As a customer advisory board (CAB) consultant, it’s always interesting to hear about how other CAB practitioners (who are not our clients) manage their programs. When doing so, it’s a reminder that there are indeed many ways to run a CAB, and every company needs to customize their initiative to their specific customers and markets. And while it’s subjective whether there is an absolute “right way” of doing things, there are proven best practices that almost always lead to the best program results. As such, it’s hard not to jump in try to help companies who are making some, shall we say, odd choices – especially when the CAB manager admits their program is not going very well.
I heard several such methods at a recent customer engagement conference I attended. Here are a few, and how they can harm a CAB program:
1. “Our CAB has 50 members”: You want your CAB program to be an exclusive, focused group of executives representing a cross section of your customer base to share like challenges and industry trends. Having too many members defeats the purpose of this intimate collaboration, and hampers the development of relationships that build through CAB member participation. In fact, having this many members seems more like an open “cattle call” to anyone who wants to join. In addition, having any number above 16-18 CAB members present in a room likely leads to most members not being heard – or participating in the discussion at all.
2. “Our CAB is a mix of executives and product users”: CABs should consist of similar titles, levels or company responsibilities to encourage discussion of shared challenges, and members will always respond well when seeing their colleagues in the same room. Having any type of “mix” leads to a muddled, unfocused discussion, with some potentially talking strategies while others concentrate on tactical product features and functions. In our experience, executives hearing the latter will likely leave the CAB never to return. As such, CAB managers must focus on serving one group or the other, and ensure their meeting content meets the needs of their specific membership.
3. “Our CIO picks all our CAB members”: While I’m sure this CIO is a smart professional who can recognize the same in his customer base, is he aware of which of his customers are happy and which ones are unsatisfied? Does he know which customers are expanding operations or have the highest potential for new business? Determining the best members for a CAB requires defining ideal customers – companies and people – obtaining representation from a determined cross-section, and gathering input from myriad departments, including sales and support in addition to the product implementation team. Having one person pick who he likes for his CAB likely misses the mark.
4. “Our CAB holds monthly conference calls”: While it’s good to keep your customers informed on your company developments and updated on CAB outcomes, it’s always a balance to not burden your CAB with too many interactions, or they will quickly burn out, lose interest and drop out. Holding well-planned annual face-to-face meetings and interim strategy conference calls usually does the trick, unless there is a specific taskforce created that needs to meet more regularly. The person who told me this said their monthly calls are focused exclusively around their product enhancements, showing that her group is really more technical user group than a true CAB – a constant theme I encountered with many CAB managers I spoke to.
5. “Our customers must apply to join our CAB program”: One CAB manager admitted that her CAB included free travel junkets that had her customers clambering to join. As such, her company’s solution was to put membership in the hands of their customers, leading to inevitable disappointment for those not selected to join. Instead, we recommend CAB members be carefully defined, nominated, prioritized and recruited in the proper manner to obtain a balanced, ideal membership for optimal results.
While there are certainly many ways of managing a CAB program, best practices have emerged that lead to the best results for companies that are committed to them. CAB managers who admit their programs are going less than well frequently have made some odd choices – often at the direction of their senior management. If you’re one that could use the help of experts to make needed improvements – and communicate these directly to your executives – give us a call.