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KickStarting your CAB June 28, 2012

Posted by Mike Gospe in Customer Advisory Boards.
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Have you started planning your fall Customer Advisory Board meeting? If not, now’s the perfect time to be planning your next CAB. In today’s highly competitive market, it is more important than ever to know “the voice of your customer” and to use this knowledge to create compelling solutions that deliver real business value. A well-run CAB program is a highly effective tool to gain feedback on your own strategic initiatives and company direction while solidifying relationships with your most important and influential customers.

In contrast, a CAB is unlike any other customer engagement program. CAB meetings are not sales meetings, but the outcome can dramatically impact a company’s roadmap and sales pipeline. The CAB meeting is not a glorified user group meeting, although it can promote education, engagement, and energy surrounding a company’s products and use cases. Not sure where to get started, check out our CAB Resource Center.

Here are answers to a few FAQs about CABs:

Q: What is a CAB?

A: Simply put, a CAB is a business-level focus group – a sounding board for your leadership team to learn from and better understand your most strategic customers. It presents an opportunity to test ideas, preview business plans, and solicit feedback that will guide your company and product roadmaps. This representative group of customers meets in person once or twice during the year to offer advice and perspective on your company direction, value proposition, and product suite. In alternative quarters, they may interact with you via webinars or through email correspondence. The CAB program represents a very effective way to validate that your company vision and product direction are in sync with your customers’ business plans and priorities.

Q: When should I start planning our CAB?

It takes 12 weeks to plan, on average. Although the timeline can be accelerated, it is best to avoid the temptation of throwing a CAB together quickly. Customers can tell sloppy work. Consider that this is the most important meeting you will have all year. Think I’m kidding? The CAB represents a dozen of your most strategic customers, in the room with you at the same time, to review and respond to critical issues facing their business and yours. You don’t want to risk being unprepared for this meeting. At stake is your reputation and your customers’ loyalty.

Additionally, your customers are busy people, just like you. Their calendars are already getting booked for the next quarter. You need to give them a heads-up so they can save the date for you. You’ll also benefit from having enough time to work with your customers to build, critique, and update the agenda as you work the CAB-prep process.

Q: When planning a CAB, what’s my first step?

A: When determining whether or not a CAB is right for your business, you need to consider your objective and reasons for wanting to hold a CAB in the first place. There are three primary objectives for a well-run CAB. A company may want to achieve just one, or all three of these general objectives:

  • To better understand the priorities, drivers, and trends shaping their customers’ businesses, and to explore how your company can become a more valuable partner.
  • To validate your company’s value proposition and to explore associated investment opportunities for offering additional products and services.
  • To strengthen the relationship between your executives and the key decision makers within your customers’ organizations, and to foster peer-to-peer networking opportunities among and between your customers.

If the above objectives mesh with your interests, then a CAB is the right vehicle for you. This is a critical first step because CABs are often confused with having other objectives. For example, the following objectives are not appropriate for a CAB :

  • To promote a sales event to drive immediate bookings. Instead, host a breakfast series with invited customers to talk about specific applications and use cases for your products and services.
  • To gather informally with a large group of customers, and without an agenda, to socialize. Instead, add a customer-appreciation day at the end of your annual user conference.
  • To prioritize product features. Instead, hold a product focus group with users.
  • To discuss customer support issues unique to each customer. Instead, set up a quarterly account review process/meeting with these key customers.

Q: We can run the event ourselves, so what’s the value of a facilitator?

A: Running a successful CAB yourself isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when you want to create an atmosphere that fosters open communication unhindered by the personal biases of the host company. It’s is also a challenge to balance managing the meeting while actively participating in it. Partnering with a professional facilitator can help do both. A good facilitator will provide the following value:

  • Ensuring the meeting starts and ends on time and the discussions stay on track
  • Guiding the interaction where customers do 80% of the talking, with company executives listening
  • Capturing key insights, recommendations, and action items on flipcharts, making it easy for the group to follow the discussion

Yet, I believe the single, most valuable contribution a facilitator makes is in being able to summarize each discussion by distilling the many points into a crisp summary that addresses the strategic topic. A good business-focused professional facilitator will be able to see the path through the forest and offer a conclusion. In addition, a quick-minded facilitator will be able to recommend obvious (and not-so-obvious) action items.

These are just a few of the many CAB-related questions we’re asked. For additional information on best practices, agendas, and our CAB services, please contact Mike Gospe or visit our CAB Resource Center.

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