Learning to Drive B2B Profitable Growth at Ariba Live

Business strategy books fill bookstore shelves, but none draw attention to the unique ways in which B2B organizations need to strategize and run differently than B2C companies in order to achieve true sustainable, predictable, and profitable growth.

Please join me at Ariba Live In my feature break out session, where I will identify those unique differences and demonstrating how B2B companies need to apply B2B strategies with proven approaches. Everyone attending this session will receive a signed copy of The B2B Executive Playbook.

Don't miss this amazing event where you’ll learn to optimize the connectivity and analytics made possible by business networks and the Cloud, gaining essential insights that empower you to transform business commerce. This event includes informative breakout sessions, dynamic keynotes, and engaging networking opportunities, where you'll learn how to buy better, sell more, and manage cash more efficiently.

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Just Listen: You Might Just Learn Something!

I spent some time earlier this week cleaning out some old files and came across an article by Matthew Swyers that was published nearly a year ago on Inc.com. It shares the story of when and how he learned to keep quiet, and advises that if you really want to learn something, listen more than you speak. In this week before our presidential election, it really resonated with me. I find myself wanting to say this to so many people throughout the day…. to the news anchors on television who constantly interrupt their guest commentators, to my friends and acquaintances (and perhaps even a few family members) who have a need to sway my opinions and debate everything that is said. And yes, I even find myself wanting to say it to our politicians…shut up and listen to what others have to say. You might just learn something!

I was reminded of this advice again this afternoon during a planning call with the leader of an upcoming advisory council session. He is already anticipating how his advisors might respond to some of his questions, so he is planning a lengthy presentation to pre-empt their thinking. He’s planning his rebuttal too! He wants to be sure they understand what he has already done, what solutions have already been tried without success, and why their anticipated suggestions won’t work. After all, he knows his business and industry better than anyone else. He knows what he’s doing. Doesn’t he?  

Maybe…but maybe not as well as he would like, or he wouldn’t have formed a customer advisory council and invited his customers to help him! After all, that is the over-arching purpose of an advisory council… to develop a deeper understanding of the market from your top customers, while simultaneously strengthening your relationships with them. This market insight, when incorporated into your strategic planning, ultimately leads to sustainable, predictable, and profitable growth. And that cannot be done if you’re talking the whole time!

So shut up and listen! Ask questions. Let your customers answer. Ask for clarity if you don’t understand, but let them do most of the talking. You may or may not like what you hear and you may or may not take their advice. But listen to what they have to say.  You might just learn something new, something important, or something that changes the game. But you won’t learn it if you’re not listening… so shut up and listen!  

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Strategic Planning with Marketing and Sales

In my book, B2B Executive Playbook, I describe four steps that can simplify strategic planning, focus product development and sales and marketing efforts, and, most importantly, create a clear path to market leadership.  If implemented properly, it will also add sustainability and predictability to a B2B company’s top and bottom lines. 

As with any corporate initiative, however, success can be sidetracked if problematic modes of operating and behavior creep in.  Over my next four blogs, I’ll cover each of the top four common pitfalls that prevent B2B firms from succeeding; Inside-Only Thinking, Limiting Input to End-Users, Following a single Customer, Chasing the Competition.   Be aware of them, and act quickly if they surface in your company.

Pitfall #1: Inside-Only Thinking

The first pitfall is a mindset among the leadership team that goes something like this: “Hey, we’re smart and we’ve been in this industry for many years.  Let’s brainstorm among ourselves (internal off-site meetings) and come up with the next great solution that we can bring to market to change the game and win back our leadership position.”  The leadership teams of B2B companies do have deep stores of knowledge and creativity, but when they choose to go it alone, what they are really saying is, “We know better than our customers of what they want and need.”  And this is a prescription for failure or even disastrous results.

Far too often, the inside-only ideas and solutions that come out of these sessions are not created with current market conditions or even company resources, business models, and competencies in mind.  In fact, they are usually based on legacy customer needs, structures, business models, current competitor offerings, or misguided ideas about a problem that may not even exist in the customer’s mind.  This insular mindset and culture significantly contributes to the 60-70 percent product failure rate that continues to plague companies.

Case:  The leaders of a $1 billion company invested over $100 million in developing a single solution that they were convinced would revolutionize their market.  They did this without including of vetting the idea with a single customer.  The result was disasterous.  Virtually no customers wanted the solution because it couldn’t be integrated with their existing operations, and the few who did buy, demanded to return it for a full refund, plus damages.  The stock tumbled, the leadership team was fired, and the company was sold off at a major discount to a company one-fifth its size.

Successful B2B companies avoid inside-only thinking. At Henny Penny, for example, all innovation and planning initiatives begin with the needs of customers and the market.  “This is the backbone of our culture, strategic planning, and success,” explains Rob Connelly, CEO of $148 million Henny Penny Corporation, a family-owned manufacturer of food service equipment.  “It has enabled us to hold on to and grow our biggest customers for decades, because our plans help them serve their customers more effectively.  We work extremely closely with our top customers.  Our design and engineering teams share ideas, collaborating to provide new solutions, solve problems, or change the game.” 

