Recently, marketers have been sharing some tough stories with me about their past customer advisory board (CAB) experiences. Each of these stories are based on a myth — a common misunderstanding about the CAB expectations and rules of engagement. Because of the strategic nature of CAB, it is critically important that each meeting be a valued learning experience for both the host company and your attending customers.
Myth 1: We should only invite friendly customers
We held our first CAB last September. Invitations were limited to only our friendliest customers. The agenda avoided any sensitive topics. We learned absolutely nothing.
A marketer shared this with me the other day. It’s a sad commentary, but a common one. The myth is that you should only invite friendly customers and limit the conversation. It’s human nature to want everyone to like you. And it’s human nature to always want to be perceived in a position of leadership. 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 leaders who can best answer your questions. Only they can provide you with meaningful and relevant input and feedback. Nowhere in CAB operations manual (Volume 2) does it say you need only invite friendly customers. Fact of the matter is you can learn a lot more from customer leaders who have a different perspective. It is worthwhile to invite customers who are not afraid to challenge you and your team.
Myth 2: 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 have them, we have to limit our CAB participants to people that we know: users and their first-line managers.
Those quote, too, is a common tale of woe that is a fallacy. While it is always easy to extend an invitation to people we know, the CAB is the most perfect reason to invite an executive you don’t know (yet). The secret is knowing how to extend the invitation.
The concept of the CAB is one of building a exclusive group of peer customer executive decision makers who share common challenges. The value is in the networking. You are providing an opportunity for these leaders to have a strategic conversation together. Design the CAB to focus on the trends, drivers and priorities shaping the industry. Build an agenda around their issues. And, invite these customers to tell you how you can them achieve their business goals. If you do, you will not have any trouble filling your CAB seats. The value of the CAB will be self-evident.
The obvious outcome, as you might infer in the above quote, is that the company produced another common user group. The discussions were limited to product updates and, dare I say, “death by Powerpoint” presentations. 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 establish the executive relationships and then invite them to your next meeting? Chances are they will either decline or delegate their attendance because they perceive your meeting as a user group. You need to break the cycle before it begins.
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.
While there is some truth in that no customers 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 hold a CAB.
Interestingly, at the same time, the company’s market research department and customer support organization were getting a huge amount of negative feedback from customers. In fact, there was a direct correlation that as the company grew marketshare, the number of customer complaints steadily increased. In social media circles their customers were complaining, “You don’t really understand what we are trying to do. You just want to sell us stuff.” Turns out customer needs and wants were evolving, and the host company was growing out of touch. These warning signs suggest there is still a lot to be learned.
CABs have become a common tool in today’s customer-company relationship model. However, the CAB is unlike any other customer meeting you are running. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Become a customer advocate by recommending the agenda focus on topics relevant to the customer.
What to read next: Is your Customer Advisory Board world-class?
With a specialty in CABs, Mike Gospe is a professional facilitator with more than 15 years of CAB experience. He’s helped some of today’s most innovative companies deliver more than 100 world-class CAB meetings. He leads KickStart Alliance‘s CAB practice. Contact Mike