If there’s one thing your organization could do in 2014 that would make the biggest difference to its success, it’s this: Move your Customer Advisory/Advocacy leader out of Marketing and/or Sales. Have Customer Advocacy and Customer Advisory Boards report to Operations. Why? Because things that directly impact customers, and therefore revenues, will get done.
We’ve had direct experience with this arrangement with at least three organizations we’ve worked with: Autodesk, Agilent, and CCC Information Systems.
We wish we had had that reporting structure in many other client engagements. When Customer Advisory Groups are managed within the marketing organization, along with other forms of customer outreach, like your Executive Briefing Centers, and User Groups, and Trade Shows, they necessarily take on the role of “relationship building” with customers.
But what you really want in your customer advisors is a group of insightful customers you can embed into your strategic planning and your product and service development to ensure that you’re hitting home runs.
At Autodesk and Agilent, the issues that customers raised during advisory group and co-design sessions enabled these companies to streamline operations quickly and effectively, leapfrogging them back ahead of their competitors. They began using customers’ success metrics as their management objectives. Operations’ execs love levers they can move to make a difference to the bottom line. What better levers than the most customer-critical issues, with customers providing insights and context as to why these things are so critical and how they impact their business and their lives.
At CCC Information Systems, customers in their different product lines (insurance companies, automobile repair shops, and end-consumers) all participated in both combined and separate advisory group sessions to co-design new applications that worked well for everyone in the ecosystem, providing end-to-end visibility in the car accident/repair/replacement scenario. Product design is not the purview of the marketing organization. If customers had provided this input to the sales and marketing execs, it wouldn’t have gone anywhere. But because CCC was using a lean startup mode of operation and the implementers were in the room with the customers, they were able to deliver quick iterations of the features and functions all three sets of customers needed.
So take a look at where your company’s customer outreach is currently sitting. And, if you have a relatively visionary operations exec (or if you are a visionary operations exec), make the switch, and give us a call. We’ll make you successful.