This month we are featuring the perspective of one of our clients, Lauren Harris, Director of Marketing and Executive Programs at Oracle, about her lessons learned from managing Customer Advisory Boards.
5 Tips: Creating B2B, C-level Engagement
According to Gallup, “Fully engaged customers deliver a 23% premium over average customers in share of wallet, profitability, revenue and relationship growth… Only 13% of B2B customers are fully engaged.”
What’s the best way to increase engagement at the executive level? Content marketing definitely has a role here, but the real place where relationships grow between customer and vendor is simply in-person.
A few years ago, I started my first customer council where the sole purpose was to create greater engagement with the executives of our top customers. After one false start, followed by a long delay, the council was finally launched and was successful. Since then, I’ve rolled out numerous programs meant to foster engagement and partnership. Here are some things that I’ve learned along the way.
Tip #1: Don’t Start From Scratch
There are many great resources online – from companies that have created outstanding customer engagement programs (and posted quite a bit of info online) – to firms that focus entirely on the start up and execution of customer engagement boards. CustomerAdvisoryBoard.org offers a free strategy guide and many templates that you may find helpful. Ignite Advisory Group offers a full suite of services to help you create engagement with your top executives.
Tip #2: Get an Executive Sponsor – It’s a Must!
Any new program targeting executive engagement is going to be highly visible and have a tendency to create unease. Having not only buy-in from leadership but also a true, engaged sponsor, can save months of headache. The sponsor leads and guides but also helps to level-set internal expectations and clear the path as you try to move through internal processes. To put it simply, an engaged, executive sponsor can pave your way to success.
Tip #3: Define and Document Your Objectives / R&Rs
One could argue that you should know your objectives before seeking an executive sponsor but to really nail down what you’re trying to accomplish, it is extremely helpful to have a sponsor to bounce ideas off of as well as open doors to other internal executives for open discussion. In short, interview your executives; understand how executive-level engagement with your top customers could benefit them and inquire their thoughts on the level of engagement that exists as well as how great customer appetite is for further relationship development.
Once you’ve defined the objectives, it’s time to figure out who does what. Some roles are pretty obvious and more tactical in nature. Others though can get a little fuzzy, and I have found it helpful to define and agree upon these roles early on in the process. The two that seem to be consistently in the grey:
- Who owns the relationship with the customer at a business engagement level?
- Who owns the relationship at the tactical level?
- And what responsibilities do each of these roles have?
No matter who is selected for each of these designations, consistency is key in developing and maintaining the relationship.
Tip #4: Content: A Litmus Test & Don’t Write a Book
Deciding on and developing the initial content of your kickoff event – no matter what program – is likely the hardest piece to this puzzle. The good news is that it gets easier! After the program is well-established, customers take more of a lead role in content development, acting as speakers, facilitators and even volunteering their headquarters for meeting sites. But, for the first meeting you conduct, it’s likely all on you, and it’s no small task!
Two concepts that I have found helpful: 1) Always ask if the content or conversation at hand is helping to meet objectives and 2) don’t write a book. It’s key to remember that to develop a relationship with a human being, you have to have 2-way dialogue, so rather than focusing on how many wonderful and insightful things we can share with them, it’s better to remember why we’re here in the first place. Along those same lines, more pages, more slides, more emails are not necessarily better. I have heard time and time again from customer attendees that one of the key value props for attending these events is the use of little to no slides and the opportunity for open dialogue. Plenty could be written on the topic of selecting topics, developing agendas, choosing speakers, etc.
I’ll leave you with this:
- Select two to three key topics that are broad enough to interest the audience that you are targeting and to initiate discussion
- Develop two to three key messages for each that you would like to weave into the conversation
- Take a stance on a challenge in each topic area and ensure that all internal attendees are on the same page and ready to discuss as needed
Let the rest go and focus on what your customers have to say.
Tip #5: Plan and Document Your Initial Outreach Strategy
Regardless of whether you’re launching an executive sponsorship program, a Customer Advisory Board or otherwise, the initial outreach to garner interest in your initiative is paramount, and from what I’ve seen, this is often where challenges arise internally. Be ready to explain who your targets are, how you selected them, your ongoing communications plan and your backup plan if it doesn’t work. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer here, and the process will evolve as you launch your program, but having an initial plan, in writing, can save weeks of internal negotiation.
Obviously, more could be said, but I hope that this list of lessons I’ve learned will help in any future executive engagement endeavors. Happy engaging!
|Lauren Harris is a successful marketing and communications leader with proven experience directing large-scale strategic projects and programs designed to maximize engagement, response and ROI. Lauren is the Director, North America Marketing at Oracle. Connect with Lauren via Twitter @Lauren7Harris or LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/lauren7harris.