Many of our projects involve having discussions with our clients’ customers. Occasionally, we interview those customers more quantitatively – like a survey. But the projects that really seem to add the most value are those where our clients actually engage with their customers. While it’s true that some investigations are best-served by a little professional distance, it takes courage to actually roll up your sleeves and get in a room with your customers. There’s nowhere to hide. You can’t laugh at their responses. If they don’t like their product, you can’t talk behind their backs and agree with your colleagues that they’re just “stupid”. (Yes, we’ve heard that).
Customer advisory boards are a great way to really get engaged in the customer conversation. They can work with the people who buy your products, but they can also work with internal team, like your salesforce. Here are some success tips we’ve learned and developed for a successful engagement:
- Know what questions you’re trying to answer, before you start. Otherwise your discussion may be aimless (or worse, pointless).
- Go into the discussion with a plan – and don’t consider the conversation finished until you have one. That doesn’t mean you have to make commitments to customers without adequate thought. Make sure your roadmap allows time for synthesis and action planning, so all your work will be worth it.
- Some engagements are better with a matchmaker. A trained facilitator can help you step aside and see each other’s best qualities. Observers who are not active participants in the discussion can make connections that may not be obvious within the group.
- Set some ground rules, like this one: ifs and ands are okay…but no “buts”. The word “but” is a real conversation stopper. It means, “I’m not listening, I’m just waiting for you to stop so I can re-state my position until you give in.”
- Think carefully about who needs to be in the room. It’s easier to understand the impact of your decisions if you include the implementers in the discussion from the get-go.
Here’s hoping 2012 will bring a happy engagement for you and your team,
Megann and Steve