When it comes to customer advisory board (CAB) meeting agendas, there is never a shortage of questions (or even confusion) from CAB managers – be they fresh beginners or even experienced veterans. The topic is a popular one at CAB training events and other industry conferences. Most telling, perhaps, of the need for guidance here is that “customer advisory board agenda” is one of the top search topics pertaining to CABs.
While the content of every customer advisory council meeting will, of course, vary depending on meeting goals and member-desired topics and content (gathered through engaging them before the meeting), here are some essential “must have” elements that should be included as part of every CAB meeting agenda:
1. Prep meeting (internal only): The host company should plan to have an on-site prep meeting before the face-to-face CAB meeting begins. This internal-only meeting not only forces host company attendees to arrive to the meeting on-time, but will be the last opportunity to review session content, facilitation plans and any other meeting notes before being in front of the members themselves. In addition to reviewing meeting content, a review of participation guidelines should be discussed, as well as a detailed review of each member participant, in order to be clear on their account status, products in use, and any potential sensitive issues that may have impacted them recently.
2. Member reception and social event: One of the key benefits of any CAB (often the top one, according to member surveys) is the members’ ability to collaborate with each other and host company executive management. While such engagement is inevitably an integral part of the CAB meeting itself, the benefits of informal social interaction cannot be overstated. As such, it is essential that the meeting present ample opportunities for peer networking and social interaction. We recommend a welcome reception be held the night before the meeting takes place, as this will “break the ice” and get attendees comfortable with each other. That way, when the actual meeting starts, members won’t be shy about jumping in with their ideas, guidance and feedback. In addition, a nice social event and/or dinner, ideally after day one of the meeting, will further deepen personal contacts, and establish on-going relationships after the meeting concludes. Finally, breakfasts, lunches and interim meeting breaks should be provided to further enable personal interaction.
3. Welcome session: The meeting itself should be kicked off by the CAB executive sponsor, who is, after all, the “face” of the overall program and chartered with its success. The executive sponsor should personally welcome all customer (or partner) attendees, and review the meeting objectives. If the meeting is not the first in the CAB program, the executive sponsor can also provide the status of the program and of the action items taken from previous meetings or engagements. Finally, the session should include a review by the meeting facilitator of the participation guidelines and ground rules – again so members know that they are encouraged to participate from the get go.
4. Introductions: Before any session content be explored, it’s imperative that introductions be made by everyone in the room – CAB member attendees, host company executives and third party consultants. This will not only further familiarize all attendees with each other, but actually force members to speak and be heard at the start of the meeting. For subsequent meetings, members can not only reintroduce themselves, but provide updates on their top initiatives and priorities.
5. Strategy Overview: A key element of most CAB meetings will be to update members on what’s going on within the host company. The key driver here is to present (or review) the company’s top strategic initiatives, and gather member feedback. This should not be a one-way presentation: be honest about bottlenecks, tradeoffs, or ‘fork-in-the-road’ decisions that the host company would sincerely like to collect member opinions. In addition, the strategy overview can include company updates – acquisitions, partnerships, new products or other corporate developments – that the members may have missed, and, just as importantly, answer questions and address the implications on them. This strategy session offers the added bonus of the host company going first in opening up honestly, and encouraging the same from the members for the rest of the meeting.
6. Collaboration Exercises: A CAB meeting will not be engaging if it consists exclusively of host company executives presenting PowerPoint slides to the attending customer members. A great way to get members contributing and collaborating – and physically moving about – is by conducting collaboration exorcizes or games in which they are engaging just with each other on a shared industry challenges and potential solutions. Be sure to be clear and specific on the timelines, the question at hand, and the desired inputs and outputs. Such sessions are also very highly rated by CAB members.
7. Wrap sessions: At the end of each day, a wrap session summarizes the day’s discussions, findings, key takeaways and potential action items. In addition, any desired changes or meeting course corrections can be discovered and addressed before the meeting ends. For the final, concluding session of the CAB meeting, the next steps of the program should be described, including a timeline of upcoming engagements. By doing so, the participants see what’s coming down the road, so they’ll be ready for it when the invitation arrives.
8. Post-mortem (internal only): A post-meeting debrief should take place immediately after the formal meeting close with all host-company attendees and third party consultants — while the meeting content and feedback is fresh in everyone’s minds. The post-mortem should include overall meeting feedback, potential top-priority discoveries and action items, as well as what worked best for the meeting and what can be improved for the next one. In addition, a review of the members themselves can be in order, especially if any were problematic.
These eight essential elements should be included as part of any productive CAB meeting agenda. Companies who focus exclusively on actual meeting presentation content but ignore or minimize these items do so at their own peril. By including these elements, the meeting will be most beneficial and productive it can be – and, more importantly, be well received by the attending members themselves.