A Guest Post By Todd Youngblood
One of the most effective things I did in my former role as a VP of Sales wasn’t my idea. (Story of my life…) A former colleague-turned-consultant talked me into it and facilitated what we called a Customer Advisory Council.
The group met for dinner, then formally for a long, full morning the next day twice per year. Nine customer decision-makers, my CEO, the facilitator and me attended, along with a guest or two as the agenda dictated. The stated goals of the “CAC” were quite simple:
- Increase revenue and profit of all council members
- Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of business processes
- Share knowledge
Three customer members rotated off the CAC every six months and three new ones joined. (…except for two of them who insisted on “just one more meeting” for all 5 years I was with the company.)
By far, the single biggest challenge in running these sessions was finding enough time for each customer to adequately express his or her views. Very quickly, the customers told us we needed to restrict each meeting to one topic. They insisted on nailing down one problem at a time and designing specifications for a fix that we needed to implement ASAP. Allow me to re-phrase that just a bit… We got a bunch of customers to collaborate twice a year, face-to-face to define new services they wanted to buy from us yesterday.
Whoa! When I started my own sales consulting company, facilitating CACs was one of the first things we offered. We sold six of them right out of the gate. It was easy. The value proposition, not much more detailed than described above, was really, REALLY compelling.
All six failed.
They met either once or twice and then disbanded. I quit trying to sell the darn things. Too demoralizing. Even worse, I was charging good money to make my customer executives look very bad, very publically. Not a good strategy. How could such a great idea, which had worked so exceptionally well for me, fall so utterly flat on its face?
The depressing fact of the matter is that none of my customers could muster enough interest among their customers. Not one of them could get a quorum to attend. And it was not because these folks were dunderheads. They had all been profitably in business 20+ years and still are. Before you scoff and conclude you could pull it off easily, try getting your first meeting scheduled! Turns out I was so successful for one simple-to-say, difficult-to-do reason:
For ten years prior, the Founder & CEO had sustained an intense, unwavering focus on customer centricity.
Frankly, I doubt it takes ten years to earn enough credibility and respect to successfully implement a Customer Advisory Council. Maybe it’s only five. It’s undoubtedly more than one though.
But back to my original question… Why are CAC’s so rare? Is it because we “sales leaders” are inadequately skilled at thinking through and actually executing a legitimate long-term sales strategy? You tell me.
About Todd Youngblood
Todd Youngblood is passionate about continuously improving his clients’ sales processes. A long-time veteran of the sales war, he remains amazed at how much more he has to learn. Learn more at Todd Youngblood’s “SPE” Blog.