It’s never too early to start planning your CAB. Consider that it takes 3 months to effectively plan a world-class CAB meeting. Here are 3 tips to start planning your next CAB meeting.

The value you get out of your CAB is directly related to the thoughtfulness and careful thinking you put into it.

1) Start with your objective, not your invitation list.

In the rush to lock in logistics its common to review your customer list first to see who you want to invite. After all, it’s human nature to fear not having any guests show up to your party. So, you will have a strong urge to build your invitation list first. Don’t do this! Success is not about “butts in seats.” Success is about getting the right people to attend who can answer your most important questions. There is nothing worse than asking the right questions to the wrong audience. This will render your CAB useless. The information you gather will be confusing and meaningless. To understand who you should invite, you must first understand your objectives for the CAB. There are four types of CAB objectives. Depending on which one(s) you choose, you’ll end up with a specific agenda, and ultimately a tuned invitation list. So, let your objective lead the way (not your invitation list).

Hint: allow time for your leadership team to discuss and debate your objectives. Once your executive team start discussing the implications, they may change their minds. This is common, and frankly, encouraged. The CAB is a wonderful tool for gathering market research. Hone your objectives carefully, and be sure to write them down. This simple step makes them real and tangible. You won’t be disappointed with the business outcome.

2) Be specific: What do you want to learn?

This can be a challenging step because the right questions to ask, and how to ask them, don’t usually present themselves in a casual hallway conversation. It requires careful thought. Sometimes the harder question is: What do we plan to do with the information we collect? As noted above, your CAB is a wonderful and unique form of market research. You are in a room with a dozen decision makers from your most important customers. What do you want to ask them? What can you learn from them about the trends and drivers shaping their businesses?

It is very dangerous to assume that you already know all you need to know about your customers. Customer wants and needs can shift at any time, and they frequently do. So, take the time to invite them to share how their businesses are doing, where they are investing in the future, and their expectations regarding the relationship they have with you. You’ll want to pay close attention to the words they use and the meaning behind the words. What will the implications be for your business? While you are under no obligations to agree to any request your customer may offer, you are expected to consider this information carefully. And, you’ll be expected to report back to the group at the next meeting regarding what actions you took and/or what ideas you rejected and why.

Hint: If at the end of the meeting you reflect, “Well, that was nice, but I didn’t really learn anything new,” then you’ve wasted a precious opportunity. Think hard about this. And think hard about what you will be prepared to do based on what you hear. What is your “big question”?

3) Think outside the box: Consider hiring a professional facilitator or a CAB coach

True story: A polished CMO decided he wanted to facilitate his own CAB. Unfortunately, on the day of the CAB meeting, an urgent issue pulled him aside. He had no choice but to delegate the facilitation duties to his first-line logistics manager. She will ill equipped for the task. The group was highly disappointed and refused to attend future CAB meetings.

Before you decide to facilitate your own CAB, consider the following. You have a dozen priorities you are managing at any given time. Do you have the bandwidth and skill to guide an effective CAB? Also, it is impossible to participate as an equal in a meeting you facilitate yourself. No matter how good you are, your biases (hidden or not) will filter to the top. Your customers will see through your disguise. It might be worth considering hiring an outside expert to assist you. The best CAB facilitators will help you in every step of the process, including guiding you through action items 1 and 2 illustrated above and the many steps that follow. And they will ensure that your meeting is balanced, productive, and a win for both your customers and your staff.

It is customary for the CAB preparation process to take 2 – 3 months. There are multiple options to choose from. Some companies prefer a full-service CAB engagement (where I help them prepare for the meeting, facilitate the meeting, and provide a CAB plan-of-record report following the meeting). Other companies want to host the meeting themselves but value having a CAB Coach in the wings to help keep them on track. I can help you in either case.

Hint: Your CAB experience will be a direct result on how you address items 1, 2, and 3. And it’s never too early to start kicking ideas around to start your own creative process. It’s fun and rewarding for both your team and your CAB customers.

Learn more

What to read next: The differences between CABs, product focus groups, and customer councils

More and more companies are embracing CABs as a key component of their annual planning process. Visit our Services page to learn about our CAB Facilitation and CAB Coaching services. Also,visit our Resources page for our books and videos, including a short slide set on best practices.