There are two schools of thought about running customer advisory board meetings. Strictly business, and strictly business plus recreation that builds networking. In formulating how to round out a customer-driven agenda with opportunities to network, Ignite encounters at least 3 models for team-building that unlock customer collaboration.
Model 1: Welcome function
Most advisory boards feature a welcome function the evening before the meeting to enable casual networking among and between board members and the sponsoring company’s leadership team. A welcome reception features wine or cocktails, along with food service – either passed or a variety of food stations. Some boards start the meeting with a welcome dinner that features a sponsoring company host leader at each table with designated seating to accelerate desired networking – member-to-member, or sponsoring company-to-member. In either case, personal relationships are fostered that will accelerate idea sharing from the start of the first business session.
For customer advisory boards that meet for a single day, the welcome function is typically the extent of the built-in recreation.
Model 2: High-energy networking function
Customer advisory boards meeting for two and a half days, feature a welcome function and build in a high-energy networking function at the close of the first day’s business meeting. We have seen start times vary between 3 and 6 PM.
Most boards seek to feature a unique venue or native activity to the locale. Among popular options are a New England Clambake in Northeast venues, desert jeep ride or canyon adventure in the far West, or scavenger hunt teams in South Beach. Sometimes there isn’t a reasonably close locale, so very imaginative activities emerge by staying at the hotel – such as a specialty cheese and wine course followed by competitive and elaborate table decorating before outdoor dinner.
Considerations for these activities are proximity to meeting venue – driving under 30 minutes is essential – and participation ability – will the degree of difficulty limit participation? Match the activity to the member make-up and consider that one person’s thrill may be another’s agony or another’s deadly boring activity. Team competition can uncork new dimensions in both members and leadership team interactions – and, we can report that the memories may linger awhile.
Model 3: Advance recreation
A third model is advance recreation – such as come a day early to undertake an extended recreational activity – such as golfing, sailing or fly fishing. While this seems tempting at first blush, this extra day of relationship building often flounders because members decide they can’t afford another day out of the office. When it works, it can be a terrific addition – announcing winners at the welcome function always invigorates the networking that evening!
Throughout your conversations and sidebar gatherings, as well as the business meeting, the goal is to create reciprocal value that can be leveraged for the customer and your business. The all-in participation by the Leadership Team signals openness to ideas and new situations, which translates into greater trust. These activities are also impressively useful in garnering an outside-in perspective about your business and customers.
Your Customer Advisory Board members are spending time and effort to provide guidance for your business. Your company is expending considerable resources – money and Leadership Team commitment. Attending to the detail steps to balance your agenda with business and relationship building activities increases the probability to think outside-the-box and drive a return on the investment for all.