As an IT, security, or product management professional, are you confident the solutions and services you have planned or already have under development will be accepted (purchased) by your customer base? If so, how did you obtain this confidence? Formally engaging with -- and soliciting feedback from -- your best customers to validate your product roadmap is the answer to this question. If it's not, read on.
For IT professionals, customer advisory boards, also known as a customer advisory councils or client advisory panels, can be an efficient, effective method to gather customer insight and feedback to your current and planned offerings. For the uninitiated, customer advisory boards are forums to review industry trends, address mutual challenges, and offer honest insights and guidance. For vendors, such 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. CIO Insight ranked the top 10 reasons here.
Research points to the ROI of such executive customer engagements. According to a Gallup poll, “A typical B2B company has an optimal relationship with fewer than one in seven of its customers… and only 13% of B2B customers are fully engaged.” However, such “fully engaged customers deliver a 23% premium over average customers in share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth.”
Here then are the top 5 benefits IT professionals can get from a well-run customer advisory board program:
Impact your product roadmap: A customer advisory board is ideal for providing feedback and desired direction on the host company’s offerings. Indeed, in querying customer advisory board practitioners, surveys show that product direction is the top benefit host companies derive from customer advisory boards. Your advisory council can offer an insider’s view of how your solutions are actually being used, and 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.
Uncover insights into business Strategy: Your customers are the best (and surprisingly most often overlooked) resource to provide input on your company’s overall direction. Such customers can advise you on the products and services they desire, what they would pay for them, and how they want them delivered. Your council can provide valuable 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.
Deliver incremental revenue: The often unspoken (yet highly desired) benefit from your council is the positive impact you will see in incremental sales revenue, as 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 dedicated to you and your offerings. In fact, Ignite’s data 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.
Generate brand champions: By bringing members into your company’s “inner circle” as trusted advisors, you are transforming them into raving fans of your company. As council members take on the responsibility of helping to guide your business, they naturally 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 likely will refer other prospects to you as they talk about you with peers at events, and throughout their day-to-day operations.
Shape marketing messaging: An 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 your 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.
Engaging with customers though a customer advisory board is a proven method for gathering input to your product roadmap and overall business strategies. Indeed, a well-run customer advisory council can provide your organization with material guidance that will put your company on a better, more targeted and profitable track for years to come.
Rob Jensen is VP of Marketing for Ignite Advisory Group, a consultancy that helps B2B companies manage their customer and partner advisory board programs.