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.


A Sustainable and Effective B2B Social Media Strategy


There are so many Social Media Channels today. So which ones are the most effective and sustainable for B2B organizations and deserve the most effort and manpower?  

For B2B organizations the 2 most effective social media platforms are discussion groups and blogs. According to a Forrester Research report, 75% of B2B Decision Makers interact with discussion groups by posting ratings or by leaving comments on blogs.


Discussion Groups

Discussion groups often pose questions, relevant concerns, and testimonials for certain products or services.  Engaging in these conversations can showcase your expertise or product solution and build confidence in potential clients.


Blogs have the potential to reach clients globally.  These concise short articles, usually packed with relevant information provide an organization with credibility and reach that showcase their expertise, while also opening a channel of communication between author and readers.

Finding the best discussion group and building a following for your blog takes time and dedication, but is the most effective and sustainable Social Media Strategy for B2B Organizations.


Three Sure Fire Ways to Guarantee Customer Advisory Board Success

Are you considering starting a Customer Advisory Board (CAB), or do you have one in place and are wondering how to ensure continued success? We've executed hundreds of CAB meetings, and while there are many keys to success, when someone asks me what makes a CAB program successful, I respond with these three important elements:

  1. The right people in the room
  2. Relevant content
  3. Follow-up communication


The Right People in the Room ... on Both Sides

Based on your CAB strategy, make sure the customers you invite are able to help you think through key issues and areas of your business, and answer the critical questions you will pose to them that will help drive your strategy, future services and/or product direction. People who can answer these questions are typically the decision-makers and high-level influencers, and you want to hear their combined perspectives. Also, attendees from your organization should be made up of the leadership team and/or P&L owners, plus functional leaders in Marketing, Sales, Development, Finance, and Strategy. Their only requirements are to be good listeners, ask probing or clarifying questions and never, ever fall into "selling" mode.


Relevant Content ... and Listening

Put an agenda together that includes topics of interest to your customers as well as to your internal team. What are customers' market needs and aspirations? Identify gaps; understand where they believe your organization may be able to help. What does your internal team need feedback, guidance, and input on - strategy, marketing, sales, product? Use this forum to listen and validate your team's perspectives on how they view customer needs. Leverage your time together to share ideas and learn from each other.


Follow-up Communication ... and Act

The final element to ensure CAB success is to follow-up with your advisory board members after the meeting. Based on their feedback, determine with your executive team what actions to take, who will be accountable, and the timing to complete. Let your CAB members know you've taken their feedback seriously by developing an action plan and sharing it with them. See another blog I wrote on this topic: Take Action After Your CAB Meeting.




Should Your B2B Organization Consumerize Marketing Efforts?

I recently read an article over on the Software Advice website that discussed whether or not B2B Organizations should Consumerize their Marketing Efforts.  While there are many practices that are transportable between B2B and B2C, (and some of these marketing tactics should be applied to the B2B world aggressively), the suggestions cited in this article are limited to simple and low price point offerings. For typical complex B2B offerings that require many stages of conversations and levels of signoff, these simply won’t work.

In addition, points and “gamification” may in fact represent a conflict of interest and forbidden by the purchasing organization. This is a strong case for why these two worlds must be approached so differently. All marketing isn’t the same. Some B2B marketing is similar to B2C especially when the user is the decision maker, but it can also be very different.

Business-to-business (B2B) companies are fundamentally different from business-to-consumer (B2C) companies. But far too often B2B leaders try to apply B2C strategies and tactics in their companies with disappointing, even disastrous results. B2B success requires a completely different playbook.


Why a Customer Advisory Board is NOT the Same as a Focus Group

With the myriad customer engagement programs so popular today, Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) and Focus Groups often get “bucketed” together, yet they have clear and very different objectives.

Here's a "quick reference" chart detailing some of the key differences: 

Participant Attributes

The diagram below shows the core attributes of participants for CABs and Focus Groups, and another reason why these two programs are so different.










Sample Discussion Topics

And finally, here are some sample topics most common among the two initiatives.

Customer Advisory Board

  • Strategy
  • Direction of industry
  • Organization's goals/objectives to develop alignment
  • Discussions on: what services or offerings are missing; pricing/business models; overall product roadmaps; go-to-market programs (sales, marketing); account management

Focus Group

  • Reaction to logo/tagline
  • Emotional state (look and feel)
  • Usability study
  • Behavioral patterns/processes
  • Product feature/functionality

As you plan your customer engagement programs for 2013, be sure to target the right program format for the input you are seeking.  If you want to gain a deeper understanding of your customers' business, build closer executive relationships, and gain strategic mid- to long-term market insight, a Customer Advisory Board is the answer.  If on the other hand, you need qualitative short-term feedback on a product or branding message; or opinions/perceptions on a concept, service, packaging, etc., then a Focus Group is the right program.


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.



3 Tips for an Impactful Customer Advisory Board

I recently attended a breakfast briefing, Street Smart Secrets for Change Management, where Jeff Cole, co-author of Driving Operational Excellence, shared nine tips for changing behavior throughout an organization. I found it intriguing. In less than 90-minutes, Jeff managed to get me thinking differently about how customer advisory boards impact an organization.

