Lately, I’ve received many calls from executives looking to start up a customer advisory board program for their company. Inaugural CAB meetings are especially important because it marks the first opportunity to not only introduce your CAB program, but to also put your best foot forward and make a good impression.I’ve been running CAB programs for clients for 10 years, and I have played with a variety of agenda models. For running a first CAB meeting, I’ve found the following type of agenda to be the most effective. (Other agenda models are used for successive CAB meetings.) This article concludes with 3 rules for your CAB agenda.
- Afternoon arrival
- Informal event (golf, tour of customer facility, etc) — optional
- Informal dinner
(Use this time to make introductions so you don’t have to spend agenda time on this on the following day)
- 7:30 am – breakfast
- 8:30 – Welcome and CAB overview
- 8:45 – Discussion topic #1 (i.e. how customers see their world)
- 10:15 – Break
- 10:30 – Host company overview (a la a “fireside chat” works best, not a corporate pitch)
- 11:00 – Discussion topic #2 (i.e. an investigation of possible investment opportunities)
- 12:00 – Lunch
- 1:00 – Discussion topic #3 (i.e. a timely “hot topic” as defined by customers)
- 2:15 – Break
- 2:30 – Customer prioritization (i.e. a ranking of the most important issues and opportunities raised today; how would customers like the host company to spend their money?)
- 2:45 – Closing comments
- 3:00 – Adjourn
WHY THIS AGENDA WORKS . . .
Rule 1: the agenda is all about the customer, not the host company!
Customers attend CAB meetings because they are eager to network with their peers and to discuss key drivers, trends, and issues that shape their business. Executives have few opportunities to do this, and vendors who take the time to build an agenda around customer-facing issues will be rewarded with high attendance. With that said, customers want to talk. They don’t want to be lectured.
Discussion topic #1 should be focused squarely on the customer. What are the trends shaping their business? What do they care about? What keeps them up at night? Share a slide summarizing recent trends or analyst predictions. Ask the customers to respond to them. Do they see the world as analysts and press describe? Or, do they see something different?
Company overview: Since this is the first CAB meeting, it is safe to assume that the attending customers may not share a common appreciation to the value offered by the host company. Customers also appreciate having some one-on-one time with the CEO. Have the CEO provide a 20 minute “fireside chat” company overview. This is a presentation with only a few slides (3-4!) where the CEO talks about how he/she sees the industry growing/changing and how the company relates.
Topics #2 and #3 will be specific to each company. However, they usually encompass an exploration of potential new investment/service/product offerings. While it is NOT appropriate to focus on specific tactical features, it is appropriate to ask customers how they view and prioritize various problem statements that the host company might choose to address with new product/service options.
Customer prioritization: Imagine a meeting room surrounded by annotated flip chart sheets taped to the walls. A lot of information and ideas have been covered. If we leave the meeting now, the host company may have trouble separating out the most important opportunities. Conclude the meeting with a prioritization and ranking discussion with the customers. Of all the ideas covered, how would they like the host company to spend their money?
Rule 2: allowing time for “aha!” moments.
As good as our agenda is (and it is very good!), often times the most interesting “aha” moments come during the breaks and over lunch. That’s why lunch is never a working meeting.
Rule 3: An agenda that respects the customers’ time
Why does the agenda end at 3 pm? Shouldn’t we go until 6 pm or even extend another day? Good questions. Answer: no. The higher the seniority of the attending customers, the less time they have in their schedules to offer you. There is nothing worse than having one or two customers leave in the middle of a discussion to catch a plane. It’s disruptive and awkward for the remaining customers who will then start looking at their watches.
For the first event, have the meeting end at 3 pm so there is ample time for them to catch a flight back home. The best feedback I’ve received in many of my CAB evaluation forms is, “I wish we had more time!” Always leave them wanting more. This is a testament to an engaging agenda that customers want to participate in. This is also an open invitation for marketing and sales folks to follow-up with CAB members to continue the dialog long after the CAB meeting has adjourned.
These are just a few tips for setting up a world-class inaugural CAB agenda. For more information, or to ask a question, please drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on CABs, check out my CAB Resources blog post.