So, you’ve volunteered (or possibly been directed) to facilitate the next meeting of your company’s customer advisory board. Congratulations! Such a high-profile assignment should surely garner you heaps of praise from your superiors for skillfully managing this important gathering of high-level executives of your company’s most important clients or partners.
If only that were true.
Standing in front of a room full of your best customers and company’s executives can be a nerve-wracking experience even for the most seasoned leaders and communicators. Indeed, the stakes are high in customer advisory board meetings. As such, customers (or partners) represent revenue critical to your company’s success, your execs might be a bit more apprehensive or anxious about such engagements. That puts their scrutinizing microscope squarely centered on you and your performance during the meeting. And over a few hours—or perhaps multiple days—of an intense meeting, there may be occasions for you, as the meeting facilitator, to make decisions that may be in the interest of holding the best meeting possible, but at the same time also putting you in a “no-win” situation in which your actions may potentially reflect negatively on you personally, creating potential “career-limiting” scenarios.
Scenario 1: The Long-winded Customer (or Worse…)
As any experienced meeting facilitator knows, during any customer advisory board meeting, it is natural for some members to be more vocal than others, while some members may be quiet and in a listen-only mode. A good facilitator can nimbly handle both types with aplomb, refocusing those who may be monopolizing the discussion, and encouraging the quiet types out of their shells. But what if your efforts are perceived by an attending executive as “cutting off” a key (i.e. top revenue-generating) customer? Now, despite your noble effort to ensure the best meeting possible, you’ve risked your own personal credibility, at least in the eyes of that executive, who may be less understanding—or sympathetic—of your need to run an optimal meeting.
Worse, what if that person droning on and on about a tangent topic and taking the meeting off course is a high-level executive from your own company? What if it’s (shudder) your own boss? Talk about a no-win—and career-limiting—scenario!
Scenario 2: The Meeting Crasher(s)
In any well-planned customer advisory board, attendees from member and hosting companies are clearly communicated and well known by all participants well in advance of the meeting. But what happens when a key customer shows up to the meeting and brings another, uninvited associate? Are you going to be the one to tell the customer that their colleague is not welcome to participate in the meeting? What happens when the unexpected crasher is from your own company, who “assumed” due to his elevated role that he would be a participant?
Other potential meeting “crashers” include your company sales reps (whose accounts are represented on the council), product managers, or even new hires… each of whom may have been directed by their (and your) superiors to attend the meeting “just to listen and learn.” (Meanwhile, you watch in horror as an unplanned row of chairs is lined up in the back of the room by hotel staff just as the meeting is set to begin…) You, as facilitator, may be unexpectedly thrust into the role of meeting “bouncer,” and tasked with choosing those who can stay, and expelling those who can’t. Once again, a potential no-win scenario for you in the eyes of your bosses.
How to Solve?
These are just two scenarios an internal facilitator will want to consider – and mitigate – well in advance of their customer advisory board meeting. Preparation, run-throughs and being proactive in communicating meeting objectives, roles and responsibilities and attendees will go a long way to minimizing on-site surprises. But it will, in all likelihood, not eliminate them. And the decisions you make, however, with the best intentions for your company, can have unintended—and potentially negative—effects on you personally.
The best, safest solution?
Outsourcing facilitation of your customer advisory board meeting will not only ensure the meeting is professionally managed for maximum company benefit, but that this objective, impartial third party will absorb the impact of any potential meeting curve balls or hurt feelings… keeping you, the meeting organizer or executive sponsor in your rightful place: as the benefactor of all the benefits and goodwill a well-run customer advisory program can deliver.