When initiating a customer advisory board (CAB) program, one of the first hurdles often faced by host companies is recruiting customers to join their initiative. As such, the enthusiasm and momentum present at the start of the CAB program launch can get bogged down. You’ll need more time needed to actually plan and prepare for the initial meeting – and crunching this timeline if a date is already set.
I’ve written previously about the steps needed to recruit customer advisory board members. And while following these tips should put you on the path to CAB recruiting success, we sometimes see companies still struggle here, often due to unforeseen or internal issues. As such, here are five CAB member recruiting hurdles – and how to overcome them.
Hurdle 1: Customer contacts list
Surprisingly, CAB programs sometimes struggle right out of the gate because companies don’t have a solid, central customer list. This may be because such contacts have not been well kept. Or those contacts are perceived to be “owned” by the sales department or in various regions, and they are not enthusiastic about sharing them.
When starting a CAB, the program manager needs to put out a call for member nominations, and keep a strong list of 20-30 nominations. Include full contact information, as well as customer regions, products in use and duration of your relationship with them. Everyone, including (and especially) sales, should be open and transparent about these contacts, and the requirements for this should be stipulated and agreed to at the launch of your CAB program.
Hurdle 2: Relationship with customers
Upon gathering and considering your potential target CAB members, you’ll want to consider your relationship with your existing customers. Are the majority of them new? Do your sales or support team meet with them regularly, virtually or in-person? Do you have numerous customer testimonials, quotes, videos, logos or case studies posted on your company website? Do your customers often present at industry events, trade shows, sales kickoffs or in online webinars?
If the answer to these questions is “no,” you may be facing a bigger issue – and a coming headwind to recruiting members. You will want to get much more proactive here to engage your customers and get them as allies. If your CAB is your first outreach to them, your recruiting may take longer and more effort, so be prepared.
Hurdle 3: Sales follow-through
We usually recommend that those people in your company with the strongest relationships with customers conduct the actual outreach to recruit them to join your CAB. Traditionally, this can be done through printed letters and charter documents, although email and electronic documents can be used to accelerate the process.
Providing these materials to sales to simply send to their contacts should be easy for them to do. However, we sometimes encounter sales people not doing so, or not following up (e.g. via phone call) if they don’t get a response. Again, your sales management needs to be on board and committed to supporting your CAB. Your CAB executive sponsor may need to get involved if sales (or anyone for that matter) is not following through on their commitments.
Hurdle 4: Customer replies
If host companies have solid, active and positive relationships with their customers, CAB invitation acceptance rates are high and such customers will often accept CAB membership very quickly. If, per above, customer relationships are less than ideal, your recruiters may not immediately hear back from target members. And multiple follow-ups (including phone calls or even personal visits) may be required to collect CAB member commitments.
While your invitation materials should explain your program and level of expected commitment, customers may need some convincing or reassurance that your program will be worth their time. If you’re still not getting responses or commitments, you need to ensure and communicate how your CAB will address shared industry challenges and best practices – not just presentations of your upcoming products.
Hurdle 5: Meeting rsvps
Finally, if your customers are joining your program but are hesitating attending actual meetings, there are some things to consider. Are you giving them enough warning time? Have you selected a location that is easy to get to? Is your meeting too long or too short? Have you created an agenda that is customer focused and interactive? And not just a bunch of company presentations, outside speakers (that might be better as a general webinar) and product demos.
Although your customers are likely busy executives, they will make time and travel to your CAB meeting if they believe the investment will be worth their while. They will show up if they believe they will learn from you and their peers, tactics they can take back with them to improve their own operations.
Recruiting is of course a key step to starting a CAB program. And sometimes it’s where companies learn the strength of their customer relationships. To succeed here, follow the recommended CAB recruitment steps. Get everyone in your company (especially sales) on board with your program from the start. Ensure your recruiting materials convey the great value CAB members will learn. And be prepared for extra follow-up if your customers are not responding to your program invitations.
Ignite Advisory Group is the leading global authority on Customer Advisory Boards and Customer-Led 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 Ignite, visit our website, read our blogs, and follow us on LinkedIn. To find out how your company can benefit from Ignite’s CAB methodology and process, contact us today.