Establishing a customer advisory board requires thoughtful consideration and comes with multiple steps. If you have the requisite buy-in and you’ve been deliberate about selecting your initial Customer Advisory Board (CAB) members, it’s time to compel your chosen customer contacts to participate.
This will usually take the form of a phone call or in-person meeting to float the idea, followed by a formal invitation, if they appear receptive. But how do you position the Customer Advisory Board invitation letter?
Our first blog post in the Customer Advisory Board (CAB) series touched on:
– the return on investment of a CAB program
– the creation of your Customer Advisory Board Charter
– the criteria you should consider when deciding who to invite to join your CAB
In this piece, we’re focusing on the benefits you will want to highlight when writing the invitation letter to those you want to be a part of this important customer initiative.
Why Customers Join Customer Advisory Boards
Before we talk about the invitation letter, let’s review several reasons your customers may want to join your CAB. These include:
1. The chance to influence your company’s future strategy, roadmap, product/service offering, positioning, etc.
2. Having a direct link to the leadership team of a company that provides a product or service they rely on.
3. The ability to provide input that will strengthen your offering and enhance the value they receive from working with you.
Remember, the voices represented on your CAB are some of your most important relationships. If they are important to you, that likely means they see value in your offering.
Benefits to Feature in the Customer Advisory Board Invitation
Aside from the expectation that their feedback will ultimately help you deliver a better experience, your Customer Advisory Board members will also have the chance to network with peers. In the following paragraphs, we review the unique opportunities afforded to them so you can better tailor your invitation letter.
Spending a day or two with professionals in a similar role, facing similar challenges, can be an appealing notion. Your Customer Advisory Board event will almost certainly include a social event or two, and members of the CAB’s we’ve implemented have consistently identified the networking opportunity as a reason for their enthusiasm following an event. Make CAB members aware of this benefit.
You should also promote the CAB agenda in your invitation. Be sure to include a topic or two that engages the group in discussions about their goals, the roadblocks they face, industry trends, etc. These conversations may not provide your company with specific suggestions to refine your offering, but gaining a deeper understanding of what your buyers are thinking is always a good thing; and they will appreciate hearing from their peers as well.
CAB members will also enjoy developing deeper relationships with members of your leadership team – tell them about this exposure. They may already interact with your senior sales and service personnel, but giving them an opportunity to converse with your entire C-suite (most of which should be in attendance) will build their confidence in your organization. They will also feel more comfortable raising concerns or issues with your senior team and hopefully make you aware of potential problems before it’s too late.
Selling Customer Advisory Board Perks in your Invitation Letter
While these are the primary benefits to your Customer Advisory Board members, let’s not overlook some other reasons they may welcome the opportunity.
First – CAB events shouldn’t be entirely spent in a confined conference room in your headquarters. In fact, many of our clients rotate the location of their meetings, often selecting higher end hotels in areas that offer nice amenities.
Dinners at a popular restaurant, tours of a local landmark, golf, massages, a boat ride along the city coastline – these are all great social events our clients have offered in conjunction with their CAB’s.
Sure, this increases the cost but this is also where new relationships are established, deals are made, and serious goodwill is generated.
Finally, unless your customer contact is a member of several CAB’s already, it’s likely they will be quite flattered by the offer to join yours. Whether they agree, or politely pass up your invitation, they will undoubtedly appreciate the fact that you’ve handpicked them to participate.
These are exciting elements of the CAB that your prospective members should be made aware of in the invitation letter.
Additional Points for the Customer Advisory Board Invitation
Armed with the messaging above, I recommend getting a small group together internally to draft your talking points for the phone or in-person invitation, and crafting your formal Customer Advisory Board invitation letter.
Representatives from Marketing, Corporate Communications, Sales and Service are usually involved. Be sure the Customer Advisory Board invitation letter:
1. Speaks to the “what’s in it for them” notions addressed above. The CAB’s that realize the greatest ROI are run by leaders effective at leveraging the group as a tremendous resource, without over-burdening the members.
2. Outlines the time commitment you will expect of your CAB members. When inviting prospective members, be clear about the time commitment involved. It is common to hold two CAB events a year – which typically run over a two-day period (including social activities).
You may also want to tap into the group between meetings to test ideas or get more immediate feedback on important initiatives. Of course, you don’t want to fatigue these customers – they have important responsibilities of their own – but I recommend you tell them to expect their commitment might be 5 or 6 days a year, with two in-person meetings and possibly a couple of phone calls that could last a few hours each.
If they are reticent to dedicate that time, you should consider thanking them for their candor and indicating they are not a good fit. Having just a few customers that miss meetings or can’t otherwise actively participate for the full tenure of their membership (often two years), can stall your CAB program or worse, lead to its demise.
What are the Risks of Forming a Customer Advisory Board?
Let’s pause here for a moment. The concept of sharing feedback that may influence your products and services is likely to compel some of your customers to join your Customer Advisory Board, but it also comes with significant risk.
Imagine a decision maker at one of your most important customers setting aside their work-related responsibilities to spend a day or two with your leadership team.
Let’s assume the meeting agenda is robust, the discussions yield feedback that is constructive, and your team walks away with several action items that, when enacted, would undoubtedly enhance customer value.
Then, nothing happens.
The suggestions offered by Customer Advisory Board members aren’t acted upon, and those in attendance experienced no improvements, despite taking time out of their busy schedules to attend.
It’s easy to see that such a scenario might result in you harming the very relationships you were expecting to strengthen with the CAB program.
Therefore, if you are not committed to seriously considering the input provided, I strongly recommend you hold off on launching your Customer Advisory Board until there is widespread agreement on how your company will act on what you learn.
Customer Advisory Board Success
With well thought-out objectives, total buy-in across the leadership team, a charter with a clear mission, a carefully selected list of customer contacts, and strong messaging that compels them to join your Customer Advisory Board, you are well on your way to a successful program.
Next up – setting the right agenda, effective meeting facilitation, some recommendations on logistics, and the all-important work that happens after your meeting. Stay tuned.