Guest Blogger Rob Jensen provides some great insights about how you can get reliable customer insights to improve your engagement and profitability.
Marketers are giving a lot of attention of late to the topic of customer experience. Indeed, ensuring that companies optimize interactions with their top clients, obtain the highest level of value and maximize ROI from their precious customers seems to be a universal desire the significance of which is of little debate. The more challenging aspect of achieving these outcomes seems to be HOW marketers are supposed to do so. It is our experience that customer advisory boards (CABs) are the most effective and impactful way to engage with key customer executives and achieving these desired results.
For those who are unaware, customer advisory boards (also known as a customer advisory councils) are forums to review industry trends, address mutual challenges or opportunities, and offer unvarnished insights and guidance. For vendors, these councils are ideal for validating corporate strategies, gathering input on product development, and deepening relationships with key customers. In turn, there is just as much to be gained by the participating customers.
Indeed, while engaging customers, gathering their feedback and input to your strategic plans and product roadmap helps engender brand loyalty, the benefits of CABs go much deeper than that. Here then are the top 5 benefits your company can get from a well-run customer advisory board program.
1. Insight into Business Strategy: Your customers—the consumers of your products or services – are the best (and surprisingly most often overlooked) resource to provide input to your company’s overall direction and business strategies. Such customers should be able to advise you on the products and services they desire, what they would pay for them and how they want them delivered. After all, everything you do is designed to appeal to their needs, so there really is no one more qualified to counsel you on how to best target, approach and serve your client base. Your council can provide invaluable direction regarding which markets to pursue, how to capitalize on market trends, what customer pain points to address, which companies to partner with or acquire, how to best exploit competitors’ weak points, and how to position your company for optimal advantage.
2. Feedback to the Product Roadmap: A customer advisory board is ideal for providing feedback and desired direction on the host company’s offerings. Your advisory council can offer an insider’s view of what your target buyer needs and wants from your products and/or services. A council also serves as a great platform for securing beta testers of your new offerings, helping you introduce your solutions and providing immediate validation before you go to market.
3. Increased Revenue: The often unspoken (yet highly desired) benefit from your council is the positive impact you will see in incremental sales revenue. Your members’ organizations will likely increase their overall spend with your business over time. This is due in large part to the fact that they are privy to your growth strategy, are early testers of your solutions and feel closer and more faithful and dedicated to you and your offerings. In fact, Ignite’s experience shows that B2B companies that have active and successful customer advisory boards enjoy a 9% increase in new business among advisory members starting after year one of advisory programs above non-advisory council customers.
4. Customer Approval and Brand Champions: An additional benefit to running an advisory council is that you are building a close-knit group of company advisors and brand champions. By bringing members into your company’s “inner circle” as trusted advisors, you are also transforming them into even bigger raving fans of your company. In our experience, this almost always happens with council members. As they take on the responsibility of helping to guide your business, they inherently become professionally and emotionally invested in your success, and their enthusiasm and passion tends to permeate their immediate team and sometimes beyond. The result is a group of highly loyal customers who have a vested interest in your success – and not defecting to your competition. Furthermore, your members will likely refer other prospects to you as they talk about you with peers at conferences, events, and throughout their day-to-day operations.
5. Marketing Campaigns and Messaging: Another often less-recognized area of value a client advisory council delivers is feedback to how your company markets itself. You will gain the rich insight necessary to understand how to position (or re-position) the company against the competition. Your advisory board will advise you as to what makes your business unique and what differentiators you should highlight. Just as important, the council can guide you on which mediums are the most viable in terms of reaching your desired audience. Members can also serve as wonderful client references for testimonials and case studies. Likewise they may also be willing to develop and publish joint articles or white papers with you. This lends industry validation and credibility to your advisory board program, your own organization, and serves as a means of promoting the member and bolstering his/her own company and career.
While engaging with customers and engendering brand loyalty may be all the rage with marketers these days, in our experience, customer advisory boards are the best method to deliver this – and much more. A well-run customer advisory council will undoubtedly provide your organization with significant input that will put your company on a better, more targeted and profitable course for years to come.
Rob Jensen is VP of Marketing for Ignite Advisory Group (www.igniteag.com), a consultancy that helps B2B companies manage their customer and partner advisory board programs. http://www.igniteag.com
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