The Customer Advisory Board (CAB) program has always relied on personal human connection. But when meeting in person is not an option, is the CAB dead? Hardly! In fact, it is more important now. Here’s how one enterprise company is transforming their CAB into a virtual community.

A story of digital transformation

The CMO at a technology firm that specializes in digital transformation kicked off her CAB program in 2019. The inaugural meeting produced keen insights with customers eager to continue the dialog. Then COVID-19 happened.

While many businesses felt the immediate pain due to lock-downs, hers saw the reverse. Her customers (all B2B companies) were accelerating investments to improve their online business models while keeping their employees productive, safe, and secure. Their business realities were changing quickly and they needed help, reassurance, and practical advice from their most important vendors. As a result, her business picked up in Q1 and Q2. But would it continue? Or would it come to an immediate halt in Q3 or Q4? She needed to take the pulse of her customer community.

Re-imagining the Customer Advisory Board

The 2019 engagement model of a networking dinner followed by a full day meeting would no longer work. She moved to a virtual engagement based on bite-sized touch points that included:

  • A virtual engagement model spanning 4 months (July – October).
  • Interviewing CAB members in May and June with the findings shaping the structure of the virtual community.
  • A prerecorded podcast of the CTO summarizing changes to the strategic roadmap due to COVID-19.
  • Four one-hour virtual roundtable discussions, each one focused on a specific question.

Read: The Reinvention of the Customer Advisory Board, Part 2: Mapping the Interactive CAB Journey

What we learned

While there were many technology-related questions CAB members wanted to ask in the roundtables, the main question was unspoken: would the vendor be in business in 2021? (This was expressed during the CAB member interviews.) CAB members wanted more than just a roadmap. They wanted to feel the vendor’s empathy for the market. And, they wanted to justify their faith that the CEO’s leadership team was committed to outlasting COVID-19.

  • Executives are suffering from “Zoom overload”, spending between 4 – 7 hours each day on video calls. Any calls longer than 90 minutes will result in them multitasking.
  • CAB members don’t want to be lectured or presented to. They want to participate in a strategy-level conversation.
  • CAB members want to work with vendors who can provide real help (not selling).
  • CAB members, almost universally, told us they would be simplifying their supply chain. Was the vendor at risk? Maybe.
  • Less is more: a focused one-hour video call produces a wealth of customer insight when moderated correctly.

As one CAB member shared after the first virtual roundtable:

Thank you for continuing the CAB in COVID times. It’s important to hear from my peers on their challenges and how they are solving complex data problems today. This was a great session, and I love the shorter discussions. Looking forward to the others.

Enabling the CAB Community

Her new CAB program doesn’t stop here. She has plans for starting a private Slack channel to invite ongoing dialog (which a member of her team will curate.) She’s also pursuing a few CAB members to help her write a “CTO’s guide for digital transformation in the COVID-19 era.”

Small steps like these invite her CAB virtual community to stay connected in ways that help both her and each other.

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With a specialty in CABs, Mike Gospe is a professional facilitator with 20 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