Recently marketers shared some tough stories about disappointing (yet avoidable) customer advisory board (CAB) experiences. Each story is based on a belief in CAB myths. Learn what these are and how to deal with them.

Myth 1: We should only invite friendly customers

We held our first CAB last September. We invited only the friendliest of customers and avoided any topic that might be controversial. We learned absolutely nothing.

A marketing VP shared this with me the other day. It’s a sad commentary, but a common one. It’s based on the myth that you should only invite friendly customers and limit the conversation to safe topics. It’s human nature to want everyone to like you. Likewise, you want to be perceived in a position of leadership and confidence. However, being a good leader also requires you to be a good listener. That’s where the power of the CAB can help.

When hosting a CAB meeting, it is very important to build the meeting around a specific CAB objective you want to achieve. Then, in order to meet that objective, you need to invite those executive decision makers who can best answer your questions and provide meaningful input you will find relevant and helpful. Nowhere in this directive does it say you need to only invite friendly customers. The fact of the matter is that you can learn a lot more from customer leaders who have a different perspective or who are not afraid to challenge you and your team. Some people believe (perhaps unconsciously) that listening is risky. It’s better to be telling. However, the opposite is true: it’s riskier to not be listening.

Read: Do you know the voice of the customer?

Myth2: We can only invite people we already know

We want to hold a CAB, but we don’t yet have the relationships we want with the right customer leaders. Until we do, we have to limit our CAB participants to people that we know: users and their first-line managers.

This quote from another marketing executive, too, is a common tale of woe that is a fallacy. While it is always easier to extend an invitation to people we know, the CAB is the most perfect excuse to reach out and introduce yourself to an executive you do not yet know. The secret is knowing how to extend the invitation.

The concept of the CAB is one of building a small intimate group of peer industry executive decision makers who share common challenges. The value is in the networking and providing an opportunity to engage in a strategy-level conversation together – a conversation made possible by your company. If you design the CAB to focus on the trends, drivers, and priorities shaping the future success of your customers’ businesses (and how you can help these customers to accelerate this success), you will not have any trouble filling the seats around your CAB table.

The obvious outcome, as you might infer from the above quote, is that the company ended up hosting a common user group disguised as a CAB. The discussions were limited to product updates and “death by PowerPoint”. That is not to say that user groups are not valuable. Indeed they are. However, a CAB disguised as a user group because you were timid in inviting the right executive participants is a common missed opportunity. Not only that, what do you think will happen when you do finally establish the executive relationships and then invite them to your next meeting? Chances are they will either decline or delegate their attendance to whoever came last time because they perceive your meeting as a user group. You need to break the cycle before it begins.

Watch: What came first, the CAB or the executive relationship?

Myth 3: We already know everything we need to know

We have already built our roadmap, and we have a very good feel for where we need to go. I seriously doubt our customers could tell us anything of value.

I’ve heard this reasoning from a number of CEOs. While there is some truth in that no customer will ever be able to tell you where you should invest or who you should partner with, this type of thinking is very dangerous. It’s dangerous because it suggests an attitude of superiority and “we know better than you” thinking. And so, this company decided not to host a CAB.

Interestingly, at the same time, the company’s market research department and customer support organizations were receiving a flood of negative feedback from customers. In fact, there was a direct correlation that as the company gained a larger market-share, the number of customer complaints steadily increased. It turned out that customer needs and wants were rapidly evolving. Recent complaints included customers feeling the company had become “out of touch” and “uncaring about the problem I am trying to solve”. So, even if the company’s roadmap was set, allowing a small set of their most strategic customers an opportunity to share their evolving needs and expectations could have helped them avoid a PR nightmare. Meeting with customers can never be a bad thing.

For more information on CAB myths. . .

CABs have become a common tool in today’s customer relationship model. If you find yourself wrestling with a team that believes these myths are true, let me know. I have other tools and best practices you may find of interest.

With a specialty in CABs, Mike Gospe is a professional facilitator with more than 18 years of CAB experience. He’s helps some of today’s most innovative companies deliver more than 100 world-class CAB meetings. He leads KickStart Alliance’s CAB practice.