So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and institute a Customer Advisory Board (CAB). You’ve talked to peers and you are convinced that a CAB program will drive significant return on investment. Now it’s time to get to work planning your first Customer Advisory Board meeting. But, where do you begin? The list of requirements can be intimidating:
- Who should we invite?
- How do we convince customers it will be worth their time?
- How much will it cost?
- How much time will it take to plan?
- Where should the meeting take place?
- What will the agenda include?
- Who should I recruit to help?
These are just a few of the many questions that require a well thought out response. This is where Satrix Solutions can help. We have extensive experience in the design and implementation of Customer Advisory Boards for B2B companies.
Over the next several months, we will share our experiences, best practices, and common pitfalls to avoid. Of course, feel free to contact us if you would like to learn more about how we can help ensure your CAB program is a success.
The Value of a Customer Advisory Board
Establishing a Customer Advisory Board is a long-term commitment, and one that comes with risks as well as substantial rewards.
What are these rewards? Let me share some details from a client we have been working with for several years. This $2B market capitalization company initially invited approximately 20 customers to participate in its inaugural CAB meeting. Over a several year period, those customers:
- Had a retention rate of 95%, significantly higher than the overall company rate
- Purchased additional products and services at a rate of almost 2x the broader customer base
- Served as references for dozens of new business pitches
- Agreed – nearly across the board – to provide testimonials, speak at customer events, and participated in company sponsored marketing campaigns
- Served as beta customers for several new products, providing valuable enhancement suggestions before widespread release
- Were the source of at least a half dozen significant process improvement recommendations the company implemented, which ultimately improved the customer experience for thousands of customers
It’s safe to say the investment this client made paid off exponentially, and other clients have seen similar success.
When properly implemented, a Customer Advisory Board program can be the source of significant benefits, not to mention the experience of your company’s business leaders listening intently as some of your most important customers share their views on what they like about your products, services, people, and what they hope to see improved. That direct link to the voice-of-the-customer is invaluable.
The Customer Advisory Board Charter
By this stage, you’ve made your case internally, and the budget has been approved – let’s get to work.
The first step is developing your Customer Advisory Board Charter. The Charter should detail the goals of your CAB program:
- What does success look like?
- What are the benefits to your company?
- What’s in it for your CAB members?
- What are the terms of CAB member participation?
This will allow for full transparency on what you expect from customers that agree to participate and the consequences if they fail to live up to their commitment (often a removal from the CAB).
Inviting Clients to Join Your Customer Advisory Board
The Charter will be one of the documents you send to the customers you are hoping to recruit. But who exactly should be invited to join your Customer Advisory Board meeting? This is one of the most important considerations you will have, and can have a profound impact on the success or failure of your program.
Invite the right people, and the discussions will be robust, constructive, and strategic. Include a few of the wrong people on your CAB, and the conversations could become contentious, get derailed, devolve into tactical conversations, or be dominated by just a handful of loquacious individuals – all of which can be a recipe for disaster.
Recommendations on the Topic of Who to Invite to Your CAB
1. Invite people from customers that represent a good sample of your broader customer base.
Generally speaking, this means different size companies that span different verticals. An exception should be made, however, if your customers in different industries (for example) have vastly different needs or requirements in doing business with you. We will address agenda setting in a future blog post, but the discussion topics should be relevant to all (or nearly all) the people in the room.
2. Invite individuals that are in similar positions, with similar titles.
For example, if the ultimate decision makers for your offering are Chief Marketing Officers, your CAB members should largely be senior Marketing professionals. If there are Chief Operating Officers in the room, or Marketing Managers, you risk having discussions jutting off in different directions by people who have very different perspectives.
3. Invite people who are vocal, thoughtful, strategic, and have shown themselves to be constructive when offering suggestions for improvement.
Those who tend to be more introverted, confrontational, or domineering can alter the tone and dynamics of your meeting.
4. Invite customers that have experienced varying degrees of success with your company.
That diversity will help you in the long run, although I would suggest staying away from customer accounts that have signaled they may soon terminate their relationship.
5. Invite people who have enough experience with your company to provide meaningful input.
If they are too far removed, they will only be able to offer generalities. If they are too new, they won’t be able to speak knowledgeably about the impact your offering has (or hasn’t had) on their business. They don’t have to be your “day-to-day” contacts, but make sure they are close enough to offer helpful feedback.
Tips for Organizing Your Invitation List
Now that you have these important considerations in mind, it’s time to dig into the customer list.
Export the contact list from your CRM (or wherever it is stored) and start filtering. Remove new customers, customers at risk, very small customers, very “high maintenance” contacts, etc.
Target customers that represent your ideal relationship, those that have a more “active” engagement with your company, customers that are spending a lot, or have the potential to do so, and customers with contacts who align with the desired traits mentioned above.
As you get close to finalizing your list, it’s time to add one more important filter. Consider whether it may be problematic to have representatives from competing companies in the room. For example, if you invite the CMO from both Coke and Pepsi, they may not feel comfortable sharing feedback that may disclose something perceived to be competitively sensitive.
Final Invitation Factors
For your final step, you’ll need to get other people inside your company involved. That’s because final decisions should never be made in a vacuum. Every person who touches these accounts should be given an opportunity to “vote” on whether the customer and specific individual in mind, is a good fit.
Invite opinions from Sales, Customer Success, Professional Services, Account Management, etc. to chime in. Optimally, you will have universal agreement on the 20 or 25 individuals ultimately selected to join your CAB.
Next up, how do you garner agreement and acceptance from your target Customer Advisory Board members, and increase the chance they attend? Read The Customer Advisory Board Invitation Letter.