Providing Gifts to Your Customer Advisory Board Members: 5 Tips to Consider


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Over many years of advising Fortune 500 companies, we are often asked about the need to provide gifts to their customer advisory boards (CABs). On the one hand, it’s a nice idea and a way to thank members for their commitment to providing guidance to your company. On the other, it’s certainly not required – your CAB should provide enough value to members to compensate them for their invested time away from their businesses.

But for those considering CAB member gifts, here are 5 tips to consider:

1. Don’t make it a science project: While considering potential gift ideas and reviewing these with the CAB steering committee and executive sponsor, don’t let this take mindshare away from the more strategic imperatives and priorities of the meeting. I’ve seen gift discussions take all-too-scarce time away from event planners forced to investigate every idea that pops into the heads of executive leaders, not to mention nth-level review and discussion during crucial meeting prep meetings. Keep gift discussions simple and short to prevent a time-wasting science project.

2. Keep the cost down: While your CAB members might appreciate your thoughts of generosity, keep in mind that many companies (especially those in government contracting) may have strict rules about accepting gifts from their vendors or partners. Limits may be as low as $100 or even $25, so be aware of any corporate restrictions and keep the cost of your gifts low enough so that everyone can accept them.

3. Leverage your theme or location: The best CAB gift ideas reinforce the theme of the CAB itself, or the city where the meeting is being held. For example, a CAB meeting held in Nashville that included a tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame gave away a commemorative gift booklet about the museum, and a CD of classic country music. One client gave Ghirardelli Chocolate for a meeting held in San Francisco, and delivered the boxes to members’ hotel rooms. (Cheese or fruit plates also make great hotel room drop gifts.) Many cities boast unique elements; make your CAB meeting even more memorable by leveraging these.

4. Think carryon small: It’s ideal if your giveaway is small enough for members to easily pack in their carryon luggage for their trip home. Don’t create a burden for your members by giving them a larger, cumbersome gift that is not easily transported. (One company learned this hurdle with wine bottles). Other more easily transportable ideas might include customized tumblers, sunglasses or a framed photo from the meeting social activity. You can also offer to ship your giveaway to members’ offices, but be sure to have all the right addresses, and, again, consider whether this is another worthwhile step for your busy event staff. One of my clients shipped peach baskets from a meeting held in Georgia, and American flags from a meeting held in Washington DC.

5. Stay classy: While CAB gifts should be portable and not too pricey, they should also be quality items that you yourself would want to keep. The latest tech items (e.g. wireless speakers) are usually well appreciated, but “tchotchkes” (e.g. giveaways typically handed out at trade shows) probably do not reflect the quality and exclusivity you want your CAB to convey. While a wearable (e.g. polo shirt, sweater or jacket) with your CAB name on it might be welcomed, sizing is always a challenge, and consider whether you think your executive members would actually wear something with your company logo on it.

CAB gifts can be a nice gesture and memento for your members, thanking them for their support and reminding them of the lessons learned during your last meeting. But they can also be an unneeded hassle to determine, procure and ship; a distraction for your executives; problematic for your members and send the wrong message if not done well. While this is always a subjective decision for your company, customers and market, don’t forget to consider an option that eliminates all these issues: no gift. After all, like CAB programs themselves, giveaways are best done well or not at all. Besides, your senior executive’s verbal appreciation and follow-up on all provided action items is often the best gift of all.

Rob Jensen
Rob Jensen has spent over 20 years in marketing, communications and business development leadership positions with leading enterprise business-to-business (B2B) software and technology companies. Throughout his career, Rob has successfully overseen groups that generated global awareness, increased lead generation and enabled sales teams for EMC/Captiva, Kofax, Anacomp, TRW, HNC Software and AudaExplore. In addition, Rob has specialized in initiating, managing and facilitating customer and partner advisory board programs for several of these companies in the U.S. and abroad.


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