With a CAB you can use the customers‘ voice – including their experiences and ideas – to develop competitive Solutions, that deliver a real business value. Additionally, the relationships to important customers can be strenghtened.
The CAB is an important part of any business plan and is an excellent source of qualitative market research. Properly run CABs are different from every other type of customer event. Here are a few tips on how to make yours successful.
Invite only your most “strategic” customers to participate
An advisory board is made up of your most “strategic” customers – but the word “strategic” can be open to interpretation. Most often, companies think about inviting a representative from those customers who provide them with the most revenue. There is nothing wrong with that. However, if we broaden the scope of the word “strategic” you might find some hidden gems. For example, include smaller customers who are growing faster than average, or customers who are doing something unique with your products. Mix it up a bit. You’ll learn a lot from the customers sharing stories with each other. But be selective. Attendance to your CAB is not an entitlement to be handed out by a sales rep.
Don’t treat the CAB as a sales event
Often times, sales management will want to treat the CAB as a sales event. Do not let this happen. There are other formats and events for sales reps to be directly involved with their customers, demo products, and negotiate deals. The CAB is a business-level focus group designed to discuss and debate strategies. In this forum, they provide honest and direct insight and feedback on industry trends, business drivers, customer issues, and market opportunities. It is not a “customer appreciation event”. Treating the CAB as a thinly veiled sales event to a captive audience will be viewed as an unwelcome use of their time. They will not return to the next CAB meeting.
Set the right Agenda
“Death by PowerPoint” is not allowed! The agenda should not be one long product update session. So, begin with the end in mind:
Interview your customers ahead of time to have them help you shape your agenda. And think about how you plan to use the information you collect. The CAB agenda is focused around the questions you want to ask. Be focused. Many times, companies try to force too much information into the CAB agenda. The best CAB sessions are made up of 80% facilitated discussion between the customers, with the executive team politely listening. Remember, you’re there to listen.
Invest in a facilitator
Customers often complain that CAB sessions hosted by a company executive are highly biased. They overtly drive the customers to a seemingly apparent conclusion. Using a facilitator can help create an unbiased atmosphere and a safe environment for customers to voice their views and experiences. But don’t confuse the role of facilitator with the role of CAB sponsor or subject-matter expert. A good facilitator is your partner. While they are not content experts like you, they should be familiar with your industry and your customers. More than just ensuring the meeting starts and stops on time, they guide the conversation so that every customer is able to speak and that no one customer dominates the discussion. Let them guide the discussion so you can sit back and listen.
Important: A facilitator is no expert in your field, but should be familiar with your business, your branch and your customers.
Be prepared to act on the information you collect
Although the CAB is an input and feedback session, not a decision-making body, customers will be eager to know what actions you will take based on the discussion. It is therefore imperative those executives set an agenda that is sincere and that they are willing to entertain multiple points of view. The basic research rule applies: Don’t research something that you’re not willing to change. And be prepared to update CAB members on your progress at the next meeting.
Besides the customers themselves there are internal stakeholders who are also important for a successful CAB. The following list shows you the roles that you require:
The following tips will help you achieve a suitable orientation fort he CAB inside your company:
So, to begin, it is helpful to actually talk to a few customers — but not just any customer. Ideally, you want to gather some perspective from a trusted customer who you think would be an ideal CAB member. Think of them as your CAB advocates. These are knowledgeable people with a solid reputation within their company.
Request a short interview to test your vision for the value a CAB could bring them and you.
Customers for the actual CAB
I recommend building two invitation lists: a Tier 1 list containing your top 12 customer invitees and a Tier 2 list containing another dozen of people should your Tier 1 members not all be interested or available. The ideal CAB size contains 12 customers. You want people who are all peers and share similar responsibilities. Managing the invitation process carefully is crucial.
You shouldn’t invite the customers who are „easy to get“ because there is already a relationship with them. Instead, invite the customers, who are actual helpful. That are most likely members oft he executive Level, the „C-Suite“. But how do you invite senior executives you don’t yet know? For this answer, see my video:
There are threee primary reasons why your customers have interest in attending your CAB – regardless of your business or the size of your company.
You can find more on this topic in my following video:
Yes, but you must be very careful in setting proper expectations about the objective and purpose of your CAB. As long as the CAB is future-focused about issues they all care about, and on how you can help them achieve or accelerate their own success, you should be safe. Of course, there may be situation where you absolutely do not want certain competitors in the room with each other. Bottom line: the world is a small place. Chances are quite good that your CAB members may already know each other (personally, or by reputation).
To set up a well thought-out Customer Advisory Board, you should take the steps in the right order:
Hastily thrown together CAB meetings produce lackluster results and can annoy customers to the point where they won’t return. CABs require an investment in time, patience, and budget to get the objectives, agendas, and membership mix just right. To do that, you need to document your business case beyond any hallway conversations or random emails.
Documenting your business case formally makes it real. It will also make it easy to grow and continue. When a CAB plan is undocumented, it becomes tribal lore. And when that person leaves the company, the CAB dies. Document it. Share it. Champion it.
I recommend you build a short business case deck with the following outline:
CABs are also used by some oft he Companies in Germany. One example is the munich based enterprise Personio, that uses a CAB with customers from the field of Human Resources since Personio offers software for HR management.
The company Seeburger, which offers a business integratio suite, also uses a Customer Advisory Board.
A sligtly different kind of CAB is used by the Berlin S-Bahn. Their Customer Advisory Council consists of 25 members of all ages and communities. They act as a „link between customer and companies“ in order to sustain the „long-term goal of increasing customer satisfaction“.
I bring executive leaders together with their best customers and partners to design and execute a shared vision for success.
Over the past 30 years I’ve developed and honed new models for in-person and virtual Customer Advisory Board (CAB) and Partner Advisory Board (PAB) programs, as well as CEO staff alignment workshops, and go-to-market strategic planning sessions.
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