It’s January. That means it’s CAB planning season! These six Customer Advisory Board best practices will ensure you design and deliver a best-in-class experience for both your executive team and your most important customers. This is how some of today’s most innovating B2B companies are paving the way for enhanced customer collaboration and strategic alignment.

1) Think programmatically

In 2020-2022, as physical distancing became the norm, the shift towards virtual interactions accelerated dramatically. CABs swiftly transitioned from day-long in-person meetings to a series of 90-minute virtual meetings scheduled over weeks or a few months. This transition not only made it easy for customers to participate without the need to travel, but also opened doors for global inclusivity and increased attendance. It also reduced cost. The most surprising outcome many executives discovered was that the value of the virtual series was actually on par with the value delivered by an in-person engagement. The same business outcome was achieved – to learn from customers, understand their priorities and needs, and ensure their value proposition remained relevant to customers and the evolving industry.

Virtual CAB meetings will continue in 2024. While you do lose the in-person aspect of a face-to-face meeting, companies gain a program that had multiple touchpoints instead of just the one in-person touchpoint. This allows conversations to grow over time and deepens the connection between executives and customers.

In planning for 2024, I have a few clients who have decided to maintain the focus on 100% virtual engagements. And, I have others who have opted for complete in-person gatherings. And a few are opting for a combination that includes one 90-minute virtual session followed by one in-person meeting in the fall.

There are many options — and they all will work great if you plan your CAB as a program, not an isolated meeting.

Read: What is a hybrid CAB program?

2) Elevate Customer Empathy and Support

In times of crisis, CEOs and executive teams have realized the importance of deepening their understanding of customer challenges and needs. The pandemic has reinforced the value of fostering empathy and providing robust customer support. This is not going away in 2024!

While any good engineer or business manager will rely on sound analytics, product evaluations, and competitive comparisons, at the end of the day, all final purchase decisions are driven by emotion. And, emotion is heavily influenced by trust.

  • Do your customers trust you to deliver the business value your company promises?
  • Do your customers trust that you care about them as a customer?
  • Do your customers trust that you will help them succeed on a personal, as well as a professional, level?
  • Do your customers trust that purchasing your product or service won’t make him or her look bad?

The implications of this premise are key. To deliver trust, you must first prove to them that you understand the problems they are trying to solve. And, you must be able to communicate that the reason your brand exists is to add value that will help your customers succeed. Without this understanding, your long-term success will be limited.

It may seem ironic, but your CAB is not about you. It’s about your customers and what you can do to help them succeed. By placing customer empathy at the forefront, CABs have strengthened relationships and built trust, leading to valuable long-term partnerships.

Read: Whoever understands the customer best wins!


3) Invest in Market Research

The last few years have been tough for businesses, and budgets have been cut. However, the need to maintain close contact with your best customers is more important now than ever before. Your CAB offers executives a unique form of executive-level market research. Through your CAB, you have a direct line to the voice-of-the-customer. And their needs and priorities are rapidly changing. For your company to survive, executives must be vigilant and maintain their fingers on the pulse of their most important customers.

CABs provide a sounding board for your team to test new ideas, innovations, and initiatives. And, CAB members will help you identify and avoid blind spots. Through your CAB, you will not only strengthen relationships, you will foster a customer-drive culture within your company.

If budget doesn’t allow for an in-person CAB meeting, then embrace virtual meetings. Or, invest at least in interviewing top customers. Market research need not break the bank.

Read: 3 Ways to keep your CAB afloat when your budget gets cut


4) Harness the full potential of your CAB

As the business landscape continues to evolve, companies must proactively assess the effectiveness and health of their CAB program. If you’ve been running your CAB for a while, you know how easy it is to fall into a rut. To ensure the optimal performance of your CAB, we recommend engaging the CAB Health Check service.

Are you pushing your executive team to have the right kinds of conversations with your best customers? Many companies make the mistake of lecturing to their CAB instead of inviting discussions.  It’s easy to throw a few slides together and call it a day; but that won’t harness the potential of your CAB. For that, you must invite the right conversations, structured in the right way.

And you must be willing to listen. That does not mean you must agree with everything they say. It just means you must “seek to understand”. In doing so, I guarantee you will learn things. And in return, you’ll find your customers will offer you more of their time (in conversations, endorsements, quotes, etc.). Listening creates bonding; bonding creates more opportunities for your customers to help your business grow.

If you are only hosting a single CAB meeting each year, you are leaving serious money on the table! Your CAB can do so much more for you.

Via this CAB Health Check service, we can help you identify and fill the gaps in your program. That’s how you can deliver a differented CAB experience.


5) Make sure you are asking the right customers the right questions

A common CAB problem is asking the right question to the wrong audience — for example, asking users to answer strategic business questions. They may have an opinion, but they are not the responsible party. Or worse: perhaps you are asking top ranking executives to answer feature/benefit questions (which will annoy them). 

There is no doubt that you and your executive team have many questions. A few categories include:

  • Business strategy questions
  • Operational questions
  • Customer readiness questions
  • Product questions
  • Use case questions
  • Competitive differentiator questions

The list goes on.

But not all of these questions are right for your CAB. Some are better used in product focus groups; others in user forums; and some are best addressed 1:1.

Aiming the right question at the wrong group will only hurt/confuse you. You must be highly selective. And you must be strategic in knowing what to ask, how to ask it, and which forum to use.

Read: Mapping the Right Questions to your CAB

6) Dovetail your CAB planning with your annual planning process

Let’s face it: your Board is more likely to respect feedback gathered from a CAB then from the marketing or product team. So, use your CAB to support and validate your business direction and priorities.

Here’s an example: for the past 3 months, I’ve been working with the president and his leadership team to integrate and align their CAB with his annual business planning process. The Board is looking for customer insight and validation on company strategy at the upcoming Board meeting. So we designed the next CAB agenda to explore these areas.

It makes a lot of sense to:

  • Use your CAB to test or validate your business assumptions & priorities before you present your plan to the Board.
  • Then, after the Board meeting, reconnect with the CAB to share how their input helped shaped the plan. 

This is why January is such a great month for planning — because you literally link your annual planning process and your CAB prep at the same time. There is really no better way to strengthen alignment across the organization while embracing customer input and feedback at every level.


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 250 world-class in-person & virtual customer meetings. He leads KickStart Alliance‘s Advisory Board practice.  Check out more of his Customer Advisory Board best practices articles and videos on his CAB Resource Center.

Contact Mike