We sometimes talk to customer marketing professionals – especially those working for large companies – who tell us their firms operate multiple customer advisory boards (CABs). 

These CABs are often focused around different products, industries, participants, regions or other technologies that (supposedly) justify the need to separate their boards into myriad programs run by various people, units, departments and geographies. 

Maybe those programs aren’t actually CABs. They may actually be customer focus groups, user groups, or round tables. Or they could be other short-term (or one-time) programs that may also no longer be in existence—and are not actual CABs by our definition. 

Regardless of the name, in merely asking how these programs are going, we are often struck by the uncertainty around CAB programs. Over what a particular company is doing with their CABs, how they are succeeding or how they are communicating their results.

As such, here are some tips for companies, customer marketers and CAB managers who may be running multiple CABs. And how they can improve their overall program effectiveness.

1) Justify your myriad Customer Advisory Board programs.

In today’s era of mergers and acquisitions and company turnover, some CABs may exist simply because another since-acquired company had one. Or a CAB was requested by an executive long ago who may not even still be in her role or at the company. Marketing, product, sales and other executives should get their arms around the CAB programs they have. Find out who is running the CABs, where these report into their organizations, and the board membership (companies and people). Most importantly, clarify the CABs’ status and results so far.

While some companies have all CABs managed by a single group or person, larger ones may have various units or departments involved. Get them together to at least communicate – there may be synergies that everyone can benefit from. Understand whether any programs are “on hold,” and what’s needed to restart – or eliminate – them.

2) Scrutinize product CABs.

The above is particularly true for CABs formed around your myriad products. You and your company may have very good reasons justifying different CABs for different products. And just as often, we talk to customer marketers who unnecessarily separate – and water down – CAB efficiencies by distinguishing them by product.

Marketers need to remember that while you may view your own products as unique and special, your customers likely use many different products and vendors as part of an overall solution in their operations – which they would be more interested in addressing as a whole. Finally, product CABs tend to be so product specific. Discussions center around feature updates and tactical user changes, which are better saved for your product user groups.

3) Communicate CAB results.

We are often struck by how little some marketers are aware of how their CABs are going or what they are achieving. Well-run CAB programs uncover many insights and suggestions that would benefit many departments. And as such, the CAB’s impact should be shared as broadly across the company as possible.

In other words, if you are not aware of how your various CAB programs are going, they might not be well run. The CABs might be yielding low-value tactical user insights. Or they are not uncovering higher-level strategic insights and improvements that can materially impact your company.

4) Share procedures and resources company-wide.

Company-dispersed CABs are usually run by various people who don’t talk to each other. The CABs meet at different times and locations and are operated in wildly different manners. So what can help? Standardize procedures and materials to improve the overall customer experience.

Consider establishing a “CAB Center of Excellence.” Create a central repository of CAB materials (charters, CAB member lists, meeting reports, resulting action trackers, etc.). Get all CAB managers together.  Review their program operations and align on processes to launch and manage the CABs. Share the things that work well so everyone can benefit – especially your CAB members.

5) Consider collapsing and combining.

You might need to revamp your CAB programs for improved efficiency. Often companies have too many CABs that are spread thin or not well managed. Or the CABs are on hold due to various reasons (understaffed or budgeted or simply unknown because of a lack of communication). Such companies would be served by holding less CABs. Consolidate CAB programs into fewer but stronger and better managed programs. Don’t forget to review the CAB membership as you consolidate. Are your CABs made up of customer executives (not necessarily product users) that understand strategic issues and can provide real benefit and advice to your company?

As we recommend at Ignite, do a CAB well, or consider not doing one at all. Check out our webinar on CAB strategy and design, one of our Ignite consultant talks about redesigning a CAB (at minute 29:40).

In conclusion

Running multiple CABs can have great benefit for customer marketers and the companies they work for. But each CAB must be established properly and managed well to ensure maximum success. Including creating a method to share resources and successes across all CABs. If you consider the CAB program in your company and you don’t know how each CAB is going, it might be time to examine each one. See if you can improve it, collapse it into another program, or eliminate it all together. If you’d like some help to revamp your CAB program, let’s talk, schedule some time with an Ignite CAB expert.

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.

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