At &Marketing we have gained a wealth of knowledge in our collective experience developing and facilitating Customer Advisory Councils with executives across industries. With the right approach, a well-executed Advisory Council infuses unparalleled insights into a company’s culture and improves personal relationships and intimacy. Below is a list of ‘dos and don’ts’ we have assembled to help guide your future Customer Advisory endeavors.
DO align your overall strategy. Think about your industry and your company’s position. What’s changing? What future do you want to plan for? What types of insights do you need to consider when implementing your strategy?
“Our customer base has dramatically changed in the past few years, so we adjust our Advisory Council invite list every year accordingly to include more representation of the future of our industry. We want to plan towards where our industry is going, not where it was” – Marketing Director, Fortune 500 IT Company
DO plan ahead. Planning for a successful Advisory Council experience can take months depending on the magnitude of your effort. As a best practice, your planning should be in full swing at least six months before a full-scale event. Smaller, virtual, or local events take less time to prep, but still give yourself plenty of time.
DO give value before you ask for value. Your customer is sacrificing valuable time with their job and family. Make it feel worthwhile. Make sure your customer learns from his or her peers, has adequate networking opportunities, and has a chance to personally recharge.
“I heard whispers about how expensive our Advisory Council was this year given our tight budgets. I know of at least two seven-figure deals closed this week in [location], so that seems like a pretty good return on the investment” – Regional Sales Leader
DO mix it up. Planning for a successful Advisory Council experience can take months depending on the magnitude of your effort. As a best practice, your planning should be in full swing at least six months before a full-scale event. Smaller, virtual, or local events take less time to prep, but still give yourself plenty of time.
DO structure a powerful agenda. While you need to blend business and pleasure, make sure you are intriguing the attendees with interesting questions about their own business. Encourage them to make choices and debate previously unconsidered ideas. Use your Advisory Council to test unproven or risky ideas.
DO act on feedback. Show your customers that you’re willing to change and you need their help to improve. A senior leader for one of our clients opens their annual Advisory Council by listing the specific actions they took because of the previous year’s Advisory Council.
DON’T invite only ‘happy’ customers. A diverse invite list will improve your insights exponentially. Current, happy customers may not be as candid. Thoughtfully select a variety of customers based on their business model, individual roles, and geography, and consider including a mix of prospects and previous customers to gather a broad perspective.
DON’T forget about personalities. Structure breakout teams carefully. Consider how direct competitors will react to being in the same room together. Be careful not to allow too many dominant personalities. An experienced facilitator will help guide the conversation to ensure collaboration without conflict.
“I feel like [the Customer Advisory Council host] used us as unpaid consultants. They really forced us to think differently about our business – we came up with some good ideas!” Customer (while laughing) from a mid-sized B2B Technology Company
DON’T sell. Your customers are not there to have a salesperson in their faces. Respect them as industry experts and listen to their perspective. If you ask insightful questions without bias, customers will often tell you where your industry is headed and how competitors are trying to differentiate. Remember, the value during this time is the feedback, not your product.
DON’T forget the little things. Dedicated resources should be in place to ensure every part of your customer’s experience at your Advisory Council is thoughtfully and meticulously planned. Even the smallest details – such as a delayed airport pickup, or enough drinks in the breakouts sessions – can have a significant impact on their overall experience. Details matter!
Customer Advisory Councils can have an incredible impact on your strategy, your customer relationships, and your bottom line. However, it’s not enough to just have an Advisory Council, you have to execute it well to get the best results! &Marketing prepared this [free] e-book to help guide your Customer Advisory Council.
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