Why is Customer Advocacy Necessary for B2B Businesses?

The need for customer advocacy and its tremendous potential in business success is only recently being realized by businesses across the globe. In a nut shell, by integrating Customer Advocacy into their long-term strategic goals, businesses can enjoy higher levels of customer satisfaction, customer retention, and profitability.

What is Customer Advocacy?

Customer advocacy is a process that has essentially originated from customer services. The aim of customer advocacy is to focus on the various things that customers are most interested in, or that the business thinks are of immense appeal to them. Customer advocacy essentially redirects the strategic focus of the underlying culture of the business so that it becomes more customer-oriented or customer friendly when devising its marketing techniques and customer service agenda.

The Role of Customer Advocates

A customer advocate essentially serves as a liaison between the business and the customer where they focus their efforts on facilitating both the sides. A successful and effective customer advocacy business model is usually one that covers all facets related to customer contact. This can include products, sales, services and complaints. As a result, customer advobookcates are trained in a myriad of cross-functional roles so that they are well-equipped to assist valuable customers in all areas of the business.

Evolving Satisfied Customers to Advocates

The B2B Executive Playbook is a tremendous resource that discusses case studies of several B2B organizations that have successfully evolved satisfied customers to advocates through customer programs such as: Customer Advisory Boards, Executive Sponsor Programs, and Executive Summits to achieve sustainable, predictable and profitable growth.



Why Listen to the Voice of the Customer?

If your organization wants to spearhead continuous improvement, it is absolutely imperative you first identify the major factors that are important to your customers and what motivates them to stay loyal to your business.  We all hear this commonly referred to as "listening to the voice of the customer," and most businesses are willing to go an extra mile to find and identify the voice of the external customer.  Once found, however, what do you do with it?

Improve Retention through Alignment and Closing Gaps. The primary concept of listening to the voice of the customer requires a business to first assess and determine whether a business process is achieving optimum efficiency and, more importantly, reaping maximum returns.  Where customers are generally concerned about the effectiveness of a particular process, businesses tend to focus more on optimizing the efficiency of their process.  Listening to the voice of the customer helps close that gap so you don't continue to improve upon something your customers will eventually retire or replace because it does not meet their business needs.

Improve Product and Service Development. Through regular discussions and brief interactive sessions, businesses are able to collect invaluable information and details on the most important needs of their customers. The business can then deploy resources to mold generic needs of customers into specific products and services, sometimes known as “critical-to-quality” requirements or CTQs. The business can then analyze the new product or service to establish whether the CTQs are aligned with the requirements of the customers.

The Voice is a Chorus, Not a Solo.  When seeking out and listening to the voices of your customers, use caution when relying upon one or two strong altos or sopranos.  All too often, a customer can inadvertently use its influence and purchasing power to enlist support of its own needs, which may not necessarily be the needs of a large share of your market.  To avoid sinking R&D dollars into an initiative that only one or two customers will buy, organize a customer advisory board or council to facilitate interaction between your executives and a group of customer decision makers who represent a larger segment of the market.  Listening to a group of decision makers together allows businesses to gain insight into the requirements of a collective of customers in order to effectively identify and translate their needs into meaningful and profitable results.

In order to achieve long-term sustainable growth, a business must have the capacity to effectively identify and listen to the collective voice of the customer through ongoing, interactive sessions.  As obvious as it may sound, customers will play a crucial role in the overall development of the business as well as its long-term success - as long as you are willing to listen to them.


Each Marketing Dollar Should Prove Its ROI

Return on Investment (ROI) is the most useful and effective marketing measure as it enables businesses to compare the overall investment made in a project with the total returns on investment generated from it. Return on investment can also be customized to represent the significance of short-term and long-term profits for a business during a fiscal period.

A majority of businesses consider ROI measures to be of immense importance in the planning and implementation of effective marketing initiatives. During the planning phase, attention is given to essential considerations such as market conditions, customers’ needs, competitive activities, etc. This helps a business optimize its marketing effectiveness. Here are some important benefits that effective ROI strategies offer businesses:

Executive-level participation – The manifold advantages of a ROI measure extend throughout the various levels of a company.  Despite this fact, active participation at the corporate level is the only sure shot way to maximize profit levels. therefore, by incorporating ROI measures in the budget allocation process, company executives can maximize profit levels. Furthermore, corporate-level participation also encourages the marketing team to set expectations and milestones, define a set of standards. This encourages the team to work on how the right decisions are made.

