This is a very common question: Should our CAB meeting include a guest speaker? At first glance, many marketers believe the answer is an obvious “yes”. However, behind this question is a false presumption.

Not long ago, two companies decided to include a guest speaker as a major draw of their agenda. A couple of CAB members offered the following comments in their post-meeting evaluations.

We didn’t need to have a guest speaker. I wanted to spend more time talking about the issues.

While it was interesting to meet the (celebrity) speaker, I learned absolutely nothing. He wasn’t able to tell me anything I didn’t already know.

What’s going on?

There is a hidden fear here that we should address head-on: what if I host a CAB meeting and nobody comes? It’s human nature to worry about this. And, this worry should indeed spark us to think carefully about the topics and engagement model for every agenda. However, when doubt creeps in, marketers feel that they may not be able to carry the agenda themselves. Hence, the interest in bringing in a guest speaker. To curtail this fear, it is best to go back to “CAB basics” and understand why executive decision makers are so interested in giving up their time to participate in your CAB meeting. These same three reasons are echoed over and over again.

  1. They are interested in networking with their peers to discuss topics of a strategic nature that are relevant to their business.
  2. Customers are eager to learn more about your vision and to influence your business plan so that it helps them achieve their own business goals.
  3. They believe you are genuinely interested in seeking their opinions and advice which they are eager to share with you . . . if only you would ask.

Achieving a 5-star rating on your CAB evaluations is always rooted in the interactive discussion, not the flash and pizzazz of a guest speaker. Always.

CABs vs. Conferences

So where do guest speakers best fit? If you are running a customer conference, having a guest speaker or celebrity could be awesome. In your user group or customer conference, the objective is to educate and entertain. World-class CAB meetings, on the other hand, are all about the discussion and interaction. Exploring trends and drivers. Exploring how their business growth is tied to yours. Remember the word “advisory” is in the title: Customer Advisory Board. They don’t want to lectured in your CAB. They want to talk. So, give your customers a chance to advise you.

Guest speaker? The exception to the rule

Now that I’ve made my case, in all fairness, I should provide a caveat: there is an exception to the rule. Here are the conditions that may indicate an outside speaker is appropriate:

  1. Your CAB program is fully established. It has been running successfully for several years. Your leadership team and your customers value the discussions. And, your company has been able to apply the insights you have learned.
  2. The basics of the first two CAB objectives (1-understanding the trends and drivers shaping your customers’ business, and 2-validating your business strategy against these trends and drivers) have already been clearly established.
  3. The group has expressed interest in being proactive and taking on “advanced” CAB objectives (i.e. 3-willingness to brainstorm or 4-collaborate on shared business opportunities).

If and when these three conditions are met, then spicing up the agenda with an outside speaker may make sense. But, proceed with caution! You don’t want to use the outside speaker as a crutch or an excuse not to thoroughly consider the desires and expectations of the group. How will your guest speaker push an interactive discussion forward? How will they inspire new directions of collaborative planning and prioritization? A TV celebrity talking about his career will not do this. An industry expert offering behind-the-scenes perspective on G5 technology and roadmaps expected for 2020 may be highly relevant. So, choose your speaker and topic with great care. At the end of the day, your leadership team must walk away having learned something new. And your customers must walk away thinking that the interaction was a good use of their time.

Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of getting low CAB scores as reflected in the customer comments above.

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