We are often asked by clients if they should include prospects in their recruiting and outreach to participate in their executive engagement programs. The answer is a resounding “it depends.”
And while this sounds like waffling, it does in fact matter what the program is and what you are trying to do with it to determine whether prospects should be added to the mix. We’ve put together a brief guide to think through the role of prospects in several types of programs.
Client Advisory Boards: Tread Very Carefully
What We’ve Learned
The purpose of Advisory Boards is to engage with key clients and stakeholders around your strategy and your business. They are deliberately not sales events and are not geared to that type of conversation.
While some see having prospects sit on a Client Advisory Board as beneficial to gain an outside or impartial perspective on you and your competition, we have seen that more often than not, prospects have no skin in the game with your company, and are much less committed to and interested in collaborating around your success than your client members. This can undermine your more committed clients’ participation, and these outside members often require more work to get them engaged than the value they provide in return.
One alternative is to funnel prospects into other programs that link more directly to sales.
Another perspective is to recast the program to be more of a peer network or working group. This shifts the focus to market issues and market needs, which requires less investment on the part of the participants, but can still help extract insights you can use.
If you decide to include them on your Board, monitor their participation and impact on the group carefully to keep momentum going.
Executive Events and Forums:
Create the Right Platform and Content
What We’ve Learned
Many companies use events and forums to bring in and talk to large numbers of prospects. While many such events can be successful sales tools, for executives, it takes a carefully orchestrated, content-rich program to get prospects to attend and engage. Prospects are even more likely than your executive clients to delegate invitations to vendor events to their more junior staff, and the principles that apply to engaging executive clients are even more relevant to success with prospects. At the same time, with their one-off or periodic nature, events can be an attractive way for prospects to get to know your company without longer term commitment such as with a Board or Council.
Focus on smaller scale events with a peer audience.
Create agendas that address high priority business issues, and enlist existing clients to speak and share stories on the agenda.
Take care with the mix of clients and prospects to ensure a balanced perspective and a strong dialog.
If you view this as an opportunity to educate your executive-level prospects and give them a sense of the value and the experience of being a part of your client network, it will help ensure the right approach.
Insight Research and Market Input:
Good Opportunity to Lay the Groundwork
What We’ve Learned
Many companies regularly tap their clients individually to provide feedback on satisfaction, strengths and opportunities, business challenges and priorities, and other important areas of the business relationship and strategies for growth. This is one place where we see that companies seem less inclined to include prospects, but one where prospects can deliver great value from the one-on-one connection. It can take more chasing to get prospects to agree to an interview than it might for an existing client, but it presents an ideal opportunity to solicit the objective feedback or the competitive analysis you would like to hear more about, in a lower risk and non-salesy setting.
Allocate a portion of your client research and insight gathering to target the prospects that you are most interested in engaging with.
These interviews can pave the way to engage the most interesting or strategic prospects in other programs as you learn more about their priorities, and they will become stickier, more engaged participants than they might have before.