While the Customer Advisory Board (CAB) is most definitely not a sales meeting, it can have a profound affect on the sales momentum with key accounts. Janet Flores, a veteran SVP of Sales shares two of her success stories in this guest blog post.
As a Senior Sales Leader focused on delivering revenue and profit growth, I am always looking for high impact sales strategies and initiatives that will deliver results. Companies often invest in numerous low to medium impact sales initiatives hoping to achieve the desired growth and results through many different avenues. In my experience, I have found that investing in specific high impact initiatives –such as a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) – can have a profound impact on accelerating and achieving results when done well. There is a recipe for success that when followed, does not disappoint. I have participated in or led CAB’s for many years. Two recent examples from my professional experience reinforce why I keep the CAB strategy at the top of the sales initiative investment list!
Before I share my examples, it’s important to define what exactly a CAB is and why it’s different from any other customer event my colleagues and I might participate in. A CAB is a strategy-level focus group. It provides an opportunity for my executive staff (CEO and department VPs) to meet face-to-face with a small group of executive decision makers to talk about strategic issues of mutual interest. This is not a meeting where we parade product updates. And it’s most definitely not a sales meeting. Instead, we want to learn about our customers’ priorities. We talk about trends and drivers facing their business and industry. And, we look for opportunities where we can help them achieve their goals. In so doing, we discover untapped revenue opportunities and strengthen our relationships. It’s a win for everyone involved.
The first example was a family-owned business that did not have a CAB. They had good customer relationships, but no strategic forum to test ideas, build new executive relationships, and discuss their customer’s strategic priorities. As such, building an annual plan was challenging because we lacked deep customer insight. I believed a CAB could best fill this void and give us newfound confidence in our planning efforts. However, forming a CAB was a new idea to this organization and was not readily embraced as an investment. My CEO required convincing. So, we decided to hire a CAB expert who would interview select customers and ask what they thought about participating in such an activity. The results were astounding. It turned out that our customers were waiting for us to invite them to this type of meeting. They were eager to find new ways to harness the power of their relationship with us. Once the CEO saw the potential value it could bring to growing the business, this initiative moved forward. The members of the CAB contributed significantly to the growth of the company. In fact, the CAB program is now on its 6th year.
The second example is a Fortune 500 company that had an existing CAB for 10 years. However, the CAB really wasn’t a CAB as I defined it above; it was more of an operational focus group versus a strategic executive forum. It had always been run internally, and the energy and excitement about the CAB program had degenerated. In fact, it turned into a “death by PowerPoint” parade of product updates that no one enjoyed. One of my initiatives when I took over the sales leadership role was to re-engineer the CAB. This meant retiring some of the original customer attendees and seeding the seats with new senior-level executives. We even instituted a brand new CAB process. Customers loved the reformatted program. And, in the course of 12 months after the reboot of our CAB program, we more than doubled expected revenues from these CAB members! This was huge! We never would have found the clues to growing our business if we had not invested in a proper CAB.
I would not have found success with either CAB without the help of an outside expert and professional facilitator. Mike Gospe from KickStart Alliance provided the leadership I and my executive staff needed.
Additional CAB resources: