The Customer Advisory Board agenda must be driven by your CAB objectives. Not the other way around. Once you and your team have a shared understanding of what you want to achieve, then you can start focusing on the details. The inaugural CAB meeting is especially important because it marks the first opportunity not only to introduce your CAB initiative, but also to establish a baseline understanding of the vision and mission that drives your company. Here’s the ideal agenda for your first CAB meeting.

Day 1: Focus on introductions

  • Afternoon arrival
  • Reception
  • Informal dinner

The intention here is to introduce the players so you don’t have to spend time on this during the main meeting. This can save you as much as 45 minutes on the next day’s agenda. More importantly, the customers will arrive at your meeting on day 2 with some familiarity with each other. They will feel more relaxed when it comes to interacting and sharing their perspectives during the day.

Day 2: The main event

  • 7:30 – Breakfast
  • 8:30 – Welcome and CAB overview
    • Your CAB sponsor will kick off the meeting, then pass the baton to the facilitator who will describe how the day will unfold.
  • 8:45 – “Trends & drivers” discussion
    • Your customers come eager to talk. So let them have the floor to share some important information with you. This is a fast-paced discussion designed to break the ice and establish a framework of how your customers see their world. Is it the same view as what your executives see? You’ll want to pay careful attention here because this may be the most important discussion!
  • 9:25 – Host company’s strategy & vision presentation
    • This is where your CEO or CAB sponsor shares your view of trends & drivers. However, this is not your standard corporate pitch. Think of it as a Rooseveltian “fireside chat” type of conversation.
  • 10:00 – Break
  • 10:30 – Discussion topic #1
    • This is the first of two “deep dive” strategic conversations. This is carefully chosen based on your CAB objectives and what you want to learn from the group. You spend 10 minutes setting up the discussion. The facilitator guides the next hour.
  • 12:00 – Lunch
  • 1:00 – Discussion topic #2
    • This is the second of two “deep dive” strategic conversations. It is run exactly like discussion topic #1.
  • 2:30 – Break
  • 2:45 – Customer prioritization exercise
    • This is a wrap-up type of conversation. During the day, your facilitator will capture many interesting ideas, suggestions, and notes. If you leave the meeting without some sort of prioritization, it will be difficult to determine what’s most important. Your facilitator has many tricks to use here to guide the customers in prioritizing what two or thee topics are “worthy of further conversation”.
  • 3:15 – Closing comments
    • Your facilitator will summarize what was discussed and the resulting priorities and next steps. Then, the CAB sponsor is invited to add his or her final thoughts and thank the group for their participation.
  • 3:30 – Adjourn

Why this agenda works

It’s all about the customers. They attend CAB meetings because they are eager to network with their peers and to discuss and compare notes regarding key trends, drivers, and issues that shape their businesses. Customer executives have few opportunities to do this. Vendors who take the time to build an agenda around customer-facing issues will be rewarded with high attendance. Customers want to talk, so let them.

A few FAQs about this agenda

1. Day 2 ends at 3:30. Shouldn’t we go all day?

No. The higher the seniority of the attending customers, the less time they have for you. There is nothing worse than having one or two customers leave in the middle of a discussion to catch a plane. It’s disruptive and awkward for the remaining customers who will start looking at their watches. For the first CAB meeting, keep the agenda tight and short. This allows ample time for customers to catch a flight in the evening.

2. What feedback about our CAB meeting should we expect?

The best feedback received in many CAB evaluations is the following: “I wish we had more time!” And, “this was truly a good use of my time!” Statements like these offer true validation that you’ve hit on something special. It’s a testament for having an engaging, valuable agenda. And it’s an invitation to continue the CAB dialog.

3. Should we include a guest speaker?

No. Here’s a blog post that tells you why.

4. What about the breaks? Should we cover a topic during lunch?

As valuable as you believe your agenda will be, often times the most important eye-opening conversations happen during the breaks and lunch. Be cool. Be flexible. Allow the customers to engage you in conversation during the breaks and lunch. And, by all means, don’t you disappear during these important times.

5. What’s the agenda for the next CAB meeting?

With a successful inaugural CAB meeting under your belt, you now have a lot of credibility with your CAB members. They understand how these meetings work and will be eager to continue the dialog, giving you a lot more flexibility regarding the breadth and depth of your next agenda. Based on the synchronized interest of your customers and your executive staff, you may decide to augment your next CAB meeting with some of the following:

  • Cover more topics via a longer agenda — either running a full day or day-and-a-half.
  • Breakouts where subgroups can explore a topic in more detail.
  • An actual “work session” where customers can team up with you to work on an issue or build a plan.
  • Customer-led discussions about use cases or best (strategic) practices.

Whatever you decide, make sure that every CAB meeting is guided by your CAB objective.

These are just a few reflections of CAB agenda best practices. You can find additional information in The FlipChart Guide to Customer Advisory Boards Volume 2. Or just leave a comment with your questions.

What to read next: 3 Tips to start planning your next CAB meeting

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