Mike Detmer (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the principal of Detmer Business Solutions, which provides companies in the systems integration space with easy-to-use business knowhow modules that enable functional managers to better execute key duties. During 1980s, the great Wayne Gretzky was dominating the sport of hockey and in an interview explained the secret to his remarkable success. Paying close attention was yet another winner, a man who’s propensity to drive business to new heights was just developing. Eventually, at Macworld 2007, Steve Jobs shared Gretzky’s inspiration when he said, “There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.’ And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple. Since the very beginning. And we always will.”
You too, like Jobs and Gretzky, can benefit from anticipating behaviors. Understanding your customers’ preferences is paramount in today’s competitive climate. That’s why when I work with clients that seek to expand their businesses, I advise them to ascertain their customers’ opinions, desires, and problems in depth. One technique is conducting customer advisory councils. The insights developed from advisory councils virtually always lead to enhanced customer understanding. Properly interpreted, these insights enable my clients to fine-tune their value propositions and promotions for their target markets.
While organizing and conducting customer advisory council events are frequently outsourced to firms like mine, there’s no reason that you can’t conduct one on your own. Here are five pointers to consider when doing so:
1 Decide what you want to accomplish from your advisory council
Your reasons for organizing a customer advisory council should align with your company objectives. For instance, if your objective is to secure more business from homebuilders, you may want to form a builder advisory council. On the other hand, if your objective is to sell more hi-res audio through a showroom, you will probably focus on an audio enthusiast advisory council. Each has a separate objective and each council is groomed toward it.
While organizing and conducting customer advisory council events are frequently outsourced, there’s no reason that you can’t conduct one on your own.2 Determine who should participate on your advisory council
Do this by selecting participants that match your purpose. Your criteria for selecting participants should include customers involved in the segment of the market you want to address. Your builder advisory council should include those builders that address the market segment you serve or want to expand into. Likewise, your audio enthusiast advisory council would include customers that love the audio experience and understand what is important for a merchant or manufacturer of audio-related goods and services.
3 Organize your advisory council meeting for results
Script your agenda in advance. In planning the agenda, be sure to allocate time for your members to get comfortable with one another and to brainstorm on the issues that you suggest. Challenge them to help you identify criteria that are important to their segment. You might ask your builders to identify and rank the obstacles facing residential systems integrators from their perspective. Or find out from your audio enthusiasts what is most important to them as they look to upgrade their system.
4 Conduct your council event meeting with class
From the invitation to the location, choose a venue that will make your council members comfortable and feel good about sharing with you. Conduct your first meeting as an event and pay for all the expenses. Because you are asking your council members’ opinions, make the event as personal as possible. You can do this easily by having all materials organized for each individual and give everyone a commemorative plaque to recognize their participation. After the first meeting in person, you can always schedule a catch-up webinar with less glitz if you need to clarify some issues.
5 Listen, learn, and lead
Keep the meeting moving by using your agenda, but be sure to listen intently and take lots of notes. If you’re not sure about a member’s comments, lead them to revealing more details by saying, “Can you tell me more about that?” You’ll be amazed at what you learn when you do. Then conclude with a brief summary to the group and a sincere thank you to each individual participant.
It’s no secret that giving customers what they want paves the pathway to success. However, identifying the details about how to do so is where customer advisory councils come in. If you have never conducted an advisory council before, there is no time like the present. As a novice, rely on those who have done so for information or consider hiring a professional facilitator if you are not comfortable with the process.