One of the home runs at Henny Penny was the development of revolutionary low oil volume (LOV) fryer for McDonald’s Corporation.  “We’d been studying innovative ways of improving and shortening usage in the frying process for quite awhile,” recalls Connelly.  “Together with McDonald’s, we developed a breakthrough product, which not only yields significant cost savings, but is also easy to operate and minimizes environmental impact."

The LOV fryer earned Henny Penny the prestigious McDonald’s Global Innovation Award in 2008.  In 2009, MacDonald’s named it Worldwide Equipment Supplier of the Year and in 2010, Worldwide Equipment Partner of the Year.  That’s the kind of market clout and credibility that can’t be bought – and it led to even more sales.  In addition to sales opportunities at McDonald’s 30,000 restaurants worldwide, Henny Penny applied these innovations to stock models that were successfully rolled out to the small and mid-sized restaurant marketplace.  

Bottom Line:  With so many strategic and development alternatives to chose from, you must tap your top customers to prioritize, justify, and focus on the opportunities that will deliver the most impact.  Leveraging their industry knowledge through collaborative “outside-inside” thinking is the only way to secure true market alignment that drives Sustainable, Predictable and Profitable Growth.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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8 Building Blocks of World Class Customer Advisory Boards

Are you responsible for your organization's Customer Advisory Board (CAB) program? If so, you don't want to miss Sean Geehan's session at the Customer Advisory Board.org conference on Thursday, June 7, in San Francisco, CA: 8 Building Blocks of World Class Customer Advisory Boards.

Many companies have tried to launch successful Customer Advisory Board programs but have struggled to realize the potential and value of a World Class Advisory Board.  Sean and his team at the Geehan Group have developed and perfected bullet-proof methodologies to assist project managers and their executive stakeholders in executing World Class Advisory Board programs across multiple industries.

Sean's presentation will cover the key elements for success, from executive involvement, to strategic alignment, to recruiting the right customers, as well as best practices for designing an engaging agenda and providing a great meeting experience, to the right follow-up and communication techniques post-meeting. 

“We never could have imagined the results Geehan helped deliver from day one, which have exponentially increased since.”
Anubhav Saxena, VP & Global Head, Business Marketing, HCL

Sean Geehan is CEO and Founder of Geehan Group, the leader in guiding B2B executives to building sustainable, predictable and profitable growth.  He is also the author of the national best-seller, The B2B Executive Playbook.

 

 

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Achieving Client Loyalty in B2B World Event Summary

Earlier this spring, Kim Hammond (from QTS) and I had the opportunity to present at the Loyalty 360 Engagement Expo.  The audience was highly engaged as we talked about some of the common challenges organizations face Achieving Client Advocacy in the B2B World.  The top five challenges discussed were:

1)       Being focused on the wrong customers

2)       Being focused on the wrong level within accounts

3)       Disproportionate marketing spend

4)       Retention

5)       Profitable growth

As we shared there, building true advocacy comes from engaging your most important accounts at the decision-maker level in a meaningful way.  Market leaders must consider the opportunity of shifting their marketing spend to 60% on retention and 40% on acquisition.  In most organization, the reverse is the case.  In addition, investing 35% at the decision-maker level of the most important accounts will provide marketing leaders the desired retention and profitable growth.

I was energized by Loyalty’s research that came out in 2012 for marketers.  Their research shows the top two objectives for marketers in 2012 are, 1) customer retention, and 2) profitable revenue.  This reinforces what the IBM CEO and Fournaise Marketing Group studies said, which basically came down to marketing leaders need to be focused on the business, not the brand.  They need to focus on building the ROI if they want to earn a true seat at the C-suite table.

Cheers to a sustainable, predictable and profitable 2012 for all marketing leaders!

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Achieving Client Advocacy in the B2B World

This week in Orlando, Kim Hammond (from QTS) and I had the opportunity to present at the Loyalty 360 Engagement Expo.  The audience was highly engaged as we talked about some of the common challenges organizations face Achieving Client Advocacy in the B2B World.  The top five challenges discussed were:

1)       Being focused on the wrong customers

2)       Being focused on the wrong level within accounts

3)       Disproportionate marketing spend

4)       Retention

5)       Profitable growth

As we shared there, building true advocacy comes from engaging your most important accounts at the decision-maker level in a meaningful way.  Market leaders must consider the opportunity of shifting their marketing spend to 60% on retention and 40% on acquisition.  In most organization, the reverse is the case.  In addition, investing 35% at the decision-maker level of the most important accounts will provide marketing leaders the desired retention and profitable growth.

I was energized by Loyalty’s research that came out in 2012 for marketers.  Their research shows the top two objectives for marketers in 2012 are, 1) customer retention, and 2) profitable revenue.  This reinforces what the IBM CEO and Fournaise Marketing Group studies said, which basically came down to marketing leaders need to be focused on the business, not the brand.  They need to focus on building the ROI if they want to earn a true seat at the C-suite table.

Cheers to a sustainable, predictable and profitable 2012 for all marketing leaders!

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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.  

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