If You Think Recruiting Customers to your CAB is Challenging, Check Out these 5 Helpful Tips

If you're considering a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) for your organization, but fear recruiting customers may be an overwhelming, nearly impossible task, please read on.

Have you had these worries about recruiting?

 

"Our customers will think we just want to sell to them..."

 

"We don't have relationships at the right level..."

 

‚Äč"No one will want to come..."

 

 

Fear not ... effectively promoting your CAB, explaining its purpose and the benefits of membership will get your customers to say "YES" to CAB membership. Just follow these five best practice tips:

  1. Reach out to Decision Makers - a CAB is the perfect mechanism for your Executive Sponsor, CEO or other internal leader to call on senior level executives of your top customers to extend an invitation to participate. Let them know that you need their guidance on how to continue to improve, innovate and deliver value added solutions to help them continue to be successful. Be sure to contact your customer 4-6 months prior to the meeting as executive calendars fill up quickly. 
  2. Explain the Goals/Objectives of the CAB - the program provides an opportunity to bring your most important customers together for open dialogue about industry trends, and to understand how your organization can better serve them. 
  3. Emphasize Discussions will be of a Strategic Nature - this is NOT a forum for product feature/function discussions, rather in-depth strategic dialogue and exchange of ideas on market trends, priorities and challenges they are facing, as well as guidance to your organization to influence your vision and shape future direction.
  4. Networking with Peers - your organization serves as the host to a forum for learning, sharing best practices, and building professional relationships with fellow market leaders.
  5. Ongoing Interaction with Board Members and Your Team - in the form of productive, straight-forward and actionable discussions. Express that after each meeting members can expect post-meeting reports on what was discussed, and actions your organization will take, as well as opportunities to participate in optional between-meeting work groups to dive deeper on agreed-upon topics.

 

I hope these tips help put you at ease about recruiting, while providing an approach and the right "talking points" to share with your customer executives. Bringing together forward-thinking customer decision makers to have a seat at the table to help you formulate and validate your strategy will elevate the level of contribution while enhancing customer relationships.

For more on Recruiting, download my article on Three Keys to Recruiting Success and check out our other blogs: 

Selecting the Right Customers for Advisory Board Membership

Recruiting the Right CAB Members - #1 Biggest Challenge

How to Avoid Common Customer Advisory Board Missteps – Part 2 of 3

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Customer Advisory Boards - An Industry Agnostic Solution

In our daily lives, we seek solutions from experts in the right industry.  Whether it's a company providing goods and services to consumers (B2C), or a business looking to partner with another business (B2B), providing the right solutions + creating customer retention = success.  As B2B and B2C organizations continually strive to improve customer retention and build customer loyalty, there is one solution across any company in any industry that can help do just that -- a Customer Advisory Board.

I recently read an article by a financial planner, Josh Patrick, CFP, and founding principal of Stage 2 Planning Partners. It's a great example of how industry agnostic CABs are, and I fully support his advice on the right way to build and maintain a CAB.

One of the benefits Josh outlines is 'synergy of the group.'  How true!  As CAB members share ideas and best practices, they not only learn from one another, they build on each other's ideas to help you.  And that leads to another benefit - by embedding their feedback into your company's new offerings and services, the bond between you and your members grows even stronger over time.  Members become loyal advocates and are willing to speak on your behalf, such as participating with you at an event and/or serving as a reference.

Our client base spans many industries from banking & financial services to healthcare to technology to media & entertainment.  I've seen first hand that regardless of the industry, the benefits of a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) program are many:

  • An opportunity to listen to the priorities and challenges of your most important customers.

  • Advice, guidance and outside-in thinking to help drive your organization's strategic direction.

  • A better understanding of market trends from your customers' point of view.

  • An ongoing initiative that helps your executive team make decisions and allocate resources with confidence and clarity.

  • Greater alignment of solutions to the market.

  • Relationship building opportunities.

The result?  Enhanced relationships with customer decision makers, loyal advocates and a greater understanding of the market you serve.

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Three Sure Fire Ways to Guarantee Customer Advisory Board Success

Are you considering starting a Customer Advisory Board (CAB), or do you have one in place and are wondering how to ensure continued success? We've executed hundreds of CAB meetings, and while there are many keys to success, when someone asks me what makes a CAB program successful, I respond with these three important elements:

  1. The right people in the room
  2. Relevant content
  3. Follow-up communication

 

The Right People in the Room ... on Both Sides

Based on your CAB strategy, make sure the customers you invite are able to help you think through key issues and areas of your business, and answer the critical questions you will pose to them that will help drive your strategy, future services and/or product direction. People who can answer these questions are typically the decision-makers and high-level influencers, and you want to hear their combined perspectives. Also, attendees from your organization should be made up of the leadership team and/or P&L owners, plus functional leaders in Marketing, Sales, Development, Finance, and Strategy. Their only requirements are to be good listeners, ask probing or clarifying questions and never, ever fall into "selling" mode.