ROI is one of the most effective marketing measures as it ensures that every penny that a business invests on marketing and advertising campaigns is directly translated into profits. ROI is usually calculated in the form of numbers, which essentially represent a ratio of the amount of money gained by the business in relation to the investment made by the business. Moreover, the simple formula can even be directly applied to compare different types of marketing.


Accelerate Sales in a Decelerating Economy

In today’s economy factors like increasingly shrinking budgets, fading staff and an incredible rise in competition for even the most minor of sales have created the need to make use of opportunities and resources as thoroughly as possible. In a nutshell, most companies have to find a plausible way to produce an increased number of better qualified leads with half the amount of people and a lot lesser resources than the number actually required.

How will you Accelerate your Sales?

With the threat of downsizing looming around the heads of employees in any basic firm, the whole concept of ‘working smarter’ has become the lifeblood and sustenance of employees in a work place, given the demand of efficiency despite the sparse budget and abysmal headcount.

What are the best tips for Accelerating Sales

There are some ways in which you can efficiently cause accelerating sales which benefit your company and its employees. These include Customer Advisory Boards or Councils and Executive Summits

Customer Advisory Boards (CAB) or Counciils (CAC)

A Customer Advisory Board 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.

Executive Summits

Executive Summits are one-time centralized or regional events – that 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.


The Bottom Line on Executive Sponsor Programs


The Need for Customer Loyalty and Retention

Previously, executives representing a business would pay their most valuable customers a personal visit in their office, indulging them in meaningless talk on an assortment of different subjects that have little to do with the objectives of the business and everything to do with the interests of the customer. Executives even took their clients out for lunch or dinner, encouraging the establishment of a strong mutual bond between the customer and the client.

There is no denying the fact that the fastest way to direct the corporate tide towards substantial growth is by shifting the strategic focus to the business’ core customers. However, in order to achieve this objective, prioritization of efforts is essential, as it prevents the resources and goals of the business from dilution. Once the business has drawn a fine line separating its strategic customers, the next decision involves how to maintain their interest and loyalty towards the business.imgres.jpg

Executive Sponsor Programs

Executive Sponsor Program (ESP) is a comprehensive plan devised by a business ‘key decision makers with the aim of engaging the business’ core customer in a one-to-one relationship that is set well beyond the parameters of a sales transaction. It is therefore an initiative to influence a business’ client relations so that greater penetration of existing accounts can be achieved. This, in turn, increases the retention rate of the business.

Generally, an Executive Sponsor Program involves selecting some of the most influential executives working in an organization and assigning them target accounts of core clients. The executives are responsible for establishing, fostering and sustaining good relationships with these core clients through healthy two-sided personal communication, which is carefully planned to be in the mutual interest of both sides. Deepening the roots of a healthy relationship of a client with the business encourages customer loyalty.

An Executive Sponsorship Program has its own designated manager, the role of whom is to provide executive sponsors with opportunities throughout the year, so that it aids them in their quest to meet one-on-one with their key client executives. The meetings are organized as the ideal opportunities for executive sponsors to interact freely with customers, also encouraging discussions on the most pressing issues that the customer is confronted with.

The underlying focus of these meetings is to identify the means that encourage better cooperation and understanding. Also, comprehensively devised Executive Sponsor Programs encourage round-table discussions on emerging market trends and identify new strategic priorities and directives from both organizations. Generally, the meeting commences with identification of pressing issues, followed by collaborative input and exchange of ideas, aimed at developing concrete actionable corrective measures.

The bottom line of an Executive Sponsor Program is the realization of a higher level of strategic sales opportunities along with increased account retention of key customers. In the wake of increasingly competitive markets, countless businesses have devised comprehensive Executive Sponsor Programs to encourage customer loyalty. However, when devising an Executive Sponsor Program the primary challenge faced by businesses is that of identifying key elements that encourage customer loyalty.




Leveraging Customers Like A Pro

As a means to achieving optimum growth, a business organization can create a strategic alliance with its clientele, simply by transforming its customers into business advocates. Many recent studies have proved a fundamental link between satisfied customers and higher business success. This is because, while satisfied customers are naturally inclined to maintain healthy long-term relationships with businesses, they are also documented to develop a higher tendency to promote the business among their acquaintances through positive statements. 

