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Welcome to 2012 CAB season – have you started planning your customer advisory board? January 23, 2012

Posted by Mike Gospe in Customer Advisory Boards.
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Sunshine is breaking through the recessionary clouds of the past few years. Signs of cautious optimism are sprouting everywhere, giving hope that 2012 will be a pivotal year that will show continued improvement in the global economy. Many companies report a stronger-than-expected Q4, the DOW is moving forward, and most business people I know have greeted the new year with a smile. This is why now is the perfect time to planning your Spring Customer Advisory Board meeting.

Quietly over the past few years companies have been investing in a CAB program. They’ve carefully selected a dozen or so of their most strategic customers, engaged them in an ongoing dialog about their business plans, priorities, and trends shaping their customers’ businesses, and they’ve been listening. These companies are now poised to accelerate their sales pipeline in 2012 precisely because they’ve kept contact with the decision makers and invited them to influence the company roadmap. But it’s not too late for everyone else.

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.

CABs are strategic investments that cater to the long-term strategic relationship company executives have with their best customers. Companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 will tell you they are well worth the investment. And now is the perfect time to build your own plan.

Ready to get started?

Here are a few tips to set you on your way:

1) The CAB is a program, not an event. It represents a chapter in a continuing dialog. While the discussion at the CAB meeting will be center stage for a while, the most important discussions will take place offline and after the event. Keep that in mind as you plan your inaugural meeting. Follow-up is the key to a successful relationship with your customers.

2) It takes 12 weeks to plan. Avoid the temptation to throw a CAB together quickly. Your customers are busy people, just like you and your team.  You need a runway to get on their calendars, and a 12 weeks “heads up” is usually enough time. You’ll also benefit from having enough time to build, critique, and update your agenda as you work the CAB-prep process. Don’t allow company executives (or an outside facilitator) to parachute in at the last minute.

3) Do your research before you begin. Search for CAB best-practices online. I’ve put together a “CAB Resource Center” with links to a number of articles, case studies, and tips for success. Take advantage of these free resources.

2012 is the year of the CAB. Consider it as part of your integrated marketing campaign.

Good luck, and good marketing!

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