Though they don’t meet often, building a good advisory council takes a lot of behind the scenes work.
Any supplier interested in developing a council should start with a goal in mind as to what they want to learn, and from whom. Distributor and fleet councils can create wildly different responses to the same questions, so it’s imperative that sup-pliers choose the group most likely to answer the questions they need solving.
Once a council type is determined members can be selected. This requires even more evaluation, says Meritor’s Aaron Bickford, senior director, brake and wheel end.
“You want to get a good representation of customers geographically. The different buying entities they represent, the types of businesses they have,” he says.
Bickford says Meritor recently split its distributor advisory council into two entities when it determined its wide product offering required a different type of distributor representative.
“You can’t have a council where you’re having a conversation and half the people aren’t engaged,” he says.
Finding the right amount of council members matters, too. A council needs to be large enough to provide a full spectrum of business types and opinions but not so large that it becomes hard to schedule meetings or have engaging discussions.
“I think six to eight is the right number for us,” says Rob Phillips, president at Phillips Industries. “Any more it could become too heavy and we wouldn’t get the chance to go through everything [at each meeting].”
Council management is another factor to consider. Some businesses prefer to build a rolling council with members serving a set term while others are more stable, only replacing members when necessary.
Then there’s the meetings. Most advisory councils in the trucking industry today feature an in-person two-day meeting with supplemental conference calls and webinars to update members on action items developed at the meeting. All of this must be managed by the supplier running the council, who also is required to develop in-person agendas, coordinate transportation with members and manage all programs created during a meeting.
Bickford says, “It’s much harder than you’d ever imagine until you try and do it,” but says, ultimately, it’s still a net positive for Meritor. “These customers want to spend time talking about your business because they are invested in your business and it is important to their business. It matters to them,” he says.
Jerry Conroy agrees. “I think the passion and energy we receive from our council is incredible,” says Conroy, regional vice president of Aftermarket Sales at Bendix. “Any time you can get that level of input from your customer it is a good thing.”