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A Customer Advisory Board and your Product

conference, meeting, event, advisory board, strategy, marketing investmentIn order for businesses to generate revenue, they must be able to sell a product or service to customers. While that is a simplified scenario, it is the underlying truth of all for-profit businesses (and even most non-profits and governments). Though sales teams and product teams spend a lot of time thinking about what and how they will sell, they don’t necessarily think about who they are selling to.

It seems obvious that in order to sell your product you first need to think about who will buy it, however, the customer is one of the more overlooked parts of the sales and marketing process. Development and sales teams get caught up in the logistics of how they will sell that they forget that their most useful solution for improving sales is, in fact, also their customer.

What is a customer advisory board?

One of the best ways to leverage your customers for improving your product, marketing tactics, and sales pipeline is to facilitate the creation of a customer advisory board. A customer advisory board allows organizations to get direct feedback from their customers on a wide range of elements related to your products. You can bounce ideas off of them, get their feedback and first impressions, and better understand who they are and what their motives are. Throughout the process, you can use this information to improve your products, create new offerings, and mine them for case studies. All of this creates an self-sustaining ecosystem that allows your sales and marketing teams to thrive.

How to select the members of your customer advisory board

You may realize the need for a customer advisory board for your own business but it’s best not to get too far ahead of yourself. Establishing a customer advisory board does not mean you should just go out and pick a bunch of random people off the street to represent your customer-base. Before you start picking people to be on your board, which is a commitment of time and money, you should consider a few key components of an effective board member.

One way to get organizational alignment on they types of customers to include in your CAB is to create an official charter. This will help your company be on the same page regarding the board’s purpose, but it will also serve as a resource to share with potential members. This ensures that everyone is moving toward the same objectives and keeps your board members on track for providing the right types of feedback and having the right expectations for what it means to be a board member.

Who will fill the seats on your board?

The customers who fill your board seats should fit within one of your user personas (if you don’t have user personas yet, you can actually use your board to flesh them out) and should be in your target market. In some special cases you may want to use customers who aren’t yet in your market, but generally, it’s better to get feedback from those you know would potentially use your product or service.

As you recruit, make your potential board members aware of the benefits of membership:

  • Potential for free airfare, lodging, and meals.
  • Potential influence on the development of products
  • A peek future plans and developments in progress
  • Preview and early access to new features and products

It should be made clear to anyone you put on your board that it’s not a permanent position. To ensure that you are always getting the best feedback, you want a mix of experience on the board and fresh eyes. It’s good not to allow anyone to stay on the board too long (two years is generally a good term) and you don’t want to give any one person on the board too much power. Both of these errors can water-down the effectiveness of your board.

Putting together a customer advisor board can be an essential part of your product and service iteration process. Not only can they ensure effective product development, but they can help improve and refine your marketing and sales efforts.

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Field Marketing vs. Event Planning: Not one in the same

events, marketing, field, experiential, conferences, planning, av, audio visualThe marketing ecosystem and its functions is an essential part of any successful organization. But oftentimes, marketing is also somewhat shrouded in mystery. Everyone knows you need it, but not everyone knows what it is or how to successfully execute any strategy that is created.

One of the contributing factors to this issue is that terms are often used interchangeably when they don’t, in fact, mean the same thing. This can lead to confusion and misaligned expectations for marketing efforts. One area where we commonly see this misuse of terms is with event planning and field marketing.

From the outside, people tend to see a similar result and assume that they are the same thing. But in reality, they are actually opposing functions. But what makes them so different and how can we tell them apart? How can we choose which one is actually necessary for our organization (maybe both are)? Let’s set the record straight about field marketing versus event planning.

Field Marketing and its Functions

Field marketing, as a function of an organization, has the primary goal of creating a vision, setting objectives, and developing strategies that they then execute to enable the sales team to meet or exceed their number of leads or sales figures. Field marketing, in its purest form, is characterized by the following:

  • Collaboration with the development organizations for each product to find ways to bundle the products into solutions that resonated in the marketplace.
  • Partnering with the sales team to build a marketing plan to support the business. This Marketing Plan took into account the differences in territories, industries, compensation plans, the number of reps ramped plus account and market penetration goals. The more detailed, the better.
  • Assembling a shared service model for task-specific expertise: database, automation, metrics, email, webinars, events, social media, references, market analysis, competitive analysis, digital assets, and more. This shared team is staffed with seasoned professionals with many years of cumulative experience in their field.

Over time, this model became watered-down and the function of field marketers turned into event planning. It’s not to say that event planning is not part of the equation but it is only one piece of the field marketing puzzle.

