If your customer advisory board (CAB) program fell short of expectations this year, the problem may lie in your client advisory council membership; either in recruiting them or keeping them involved in your engagement program. After all, this is a common hurdle we hear in the marketplace, even from experienced CAB managers.
As such, here are seven tips for customer advisory board member recruiting:
1. It’s about them – not you
One of the top reasons that companies may have problems with recruiting – or keeping – members is that their program is too self or vendor focused. To be successful, client advisory boards must be established with shared challenges and mutually beneficial value for the members first and the host company second. Your CAB should be chartered to address problems common with your customers. For example, if your company offers accounting software, your customers are no doubt concerned with accelerating payment processes, and maximizing cash flow opportunities. The message and value of addressing these issues must be communicated as part of your customer advisory board value proposition. In other words, if your CAB meeting content is comprised primarily of canned company PowerPoint presentations and product demos, your CAB is likely not established with mutual value in mind.
2. Identify the right members
The first factor that should identify the proper customer advisory board membership is your CAB charter – what is the purpose of your advisory board program and what business challenge are you trying to address? Is your CAB designed for product users? Managers? Executives? Once this is clearly identified, you can assemble a list of nominations involving 1) the best companies 2) job titles or the appropriate levels within an organization, and 3) the best people. If your client advisory council desires to identify potential new solutions, technologies or partnerships to address strategic challenges, then higher level executives make better sense than tactical-focused product users. You’ll also want to identify good speakers who are open to sharing corporate challenges, and avoid those who may be too shy, secretive or simply not exposed to them.
3. Assemble a customer advisory board member recruiting list
With the selection criteria clearly identified, communicate this to the CAB member recruiters – those who have the best personal relationships with your target customers. While these folks are often your sales or account management teams, it can also be your engineering or support team who may have developed relationships on an implementation or other special project. You’ll want to collect roughly 40-50 nominations to examine and whittle down to the initial 20 or so to invite. You’ll probably shoot to collect 15-16 acceptances, with a goal of getting 12 members in actual attendance at your in-person meeting.
4. Recruit the right way
The most successful way to recruit members is a strong recruiting process which includes compelling messages and materials, such as a printed charter and recruitment letter. In the instant digital age, this formal approach creates more weight and higher perceived value towards your program. In addition, the materials should ideally be delivered in person to the target member by the individual with the best relationship – perhaps as part of a recurring personal engagement. If such an in-person meeting is not practical, a fallback approach could be a personal phone call. In other words, if your company is emailing generic, impersonal CAB invitations coming from a marketing or events person, your program will likely be perceived as lower, tactical value, and you will likely experience more declines.
5. Let client advisory board members drive meeting content
Once recruited, it is crucial that members be involved in shaping the customer advisory board agenda and content for meetings. This is done by engaging with them via interviews to gather and understand their exact challenges and bottlenecks, and the topics they would like to explore in solving them. If members show up to a meeting and see a vendor-focused agenda, they will likely not be happy about it.
6. Keep members involved in between meetings
Your customer advisory board program doesn’t end once the in-person meeting is over – it’s more like a new beginning. That’s because your meeting no doubt uncovered a range of insights, actions and potential new outputs that must be prioritized, committed to and communicated to the CAB members afterward. You will need to deliver updates on progress to these items, and provide members additional corporate strategic topics in-between meetings to continue collecting their guidance and keeping them engaged in your program. In other words, if you hold a meeting and do not provide any contact for another year before your next meeting, you will likely see members lose interest in your program, and perhaps even quit outright.
7. Always be recruiting
Your company should always be on the lookout for new members to your CAB program. To do so, you can communicate the success and value of your program internally, and advise your customer-facing teams to consider new CAB nominations. After all, CAB members should be rotated out after a set amount of time (typically 2 years), so new members will be needed to replace those retired from the program. Done correctly, your CAB may even build a waiting list of eager customers who desire to get into your successful and prestigious program.
Successful CAB member recruitment is both an art and a science. Using our proven recruitment process, methodologies, templates and collateral, Ignite is averaging a 90% recruitment success rate. In future posts, we will cover related topics such as dealing with potential competitive conflicts amongst members, overcoming potential legal issues and engaging with your executive team in the recruitment effort.
Recruiting CAB members is an activity that requires the investment, time and commitment from your various stakeholders in order to be successful. But if done the right way, the investment will pay off handsomely in a vibrant, engaging and long-lasting customer engagement initiative.
Ignite Advisory Group is the leading global authority on Customer Advisory Boards. Ignite’s proven methodology for managing and evolving Customer Advisory Boards includes a 4-stage process, encompassing 48 deliverables and measured by 20 metrics to deliver a clear ROI. To learn more about how your company can benefit from Ignite’s CAB methodology and process, contact us today.