Customer advisory boards best practices


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Customer advisory boards are rapidly becoming a standard part of a company's marketing program. CAB meetings allow your executives to meet with a dozen or more of your most important customer decision makers. But not all CAB meetings are successful. A few of the secrets to positioning your CAB for success are shared in this mini-deck.

You can also learn more in my 2-volume set of books: The Flipchart Guide to Customer Advisory Boards and on my CAB blog:

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  • True differentiation can only be achieved when marketers know who they are selling to and why customers are buying. Understanding the “voice of the customer” is what drives successful marketers to be the best they can be.
  • This is a “voice of the customer” activity sample. It shows a variety of tactics and maps them to the type of content offered or discussed.
  • A company may choose to focus on only one main CAB objective, or all four, or some combination.
  • 1. Invite only your most strategic customers to participate. An advisory board is made up of your best customers – representatives of the 20% who provide you with 80% of your revenue. By having a board comprised of the "20%" you not only find out how to get more customers like them but also coming back. The main reason many boards fail is because they are made up of all types of customers, not just the 20% who make up the core of the business. In this improper case, the feedback is random and difficult to rationalize. Also, avoid inviting competing customers within the same market segment, as competitors will be leery of discussing their challenges in front of one another. 2. Don’t treat the CAB as a sales event. Often times, sales management will want to treat the CAB as an extended sales event. Do not let this happen. There are other formats and events for sales reps to be directly involved with their customers, demo products, and negotiate deals. The CAB is a business-level focus group designed to discuss, debate, and provide honest and direct insight and feedback on industry trends, business drivers, customer issues, and market opportunities that face your company. Treating the CAB as a thinly veiled sales event to a captive audience will be viewed as an unwelcome use of their time. They will likely not return to the next CAB meeting. 3. Set the right agenda. Begin with the end in mind: what vital information do you want to receive during the CAB? Be focused. Many times, companies try to force too much information into the CAB meeting, turning it into a five or six hour lecture from product managers with little time for discussions with customers. Instead, the best CAB sessions are made up of 80% facilitated discussion between the customers, with the executive team politely listening. 4. Invest in a facilitator. Customers often complain that CAB sessions hosted by a company executive are highly biased as they overtly drive the customers to a seemingly apparent conclusion. Using a facilitator can help create an unbiased atmosphere and a safe environment for customers to voice their views and experiences. 5. Be prepared to act on the information you collect. Although the CAB is an input and feedback session, not a decision-making body, customers will be eager to know what actions you will take based on the discussion. It is therefore imperative that you set an agenda that is sincere and that the attending executives are willing to entertain counter points of view. The basic research rule applies: Don't research something that you're not willing to change.
  • Customer advisory boards best practices

    1. 1. Designing a Customer Advisory Board for your business How to connect with your most important customers Mike Gospe KickStart Alliance
    2. 2. Do you know the “voice” of your customer?  How well do you know the business issues driving your customer’s decision process? Without this bit of strategic insight, your company’s vision may fail to take root or a well-intended product may turn out to be irrelevant or difficult to sell. 2013© KickStart Alliance
    3. 3. What is a Customer Advisory Board?  A CAB is a strategy-level focus group – a sounding board for your leadership team to learn from and better understand your most important customers.  CABs consist of a dozen or so customers, ensuring an intimate conversation.  CABs are invitation-only meetings; delegation should not be allowed.  CABs are not: • Sales meetings • Product focus groups • Social events 2013© KickStart Alliance
    4. 4. CABs & the “voice of the customer” model Read more about VOC models in The Flipchart Guide to Customer Advisory Boards, Volume 1: Is your company ready? 2013© KickStart Alliance
    5. 5. Four CAB Objectives 1. Gain a better understanding of the trends, drivers, and priorities shaping your customers’ businesses, and to explore how your company can become a more valuable partner in light of these influences. 2. Validate your company’s value proposition and strategic direction, ensuring your business is in sync with your customers’ needs and expectations. 3. Review, assess, or brainstorm product direction and opportunities for improving solutions, interaction, and customer satisfaction. 4. Collaborate on shared business issues, thereby strengthening the relationship between your executives and customer decision makers, and fostering peer-to-peer networking opportunities. 2013© KickStart Alliance
    6. 6. Typical CAB Format  Face-to-face meetings take place 1-2 times per year  Facilitated format to establish an unbiased environment  Round table discussions among customers  Hosted in a comfortable, relaxed offsite location  Typical Agenda • Welcome dinner (hosted the night before) • 9 am to 3 pm working session comprised of 3 – 5 topic areas concluding with a prioritization discussion on the most important action items/opportunities, as defined by the CAB members 2013© KickStart Alliance
    7. 7. Keys to your CAB Success  Invite only your most strategic customers to participate  Don’t treat the CAB as a sales event  Set the right agenda  Invest in a facilitator  Be prepared to act on the information you collect 2013© KickStart Alliance
    8. 8. The Flipchart Guide to Customer Advisory Boards, Volume 1: Is your company ready?  Written for executive leaders, this guidebook explores CAB strategies and helps readers assess their organizational, operational, and cultural readiness for embracing a CAB. • Discover if a CAB is appropriate for your company • See how executives use CABs to tune their company’s strategic direction • Learn where CABs fit into the overall “voice of the customer” (VOC model) • Study the Top 10 List of what all executives need to know about CABs Visit the blog: http://customeradvisoryboards.wordpress.com 2013© KickStart Alliance
    9. 9. The Flipchart Guide to Customer Advisory Boards, Volume 2: How to execute a world-class CAB meeting  Written for first time CAB managers and others who want to hone their skills, Volume 2 is your CAB operations manual. • View the master timeline for producing successful CAB meetings • Unlock the criteria for determining which customers to invite and how to invite them • Discover how to build an agenda that will engage customers • Review tips and tricks for working cross-functionally to prepare effective content and presentations • Know what to expect from a facilitator • Learn how to share CAB feedback internally so your organization can take action Visit the blog: http://customeradvisoryboards.wordpress.com 2013© KickStart Alliance
    10. 10. About KickStart Alliance A sales & marketing leadership consulting team Mike Gospe leads KickStart’s CAB practice  25+ years of marketing leadership experience (HP, Sun, plus start-ups)  Co-founded KickStart Alliance in 2002  10+ years of customer advisory board experience  Focus on B2B hi-tech companies  Author of B2B marketing leadership books • The Flipchart Guide to Customer Advisory Boards, Volume 1: Is your company ready? • The Flipchart Guide to Customer Advisory Boards, Volume 2: How to execute a world-class CAB meeting • The Marketing High Ground • Marketing Campaign Development 2013© KickStart Alliance
    11. 11. KickStart Alliance Inspiring Companies to become Customer-focused CONTACT US Mike Gospe Office: 650-947-8974 Cell: 650-464-7662 Email: www.kickstartall.com 2013© KickStart Alliance