The Top Five Customer Advisory Board Facilitation Challenges – and Solutions

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During a recent Ignite webinar, our experts described techniques to effectively facilitate customer advisory board (CAB) meetings. After all, facilitation is a constant challenge for companies who attempt to do this themselves with little experience or understanding of how to manage and direct a CAB meeting properly to generate optimal results.

During the webinar, CAB practitioners prioritized their top facilitation challenges. Here are the top five, with potential implications and remedies:

1. Silent members who say nothing: While any group will have more- and less-talkative participants, it’s troubling if your CAB has members who mostly don’t participate or interject at all. There could be several reasons for this. First, are they a quiet personality who is generally shy, uncertain or secretive? During the CAB member recruiting stage, personality traits should be considered and compared to other potential members to ensure those selected are comfortable and experienced in sharing their views. Secondly, your meeting agenda and content should encourage input and include group sessions for generating feedback. In other words, if your meeting consists mostly of boring, one-way PowerPoint presentations, there may be nothing for participants to say or contribute in the first place. Finally, an experienced facilitator can read the room and encourage input from those who are under participating.

2. Multiple members saying something at the same time: With a room of about 20 participants, it is likely that members may interrupt each other at times with very good insight, and, if not managed, more people can jump in and the meeting can turn into chaos. To mitigate this, members should be clear of meeting participation guidelines and ground rules so they know how they are supposed to contribute ideas. This should be communicated at the beginning of the meeting. Here too, a good facilitator is an excellent discussion “traffic cop,” able to stack and organize comments so that everyone is heard and no input gets lost in the noise.

3. Low group engagement: Silent, unengaged and bored members can kill a CAB meeting and lead to disinterest in future participation. In-line with silent members, the top reason for low group engagement is that the meeting agenda and content has been prepared as one-way communication, slides and demos by the host company, with little thought put into the desired outcomes of the sessions and the questions that need to be answered. Meeting sessions should be designed with such outcomes in mind, and some should be set up so that members can get up out of their seats and provide their ideas or vote on their priorities. Again, experienced CAB facilitators know how to set this up for CAB meetings, and manage such sessions on-site for maximum outcomes.

4. Aggressive or dominant members: We’ve seen some CABs who have members who come to meetings with agendas or gripes, or have dominating personalities that cause them to reduce the contributions of other members. The solution here lies in recruiting the best members and knowing such personalities or issues before the meeting, ensuring all members understand meeting participation guidelines, and an experienced facilitator who is adept at balancing the contributions on all participants. Outside facilitators offer the additional benefit of shielding host company participants from taking the brunt of aggressive personalities.

5. Starting or ending sessions on time: Meetings that go way over time and seemingly have no end in sight can kill participant enthusiasm. After all, participants may be looking forward to upcoming breaks to check messages – or simply use the restroom! Interestingly, it is usually host member executives who cause sessions to run over, as none of their colleagues dare to interrupt them. Once again, the solution lies in a skilled facilitator who reviews all session content in advance of the meeting, explains the meeting ground rules for all participants from the onset, manages the agenda to start and end on time, and is not afraid to interject to a host company executive who may be going long or off topic.

While well-meaning host company executives may believe that facilitating a customer engagement is an easy task, we often hear from customer advisory board managers that this is one of the challenges they face in their overall program. Such execs shouldn’t be offended – effectively managing a customer advisory board takes years of experience and is best done by professionals who can spot issues before the meeting even starts, are able to manage people and egos on-site, and can ensure everyone’s time, investment and participation is maximized for optimal meeting and program success.

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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