We are often asked by customer advisory board (CAB) practitioners who from their own companies should be invited to attend their initial or next CAB meeting. The question is often a tricky one for CAB managers, who may be getting internal interest in their meetings, and perhaps even pressure to include folks who otherwise haven’t been involved in their programs or have an understood role at the meeting. As such, here’s our guidance:
Who from your company SHOULD attend your next CAB meeting:
• Aim high with execs: At minimum, your CAB executive sponsor should attend and have an active role is welcoming your customers at the beginning and guiding the discussion throughout the meeting. In addition, including your CEO or group President shows your company’s commitment to and investment in your program that will be recognized and appreciated by your clients. In any case, your company leadership should be well represented at your CAB meeting.
• Have a purpose: Anyone attending your CAB meeting from your company should have a real reason for being there, such as they are leading a session, and plan on actively participating and contributing throughout the meeting. On the flip side, if someone is attending merely to listen or learn from customers, they don’t need to be there – they can get this knowledge from the post-meeting report.
• Full participation: It’s distracting when company executives or participants come and go from your CAB gathering to attend other meetings or phone calls. CAB meeting attendees should commit to attending the entire meeting, as well as your welcome reception, meals, and social activities which foster personal relationships and deeper discussions. If someone can’t commit to attending the entire meeting, it may be best they not attend at all. (I had one exec unexpectedly announce that he was leaving the CAB mid-meeting to attend his kids’ PTA meeting, which was one of the most cringe-worthy CAB moments ever!)
• Not too many: You don’t want to overwhelm your customer attendees with too many people from your company, as this defeats the purpose of member peer interaction. As such, we recommend a 2:1 ratio of customers to host company participants. (e.g. if you have 14 customers who’ve rsvp’d for your meeting, you should aim for about 7 participants from your company.) Limiting this number will also force your executives to prioritize who should be there and who leave out anyone who isn’t really necessary.
Who from your company should NOT attend your next CAB meeting:
• Sales reps: CAB meetings are not sales engagements nor opportunities to pitch your captive customers on new products and services. That said, it may be OK to have your sales leader participate in your CAB meeting within the guidelines above to learn about your customers’ on-boarding, implementation and ongoing support experience. It’s not OK to have numerous sales reps attend the meeting merely because their client is attending and they want to hear what they have to say. (Again, this was told to me in my past).
• Too many engineers: Again, while it’s great to have your product leadership attend your CAB meeting, they shouldn’t need to bring several additional engineers to listen and learn, address tactical user questions or to operate a complex product demo. The product leader should be able to understand and capture insights (with the help of the meeting note-taker), and bring this input back to his team.
• New hires: CAB meetings are not the place for new hires to listen and learn, as they too are welcome to read the meeting report. In addition, new people may not have enough experience with your company and products to add a lot of value, and inevitably contribute very little to the discussion.
• The uninvited: There should be no surprises at your CAB meeting, and uninvited guests from your company should not be welcomed. To guard against this, collect executive approval of all your CAB meeting attendees with the understanding that nobody else from your company should attend. (Although this happened to me early in my career, fortunately, I have not seen this as an issue in many years.)
Getting the right people to attend your customer advisory board meeting will ensure it’s focused, strategic and on-track to meet your program objectives. Keeping out those from your company who detract from this will support the same goals.