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Win/loss analysis: 5 questions to answer before conducting interviews July 2, 2013

Posted by Mike Gospe in Integrated Marketing.
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There’s a lot of information on win/loss analysis available online. This blog post summarizes the “best of the best” advice available. Read on to see 5 questions you should consider before embarking on your own interview process and analysis. (more…)

How advisory boards can shape your marketing strategy January 25, 2013

Posted by Mike Gospe in Customer Advisory Boards, Leadership.
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The customer advisory board (CAB) is quickly becoming a popular tool for aligning a company’s vision and product direction with the needs and priorities of its best customers. If your company is thinking about sponsoring a CAB, or if you want to compare how companies are using theirs to achieve competitive advantage, check out my new two-volume set of guidebooks about CABs. (more…)

How to get strategic insight from your best customers January 18, 2013

Posted by Mike Gospe in Customer Advisory Boards.
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Many companies are now discovering that a Customer Advisory Board (CAB), council or executive forum can greatly help them develop, validate, and enhance crisp business strategies that deliver sustainable competitive advantage while maintaining customer loyalty. If you are a company with more than $50M in annual revenue, you should have a customer advisory board. Your competitors do. This post gives you the basics of what you need to know to get the most out of your CAB. (more…)

KickStarting your CAB June 28, 2012

Posted by Mike Gospe in Customer Advisory Boards.
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Have you started planning your fall Customer Advisory Board meeting? If not, now’s the perfect time to be planning your next CAB. In today’s highly competitive market, it is more important than ever to know “the voice of your customer” and to use this knowledge to create compelling solutions that deliver real business value. A well-run CAB program is a highly effective tool to gain feedback on your own strategic initiatives and company direction while solidifying relationships with your most important and influential customers. (more…)

Welcome to 2012 CAB season – have you started planning your customer advisory board? January 23, 2012

Posted by Mike Gospe in Customer Advisory Boards.
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Sunshine is breaking through the recessionary clouds of the past few years. Signs of cautious optimism are sprouting everywhere, giving hope that 2012 will be a pivotal year that will show continued improvement in the global economy. Many companies report a stronger-than-expected Q4, the DOW is moving forward, and most business people I know have greeted the new year with a smile. This is why now is the perfect time to planning your Spring Customer Advisory Board meeting. (more…)

Irate customers? Don’t let them stew. Check out how Dell approached it’s Customer Advisory Panel July 27, 2010

Posted by Mike Gospe in Customer Advisory Boards.
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A friend of mine just passed me a link to this great blog post on Dell’s recent Customer Advisory Panel meeting.  There are a couple of things that are noteworthy here:

* Talking with angry customers can be a challenge for anyone.  Human nature inclines us to seek shelter in friendly surroundings.  But, as Dell found out, avoiding irate customers and letting customers stew in disappointment and frustration can be bad for business.  They chose to meet the challenge head-on with a Customer Advisory Panel.  How they did this was very creative: two groups of bloggers/customers, divided based on their affinity towards Dell.  Each discussion moderated by a “graphical facilitator” who captured comments and feedback graphically.  Check out the pictures.

* Graphical facilitators are superstars when it comes to capturing notes and turning them into instant illustrations that communicate with a punch.  It’s an engaging technique that can be used to create an aura of creativity and fun, despite the obvious tension that commonly accompanies dissatisfied customers.  While this technique will not work for all audiences, it seems to have worked well for Dell based on the photos shared in one of the accompanying links.

* What impresses me most about Dell is that they opened their kimono to use the Customer Advisory Panel as 1) an opportunity to collect customer feedback AND 2) as a public relations platform.  Notice that several of the bloggers have already posted comments relating to the event.  It’s a PR/Customer Support strategy that makes a whole lot of sense in today’s social media world.

As Susan Payton says in her blog, the proof of Dell’s actions will be in what they do with the information they’ve collected.  While I’m sure this was not an easy pill for the leaders at Dell to swallow , I applaud them for taking action, and frankly the risk.  We live in a world where the customer is king, and Dell is taking note.

