It is easy to enjoy strategy-level discussions with your Customer Advisory Board (CAB) members when times are good. The investment in your CAB program is not questioned. However, your CAB program is much more urgent and important when times are uncertain. Like right now!

As we head into 2023, it seems inevitable that another recession is at hand. Many companies are already trimming staff and budget – including suspending their CAB program. Having worked with many B2B companies through the downturns of 2002, 2008, and 2020, I can report that those companies that maintained contact with CAB members actually strengthened customer relationships and grew their businesses faster when the good times returned. The lesson: staying close to your best customers is critical to your business’ future success.

Here are 3 ways to keep your CAB program afloat when your budget gets cut.

1) Interview your CAB members to gather real-time market research

Interviewing CAB members in preparation for a CAB season is always a best practice. But what can you do if your CAB budget gets cut and you can no longer afford to hire a CAB facilitator to interview your CAB members? The answer is to build the skills internally.  Deputize a small team of product marketers, product managers, and/or customer experience leaders.

What if your current customers are your ONLY customers in 2023? If a recession and supply chain issues are hurdles to winning new customers, how you interact with current customers will define your future success. How will this affect your sales & marketing programs?

I am not suggesting you pick up the phone to have random conversations with customers. That will not produce any sustainable value. Instead, you should build an interview program that will capture real-time market research on how the downturn is affecting your customers’ businesses. How are their priorities shifting? What (new) problems are they trying to solve? And, what does this mean for their relationship with you?

You are not selling anything in these interviews. You are exercising empathy and listening to market voices. This information is invaluable as you consider your own priorities.

  • Build a small cross-functional team to define your interview program objective.
  • Document it.
  • Draft four or five questions you want to ask your CAB members.
  • Train your team in how to conduct these interviews so you can gather information in a consistent and repeatable process.
  • Share the output from each interview, and from the collective set, with everyone in your company.
  • Use this information as you make business decisions.

Caution: Most people are not natural interviewing experts. It is a skill that must be developed and nurtured. As an interviewer, you must know how to ask the question in the right way. You must know how to listen. And, you must know how to document the conversation so it can be effectively shared with others. Here are two resources to help:


2) Hold virtual CAB meetings

If your CAB budget has been cut, this does not mean you cannot gather wisdom and advice from your CAB members. Instead of holding an in-person CAB meeting at a 5-star hotel, hold a 90-minute virtual CAB meeting each quarter. Despite the pent-up urge to resume in-person CAB meetings, virtual meetings (when conducted according to the new best practices) can be highly effective. And you can run these yourself if you embrace a few tricks.

Virtual CAB meetings are here to stay. Think of these as a component of your integrated CAB program that includes online surveys, CAB member interviews, in-person meetings, and formal account reviews.

By following the many best practices I’ve written about in my CAB Resource Center, you are capable of designing and facilitating these meetings yourself with no out-of-pocket expense.

Here are a few ideas:

  • After you have conducted interviews in #1, share your findings with your CAB members in a virtual call. Ask CAB members to expand upon what you’ve learned.
  • Use a virtual CAB call to share what your CEO and leadership team are seeing across the market. Your customers are eager to know what you are seeing and experiencing. They expect your vantage point to be broader than theirs.
  • Provide an update on your priority list and what your company is doing (or continuing to do) to deliver superior value to CAB members (aka your best customers).
  • Brainstorm with customers on a key question you are wrestling with. Invite their collaboration.

Virtual CAB meetings are not sexy. But they are easy to run and can be highly effective. It’s a good way to stay connected when meeting in person is not in your budget.


3) Integrate your CAB program with formal account reviews

We all know that the main reason any company invests in a CAB program is to drive future revenue. Unfortunately, many companies never take the concrete step of formalizing the connection between what is learned in a CAB program and what is discussed in an annual account review with each CAB member. In fact, many companies do not conduct annual account reviews with their customers – at least how I define them.

These meetings are formal strategy meetings with a specific agenda. They are not operational meetings. You do not talk about a recent bad experience and corrective measures. You focus on the future and how you can help the customer achieve their business goals. Take this opportunity to be proactive; offer them advice based on what you learned in the CAB meeting. They will appreciate it.

An “annual account review” is a strategy-level meeting that takes the insights offered by the CAB and invites a more private conversation with each CAB member. The annual account review meeting is hosted by the sales leader. Members of the executive team participate in these customer meetings. This is where you focus on the immediate future and how your company can help this particular customer. This is when new revenue streams are often discovered.

It will take time for your organization to prepare for these meetings. But if you find that your marketing budget has been cut, deputize marketers to assist in the preparation of materials and information for these account reviews. Use this downturn to strengthen the sales-marketing relationship.


For more information . . .

With a specialty in CAB & Partner Advisory Board programs, Mike Gospe is a professional facilitator with 20+ years of advisory board experience. He’s helped some of today’s most innovative companies deliver more than 200 world-class meetings. He leads KickStart Alliance‘s Advisory Board practice.  Check out more of his best practices articles and videos on his CAB Resource Center. 

Contact Mike