Attack of the CABs!

By Rob Jensen Most executive engagement programs go extremely well, deliver outstanding results, and leave host companies—and more importantly, customer advisory board (CAB) members themselves—pleased with the value of their participation. But although proactive preparation, communication and internal reviews mitigate most potential issues, unplanned problems may still arise. Here are a few scenarios we’ve encountered at Ignite Advisory Group and the guidance we provided to fix them. Rogue Executives Executive speakers may sometimes go off point, and lead the meeting off track. One CEO kicked off a meeting with his company’s standard investor relations presentation, until the executive attendees urged him to engage them on the guidance that he originally sought. Another C-level executive used his introductory comments to talk ad-nauseam about his yoga class, with his attending direct reports powerless to stop him (until we did). What to do:
  • Choose a high-ranking executive sponsor who has real influence to oversee the CAB program. This will ensure they add value to (and don’t detract from) the program.
  • Share the CAB mission and objectives with executives and program participants so that they understand that meeting is to gather member input into corporate strategies and roadmaps.
  • Proactively review the meeting content and presentations to eliminate surprises. Don’t allow your execs to skip these prep meetings.
  • Secure an experienced meeting facilitator (ideally a third party who does not report to company executives) who knows when and how to tactfully steer the discussion in the right direction and keep the meeting on track.
Meeting Crashers Surprises can test even the most seasoned CAB professionals, particularly when they involve people from your company, most notably your superiors. For example, a number of host-company employees—including sales reps whose customers were members of the board, new employees told to attend for edification purposes and product development executives who assumed they should be a part of the discussion—unexpectedly showed up at one meeting. What to do:
  • Engaging a strong CAB executive sponsor and proactively communicating your expectations will also help eliminate on-site surprises.
  • Ensure that the ratio of host company attendees to customer attendees doesn’t exceed 2:1. If 14 customers attend your next meeting, no more than seven company attendees should attend.
  • Engage executive management to review and approve host company attendees, then have the executive sponsor ask unexpected guests to leave if necessary.
Demanding CAB Members While most CAB members are accommodating and professional, you may get the occasional prima donna who demands special attention. A huge customer of the host company who was a CAB member insisted on bringing five additional colleagues, then demanded a coveted seat near the window for each. What to do:
  • Set meeting expectations ahead of time. Remind CAB members that their invitation is non-transferable.
  • Engage an objective third-party facilitator to take the heat off the host company when sticky situations arise and create a win-win compromise that works for everyone. In this instance, we negotiated that the company have two (not all five) employees attend, and provided the best seats available that still served the meeting.
Wild Social Activities Although CAB social activities are subjective and can vary depending on the host company corporate culture, the best CAB social activities should enable deeper communication and relationship building. A quiet dinner in a private room will often suffice. Activities that are too over-the-top, physically demanding or cater to the interests of a minority of members are not recommended. One company held its CAB social event at a gun range, and provided a selection of high-powered weapons for members to shoot at will. They offered an open bar but took no safety precautions and offered no instruction. Fortunately, no one was injured. What to do:
  • Target interesting activities that encourage interaction, ideally at a location unique to the meeting city.
  • Obtain approval from the CAB executive sponsor for any social activity.
Good planning, proactive communication and a strong, supportive executive sponsor should be enough to mitigate most CAB surprises. If something does go awry, your best guide should be the CAB charter, what best serves the overall program, and, most importantly, what’s best for the CAB members themselves. If you are interested in learning more about overcoming CAB management challenges, check out CustomerAdvisoryBoard.org, the largest independent professional association dedicated to helping CAB managers achieve success. Rob Jensen is vice president of marketing for Ignite Advisory Group, a consultancy that helps B2B companies manage their customer and partner advisory board programs. Rob has spent over 20 years in marketing, communications and business development leadership positions with leading enterprise software and technology companies. In addition, Rob has specialized in initiating, managing and facilitating customer and partner advisory board programs in the U.S. and abroad. He can be reached at rob.jensen@igniteag.com.

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