A CAB case study . . . June 29, 2010

Posted by Mike Gospe in Customer Advisory Boards.
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Customer Advisory Board programs come in all shapes and sizes, yet some key success factors apply to them all.  NFI is a 75 year old distribution, transportation, and logistics company.  Upon first glance, you might think that a CAB program wouldn’t apply to their business.  Aren’t CABs reserved for hi-tech, enterprise, business-to-business companies?  Not at all.  CABs are a dynamic tool that can be applied to any business (B2B, B2C, even non-profit) that wishes to build or strengthen their connection to their best customers.  They allowed me to document their story, which you can read here: CAB case study.

A tale of 2 CABs: feedback from the front lines May 13, 2010

Posted by Mike Gospe in Customer Advisory Boards.
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Last week, I concluded working on 2 CABs – one in the pharmaceutical space, the other in logistics and transportation.  While both businesses are about as different as you can get, both were holding their inaugural CAB meeting and used an agenda based on the best practice agenda I shared in a prior blog post.  I facilitated one of the events; in the other, I coached the executive team to design their CAB and prepare one of their own executives to facilitate the session.  In each case the agenda worked very, very well.  Here are a few insights I learned along the way.

  • CAB customers highly value networking with their peers: Attendees included senior decision makers who were eager to compare notes with their peers.  In fact, a majority of attendees knew the other participants either personally, or at least by reputation.
  • Set ground rules early to keep the meeting on track: By setting ground rules upfront (prior to the event, and during the introductory remarks), the discussion was kept at a strategic level.  At no time did either meeting degrade into a  “complaint session.”

  • Customers don’t want to be lectured: Each agenda was purposely light on presentation.  We wanted the customers to do 80% of the talking.  And they did.  Slides were used to set up a discussion topic, then the customers responded, offering some keen perspective that triggered comments from their peers.

  • Take care to focus on topics relevant to all attendees: Customers who attended the logistics and transportation CAB represented a variety of industries: food & beverage, construction, retail, manufacturing.  While this diversity was wonderful for broad supply-chain-related topics, the same diversity hindered discussion on topics that proved relevant for only one or two of the industries.  This became apparent when the host company was exploring potential future services.

  • Always be flexible: Flexibility is key to a successful CAB.  A case in point is how we handled #4.  The team had not anticipated this.  Yet, even when (especially when!) customers find a topic uninteresting, it can be incredibly insightful to understand why.  So, that’s what we did.  We spent a few minutes to understand, then we quickly, smoothly moved on to the next topic.

CAB meetings are unlike any other meeting you will run.  Finesse is required to design the agenda, produce and share content that sets up discussion without leading the customers to a pre-ordained conclusion,  engage both customers and executives in a positive, constructive, and rewarding CAB program.  Both companies leveraged this agenda format to great success, with all customers eager to return for the next CAB meeting!

Looking for more information on CABs?  Visit my CAB Resources blog post. Or, contact me for more information.  Whether you are looking for a CAB planner and facilitator, or just a sounding board or coach, I have more information to share.

A CAB agenda to engage customers April 21, 2010

Posted by Mike Gospe in Customer Advisory Boards.
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Lately, I’ve received many calls from executives looking to start up a customer advisory board program for their company.  Inaugural CAB meetings are especially important because it marks the first opportunity to not only introduce your CAB program, but to also put your best foot forward and make a good impression.

I’ve been running CAB programs for clients for 10 years, and I have played with a variety of agenda models.  For running a first CAB meeting, I’ve found the following type of agenda to be the most effective.  (Other agenda models are used for successive CAB meetings.)  This article concludes with 3 rules for your CAB agenda.

DAY 1:

  • Afternoon arrival
  • Informal event (golf, tour of customer facility, etc) — optional
  • Reception
  • Informal dinner

(Use this time to make introductions so you don’t have to spend agenda time on this on the following day)

DAY 2:

  • 7:30 am – breakfast
  • 8:30 – Welcome and CAB overview
  • 8:45 – Discussion topic #1 (i.e. how customers see their world)
  • 10:15 – Break
  • 10:30 – Host company overview (a la a “fireside chat” works best, not a corporate pitch)
  • 11:00 – Discussion topic #2 (i.e. an investigation of possible investment opportunities)
  • 12:00 – Lunch
  • 1:00 – Discussion topic #3 (i.e. a timely “hot topic” as defined by customers)
  • 2:15 – Break
  • 2:30 – Customer prioritization (i.e. a ranking of the most important issues and opportunities raised today; how would customers like the host company to spend their money?)
  • 2:45 – Closing comments
  • 3:00 – Adjourn

WHY THIS AGENDA WORKS . . .

