting or two. It does not begin and end in a meeting room; it permeates the air and becomes part of the culture of the organization. When the meeting ends and the executive team returns to the office, it's time for the real work to begin.

The information gleaned from customers must be explored. What did they say that must not be ignored? What is happening in the market that will impact the organization 12, 24 or 36 months from now? What changes are needed to the current product portfolio? What can the organization do to differentiate itself? What does the organization need to do to grow?

Next steps must be identified, prioritized, and incorporated into operational and strategic plans. They must be shared throughout the organization. Sales must know what's on the minds of their customers. They must know what solutions look like. Product development must know what customers want. They must know what features and functions are needed. Marketing must know what messages resonate. There must be a coordinated effort for all areas to understand what customers said during the meeting and what they really need to succeed.

Plans, actions and progress must then be communicated back to the Customer Advisory Board on a consistent basis. Yes, that's right, but it's not easy! It also takes a coordinated effort. Plans and actions must be implemented and progress must be tracked. That's my responsibility for some clients. I take on the role of the "friendly nag," consistently following up with members of the team to track progress so it can be communicated back to the Customer Advisory Board! Believe it or not, my clients rather like my "friendly nagging!" They find it reassuring to know that I'm not going to let them fail! You see, members of a Customer Advisory Board want to know how their input is being used. They want to know they are making a positive impact on the organization. And most importantly, they want to know they are being heard and that actions are being taken to better meet their needs.

So, take a break when the last customer leaves. Enjoy that sigh of relief after a successful meeting. But make it brief! The end isn't the end after all; it's just the beginning. The real work is just getting started!

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