Customer Advisory Boards Create Beneficial Collaborations
Reaching Out and Listening
How can someone learn what is truly important to their customers? How can someone stay connected to key business sources? A new vice president of sales, tasked with growing the business for his manufacturing company, has these questions imprinted in his mind. Using him as an example can illustrate the best answers to these questions.
The VP’s company was well-established in its industry, and their products had been used at customer sites for many years. Most of the company’s business was accomplished through distributors, who purchased products for sale to end customers. Therefore, the VP of sales knew the distributors were his most important stakeholders, as well as a direct link to end users of his products.
In order to learn what was most important to his distributors, the VP took the direct approach. He met with many key distributors personally, asked for their input and listened intently. This enabled him to confirm many things he already knew and to discover things he didn’t and, by doing so, he began to establish stronger relationships.
The VP also recognized that providing an ongoing forum for distributors to express their views, as well as feedback from their customers, would answer the questions stated above. With this in mind, his “Customer Advisory Board” was born.
Setting It Up and Executing Successfully
The VP knew four steps were needed to ensure the best implementation and success of his Advisory Board:
1- A clear objective. The VP authored the Advisory Board Charter, establishing the board’s mission as integrating the distributors’ and their customers’ feedback and ideas into his company’s product and business strategies. Simply stated, if everyone’s goals were aligned and achieved, everyone would benefit.
2- Proactive membership. The VP selected distributors to invite to become Advisory Board members. The chosen distributors should know their industry and customers well, have strong relationships with the VP’s company, and be willing to provide honest feedback.
3- A meeting schedule. The charter established that the Advisory Board would meet twice each year to discuss relevant issues that impact these distributors, their end customers and the VP’s company.
4- Agenda and results. The VP knew that the first Advisory Board meeting would set the stage and expectations for those that followed. He would facilitate the meeting and prepare an agenda, including topics such as business and product development, distributor/end customer feedback and other meaningful topics. Objectives would be set for everyone to accomplish and communication would be encouraged between meetings. Results would be measured and acknowledged at each meeting.
Accomplishing the Mission
By establishing his Customer Advisory Board, the VP of Sales demonstrated his company’s enhanced commitment to their distributors and end customers. In turn, the distributors have an open forum and a strong voice to ensure business and product decisions made by the VP’s company are enacted in collaboration with key distributors and offer benefits to all concerned.
Arnon Amir, President of GrowthPoint Business Consulting, has more than 30 years of sales leadership and business development experience. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.