Organizations create customer advisory councils or convene customer forums for a variety of reasons: to gain insights into markets and the competitive landscape, receive advice on key strategic areas, and to more deeply understand trends that may affect their business.
Customers join advisory councils with certain objectives in mind as well, such as the opportunity to engage with peers and thought leaders, get the ear of key executives, and to have the ability help shape the strategies of their business partners.
With advisory councils there is the implicit expectation that customers will provide advice, but often our clients ask – what is going to make customers want to join in the first place? What is the reciprocal value? And what is going to keep them coming back? In my experience with executive advisory councils, I have seen progress falter because this important aspect has not been examined by the sponsoring company thoroughly enough in advance. Here are a few areas to consider when developing and managing executive advisory councils to ensure that the benefit is not just a one way street.
Are you ready to act on their advice? Advisory councils are created to advise, but is their advice always fed back into the organization? Council members spend valuable time providing strategic advice and will look to see that insight incorporated into roadmaps, services, and products. If the meeting agendas are created solely with the organization’s interests in mind and do not reflect the council’s guidance or if it feels like progress against the challenges discussed in the council is stagnating, you risk losing their interest and participation. Take time to ensure that your agendas and meeting topics reflect that you hear their advice and demonstrate clearly how that insight is enabling and progressing change.
Membership does have privileges. Who doesn’t want to be the first one to get a sneak peek at a new strategy or product? Reward those on your customer council with a first look at a new strategy or offering, or provide them the opportunity to engage with a thought leader they may not get access to elsewhere. Hearing about innovative solutions to problems, or kernels of new knowledge go a long way to adding that extra value customers appreciate and ensure their interest in sharing their advice back with you.
Executive access. Do not underestimate the impact of having your senior executives all together, where customers can easily access them for informal conversations as well as engage with them in formal sessions. Time and time again I have heard comments from council members about how important it was that the senior leadership attended – and stayed at – the council meetings as an engaged participant.
Peer to peer conversation. Advisory council members often mention the importance of being able to interact with their peers as one of the benefits of participating in councils. Indeed, the right conversation can only take place when participants are on the same level, or you risk members tuning out during the sessions and not turning up for the next meeting. Take a good look at the makeup of the council membership. Do you have the right mix of members to create a true peer conversation or is it a mix of senior and junior executives who may not be speaking the same language?
How are you looking at reciprocal value in your work with customer advisory councils? What are some of the ways you are giving to get?