As COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease, businesses are wondering what it means for their Customer Advisory Board programs. Here’s how CAB programs are shaping up in 2022.

A return to normalcy?

Prior to March 2020, all CAB meetings were conducted in person. Most companies ran one CAB meeting per year, starting with a network reception the evening before. An interactive agenda the next day ran from 8:00 am – 3 pm, allowing ample time for CAB members to catch a plane to their next destination. The rise of COVID-19 pushed all CAB meetings to a virtual format, typically three or four 90-minute virtual meetings scheduled over a couple of quarters.

Will CAB programs move back to the pre-COVID model? I don’t think so. The new normal for CAB programs will likely include a hybrid program — but not hybrid meetings.

The best of both worlds

There is  no question that everyone missed the camradarie and collaboration that comes when we are physically together. Meeting in person to talk and break bread is an important part of human existence. And, in-person meetings have already been scheduled for the early months on 2022.

At the same time, we’ve learned a lot about how to make virtual CAB meetings work. Since virtual meetings are shorter, they work best when we separate the “lecture” portion of the agenda from the “discussion”. The “lecture” portion actually takes place prior to the meeting via either a prerecorded video or whitepaper that CAB members watch/read prior to the meeting. Thus, they come prepared to address a specific question for a specific topic that is defined ahead of time.

Each virtual meeting has a single discussion topic. When the meeting starts, we dive straight into conversation. This series of facilitated, fast-paced, interactive sessions allows the conversation to grow over time. And having multiple touch points with CAB members (instead of just one meeting per year) creates greater stickiness with these highly valuable customers.

Read: How one company is transforming their CAB into a virtual community

Read: The reinvention of the CAB – Part 2: Mapping the interactive journey

The virtual discussions are easy for me to join. I have really appreciated having these meetings during COVID. Most of my vendors canceled their CAB programs. I’m glad you didn’t.   — CAB member, CTO

What “hybrid” means for your CAB program

A hybrid program means that a company will now incorporate both in-person elements and virtual elements during the year. It does not mean that some people will virtually attend an in-person meeting! That won’t work because forcing a customer to virtually sit still and pay attention in a 6-hour meeting where others are attending in person is just painful. Too many distractions. The virtual attendee will have trouble following the conversations; the in-person attendees will forget there is a virtual attendee. It creates two groups. Both will fail to receive a world-class experience.

An example of the 2022 integrated CAB program model is shown in the graphic below.

Mike Gospe's 2022 CAB program

I especially like the inclusion of CAB “pod” discussions, where a couple of customers join a breakout conversation with a company executive. This allows for a much more specific conversation relevant to a customer subset. A company can host as many of these as they want.

Treating the CAB as a strategic asset

What is really happening here is that the host company is leveraging their CAB in multiple ways. The conversations are always fresh and relevant, and the learning happens throughout the year, not just at a single meeting.

This is what it means to treat your CAB as a strategic asset.

For more information . . .

Mike Gospe is a professional facilitator with more than 20 years of CAB experience. He’s helped some of today’s most innovative companies deliver more than 250 world-class CAB meetings around the world. He leads KickStart Alliance‘s CAB practice.

Check out more of his best practices articles and videos on his CAB Resource Center.

Or contact Mike directly