 

Relevant Content ... and Listening

Put an agenda together that includes topics of interest to your customers as well as to your internal team. What are customers' market needs and aspirations? Identify gaps; understand where they believe your organization may be able to help. What does your internal team need feedback, guidance, and input on - strategy, marketing, sales, product? Use this forum to listen and validate your team's perspectives on how they view customer needs. Leverage your time together to share ideas and learn from each other.

 

Follow-up Communication ... and Act

The final element to ensure CAB success is to follow-up with your advisory board members after the meeting. Based on their feedback, determine with your executive team what actions to take, who will be accountable, and the timing to complete. Let your CAB members know you've taken their feedback seriously by developing an action plan and sharing it with them. See another blog I wrote on this topic: Take Action After Your CAB Meeting.

 

 

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Don't Think You Have Enough Customers to Warrant a Customer Advisory Board? Think Again!

A Customer Advisory Board (CAB) or Council, is made up of your top, most strategic customers – whether that equals 7, 12 or 20, they are the driving force of your success. Having a CAB program in place gives the leadership team the perfect forum to meet with these important decision makers.

How Many Customers Should You Have Before Forming a CAB?

We’ve delivered CAB meetings with as little as 5 customers to as many as 22 and found that the smaller groups are just as powerful as the larger ones. A good example is a $3B client of ours with 9-10 customers who account for 90% of their revenue. They typically have 5-8 members in attendance at their CAB meetings. Alternatively, another example would be a much larger $20B client with hundreds of top customers. Their CAB meetings typically have 20-25 attendees and we include breakout groups and roundtables, allowing all members an opportunity to provide feedback and share in smaller groups. These very different companies get the same benefits: robust discussions, collaboration, brainstorming and clarity on our client’s strategic direction.

Would a Customer Survey be as Effective as Holding a CAB Meeting?

Nothing really takes the place of face-to-face meetings for better understanding your customers and building relationships. So if you’re considering surveying customers as an alternative to a face-to-face meeting, just know that your results will be much different. Without a ‘live’ audience to provide context to, you’re more likely to get just a ‘snapshot’ on something more specific. You won’t benefit from the dialogue among customers that occurs at face-to-face meetings; there won’t be peer-to-peer sharing and learning; and last but not least, a survey doesn’t offer much in the way of relationship-building opportunities.

Building a CAB program and holding in-person meetings (once or twice a year) creates a “safe” environment for an open, interactive exchange of ideas. While surveys serve a purpose, don’t use them in lieu of a face-to-face meeting – use surveys for more quantitative feedback. Hold in-person CAB meetings to allow members to build on one another’s thoughts and work on solutions together. This peer exchange will also create an emotional commitment, strengthening relationships and improving retention.

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Why a Customer Advisory Board is NOT the Same as a Focus Group

With the myriad customer engagement programs so popular today, Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) and Focus Groups often get “bucketed” together, yet they have clear and very different objectives.

Here's a "quick reference" chart detailing some of the key differences: 

Participant Attributes

The diagram below shows the core attributes of participants for CABs and Focus Groups, and another reason why these two programs are so different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sample Discussion Topics

And finally, here are some sample topics most common among the two initiatives.

Customer Advisory Board

  • Strategy
  • Direction of industry
  • Organization's goals/objectives to develop alignment
  • Discussions on: what services or offerings are missing; pricing/business models; overall product roadmaps; go-to-market programs (sales, marketing); account management

Focus Group

  • Reaction to logo/tagline
  • Emotional state (look and feel)
  • Usability study
  • Behavioral patterns/processes
  • Product feature/functionality

As you plan your customer engagement programs for 2013, be sure to target the right program format for the input you are seeking.  If you want to gain a deeper understanding of your customers' business, build closer executive relationships, and gain strategic mid- to long-term market insight, a Customer Advisory Board is the answer.  If on the other hand, you need qualitative short-term feedback on a product or branding message; or opinions/perceptions on a concept, service, packaging, etc., then a Focus Group is the right program.

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Six Best Practice Tips for Facilitating a Customer Advisory Board Meeting

 

The Importance of the Facilitator RoleSituation:  Your agenda is finalized, your content is crisp, your members have confirmed, all hotel details are taken care of, and you are ready for a great Customer Advisory Board (CAB) meeting.  You even have an expert facilitator to emcee the meeting.  All is in order ... or is it?

