Part 3: How to run an effective virtual CAB meeting

This is part 3 of a 3-part series on the reinvention of the Customer Advisory Board.

Running a virtual CAB meeting (or “Virtual Roundtable” – VRT) requires just as much preparation as it does to plan for a full day in-person agenda. This requires programmatic thinking. Each discussion module must build on the one that comes before. But once you figure out the framework and your topics, you must turn your attention to establishing the proper culture for your VRTs so they are effective and productive.

No one has time for a poorly run meeting

I spoke with Brian Gentile, Managing Director at 10X CEO, about his virtual conferencing best practices. 10X CEO is a CEO coaching organization that provides confidential peer advisory groups and executive coaching sessions to its members. His CEO group is spread around the country. In addition, Brian sits on the Boards of several companies. He’s no stranger to virtual board meetings. I asked him how he uses web conferencing to keep his meetings productive.

“Board meetings have become partially virtual over the past 5 years”, he explains. “As web conferencing as become so inexpensive and capable, some Board meetings are entirely virtual. Maybe 50% of six or eight meetings per year are not at all in person.”

The same reasoning is valid for Customer Advisory Boards. With the advance of technology, there is really no reason why CAB programs shouldn’t be taking more advantage of these tools.

Top 10 virtual CAB meeting best practices

Whatever web conferencing tool you use brings its own set of challenges. To ensure success, Brian recommends applying these ten best practices to CAB programs.

1. Keep the group small with no more than 12 attendees. The larger the group, the worse it is for encouraging collaboration and effective interaction.

2. Use a moderator. Effective meetings require a moderator to ensure rules of conduct are maintained and that people don’t talk over each other. For CABs, it is also impossible to moderate and participate as an equal at the same time. It’s best to outsource the function just as when you hire a facilitator for an in-person CAB meeting.

3. Arrive on time. Board meetings and CAB meetings are very strategic with high profile attendees. It’s important that everyone respect everyone else’s time.

4. Limit each virtual meeting (VRT) to 50 minutes. Allow participants 10 minutes to sign on. As such, meetings officially start 10 minutes after the hour.

5. Be prepared. All participants agree to have done their homework prior to each meeting. This usually includes familiarizing themselves with the agenda topic, reading any prep materials, and completing any preassigned action items before the meeting begins.

6. Use the gallery feature. When participating in a call, use the gallery mode so it is possible to see everyone and they can see you. Everyone uses the gallery mode unless they are presenting.

7. Mute yourself unless you are talking.

8. Do not speak unless the moderator has acknowledged you. Use the chat option to share comments with other participants. Use the “raise hand” feature to show the moderator you have a question or a comment.

9. Keep answers and statements brief and on point. Take longer conversations off-line.

10. Be respectful of the agenda and timing. Participants will likely schedule another meeting to begin immediately after yours ends, so it’s very important that the group stay focused. The moderator will help ensure this.

Delivering a successful business outcome

Once you start orchestrating web conferences and VRTs in a consistent manner, you’ll want to measure your success. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Track attendees and their level of engagement. It may take a few sessions for people to get comfortable with the new format. Allow time for you and them to figure out the interaction.
  • Stickiness. How many participants return for successive CAB VRTs? While expecting 100% repeat attendance is not likely, a high return rate is expected. Their continued engagement shows their interest and personal investment they are making in your CAB program. Be sure to interview them (informally) from time to time to see how they are doing and what you can do to improve the value of these VRTs.
  • Revenue is not the metric. Don’t make success about immediate sales with CAB members. The minute they smell a veiled sales meeting, they will bail.
  • Follow the 80/20 rule: The agenda for every VRT should be designed so that the CAB members talk 80% of the time. Your job is to listen. The moderator will help encourage customer cross talk.
  • The CAB program is not a single VRT. Remember, you are playing the long game. You’ll want to map out a 6-month interactive journey for your CAB members where each VRT topic/questions builds on the ones that came before.

Expanding CAB membership

A key benefit of incorporating virtual elements into your CAB program is that you can expand participation beyond the 12-CAB member limitation set for your in-person meetings. To do this, it is easy to segment your CAB member universe into several virtual communities. Geography, industry, and customer-type are three easy community dimensions. But, you can be as creative as you like.

As such, the generic model shared in Part 2: Mapping the interactive CAB journey can be multiplied any number of times. While the operational costs will be low, it will take time to orchestrate and execute your discussion effectively. You’ll want your CAB manager to have proper authority and responsibility for curating both content and the scheduling of these meetings.

Upon conclusion of each VRT, the agenda, results, and any action items must be carefully documented. You should also create a central repository to house this information so it can be easily accessed and referenced across your organization.

The reinvention of your CAB program begins now

In this 3-part series, we’ve introduced why CAB programs of the past will no longer be sufficient to capture the business value you need in the future. The core engagement strategy, objectives, and engagement style must change to reflect the changing norms due to COVID-19.

But none of this is a bad thing. It represents a huge opportunity to rethink the strategic relationships you have with your best customers.

In summary, you will be challenged to exchange the traditional CAB sprint (i.e. several weeks of frenzied action to prepare for an annual CAB meeting) in place of a routine process that feels more like addressing your Board of Directors (i.e. a predefined cadence of meetings that address precise topics and opportunities). Your team and your company will also benefit in new ways by more tightly integrating your CAB with your BOD.

How are you engaging with CAB members today? Don’t wait for things to get back to normal. Yesterday is gone. Look forward. Integrate virtual advisory board best practices into your CAB program. Your customers need you now.


For more information . . .

With a specialty in CABs, Mike Gospe is a professional facilitator with more than 18 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.  Check out more of his best practices articles and videos on his CAB Resource Center. Contact Mike