Event Planning and its Functions

The core difference between event planning and field marketing is that event planning generally has a focus toward generating leads rather than executing on any way to nurture those leads or sales enablement (both core functions of field marketing).

Field marketing is diluted into event planning when the following happens within an organization:

  • Junior-level people are brought in to lead teams/strategy.
  • Execution timelines are short – generally 30-90 days.
  • Lead-generation is the sole focus – no nurturing or process in place to create an actual sale.
  • Compensation is not tied to revenue.

There are more signs that a field marketing team/position is actually more of an event planning one but these are the tell-tale symptoms. Again, it’s important to emphasize that event planning is an important function of an organization but it will not lead to the results that a field marketing role will.

How to Spot the Differences

There are several ways you can tell the difference between a field marketing and event planning role. As a professional, you can use these differences to your advantage as you look for a new position, restructure your current organization, or lead marketing efforts.

  • If the main KPI is related to leads, then it’s probably event planning.
  • When a plan is in place for lead flow (or user flow), it’s likely got more strategy behind it, making it a field marketing function.
  • Time lag and close rate are also terms that denote field marketing. Any time you are aware of the time it takes to convert a lead into a sale or what your rate of closing those sales are you imply that there is a process behind the marketing effort.

These cues can help you better understand what type of function you are dealing with – whether it’s your own role or that of a third party organization you are looking to bring into the mix. Understanding the differences can lead to better ROI for your marketing dollars.

 

 

 

 

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Getting the most from Executive Engagement Meetings

atx event systems, events, meetings, conferences, branding, activations,

  1. Why is Executive Engagement important?

Executive engagement has been called the “DNA” of businesses and organizations. Without leadership development and engagement, the organization can be plagued with little energy or drive. Executive engagement is vital for mentoring and developing good leaders. Executive engagement meetings open the door for improvements and growth to occur. Successful executive meetings can improve profits and business results. There is a lot of research and focus regarding employee engagement but executive engagement is just as important. This article highlights tips to ensure positive executive engagement.

  1. The Roots aka “nemawashi”

The Japanese word “nemawashi” sheds light on how important it is to conduct some business prior to the executive engagement meeting. Nemawashi has no direct English translation and is derived from a special Japanese gardening technique involving transplanting trees. Nemawashi  is a unique process of individually and carefully uncovering the roots of trees. In the business world, we can interpret this as trying to understand each individual (each root). Applying this individual attention to each executive, prior to the meeting, can foster an exchange of input, ideas, and trust.

Having one-on-one conversations with partners before the meeting may also help the meeting “owner” test reactions to new proposals.  Gauging reactions of co-workers prior to the executive meeting often proves to be beneficial. In Japan, this practice is taken very seriously and may include many “behind the scenes” conversations. While a few may see this method as “less democratic”, a great advantage of “nemawashi” is that everyone is on board with the new “proposal” from the very start of your meeting.

One company that has attributed some of its success to “nemawashi” is Toyota.  In fact, the 13th principle from “ The Toyota Way” reads:   “Make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement decisions rapidly.” Incorporating this attentive practice to individuals prior to the executive meeting, may prevent future conflict and save time. Even better, attentiveness to each “root” will foster long-lasting growth and profit. It is vital to get input from all across the board. Gathering this input before a proposal or big change ensures not missing out on any unforeseen problems. This general consensus can also provide solutions and new innovative thinking.

Working from within the roots of your executives and applying the nemawashi technique before your next executive meeting just may prove the saying money doesn’t grow on trees false.

  1. A Resurrection

 Executive Engagement can look different at all levels. Although there is no single ideology to follow within your executive engagement meetings, an adaptive culture must be constantly be present. Exiting the executive engagement meeting should sometimes feel like a “resurrection” in a sense. You should feel energized and have new gears in your executive’s heads turning. Some tips to ensure this type of “resurrection” for your executives upon exiting the meeting are:

  1. Executives need to keep the creativity flowing-new ideas must be embraced!
  2. Teach courses on presenting key business isues
  3. Require all leaders to have development plans in place
  4. Talent development and courses on mentoring other leaders
  5. Holding all executives accountable.
  6. Holding educational sessions related to areas of expertise for each executive
  7. Attend senior-level development courses
  8. Embrace talent development
  9. Feedback from the executives on the leadership courses taken so improvements can be made.

Lastly, it is important to remember that this audience is focused on outcomes. Time and money are valuable in the executive’s eyes. An executive engagement meeting should bring forth new life to the company. Big decisions require big thinking and sometimes a re-birth is required.  Executives aren’t looking to repeat the same old. They want to become trailblazers in their industry and continuously grow! By following some of these tips, your executive engagement meetings could become a catalyst for major profit.