Reality Check:  A well-facilitated CAB meeting requires an experienced facilitator who is familiar with the host company's industry, is able to adapt to unexpected changes, and has the right tools to keep sessions engaging and interesting.  When working with your internal tFacilitatoream and facilitator, consider the following:

 

  1. In addition to the facilitator, will you have the right Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in the room to respond to specific questions? 
  2. Have you developed interactive sessions that will foster dialog among members and the host team? If so, make sure your facilitator has the right tools to run those sessions.
  3. Have you given consideration to the best way to capture member feedback? How many team members will be assisting with capturing that feedback? Facilitators have to concentrate on the mechanics of the session while thinking ahead to the next question. Having a team member who is familiar with the content and context of the discussions to assist with note taking is always helpful.
  4.  Will there be breakout sessions (smaller group discussions) running simultaneously?  If so, be sure to assign a facilitator and note taker to each session.  
  5. Flipcharts are your friend in CAB meetings, so be sure to have plenty on hand.  Take a quick survey of the meeting room early and decide how you will display the flipcharts.
  6.  Be sure your facilitator knows your customers' personalities and set expectations for him/her.  Identify those who may be particularly vocal or a bit shy - a good facilitator will know how to ensure balanced participation across the group.

Conclusion:  You should be able to count on your facilitator to keep the energy level high, setting the pace for the meeting.  They should also understand the "power of the pen" and the importance of recording the participants' words (not necessarily all of them) instead of their own.  And finally, they should be able to carry the group through the process of each session - smoothly transitioning from one topic to the next, using check points along the way, giving accurate, clear and concise instructions. 
 

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8 Building Blocks of World Class Customer Advisory Boards

Are you responsible for your organization's Customer Advisory Board (CAB) program? If so, you don't want to miss Sean Geehan's session at the Customer Advisory Board.org conference on Thursday, June 7, in San Francisco, CA: 8 Building Blocks of World Class Customer Advisory Boards.

Many companies have tried to launch successful Customer Advisory Board programs but have struggled to realize the potential and value of a World Class Advisory Board.  Sean and his team at the Geehan Group have developed and perfected bullet-proof methodologies to assist project managers and their executive stakeholders in executing World Class Advisory Board programs across multiple industries.

Sean's presentation will cover the key elements for success, from executive involvement, to strategic alignment, to recruiting the right customers, as well as best practices for designing an engaging agenda and providing a great meeting experience, to the right follow-up and communication techniques post-meeting. 

“We never could have imagined the results Geehan helped deliver from day one, which have exponentially increased since.”
Anubhav Saxena, VP & Global Head, Business Marketing, HCL

Sean Geehan is CEO and Founder of Geehan Group, the leader in guiding B2B executives to building sustainable, predictable and profitable growth.  He is also the author of the national best-seller, The B2B Executive Playbook.

 

 

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If You Struggle With Remote Attendees at Face-to-Face Meetings, Then Read This

Have you tried including remote attendees at your face-to-face Customer Advisory Board (CAB) meetings with little success? You're not alone. We have tried it at two different client meetings, based on client specs, and had what I would rate as average success. The two different call-in formats we tried were 1) a conference call bridge, and 2) WebEx with individuals who had web cams.

The Challenges

As we all know, what makes Customer Advisory Board meetings great are the conversations among members. These are lively conversations with multiple participants. When you are sitting in the room, it is easy to follow the conversation and hear all that is being said. When you are “conferenced in” however, it becomes a bit more challenging. It is difficult for attendees on both sides to tell who is speaking, people speak at different volume levels, and oftentimes several people will begin speaking at the same time, which results in no one being heard. The biggest complaint we heard from remote attendees (via bridge) was that it was difficult to follow the conversations and hear everything that was being said. For web cams, we found at times there were lags in the video and/or intermittent choppy connections.

Plan for Success

To ensure the best outcome for a Customer Advisory Board meeting with both on-site and remote attendees, consider the following:

  • Don't have the remote members attend the entire meeting, rather choose a few sessions for them to join, and structure those sessions accordingly.
  • Determine the level of participation you want from the remote members, and set expectations through pre-meeting communications; e.g. "we will ask for your feedback on X session..." or "we hope you will be able to listen in on X session..."
  • Intersperse "Q&A" time at various points in the session to request feedback from both on-site and remote attendees, and call on attendees by name so everyone knows who is talking.
  • Facilitate wisely - repeat the questions, slow down the conversation so people aren't talking over each other, keep the conversation on track so everything is easier to follow, and be sure you equally call upon both remote and on-site participants (ask questions, get their opinions, etc.).