Rule 1: the agenda is all about the customer, not the host company!

Customers attend CAB meetings because they are eager to network with their peers and to discuss key drivers, trends, and issues that shape their business.   Executives have few opportunities to do this, and vendors who take the time to build an agenda around customer-facing issues will be rewarded with high attendance.  With that said, customers want to talk.  They don’t want to be lectured.

Discussion topic #1 should be focused squarely on the customer.  What are the trends shaping their business?  What do they care about?  What keeps them up at night?  Share a slide summarizing recent trends or analyst predictions.  Ask the customers to respond to them.  Do they see the world as analysts and press describe?  Or, do they see something different?

Company overview: Since this is the first CAB meeting, it is safe to assume that the attending customers may not share a common appreciation to the value offered by the host company.  Customers also appreciate having some one-on-one time with the CEO.  Have the CEO provide a 20 minute “fireside chat” company overview.  This is a presentation with only a few slides (3-4!) where the CEO  talks about how he/she sees the industry growing/changing and how the company relates.

Topics #2 and #3 will be specific to each company.  However, they usually encompass an exploration of potential new investment/service/product offerings.  While it is NOT appropriate to focus on specific tactical features, it is appropriate to ask customers how they view and prioritize various problem statements that the host company might choose to address with new product/service options.

Customer prioritization: Imagine a meeting room surrounded by annotated flip chart sheets taped to the walls.  A lot of information and ideas have been covered.  If we leave the meeting now, the host company may have trouble separating out the most important opportunities.  Conclude the meeting with a prioritization and ranking discussion with the customers.  Of all the ideas covered, how would they like the host company to spend their money?

Rule 2: allowing time for “aha!” moments

As good as our agenda is (and it is very good!), often times the most interesting “aha” moments come during the breaks and over lunch.  That’s why lunch is never a working meeting.

Rule 3: An agenda that respects the customers’ time

Why does the agenda end at 3 pm?  Shouldn’t we go until 6 pm or even extend another day?  Good questions.  Answer: no.  The higher the seniority of the attending customers, they less time they have in their schedules to offer you.  There is nothing worse than having one or two customers leave in the middle of a discussion to catch a plane.  It’s disruptive and awkward for the remaining customers who will then start looking at their watches.

For the first showing, have the meeting end at 3 pm so their is ample time for them to catch a flight back home.  The best feedback I’ve received in many of my CAB evaluation forms is, “I wish we had more time!”  Always leave them wanting more.  This is a testament to an engaging agenda that customers want to participate in.  This is also an open invitation for marketing and sales folks to follow-up with CAB members to continue the dialog long after the CAB meeting has adjourned.

These are just a few tips for setting up a world-class inaugural CAB agenda.  For more information, or to ask a question, please drop me an email at mikeg@kickstartall.com.

For more on CABs, check out my CAB Resources blog post.

Your “Customer Advisory Board” (CAB) Resource Center October 26, 2009

Posted by Mike Gospe in Customer Advisory Boards.
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2013 Update: Visit my new blog focused on Customer Advisory Boards, including two new guidebooks that unlocks the secrets to harnessing the power of this executive group.

The Dow is flirting around 14,000 and many expect signs of recovery to continue to blossom in 2013.  Kicking off or rejuvinating your company’s CAB (or Customer Advisory Council – CAC) program is an excellent way to strengthen customer loyalty and ensure you are on the right (roadmap) track for 2013 and beyond.

I’ve been facilitating CABs and other executive summits and offsites for more than 10 years.   Here is a collection of articles that offer insights, tips, and best practices that will help optimize your program and build stronger executive relationships.