Last week I visited a major prospect to pitch a high-end composite window technology. When I entered their conference room, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t the only guest. Our prospect had invited one of its major dealers to sit in on the presentation, so we were no longer presenting to just our prospect but one step down the supply chain as well.

Now this is a concept that I often hear proposed but seldom see practiced. It was absolutely refreshing to see it in action! You bring in one of your top customers, one who is very vocal and never afraid to tell you what he or she thinks. At the same time, you bring in one of your key suppliers—one who offers cutting-edge technology that could significantly impact the marketplace. Then, you let your customer participate in your company’s decision making process as though they were a key member of your company’s management team.

The customer you choose for this should be one who you consider a leader—one who is one of the most aggressive in the marketplace and always eager to try new things. This customer will ideally be one of your fastest growing revenue generators—one who is definitely in tune with the needs of the end user.

Better yet, perhaps you have two or three top customers who fit this description. It would be nice to bring them all together in one meeting, but this is not always feasible as perhaps they compete directly with one another. The feedback that you would get might not be quite the same if their competitors are sitting together with them in the same room. Therefore, multiple meetings with several of your top customers would be ideal.

Once again, the purpose isn’t just to get your customers together to talk, but rather to give them a   voice in determining the future direction of new products or services you intend to bring to the market. You could argue that this is what surveys are for, and they can reach out to a much broader cross section of your customer base. Yes, surveys do have their place but the knowledge gained from them is limited.

However, the type of in-depth feedback and first-hand “closest to end user” perspective gained from such broadly attended in-house meetings is invaluable when you are sitting there with all the key members of your company—sales, operations, customer service and executive management. On one end of the room you have a key customer—extending the knowledge base in the room toward the end user. On the other hand, you have a key supplier—extending the knowledge base closer to the raw material supply of the business. Suddenly, it is like looking at your business through a wide-angle lens.

Now that is what I call experiencing “wide-angle marketing insight!”

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