There is one last consideration before deciding if this will work for your meeting: COST. You absolutely need the right equipment, and when you look at a video conferencing kit, a phone line to connect to the conference bridge, tech support, sound system including multiple microphones, etc., the cost can be as much as $3,000 (or even more at some meeting venues). For some, this could have a huge impact on their meeting budget.

Let us know your experiences with remote attendees, successes you've had and lessons learned.

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Six Keys to Structuring a Winning CAB Agenda

In my last blog, Drafting an Engaging Agenda, I shared some best practices to ensure your Customer Advisory Board (CAB) agenda includes the right mix of content to be valuable to the internal team as well as customer attendees. This blog will focus on another important element of agenda planning - hpuzzle pieceow to structure the content for a logical flow of the meeting agenda. 

There is a real art to properly structuring a CAB agenda.  At times, it reminds me of a jigsaw puzzle – trying to fit all the pieces into just the right spot. Here are six elements, and the flow of those elements, to include for a winning CAB agenda:

  1. Welcome the Members - the executive sponsor should kick-off the meeting with a welcome and thanks to the members for joining the Advisory Board.
  2. Set the Stage - your first session should be a strategy update including any new issues the company is addressing. This is also a good time to provide a report on progress made, including any between-meeting work with members. This opening/strategy should last about 30-45 minutes, with another 15-20 minutes for Q&A (total of 45-60 minutes).
  3. Get the Members Talking - after the strategy update, plan a session that gets members talking. For example, you could solicit "hot topics" from the group and have them vote on the most compelling ones. Tee-up a few key questions on those and allow the conversation to flow. 
  4. Consider Breakout Groups - this is another way to get members talking. Consider dividing the group into smaller breakout groups. Each could tackle a different “hot topic.”  Leave time at the end to bring the groups back together and have 1-2 members from each group report back so everyone can benefit from the discussions. Breakout discussions usually go 45-60 minutes with 15 minutes at the end for sharing feedback.
  5. Allow Plenty of Time - don't try to squeeze too many sessions into the agenda. The beauty of an Advisory Board is the input from the members and the opportunity to hear the "voice of the customer."  A feedback session should be 45-60 minutes; for deeper dives, 60-90 minutes. Spend the first 5-10 minutes for the introduction (explanation of topic) and review the key questions. The remaining time should be spent listening, probing, etc
  6. Give Generous Breaks - your customers are busy executives who have taken time out of their schedules to participate on your CAB. Be sure to sprinkle breaks in the morning and afternoon so they have a chance to check emails or make a few calls.  Stay on time, consider giving an extra 15-30 minutes at lunch, and try to allow 1 1/2-2 hours between the last session and dinner.

When structuring your agenda, be sure to “mix it up” – alternate breakouts and full-group discussions, and consider including a member case study or a panel discussion on industry trends/issues. A variety of formats will keep the energy level up and members will stay more engaged.

We've helped many companies including HCL, Springer, AmerisourceBergen, Savvis, Autodesk, LexisNexis, and more, create winning agendas using these methodologies. Structuring your agenda using these elements ensures good meeting flow and will keep members actively involved in conversations!

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Drafting an Engaging Agenda - #2 Biggest Challenge

As a follow-up to the poll I ran on the LinkedIn group for CAB.org, this blog addresses the 2nd biggest challenge for Customer Advisory Board (CAB) Program Managers – agenda design. I'd like to share a few best practices we've developed to help bring together an agenda that ensures value for all attendees.

 When designing an agenda, we break down session content into four buckets:

  1. Identify what you want to learn from your members. Your Executive team should determine the most important issues/areas to gain member feedback. Frame the discussion around the 2-3 key questions you’d like the members to answer.  This allows for a natural dialog among the group. 
  2. Determine what you need to inform members about. Provide a strategy update on your company including areas you are considering pursuing, etc., and allow time for Q&A. These business level discussions give members an opportunity to fulfill their role of “advisor.”
  3. Understand what members would like to learn.  Survey members a few months prior to the meeting on topics they would like to see on the agenda. Consider having 3 or 4 members participate on a panel discussion on one of those topics.
  4. Make time for peer-to-peer learning/networking. Incorporate time for members to learn from one another, and include a fun team-building activity or experience that everyone can enjoy.

Designing an agenda with a mix of these four areas makes for engaging dialog that will be mutually beneficial to the members and the host team.

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