What is a Customer Advisory Board (CAB)?
A Customer Advisory Board, (sometimes referred to as a Customer Advisory Council), is an executive-level strategic initiative where members of the host company’s executive team meet face-to-face with a small group of executive decision makers. The purpose is to gain insights into the strategic priorities of their key customers in order to align their own strategies accordingly.
CABs are conversations, not death by PowerPoint. The key is for the host company to spend 80% of the time listening to the customers, and 20% of their time engaging in the conversation. Host executives gain the most value when they actively look for opportunities to help the customers achieve their own goals and objectives.
When conducted appropriately, CABs provide the opportunity to:
- strengthen existing relationships
- build new partnerships
- identify untapped sources of revenue
- gain loyalty from key customers
- achieve internal alignment within the executive team
- move their company forward with solid strategies
What a Customer Advisory Board is NOT
- A CAB is NOT a Board of Directors with fiduciary responsibility
- A CAB is NOT a sales event
- A CAB is NOT a focus group
- A CAB is NOT a customer complaint session
- A CAB is NOT a presentation to customers
It is imperative that the customers around the table feel like valued advisors and fully understand their roles on the board. The last thing they want (and the last thing YOU want) is for them to be “sold to” under false pretenses. The damage done is such a scenario can be long-lasting and very costly.
A CAB is not a time to do “feature/function” product demos or announce special pricing. Remember, CABS are strategic in nature and are meant to test ideas, build and strengthen executive relationships, and discuss the customers’ strategic priorities. As the host, your job is to listen 20% of the time while the customers talk 80% of the time.
Third party facilitation is imperative if you want to avoid the risk of having your CAB meeting go off the rails in an undesired direction. Having an experienced and neutral party leading the discussion will avoid the possibility of the conversations going down a hole from which it is very hard to recover.
What are the objectives of a Customer Advisory Board?
Answers to the following questions can be achieved by a well-directed, well-planned and well-executed Customer Advisory Board:
- Is our company moving in the right direction and is our value proposition one that is in alignment with the needs of our customers?
- Are our products and services providing value to our customers and how can we increase that value?
- Where are there other opportunities that we have not yet explored? How do these opportunities resonate with our customers?
- What are the industry trends and drivers that are impacting our customers?
- How do we maximize our partner relationships and where are there additional opportunities to collaborate?
- How can we facilitate peer-to-peer engagement amongst our key customers to provide additional value to them?
- How well are we doing with regard to customer service, product innovation, messaging, pricing models, etc.?
What are the benefits of a Customer Advisory Board?
The benefits of a well-orchestrated Customer Advisory Board are too numerous to count, but here are a few of the key advantages:
- Gain a keen understanding of market conditions
- Enhance rapport with key customers
- Drive loyalty – your best customers now have a seat at your table
- Innovate in collaboration with those for whom you provide products and services
- Risk mitigation – validation that your thinking is on point
- Create strong advocates for your brand and your organization
- Understand where your customers are heading and be there when they arrive
- Achieve internal alignment amongst members of your executive team
What are the keys to executing an impactful Customer Advisory Board?
There are several things to remember before deciding to launch a Customer Advisory Board:
- A CAB is not a one-off, check-the-box kind of event. It is an ongoing initiative executed for the purpose of driving future strategies for the business. It is important to commit to this vision prior to initiating a CAB.
- Communication with board members is critical before, during and after the meetings. Board members need to know:
- Their roles and responsibilities
- That their time will be well spent
- That their input will be heard and acted upon when appropriate
- That the host company shows them that their input was valuable by providing regular updates
- That their concerns are not dismissed or defended but rather taken into thoughtful consideration
- CABs bring together your key customers so there is an inherent risk in not managing the CAB to ultimate perfection. Hiring an experienced organization to build, manage and facilitate your CAB is the best way to mitigate this risk.
- The more interactive and creative the meetings, the better the outcomes.
- Spending time to recruit a balanced board with varying degrees of engagement with your company will provide for engaging conversation, differing perspectives and opportunities for greater learning.
What are the kinds of topics that can be discussed at a CAB?
Creating a solid and balanced agenda designed to provide the key strategic insights you need will be crucial to the success of your CAB. Below are just some of the areas of your business that can be explored in your CAB meetings:
- Industry trends
- Product Development
- Marketing and branding
- Competitive landscape
- Position within the industry
- Customer satisfaction and loyalty
- Pricing and business models
- Customer drivers and priorities
What is the process for developing your Customer Advisory Board?
In order to properly prepare for a first Customer Advisory Board, you should allow no less than 3-4 months. The following activities will need to be executed prior to launching your Board:
Kickoff: This is where items such as CAB strategy, CAB charter, meeting schedules, success measures, roles and responsibilities and expectations of internal team and CAB members are decided.
Recruitment: Recruiting the right members to your board is critical to the success of your initiative. We begin by identifying the desired balance of the board, identifying prospective members, recruitment activities/confirmation/orientation, and then the communication and engagement plans.
Meeting 1 Planning and Execution: This is the time to develop the meeting agenda, engage in session planning, train internal team members, prep for the meeting, execute the meeting, document input and action items and survey board members to get their feedback on the meeting.
Equally important to the successful execution of your board meeting is the activity immediately following. Ensuring that your board members feel that their time was well spent and that they provided valued is critical and must be done in a timely manner.
Post-Meeting: Team debrief, summary of the meeting, evaluation of board member survey results, identification of areas for improvement, communications with board members, between meeting updates/subcommittee activity.