How to Keep Customers with an Idea Team

Lyne Noella

Lyne Noella

by Lyne Noella of WavePlay

What’s the best way to demonstrate your value to top customers? Deliver new ideas that make a significant contribution to their success. Helping customers succeed involves work–and creativity. How best to deliver new ideas to top customers?

Pull together and supercharge an Idea Team — here’s how to make it happen…

Pulling together the right Idea Team:

  • Create your Idea Team. Your ultimate goal is to develop and present great ideas to your top customers. Ideas can come from any department and at any level. Therefore, pull together a group that includes various departments and all levels. Use your judgment to determine the number of people in the group. Consider rotating team members to cook up fresh new ideas on a regular basis.
  • Include at least one consultant. A trusted consultant or two can deliver new ideas that go beyond internal politics, practices and viewpoints. Consultants often bring market intelligence to the table as well as practical ideas and insight to innovation.
  • Consider outside resources. Who are the most creative, idea-oriented people you know in the community? This could be trusted peers, your personal mentors, executives with heavy board experience, or community leaders.
  • Include a non-traditional thinker. You are surrounded by business as usual. Creative thinking is enhanced by the inclusion of non-traditional thinkers. Find someone who has a fine mind and will challenge the group to think expansively.
  • Get your Idea Team meetings on the calendar. Meet with your team quarterly for no more than four hours.

Here’s your agenda:

  • Welcome and introductions. Make every effort to enhance the comfort and camaraderie of the group. If possible, meet off site to avoid distractions and encourage expansive thinking.
  • Statement of goal. Your goal: the development of 3 new actionable ideas for your top 5 customers. These 3 ideas will help your top 5 customers meet their business goals in new ways.
  • Provide an overview of your top 5 customers. Provide information to the group on the current situation, the top goals of your customers, and the opportunities and challenges they face. (This is information you should know–if not, get closer to your customers and discover what you need to know.)
  • Ask each participant to share at least 1 idea for 3 customers. Each member of your team may not have a great idea for all 5 top customers. Ask each team member to submit at least one idea for three of your customers. Anything goes–all ideas accepted at the session.
  • Encourage the Idea Team to follow up with you later as ideas arise post-session. Have someone on hand to record the ideas. After the session, take the Idea Team out for a thank-you meal to encourage their future participation.
  • If you are busy or not inclined to lead the meeting, ask a professional facilitator to conduct the meeting and create a management report.
  • Next, evaluate the ideas and share them with your best customers.

Here’s how:

  • Determine which ideas are likely to resonate with your top customers.  If you need an objective sounding board, ask an industry expert to provide feedback and guidance.
  • Package up your ideas in a way that will excite your customers. If you are unsure how to do this, hire a public relations or communications professional to help you best communicate your ideas. If possible, include research that will substantiate the validity of your ideas.
  • Meet with a trusted executive. To ensure you are on the right track, start by meeting with at least one trusted executive from each customer’s management team. Even if your ideas are 100 percent on track, there may be internal or market conditions that will affect the development of your final ideas. Run your ideas by the executive and bake that person’s advice into your presentation to the customer.
  • Set a meeting and present your ideas to the customer. Ask your trusted executive for advice on how best to present your ideas and to whom.  With the executive’s guidance, share your ideas. Consider sharing big-picture ideas with clear goals. Your customer can tell you which ideas are the most exciting and merit pursuit.

Yes, sharing ideas can be risky, but the larger risk is to lose a top customer due to getting stale while competitors offer new ideas.  Tasking yourself and your Idea Team with the continuous development of helpful ideas keeps you–and your best customers–sharp. Would you want it any other way?

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