Successful customer advisory board (CAB) managers know that their program is much more than yearly in-person meetings. In fact, a key to a strong client advisory board program is keeping the conversation going between face-to-face gatherings, so meeting outcomes, action items and work streams will not lose momentum, and members won’t lose track of the impact and progress of their ideas and suggestions. As such, we at Ignite Advisory Group are big proponents of holding interim conference calls – or “virtual meetings” since they will inevitably include online presentation content – with customer advisory board members in the months between meetings. And while such virtual meetings inevitably involve less time and effort than preparing for in-person meetings, they should still be managed properly in order to create the desired results and, most importantly, please advisory board member participants.
Here are six tips for creating successful customer advisory board conference calls:
1. Plan for conference calls as you would a face-to-face meeting:
Preparing for the interim CAB virtual meeting should not be taken lightly; this is no time to slack off on preparations for an engaging meeting. In fact, it should be organized similar to an in-person meeting, with a robust, member-driven agenda, a list of possible or desired outcomes, a line-up of engaging session leaders, review and rehearsal of all meeting materials and expert facilitation to ensure all participants are heard during the call. Also similar to a face-to-face engagement, you will need to assign a scribe to capture meeting notes and CAB member feedback to create a detailed meeting report, containing a summary of the material conveyed, member comments, feedback and desires, and resulting action items for the host company to review and prioritize afterward.
2. Facilitate member-driven content:
The interim CAB conference call is also not the time to fall back to presenting canned company PowerPoint presentations. Instead, virtual meeting agendas should naturally follow previous member engagements, and continue topics and discussions held previously and perhaps beg for updates or “deeper dives” not afforded in the previous meeting. Client advisory board member surveys taken at the conclusion of the latest in-person meeting can also be a great source for uncovering additional desired content. Finally, CAB members themselves can be interviewed or surveyed in-between meetings to determine whether there are new subjects they would like to address with their fellow members.
3. Review all current members:
The interim call presents an ideal opportunity to present a full picture of your entire customer advisory board membership. As such, during your call, show an up-to-date list of all CAB members in your program – those who accepted the conference call invitation and those who were unable to participate for whatever reason. This will be even more important to new customer advisory board members who may not have met the rest of the group yet.
4. Include participation guidelines:
Including the same meeting participation ground rules as you would at an in-person meeting will ensure everyone knows how and when to contribute their feedback during the call. In addition, including “Chatham House” rules will establish that the call is a safe environment in which to present honest feedback. Failure to convey the call participation guidelines may result in members unsure of when or how they are supposed to jump in, or lead to minimal discussion – a virtual meeting killer. Make sure participants are encouraged to talk and participate!
5. Convey the customer advisory board program timeline:
Show your call participants where this conversation fits in the overall CAB program timeline, and, equally important, when and where the next meeting will take place. Doing so during the virtual meeting will allow members to save the date on their calendars, and ensure their attendance during the next meeting or call.
6. Communicate previous meeting reports and provide updates to action items:
Speaking of previous meetings, it’s a best practice idea to refresh members on key findings of the most recent engagement, as well as action items your company has committed to as a result of this. The previous meeting’s report should have been circulated to the members already, and the interim conference call presents an ideal opportunity to review this briefly with the members. Most importantly, it’s crucial to show updates and progress on the action items taken as a result of the last meeting. CAB members will love seeing that their insights and recommendations have led to action and change on your company’s part. The reverse is also true: they will be disappointed if they don’t see any impact from their provided input.
Interim conference calls are a crucial part of a robust client advisory board program. As such, investing in the necessary steps to create an engaging virtual meeting will not only make the discussion lively and insightful, but will ensure your program’s momentum throughout the year. Stay tuned for PART 2 of this topic… where I’ll convey six additional tips for ensuring successful client advisory board conference calls.