Are Vendor, Partner or Customer Advisory Councils Dead in the New Digital World?
Partner and customer advisory councils have long been a staple in the information and telecommunications (ICT) industry. They have proven extremely valuable for collaboration and community sharing in the vendor and partner markets. These forums are used to gather insights, shape direction, and build goodwill between strategic partners, customers and even customer prospects.
But as technology and business practices evolves, we hear CEO, CFOs and CROs asking the question, “are the councils worth the investment?”
It’s a fair question given the rise of digital communications including social media. Are LinkedIn and Facebook groups, or even video based communications suitable replacements for traditional advisory councils?
As a long-time host and facilitator of partner and customer advisory councils, I believe they are incredibly helpful for building good will among partners or customers. This is despite the fact that they an immense amount of work.
If you’re wondering whether an advisory council makes sense for you, then consider these four questions. If you can answer yes to all of them, then advisory councils are still worth your investment. Here they are:
- Do I have a strong base of partners or customers that I need to deepen the relationship with at the executive level of our and their organizations?
- Do I have a designated and empowered program management with sufficient operational resources that I can dedicate to mange an advisory council on an ongoing basis?
- Can I leverage an advisory council as a sales and demand generation tool as well?
- Will my executive team and the partners or customers commit to face to face and virtual workshops at least two times a year, and commit to serving on a council for at least one-to-two years?
If you cannot answer yes to these four questions, then advisory councils may no longer make sense for your organization. Here three alternatives to consider:
- If you need listening time and peer sharing and don’t have dedicated resources for sustained engagement, consider running a roundtable, idea exchange or a meet up, which is a onetime get-together at which partners/customers/prospects can talk about a topic.
- Roundtables can be a one-day (face-to-face or video/virtual) interactive discussion on a topic or set of topics. They usually are used to gather insights or to educate your partners and customers about something important or new in a business.
- Jay Gentry, a colleague and another advisory council authority, recommends idea exchanges with different customers or successful partners. At these, constituents can come together to share strengths or best practices. Gentry also recommends leveraging strategic partner or customer forums with a group of partners or customers. These are helpful when discussing a new product, market or initiative
- Meet-ups are physical gatherings or virtual communities where people can discuss a topic or challenge that is important to a common group. Meet-ups evolve organically. Often, the participants take the lead. They can also develop a life of their own. A friend of mine who is a business development leader for a startup, was short resources and constantly trying to expand her network of opportunities. When she scheduled a Washington meet-up to discuss evolving cloud trends in the industry and area, the interactive session took on a life of its own and continued for months after the initial session.
- Consider leveraging other community-oriented forums for listening such as a closed Facebook, LinkedIn, Slack or company-specific community program. I see closed Facebook communities increasingly used to offer participants an opportunity to discuss and share on controversial, complex or difficult topics. These tools can offer powerful forums for driving interaction, collaboration and communication on people’s downtime. They can also serve as effective ways to promote new opportunities for your partners/customers, and learn from them.
- Operate with transparency and authenticity. No matter what medium you choose to seek advice from and with your partners and customers, be crystal clear and transparent about the mission, objectives and expected outcomes. Transparency and authenticity are two of the most critical elements to building both individual and inter-organizational trust in today’s evolving digital world. For more on this topic, click here.
Collaboration for business outcomes is a topic I’m extremely passionate about; I welcome your insights on ways to make us together even more successful in this arena in today’s digital economy.