If you are thinking about hosting a Customer Advisory Board meeting sometime in September – November, now’s the time to start planning. Here’s your first set of action items.

CABs are not just another meeting you can rush to put together at the last minute. The best run, most effective CABs take months to plan. The rule is true: the value you get out of your CAB is directly related to the thoughtfulness and careful thinking you put into it. Here’s how to start your planning.

1) Start with your objective, not your invitation list

In the rush to lock in logistics its common to review your customer list first to see who you want to invite. Don’t do this! Success is not about “butts in seats.” Success is about getting the right people to attend who can answer your most important questions. And to understand who you should invite, you must first understand your objectives for the CAB. There are four types of CAB objectives. Depending on which one you choose to focus on, you’ll end up with a specific agenda, and ultimately a tuned invitation list. So, let your objective lead the way.

2) What do you want to learn?

This can be a challenging step because the right questions to ask, and how to ask them, don’t usually present themselves in a casual hallway conversation. It requires careful thought. Sometimes the harder question is: What do we plan to do with the information we collect? The CAB is a wonderful and unique form of market research. You are in a room with a dozen decision makers from your most important customers. What do you want to ask them? What can you learn from them about their expectations, interests, future investment areas, etc? If at the end of the meeting you reflect, “Well, that was nice, but I didn’t really learn anything new,” then you’ve wasted a precious opportunity. Think hard about this. What are your “big questions”? And think hard about what you will be prepared to do based on what you hear.

3) Consider hiring a professional facilitator or a CAB coach

You have a dozen priorities you are managing at any given time. Do you have the bandwidth to guide an effective CAB? If not, consider hiring an outside expert to assist you. The best CAB facilitators will help you in every step of the process, including guiding you through action items 1 and 2 illustrated above and the many steps that follow. It is customary for the CAB preparation process to take 3 – 4 months. There are multiple options to choose from. Some companies prefer a full-service CAB engagement (where they help you prepare for the meeting, facilitate the meeting, and provide a CAB plan-of-record report following the meeting). Other companies want to host the meeting themselves but value having a CAB coach in the wings to help keep them on track. We can help you in either case.

Ultimately, your CAB experience will be a direct result on how you address items 1, 2, and 3 above. And it’s never too early to start kicking ideas around to start your own creative process. It’s fun and rewarding for both your team and your CAB customers.

4) Learn more

While CAB meetings can feel a bit intimidating, don’t let that get in the way of thinking big and having fun. More and more companies are embracing CABs as a key component of their annual planning process. Here are a few resources to answer some of the most common CAB questions and get you started on your path to hosting a world-class CAB meeting. Enjoy!

KickStart Alliance CAB Facilitation services

KickStart Alliance CAB Coaching services

For more information on CAB best practices, check out this short slide set or email Mike Gospe.