We are often asked about the costs of starting a customer advisory board (CAB) program. And while these can vary based on your budget, program goals and company size, the first thing to know about starting a CAB is it doesn’t have to be overly expensive – companies can be frugal and still create a solid program for their customers.
On the other hand, CABs are not the place to cut financial corners. After all, you want to put your best face on for executives representing your most valuable and innovative customers. Here’s where you should be spending the most money you can – is there another audience that deserves more? Senior executives are often used to premium treatment. And these are volunteering their time to help guide your company, so you want to treat them as well as you can afford.
With that in mind, here are six typical costs to incorporate into your CAB program plan:
1. Travel: With the Covid pandemic behind us, professionals are back to traveling and meeting in person. As such, when planning your CAB meetings, you’ll want to budget for meeting travel – not only for your own host company participants, but, more importantly, for your CAB members. After all, there should be no cost burden from their end to participate in your CAB program, so planning to arrange and pay for their travel to your meeting destination demonstrates your serious investment in your program. (If they are unable to accept such a benefit, they can decline.
2. Hotels and meals: For your in-person CAB meetings, it’s recommended you hold these at quality resorts that are easily accessible from major airports. While it doesn’t have to be the Four Seasons, you’ll of course want to avoid Motel 6. You also want to avoid hosting your CAB at holiday destinations (e.g. the Bahamas!) or your company offices, as doing so adds another travel step for your members – unless your facility has some impressive visuals or demonstrations that will improve members’ meeting experience. Meals too should be as high end as you can – you’re trying to provide your members’ the best meeting experience as possible.
3. Social activities: Another way to add some interest and engagement opportunities for your members is to coordinate fun social activities as part of your meeting. Ideas here can include museum visits, golf outings, sports events, winery tours, etc. The more unique to your location the better. Here too, you’ll want to make the activity as high-end as possible to impress your members. On the flip side, such an activity isn’t required – an excellent meal should suffice for CAB member engagement. Do it well, or don’t do it at all.
4. Member gifts: Another nice touch is to provide your CAB members with a gift as part of their meeting participation. Examples here can include a CD or museum guide book, a bottle of wine from the winery tour (that you ship to their home or office), etc. One of my clients also provides an honorary plaque for long-time CAB members who are retiring from their careers. Here too, remember that this is optional, and if you provide members a gift, don’t go too expensive (some companies can’t receive gifts over $100) and think quality that supports the meeting themes, and not a cheap “tchotchke.”
5. Professional consultants and facilitator: Of course, we may be biased here, but this is arguably the expense that should be your highest priority. Utilizing experienced CAB experts will ensure your program is set up for success, goes according to plan, and presents the optimal experience for your treasured clients. Furthermore, a skilled facilitator will keep your meeting on track and ensure your company and, most importantly, your members get the most out of the experience.
6. Training: If you’re determined to initiate and manage your CAB on your own with your internal team without utilizing outside experts, then, at minimum, you should invest in CAB training to confirm you’re taking the right steps to ensure your program’s success. Those who opt to learn as they go or “wing it” will almost certainly create a sub-standard experience for their customers.
While CABs do not have to break your budget, you should invest the time, resources, people and budget to ensure a premium experience for your most valued customers. Otherwise, if you’re not willing to fully invest in your program, perhaps you’ll want to consider whether starting a CAB is in your best interest at all.