Peak Your Profits: Insights from the outside

So what do your customers or clients think about you? How you do business? How you meet or exceed expectations? How you distinguish yourself in a competitive marketplace?

Now, more than ever, your answers to the preceding questions are crucial to your success.

That’s why we’re going to revisit a topic we first explored in October, 2004.

It’s strategic advice is still applicable. Now! Quickly. Ethically. Dramatically!

How you apply the following impactful ideas may even be the difference between whether you survive or thrive!

So it’s once again time for insights from the outside.

So how do you get deeper and more valuable input from your customers or clients, aside from the traditional survey or feedback form?

That’s an easy one. Create an advisory group or outside board of directors.

Call several of your key customers or clients and ask them to be part of your advisory council. Contact folks who know you, like you and trust you. And, they can also be brutally honest with you, your leadership team, sales team, etc.

The group can meet quarterly, semi-annually, annually, etc.

I’ve had the pleasure to facilitate lots of advisory councils or outside boards for a variety of clients. Since I have no bias or pre-disposition, I can ask the tough questions my clients might be hesitant to ask.

I then counsel my clients to listen, listen, listen. I unequivocally urge, repeatedly recommend and strongly stress that they not convert this meeting into a sales pitch for their latest product or service.

That stinks of bait and switch!

The key, is to create a healthy and honest dialogue with your clients or customers, so together you can best determine how to grow your respective businesses.

At these meetings, I emphasize some simple messages:

- This is a time for honesty not hesitancy.

- This is a time for truth not timidity.

- This is a time for candor not caution.

The exchanges are always lively, spirited and even emotional. Yet clients and their customers value the experience. It strengthens relationships. Creates deeper levels of understanding. And, drives future business.

Also, be sure to pamper your advisors or council members.

Spoil them. Treat them like the VIPs that they are. Meaning, pay for their airfare, transportation, hotel, food, gifts, etc.

Within one to two weeks of the initial dialogue, be sure to:

- Send participants thank you notes.

- Send copies of the “team picture” taken at the event.

- Send a press release to a “board member’s” local newspaper, highlighting their participation.

- Send a hardcopy or e-mail document that recaps the major issues discussed, as well as the gameplan for future discussions, action steps or resolutions.

- Honor any commitment or deliverables.

The only risk to your credibility, is if you merely listen and choose to do nothing. And that’s dumb! And I know, you ain’t dumb.

Here are 11 more ideas, about how to maximize results with your advisory council or outside board of directors.

1. Double your pleasure: Invite two people from each customer’s company to participate in the advisory council, (this encourages a shared experience for your customers, plus you and your team get to spend quality time with more decision makers.)

2. Offsite insight: Go off-site, meaning a hotel, conference center or resort, (a relaxed setting, promotes meaningful dialogue.)

3. Be memory independent: Consider audio or videotaping the discussion, or at the very least, assign somebody within your organization to take great notes, (this assures that ideas and issues are preserved and understood, plus it makes the follow-up process significantly easier.)

4. Go with a pro: Invest in an experienced facilitator, who stimulates ideas and dialogue, with humor, spontaneity and incisive questioning skills, (do not have somebody from your team lead the discussion, for two reasons, first, it’s tough for that person to remain impartial and second, your customers assume, rightly or wrongly, that there’s an agenda or bias.)

5. Team talk: Setup the room with round tables, with approximately four to six people per table and all chairs facing front, (this arrangement fosters a true “roundtable” discussion with direct sightlines or eye contact to table teammates, also, if possible, be sure to have at least one member of your team at each table, their primary role, is to listen.)

6. Mood music: As you kickoff the dialogue, head into a break or re-start after a break, keep the mood upbeat and lively with strong and powerful music.

7. Not here, there: Keep your refreshment tables outside of the room, (this eliminates competing with folks who need to grab one more cup of coffee or being distracted by the waitstaff who bursts in and disrupts a meaningful moment, with a rumbling cart stacked high with ice and soda pop.)

8. Research rocks: Conduct research, meaning, know in advance what’s on the minds of your customers and clients, (prior to actually facilitating clients’ councils, I interview via phone several of the attendees, as well as create a simple e-mail questionnaire) the preceding helps me and my clients identify trends, issues, challenges and opportunities.

9. Quality questions: Create specific questions that you’d like your customers to discuss during the actual dialogue, yet be flexible enough to head in a new direction quickly, based upon the input shared and emotion expressed.

10. Keep the keepers: Have a flip-chart for each table, so that ideas can be jotted down and posted around the room, (fill the walls with ideas, this shows progress, possibilities for the future and keeps folks involved and engaged.)

11. Online/bottom line: Have an advisory council link at your Web site, (it can feature council members, pictures, recaps, updates, etc.)

If you’d like to yak about, how to create a council or board for your company, please gimme a buzz or shoot me an e-mail, so we can explore the possibilities.

As my clients have learned, the investment for an outside board is minimal. Because the results and outcomes are significant. And increased outcomes, produce increased incomes.

Jeff Blackman is a speaker, author, success coach, broadcaster and lawyer who lives part-time on Marco Island. His clients call him a “business-growth specialist.” Send an e-mail to jeff@jeffblackman.com or go to jeffblackman.com to subscribe to his free e-letter.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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