Occasionally, customer advisory board managers will receive a request from an advisory board member to substitute another representative from their company to take their place at an upcoming advisory board meeting. Such a scenario did recently take place with a client of ours, and our recommended guidance also came with some suggested questions that should be addressed honestly by the customer advisory board (CAB) manager to ensure their program is on track, and such a request doesn’t happen again.
First off, if any CAB member makes such a substitution request, the communicated answer (politely and professionally of course) should be “no.” Substitutions (typically for lower-level associates) not only likely violates the commitment made by your customer (more below), but sends a bad message to your other client advisory council members that such delegates are acceptable (in which case they might consider this in the future as well). Thus, allowing such replacements can only weaken your CAB program.
But, just as importantly, such a request should initiate some self-examination of your program. After all, the reason behind why your advisory board member would want to send a substitute may be an indicator that your CAB program may be struggling, and that other members may be thinking the same. As such, here are eight questions to ask:
- Do members understand their commitment to your CAB? Hopefully, when you launched your CAB, you created and communicated a charter document that fully details your program goals and your requested member participation expectations. By getting members to understand and commit to these at the beginning, they will (hopefully) remember these and honor their commitments.
- Is your CAB a collection of peers? Sometimes, when we are approached by companies with a weak or suffering CAB program, it is because their membership is a “mix” of executives and lower-level product users. Such programs usually struggle to serve both audiences, often leading to attrition (and delegate requests). Your CAB membership should consist entirely of peers who share the same level, title or role at other companies.
- Is your meeting agenda host company-centric? If your CAB meeting agenda is dominated with developments, updates or (shudder) sales pitches from your own company, then your members will quickly become bored and disengaged. Your agendas should be driven by your members with topics they want to discuss and the shared challenges they need help in addressing by engaging with you and (more importantly) their peers.
- Is your content tactically focused? Here too, if your CAB meeting content is tactical and user focused (e.g. your product screen shots and demos), you are likely getting too “into the weeds” for higher-level executives, who may not even be the user of your product anyway. Keep the “feeds and speeds” content for your user group, and focus CAB meetings on strategic, higher-value insights shared by your executive members.
- Are you meeting too often? Sometimes, you just might be asking too much of your CAB members by meeting too often. If you’re holding monthly calls to “update” your members on new product features, patches or bug fixes, this is likely the case. Best practice is to meet with your members twice a year (quarterly at most), and always with strategic topics addressing shared challenges. And again, your meeting frequency should be communicated in your CAB program charter.
- Are you meeting at the wrong time of the year? You also might be requesting to meet at a time that is particularly bad for your members, such as year- or quarter-end. To find the best dates to gather your members, ask them!
- Did something change for your member? With companies reorganizing, merging or being acquired, and people constantly on the move via promotions or switching jobs (or even companies), your CAB member may simply be changing roles. If this is the case, inquire as to whether their replacement has been identified, and (privately) evaluate whether this person would make a good addition to your CAB program.
- Is your member just too busy? We all know that things can (and do) change within companies, often with little notice or out of your own control (see “Coronavirus”). If your member seems to be perpetually swamped, unresponsive or a no-show at meetings, then it may be in both of your best interests to excuse the person from your meeting and CAB program entirely, and find a replacement through ongoing member recruitment.
Customer advisory board member delegate requests are never good, and can be an indication your program is in need of some improvements. If so, use the opportunity to refocus, ensure you are delivering on your charter, and committing to delivering the right content for your CAB membership.
Looking for more tips on how to keep customer advisory board members engaged year round? Join us for a webinar September 30, 2020 featuring guest speaker Forcepoint about aiming high to recruit and engage advisory board members.
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.