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Industry Association for Client Advisory Council Managers

Managing or Planning a Customer Advisory Board Program?

An Introduction to Customer Advisory Boards:

A Customer Advisory Board (CAB), also known as a Client Advisory Council, is a B2B sales & marketing program. The program involves regularly convening a small group of influential customers who have a vested interest in helping to shape the host company’s strategy. A well-designed customer advisory board will provide a forum for peer networking while enabling all members to develop solutions to grow their businesses.

Business is personal. Now more than ever it’s imperative to build deeper relationships with your best customers. It’s well known that your top 20% of clients typically generate 80% of your revenue. Engaging key decision makers in these accounts through a Client Advisory Council or board will deliver:

  • Early warnings of shifts in customer needs and emerging opportunities (Market Research)
  • New Product Development feedback (Innovation)
  • Reduce customer attrition and churn, especially among Customer Advisory Board members (Customer Loyalty)
  • Advice on approaching and appealing to similar customers, including referrals (Sales)
  • Intelligence on competitor’s tactics and strategies – what’s working and what’s not (Market Intelligence)
  • A Customer Advisory Board can drive significant new revenue if managed effectively!
  • A CAB is NOT a Board of Directors with fiduciary responsibility
  • A CAB is NOT a sales event
  • A CAB is NOT a focus group
  • A CAB is NOT a customer complaint session
  • A CAB is NOT a presentation to customers

It is imperative that the customers around the table feel like valued advisors and fully understand their roles on the board. The last thing they want (and the last thing YOU want) is for them to be “sold to” under false pretenses. The damage done is such a scenario can be long-lasting and very costly.

A CAB is not a time to do “feature/function” product demos or announce special pricing. Remember, CABS are strategic in nature and are meant to test ideas, build and strengthen executive relationships, and discuss the customers’ strategic priorities. As the host, your job is to listen 20% of the time while the customers talk 80% of the time.

Third party facilitation is imperative if you want to avoid the risk of having your CAB meeting go off the rails in an undesired direction. Having an experienced and neutral party leading the discussion will avoid the possibility of the conversations going down a hole from which it is very hard to recover.

Answers to the following questions can be achieved by a well-directed, well-planned and well-executed Customer Advisory Board:

  1. Is our company moving in the right direction and is our value proposition one that is in alignment with the needs of our customers?
  2. Are our products and services providing value to our customers and how can we increase that value?
  3. Where are there other opportunities that we have not yet explored? How do these opportunities resonate with our customers?
  4. What are the industry trends and drivers that are impacting our customers?
  5. How do we maximize our partner relationships and where are there additional opportunities to collaborate?
  6. How can we facilitate peer-to-peer engagement amongst our key customers to provide additional value to them?
  7. How well are we doing with regard to customer service, product innovation, messaging, pricing models, etc.?

The benefits of a well-orchestrated Customer Advisory Board are too numerous to count, but here are a few of the key advantages:

  • Gain a keen understanding of market conditions
  • Enhance rapport with key customers
  • Drive loyalty – your best customers now have a seat at your table
  • Innovate in collaboration with those for whom you provide products and services
  • Risk mitigation – validation that your thinking is on point
  • Create strong advocates for your brand and your organization
  • Understand where your customers are heading and be there when they arrive
  • Achieve internal alignment among members of your executive team

There are several things to remember before deciding to launch a Customer Advisory Board:

  • A CAB is not a one-off, check-the-box kind of event. It is an ongoing initiative executed for the purpose of driving future strategies for the business. It is important to commit to this vision prior to initiating a CAB.
  • Communication with board members is critical before, during and after the meetings. Board members need to know:
    • Their roles and responsibilities
    • That their time will be well spent
    • That their input will be heard and acted upon when appropriate
    • That the host company shows them that their input was valuable by providing regular updates
    • That their concerns are not dismissed or defended but rather taken into thoughtful consideration
  • CABs bring together your key customers so there is an inherent risk in not managing the CAB to ultimate perfection. Hiring an experienced organization to build, manage and facilitate your CAB is the best way to mitigate this risk.
  • The more interactive and creative the meetings, the better the outcomes.
  • Spending time to recruit a balanced board with varying degrees of engagement with your company will provide for engaging conversation, differing perspectives and opportunities for greater learning.

Creating a solid and balanced agenda designed to provide the key strategic insights you need will be crucial to the success of your CAB. Below are just some of the areas of your business that can be explored in your CAB meetings:

  • Industry trends
  • Technology
  • Product Development
  • Marketing and branding
  • Competitive landscape
  • Position within the industry
  • Customer satisfaction and loyalty
  • Operations
  • Pricing and business models
  • Customer drivers and priorities

In order to properly prepare for a first Customer Advisory Board, you should allow no less than 3-4 months. The following activities will need to be executed prior to launching your Board:

Kickoff: This is where items such as CAB strategy, CAB charter, meeting schedules, success measures, roles and responsibilities and expectations of internal team and CAB members are decided.

Recruitment: Recruiting the right members to your board is critical to the success of your initiative. We begin by identifying the desired balance of the board, identifying prospective members, recruitment activities/confirmation/orientation, and then the communication and engagement plans.

Meeting Planning and Execution: This is the time to develop the meeting agenda, engage in session planning, train internal team members, prep for the meeting, execute the meeting, document input and action items and survey board members to get their feedback on the meeting.

Equally important to the successful execution of your board meeting is the activity immediately following. Ensuring that your board members feel that their time was well spent and that they provided valued is critical and must be done in a timely manner.

Post-Meeting: Team debrief, summary of the meeting, evaluation of board member survey results, identification of areas for improvement, communications with board members, between meeting updates/subcommittee activity.

Since our founding in 2009, Customer Advisory Board .org has grown to over 500 members representing 32% of Fortune 1000 corporations.

Our Community

Join our community to learn how to improve your existing Customer Advisory Board program, or if you are creating your first advisory board, our content and members can help accelerate your plans.

The diversity of our industry members is shown in the pie chart.

  • CAB for < 3 Years
  • CAB for > 3 Years
  • Starting a CAB

Our History

  • 2009  Industry Association Established to share best practices in managing Customer Advisory Boards
  • 2010  LinkedIn Group created to connect companies embarking on client advisory council’s with industry experts & facilitators
  • 2011  First conference organized in Boston to connect people in person to share ideas on managing Customer Advisory Board programs
  • 2012  Second annual conference held at the Hyatt, San Francisco
  • 2013  Third annual conference held at Harvard University
  • 2014  Fourth annual conference held at The Presidio, San Francisco
  • 2015  Fifth annual conference held at Adobe Software’s Headquarters
  • 2016  Sixth annual conference held in Boston, MA
  • 2017  Seventh annual conference held in San Mateo, CA
  • 2018  Eighth annual conference held in Boston, MA
  • 2019  Ninth annual conference held in Boston, MA
  • 2020  Tenth annual conference held in Boston, MA
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Our Mission

Share best practices among Customer Advisory Board practitioners internationally

Promote Customer Advisory Boards as a proven method for increasing sales, customer loyalty, and driving innovation in organizations worldwide

Match companies embarking on Customer Advisory Council’s with Customer Advisory experts and facilitators

Join Our Organization Today!

We are the ONLY industry association worldwide focused on Customer Advisory Board success. If your organization has a Customer Advisory Board program or is evaluating the benefits of creating one, we encourage you to join our community to accelerate your plans.

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