Companies are starting to plan for their spring Customer Advisory Board meetings now. We all hope that business travel and in-person meetings will return this year; but it’s wise to plan for several options. This plan has a heavy virtual component, but with a hopeful in-person element (which can easily be transitioned to virtual if conditions require.) Here’s a peak at the newest integrated CAB model. (You can view a larger image here.)

The CAB is a program, not an event

When talking about your CAB internally and with CAB members, strip the word “event” from your vocabulary. The word “event” connotes a “one-off” (happens only once) experience associated with conferences, guest speakers, or a marketing launch. This is the exact opposite of what your CAB should be.

In fact, the word “event” cheapens the strategic value associated with your CAB. Your CAB is a strategy-level market research initiative; it is not an industry conference or marketing event.

Successful CAB programs are programmatic. Your program should include both virtual and in-person touch-points that take place throughout the year, including CAB member interviews, producing pre-meeting materials, full-CAB and breakout meetings, and a CAB member appreciation element at the end of the year. It is through a program that you actually harness the full potential of your CAB group.

How to plan an integrated CAB program

I offer this graphic as a simple example. (There are several important variations for managing regional as well as global CAB programs which will be shared in our CAB Masterclass, beginning January 19, 2022.)

There are 5 stages to an integrated program:

1. Plan: align internal stakeholders; solicit CAB member input on the program design (including their willingness/comfort to travel).

2. Kickoff your CAB season: the first CAB meeting will be virtual.

3. Collaborate in “pods”: create CAB subgroups for small group discussions. Discussions may happen virtually, or if people are local, perhaps in person.

4. Explore topics in greater detail: we hope travel restrictions will ease post Omicron. Plan for an in-person full-day CAB meeting in September. But, have a back-up plan for transitioning to another virtual meeting or two, if needed. It’s a good idea to plan for both possibilities at the same time.

5. Show your appreciation: a customer appreciation gathering can be either virtual or in-person, pending COVID restrictions.

Each stage builds off of the prior one. I often refer to CAB planning like playing a good game of chess: you win by thinking several steps ahead. It all starts by wrestling with these two very important questions:

  • What do you want to learn from your CAB?
  • What are you prepared to do with the information & guidance you collect?

Based on your answers, the structure of your CAB program will begin to take shape. It will become clear how to set the context for your program in the Kickoff meeting, what should be the topics for the collaborative ” pod” sidebar discussions, what pre-meeting materials will be required, how this information will crescendo in a full-day agenda for an in-person CAB meeting, and ultimately what business outcome you’ll achieve at your program’s end.

Virtual engagement will continue

We discovered in 2020 and 2021 that virtual CAB meetings work. When carefully orchestrated, they allow for excellent, high-quality exchanges between customers and company executives. These conversations are focused and fast-paced. Some people don’t like them because they feel less personal. Other executives love them because they can schedule virtual calls regardless of time zone differences; hence, they can reach a broader segment of CAB members who would not be able to travel. The key is understanding where and how to incorporate virtual elements, as they will remain an important component in your program.

For more information on CAB planning . . .

Read: How to make your CAB “world-class”

Read: 5 rules for designing your best CAB

Attend our 5-part live online CAB Masterclass, beginning January 19, 2022

CAB Masterclass

Join Mike Gospe, CAB strategist and facilitator, for a personalized, hands-on, live online training series that revolves around your CAB program. Get the guidance and answers you need to execute your best CAB program with confidence.

Live online session begins January 19, 2022