Karen shook her head and looked away while listening to Mike, her marketing vice-president, discuss the idea of a customer advisory council. A moment later she looked around the table at her peers in the marketing department and decided to voice her concern: "What are we going to do if our customers have ideas that we cannot pursue?"

Mike dropped his hand from his chin onto the conference table, leaned forward, and addressed his entire team: "Look, we need to put a customer advisory program in place because I see more risk in leaving our customers out of the planning process altogether. If we do not invest in the right products this year, we will fail to meet our marketing and sales goals."

As head of marketing, Mike obviously understands the benefits of having customers collaborating in the product planning process, but he realizes that his team needs to work through Karen's concerns and other issues that will surface along the way. Mike quickly sets up the next meeting with his team to address the customer advisory council program details.

Once back in his office, Mike sits at his computer and thinks about his department meeting. He knows that executives at his best customers will be recruited for this advisory program and that their time to participate in the two-day event is extremely valuable. He also has considered the time that his team will need to effectively plan, run, and follow up on this important event. With the proper planning, Mike can envision that this customer advisory council event will be wildly successful for his company and his customers'.

Striving to create a more customer-centric organization, Mike is looking to take a disciplined approach to developing the customer advisory program plan, with clearly defined processes, roles, and responsibilities and success measurements. Mike also wants this program to run throughout the year, with orchestrated activities that engage his customers on an ongoing basis.

Although this is the first time his team has been tasked with figuring out this important customer initiative, their concerns are common and can be addressed by a customer advisory expert.

Top Fears From First Timers

Fear # 1: What are we going to do if our customers have ideas that we cannot pursue?

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Sherri Dorfman is the CEO of Stepping Stone Partners (www.stepping-stone.net).