I’ve seen first-hand how customer advisory boards provide strategic insight, focus marketing direction, and promote leadership team alignment.  My clients have leveraged their customer advisory boards to acclerate sales, improve customer retention, and advance product innovation. Customer Advisory Boards are proven to drive sustainable, predictable and profitable growth (SPPG), as outlined in Sean Geehan’s book, The B2B Executive Playbook. So I know how customer advisory boards can truly impact an organization. I did not consciously realize, however, that an organization’s inherent resistance to change can make transformational impact extremely difficult, or kill it altogether.Resistance

Launching a Customer Advisory Board often implies that change needs to happen in your organization.  After all, that’s why you are investing in it!  Savvy leaders see the need for change (a new direction, increased sales, improved relationships, etc.) and realize customers can provide the guidance to make it happen.  In fact, organizations that utilize advisory boards to their fullest potential have made them synonymous with continuous improvement and drivers of transformation.  But, you have got to get everyone on the same page.

To achieve truly impactful results, consider the following when developing your customer advisory board.

  • Stakeholders inherently resist change, so communicate progress, both big and small, early and often.
  • Culture impacts an organization’s ability to change, so build a tolerance for ongoing change into your corporate strategy. 
  • Change doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes time and requires a certain set of skills, so designate a change agent/architect to manage the process.    

As you can see, I had a few “Aha” moments during Jeff’s presentation. So much so, in fact, that I immediately ran out and bought his book.  I recommend it to all who aspire to be the agent of change and transformation in their organization.


Customer Advisory Councils…. Assistance for Navigating the Road Ahead

On a recent road trip with my son and future daughter-in-law, traffic on the highway came to a complete stop thirty minutes into our 3 ½ -hour drive. Not knowing what lay ahead, I was instantly reminded of the time it took me 14 hours to drive to Chicago after a snowstorm, normally a 5-hour trip! I still cringe every time I think about it… the discomfort, the stress, the feeling of helplessness, and the disappointment over all the missed appointments and opportunities. Luckily, my quick-thinking and a bit impatient son, who was listening to the traffic report, quickly maneuvered the car into the exit lane and took an alternate route. In no time at all, we were back on-track and actually arrived at our destination a little ahead of schedule. It was painless and we didn’t miss a thing.

It’s too bad the people in all those other cars weren’t listening to the traffic report. They would probably be delayed, and were likely to miss something special. They too, could have maneuvered around the accident and arrived ahead of schedule like us. Catching up on some work-related reading in the backseat, our little glitch in the road got me thinking… customer advisory councils are a lot like that traffic report! They provide insight to what lies ahead. 

If you’re planning a road trip and want to know what condition the roads are in, tune in to your local traffic report. You will learn where to expect slow-downs due to construction. You will discover where caution is needed due to ice and snow. You will find out which roads should be avoided altogether due to accidents. You will realize that an alternate route may be necessary, and which one will get you to your destination more quickly. You will get a glimpse into what lies ahead so you can anticipate and plan accordingly.

Likewise, when navigating the road to success for your organization. Tune in to your customer advisory council and gain insight to customer challenges, industry trends, and product development! 

  • Learn what to expect from the market.
  • Discover where caution is needed or where speed is of the essence in developing new products.
  • Find out what new programs and services are needed or what should be avoided altogether.
  • Realize that a different perspective or strategy may be needed or that another way or doing things may work better.
  • Discover how to achieve differentiation.
  • Anticipate the future and plan accordingly.

Take my advice. Tune in to your “traffic report.” Learn what to expect and what lies ahead. Prepare for the open road, congestion, and potential detours. Avoid the stress and disappointment of missed opportunities. Anticipate an alternate route and you may actually arrive ahead of schedule like we did. Tune in. It’s painless and you won’t miss a thing!


Customer Loyalty Programs for B2B

What is customer Loyalty?

The phrase ‘customer loyalty’ is strictly a marketing term that defines the inclination of a customer to choose a particular business, product or service over other available options. Brand loyalty starts when choices are made by customers and action is taken.

What is a Customer Loyalty Program?

Customer Loyalty Programs are specially structured marketing strategies focused primarily on directing consumer behavior in a target market. The program itself focuses on rewarding and encouraging loyalty among long-standing and relatively new customers of the business.

What are Benefits of Customer Loyalty Programs?

Customer Loyalty Programs are essentially the key to an organization’s long-term success. It benefits the business by aiding it to excel in the following dimensions:

  • Innovation in design of products including service products
  • Operational and executive excellence
  • Conformance to changing market trends
  • Adaptability to evolving consumer behavior

What are B2B Customer Loyalty Programs?

Many businesses devise reward programs that are aimed at encouraging customer loyalty. The major challenge that businesses face when devising an effective customer loyalty program is that of researching the key elements that drive customer loyalty. In the B2B World examples of Loyalty programs are Customer Advisory Councils or Boards (CAC) and Executive Sponsor Programs.



Back to Basics: Defining a Customer Advisory Board

What is a Customer Advisory Board?

A Customer Advisory Board, also known as Customer Advisory Council, is a gathering of group of customers once or twice a year to provide a collective input about products or services offered by a company that they currently do business with.

What is the Goal of a Customer Advisory Board?

The main goal of a Customer Advisory Board is to obtain input on products and services from your most valuable customers. Customer Advisory Boards are incredibly useful in both B2B and B2C organizations because input gathered from these meetings can provide product validation and insight in the reception your product or services.

What is the Benefit of a Customer Advisory Board?

Customer Advisory Boards often yield priceless feedback for companies looking for methods to improve themselves, their strategy and, their customer retention. Companies can synchronize technology and business strategies according to the needs of the customers expressed through customer advisory boards.