We are often asked by clients if they should include prospective customers 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 matter what the program is and what you are trying to achieve when determining whether prospects should be added to the mix. Below is a brief guide to help you think through the role of prospects in several types of programs.
Client Advisory Boards: Tread Very Carefully
The purpose of Customer Advisory Boards is to engage with key clients and stakeholders around your strategy and your business. These Boards are deliberately not sales events and are not geared to that type of conversation.
While some clients view having prospects on a Client Advisory Board as beneficial to gain an outside or impartial perspective, we find prospects have no skin in the game and are much less committed to collaborating around your strategy and your success. 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.
Executive Events and Forums: Create the Right Platform and Content
Many companies use events and forums to bring in and talk to large numbers of prospects. While these can be successful sales tools, for executives it takes a carefully orchestrated, content-rich program to entice prospects to attend and engage. Prospects are even more likely than your executive clients to delegate invitations to their more junior staff, and the principles that apply to engaging executive clients are even more relevant for 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 a longer term commitment.
Our recommendation is to focus on smaller scale executive engagement events with a peer audience. Create agendas that address high priority business issues and enlist existing clients to speak and their share stories. 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
Many companies tap their clients individually to provide feedback on satisfaction, business challenges and priorities, and other important areas of the business relationship and strategies for growth. This is one place where we see companies less inclined to include prospects, but one where prospects can deliver great value. 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 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 connect with the most interesting or strategic prospects in other programs as you learn more about their priorities. And, they will become more engaged participants than before.