With the arrival of late summer comes the highly anticipated (at least by some) NFL football season. Football fans look forward to seeing their star quarterbacks, diva wide-receivers and hard-nosed running backs and linebackers back in action. But those with a deeper understanding of the game know that teams that focus “up front” with their offensive and defensive linemen are typically those playing for a championship. As such, a dedication to fundamental “blocking and tackling” is where many teams start in preparation for the coming season.

With this emphasis in mind, and thinking about the many customer advisory board (CAB) managers who may be preparing for the upcoming fall meeting season, it makes sense to revisit the basics for ensuring optimal CAB program success. After all, much like a winning NFL franchise, your CAB program must be properly established, resourced and managed to be successful.

Here are five essentials to ensure a winning CAB program:

1. Allow enough CAB planning time

We at Ignite Advisory Group are often approached by companies who desire to initiate a CAB program – and want the initial meeting to take place in a couple months from when they first talk to us. But establishing a solid CAB program and preparing for the initial (or next) face-to-face meeting takes the proper steps to ensure success. These would include designing the CAB and creating a charter, defining membership criteria and recruitment, developing the agenda and meeting materials, preparing for the face-to-face meeting, and much more. To complete these steps properly, we recommend at least a 6-month planning timeline. Accelerating these processes can force companies to skip crucial steps, create a “rushed” feeling internally (and worse among external members), and an inferior overall program.

2. Follow a content creation process

Sometimes, companies will create a CAB meeting agenda that they thinkwill be of interest to members – without simply asking them, or gathering input from other key internal stakeholders. Instead, we at Ignite advocate a proven content creation processwhich engages internal subject matter experts to create a discussion guide that is reviewed by CAB members themselves through individual interviews. An executive summary report is created, which drives the meeting agenda and content. Session leaders must also have guidance in creating their meeting content that will address member desires. Again, skipping or rushing these steps will only create a weaker meeting.

3. Ensure your program is interactive

Too many companies treat CAB meetings as opportunities to present their already-finalized corporate presentations, or worse, treat them as product demo or sales opportunities. Successful advisory programs are not one-way conversations from the vendor to participants. Members are there to be engaged, provide real input to the company, and learn from each other. As such, we at Ignite recommend the “80/20 Rule,” in which members talk 80 percent of the time; host companies only 20 percent.

4. Expertly facilitate the meeting

We’ve seen too many companies rely on inexperienced, internal folks who don’t manage the meeting well, keep the conversation vendor focused, don’t manage internal executives, and disappoint members.Professional CAB facilitation ensures the meeting will be conducted properly for maximum member engagement and success. In addition, such expert facilitators can introduce innovative games that make gathering insight more insightful and stimulating for everyone involved.

5. Turn meeting insights into action

CAB members provide an abundance of valuable input and guidance to the host company. As such, it’s critical that this feedback is accurately captured and translated into significant action items. Such actions should be communicated back to the members, and they need to see progress on them delivered in subsequent meetings. There are also opportunities for member-driven thought leadership that can benefit everyone involved. Members will be disappointed if they don’t recognize that their valuable time and input is leading to action by – or changes within – CAB-hosted companies.

Although these five aspects are crucial in establishing a winning CAB initiative, there are, in fact, many other facets that need to be addressed as well, such as establishing a proper CAB program type, aligning internal stakeholders, measuring success and maintaining ongoing engagement. Yet getting these five fundamentals right and done well will ensure your program is at least covering the basic essentials – and is on its way to a championship season.

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