Most companies run a CAB that is disconnected from their annual executive planning offsite. This is a missed opportunity. Here is a simple case study of how one CEO directly tied his executive planning offsite to his CAB. The result was an “a ha!” moment heard around his company.

Let’s take a step back: You’ve created a vision, operational guidelines, and strategic priorities for your company. But, how well do these actually connect with your most important customers? Many companies are moving so fast there is little time to conduct any in depth market research. There is a short-cut: as you explore and debate these elements internally, consider using your CAB as a market research tool to validate your hypothesis and test your strategy.

I’ll go one step further and suggest that for every question your executive team debates at your annual business planning offsite, there is a corollary question that should be asked of your CAB members. However, you just can’t rush forward to ask the question in the same way you would debate it internally. You need to rephrase the question in terms your customer will care about. You need to ask them a question they can actually answer. Here’s what I mean . . .

Suppose you are debating the merits of focusing on three new market segments next year. Undoubtably, your team has collected a variety of projections and forecasts. This was exactly the situation that a recent client of mine was discussing at their annual executive offsite. Would this shift of markets accelerate growth? Were all market segments equal in value? How should the company balance vertical priorities given the finite resources available? The CEO decided to use his CAB to get some extra input.

Executive Planning Offsite (held in January)

Discussion topic: Market segment prioritization

Internal question: We’ve been addressing a horizontal market for the past few years. Should we turn our attention to specific vertical industries? Would a vertical focus drive more revenue, more quickly, than if we stay focused on a horizontal market play?

Output: After a robust internal discussion, no clear decision was reached. The team seemed to fall back into their historical go-to-market approach.

The CEO was uncomfortable leaving this decision without getting some customer input. He decided to make this one of the discussion topics at their next CAB meeting.

CAB meeting (held in May, 4 months later)

Discussion topic: Market trends shaping your (the customers’) future business growth?

CAB question: With regards to the next two-to-three years, where is your business growing, what is your most important prioritiy, and how are you planning to address it?

Strategy behind the question: The CAB was made up of companies from a variety of industries (healthcare, manufacturing, retail, technology). The CEO was curious to know what industry trends were most likely to impact which industries the hardest. Further, he wanted to get a sense of which companies, and by extension which vertical industries, might be poised to invest more, faster in their technology.

Output: The CAB discussion was eye-opening. There was a clear revelation of which industries were more likely poised for growth than others as it related to an investment in the CEO’s technology and solutions. The stories and perspectives shared by the CAB members provided key information that allowed the CEO and his staff to reframe their business hypothesis. To be fair, the CAB was only one vector used to shape the new strategy. But it was an important one because of the stories shared by the CAB members. The CAB was able to articulate growth opportunities based on real implications to real customers. This level of input, and frankly a level of new-found empathy for their customers, helped the CEO and his executive team rethink their strategy and fill in a number of gaps.

Knowing what questions to ask and how to ask them

There are some questions that customers cannot directly answer, such as, which segments should we prioritize? Customer don’t know, and frankly don’t care about the inner workings of your company. However, they care deeply about how your priorities can help them succeed. To get perspective, it is often helpful to understand the trends and drivers affecting their business growth and how they are responding. In asking these CAB variation questions, you will find clues as to which market segments are more important to them and ultimately more profitable for your own business. That way, you can more effectively align your business growth with the needs and expectations of how and where your best customers are growing.

This is why your CAB should be directly connected to your annual executive planning offsite and process.

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Mike Gospe is a professional CAB facilitator.

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