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A tale of 2 CABs: feedback from the front lines May 13, 2010

Posted by Mike Gospe in Customer Advisory Boards.
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Last week, I concluded working on 2 CABs – one in the pharmaceutical space, the other in logistics and transportation.  While both businesses are about as different as you can get, both were holding their inaugural CAB meeting and used an agenda based on the best practice agenda I shared in a prior blog post.  I facilitated one of the events; in the other, I coached the executive team to design their CAB and prepare one of their own executives to facilitate the session.  In each case the agenda worked very, very well.  Here are a few insights I learned along the way.

  • CAB customers highly value networking with their peers: Attendees included senior decision makers who were eager to compare notes with their peers.  In fact, a majority of attendees knew the other participants either personally, or at least by reputation.
  • Set ground rules early to keep the meeting on track: By setting ground rules upfront (prior to the event, and during the introductory remarks), the discussion was kept at a strategic level.  At no time did either meeting degrade into a  “complaint session.”

  • Customers don’t want to be lectured: Each agenda was purposely light on presentation.  We wanted the customers to do 80% of the talking.  And they did.  Slides were used to set up a discussion topic, then the customers responded, offering some keen perspective that triggered comments from their peers.

  • Take care to focus on topics relevant to all attendees: Customers who attended the logistics and transportation CAB represented a variety of industries: food & beverage, construction, retail, manufacturing.  While this diversity was wonderful for broad supply-chain-related topics, the same diversity hindered discussion on topics that proved relevant for only one or two of the industries.  This became apparent when the host company was exploring potential future services.

  • Always be flexible: Flexibility is key to a successful CAB.  A case in point is how we handled #4.  The team had not anticipated this.  Yet, even when (especially when!) customers find a topic uninteresting, it can be incredibly insightful to understand why.  So, that’s what we did.  We spent a few minutes to understand, then we quickly, smoothly moved on to the next topic.

CAB meetings are unlike any other meeting you will run.  Finesse is required to design the agenda, produce and share content that sets up discussion without leading the customers to a pre-ordained conclusion,  engage both customers and executives in a positive, constructive, and rewarding CAB program.  Both companies leveraged this agenda format to great success, with all customers eager to return for the next CAB meeting!

Looking for more information on CABs?  Visit my CAB Resources blog post. Or, contact me for more information.  Whether you are looking for a CAB planner and facilitator, or just a sounding board or coach, I have more information to share.

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