With over 300 customer advisory board engagements with our clients helping them establish and manage successful customer advisory board programs, we’ve seen a lot of what works well – as well as what doesn’t. Although we love to provide guidance in our blogs on how to run strong client advisory board initiatives, sometimes it helps to communicate what NOT to do in order to assist client advisory board managers in getting their programs off on the right foot.
Don’t Make This One Customer Advisory Board Design Decision Without a Thorough CAB Management Plan In Place
With that in mind, we are often approached by companies who are eager to initiate a customer advisory board program and are not sure how or where to start – which is where we come in to help! Download our Customer Advisory Board Beginner’s Guide for more details on how to start an advisory board.
The challenge lies in the one design decision they have often already made before even starting their program or contacting Ignite: they have a date and location for their first meeting already determined – often mere weeks (!) from when reaching out to us for help. As such, if there’s one piece of advice we would give to companies who wish to start a new CAB program, it would be this: don’t set a meeting date until you clearly understand the steps needed to be taken to establish a strong CAB program.
We do understand why this can happen: often executives desire to engage their customers via an in-person meeting and have an upcoming event, such as an industry conference, user group meeting or management planning offsite already planned to which they want to tack on a CAB program. But setting this meeting date from the start then requires the CAB execution team to have to “work backwards” from the aggressive date, all too often with (way) too little time to conduct the necessary steps to make this inaugural CAB meeting a success.
Do These Steps First to Set a Strong Foundation for Your Customer Advisory Board (…and it can take up to 6 months)
The initial steps in establishing a strong CAB program – creating a charter, recruiting the best members, and engaging stakeholders for the right content – are critical to ensuring a CAB program is set up for success over the long term. If done correctly, these steps can take about 6 months to complete before the initial meeting should ever take place. Those companies who skip these steps or rush through them inevitably shoot themselves in the foot from the start, and create a less-than-ideal (at best) meeting experience in the eyes of their best customers. In addition, such “rush jobs” almost always place unfair burdens and stress on the (poor) CAB managers tasked with pulling off such a meeting; often in addition to their other duties all of which will inevitably suffer.
It’s not just the suggested steps that takes time, it’s normal business life that often extends the planning period: setting up meetings with busy executives, travel and vacations, approval cycles, other pressing priorities, etc. In our experience, these normal hurdles impact planning just as much – and often more so – than the suggested tasks themselves necessary in setting up a CAB program and initial meeting. Strangely, such dynamics are often overlooked or severely underestimated by those who set this initial meeting date.
Get Clear On What You Need to Start and Maintain a Customer Advisory Board Over Time
If you’re a CAB manager, executive sponsor or anyone considering initiating a customer advisory program, we strongly recommend holding off (or resisting or pushing back) on setting a hard date for your initial meeting until you’re clear on what’s needed to start and build a robust CAB program. We would be happy to communicate these to you – or perhaps more helpfully, to your executive management – if you ever need some backup or support in communicating the need for adequate (and realistic) planning time before your first CAB meeting.