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Bill Gates

The entire process of gauging customer satisfaction, and improving and leveraging it is a daunting one for businesses and may seem too tedious to accomplish. However, the benefits offered by leveraged customers are countless and businesses simply cannot afford to overlook them. Therefore, when setting out to leverage customer satisfaction, the first most-important step is to ask the customer certain well-directed questions:

  • “What is it about our business that appeals to you?” or
  • “Would you recommend us to others? Why?”

The answers to such questions, which should generally be either positive or negative, help businesses identify their own strengths and weaknesses. This way, the business ensures that its customers actively participate in its overall wellbeing, and contribute towards its success. Leveraging customer relationships usually involves the following important considerations:

Being open to complements as well as criticism – Regardless of the nature of a business or the industry it operates in, the feedback and opinion of customers is crucial to their long-term success. Customers can provide businesses with first-hand knowledge of the inherent defects in a product service, allowing timely revisions. Therefore, businesses need to actively engage themselves in listening to what the customer has to say to them.

Encourage conversations – Quite understandably, customers would barely be expected to take out time to visit the business with complaints and feedback. It is therefore the duty of the business to pursue customers and engage them in conversations so that their valuable input can be acquired. This also helps them build healthy long-term relationships for the future.

Reciprocate – When leveraging customer relationships, it is as important to reciprocate the goodwill of customers. Hence, businesses can reward their customers with incentives, gifts and monetary benefits as a sign of appreciation for how much they are valued by customers. Moreover, gifts can also work to retain the interest of unhappy clients in the business, even though for a short time.

Maintain contact – When a channel of healthy communication has been established with a customer, essential contact details may be requested of them to ensure that the business has the chance to get back to them with positive outcomes and makeovers. The one thing that a customer appreciates most about a business is that they listen to them and act!

See Opportunity – In this age of industrialization where business growth is restricted by competitive market pricing and widespread product distribution, customers can become the most valuable strategic advantage for businesses. Establishing positive customer relationships can become one of the hallmarks of a business in the market, which in turn helps the business attract more customers.


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.



What is the Best Strategic Tool for Account Retention?

What is Account Retention?

Customer Retention is the measure that businesses adopt to tackle customer defections. The entire process of customer retention has no defined period as it starts with the business establishing a contact with a customer and continues throughout the span of the relationship. Attracting and retaining new customers does not simply relate to a business’ products and services. A lot depends also on the manner in which it serves its existing clientele and the reputation it has maintained in the market.

Why is Account Retention Important?

When you try to replace an account that you have already lost, you waste crucial time and resources while resolutely eating away your profit margin. It is evident from most examples of trying to rebuild lost accounts that the process costs at least ten times more, as newer clients require a lot more resources and attention. When you build a following of loyal customers you get revenue that you can depend on to keep your company’s cash flow afloat while also maintaining your financial integrity.

The Key to Account Retention

The key to account retention is customer satisfaction. The best way to keep accounts is to make sure that you provide personal attention to your customers, provide quality customer service and take criticism and complains in their stride. Your reaction to a problem presented by a customer is the key to determining whether they will stick around or not. You should have the skills to appropriate the sort of reaction that enables your customers to see that you have their best interests at heart.

Customer satisfaction is established through frequent communication. One of the best strategic tools to establish account retention is through a Customer Advisory Board. You have to keep your client up to speed about any steps that you are taking that directly influences them and inform them of the process that you are making on their problems to maintain account retention. Keeping your clients informed reminds them about the significance of their company and the integral role it plays moving forward which ultimately builds strong account retention. 


Achieve Sustanable, Predictable, Profitable Growth

The Institute for the Study of Business Markets (ISBM) is a center of excellence in the Smeal College of Business at Penn State that is dedicated to expanding academic research and teaching in B2B Marketing and Sales, and improving the practice of B2B Marketing and Sales in Industry. ISBM is networked with researchers, educators and practitioners in business-to-business marketing in companies and universities throughout the world.  

Please join the ISBM and National Bestselling Author Sean Geehan for a special webinar event:

Dominating the B2B World: Sustainable, Predictable and Profitable Growth on March 22, 2012 at 1pm EST

In this webinar, Sean Geehan Author of the B2B Executive Playbook will illustrates the three key differences in the B2B world along with what to do about them. B2B companies aren’t like B2C companies. They don’t acquire and retain customers with Super Bowl ads, Twitter accounts, or cute, little green geckos. To achieve sustainable, predictable, and profitable growth, you MUST follow a different playbook.  


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.