In the 1930’s the Hawthorne Effect changed how factory owners thought of their workers. The Hawthorne researchers were initially hired to test what variables in lightening conditions, temperature level, etc. make workers more productive. What their research concluded was that none of these external factors mattered so long as the workers were asked for their opinions and were given a say in what happened to in their workplace. Simply - engaged workers are more productive.
B2C companies have been applying nuances of the Hawthorne Effect to their marketing for the last several decades. Classics like the Butterball Turkey Hotline, now it its 27th year, brought customers and their brands closer together and gave the customer a direct engagement with the company.
In the B2B world customer engagement is also getting a lot of buzz these days as well. Engagement is a much harder nut to crack when you consider the buying decision at many large organizations requires the input of 20 or more people. Engaging with each of those 20 stakeholders is much more difficult than locating the person in each family most likely to cook a turkey this fall holiday season.
Create a win-win
Having engaged customers can reap tremendous benefits for B2B companies. We advocate consistently on this blog that case studies and customer testimonials are key piece of any B2B marketing effort. A study by The Phelon Group on Customer Referencing Benchmark found that B2B companies spend 0.1% of their budget acquiring and managing customer references. Phelon Group advocates a number of ways to build and improve Customer Reference Programs. One of the most salient takeaways from their study what clients want in order to be references. According to Phelon, clients want:
- Insider access to your company, which might include personal meetings with top management, advisory board invitations and private previews to your R&D roadmap
- Connections with their peers at other client organizations – to join, network with and learn from a private community of like-minded executives
When you invite your customers to partner in product development and direction they become more engaged and move from a neutral position to an advocacy role.
Customer Advisory Panel
One of the ways to achieve a number of the Phelon recommendations simultaneously is through the creation of a Customer Advisory Panel. Customers are invited in a few times a year no more often than quarterly to see your product roadmap and future direction and to share their own perspectives and feedback on how that matches with their own strategic directions. Ideally these meetings would allow members some informal social time to network either the evening before the meeting or during a long lunch break to fulfill their desire to network and connect with their peers from other organizations. A well structured group would represent a variety of your customer base. The ideal group would include some long term customers, some fairly new, some of your largest, mid-size and small clients but critical in their individual representation to your various buyer personas.
A well facilitated advisory panel meeting is a delicate balance. Some elements to consider:
- Structured but not constrained
- Through but not overwhelming
- Informative but not a sales pitch
If you client base is large and varied then more than one panel broken by product or industry segment might be most effective.
Relax your grip
Building engagement requires a mindset of connecting and collaborating with customers rather than commanding and controlling them. This is a departure from what is comfortable for many organizations. We are taught to control our own destiny and that no one on the outside can appreciate the unique constraints that we face.
As with any successful long term relationship those with our customers should be enjoyable and productive. By offering them opportunities to engage on a deeper level with your organization you will benefit with a stronger reference program and they will benefit by having a stronger more active network of peers.
Check out these related posts on case studies