Putting Together a Customer Advisory Board

I’m putting together a CAB at work so I thought I’d pop my research in here as I find things out.

Basic definition: A Customer Advisory Board (CAB) is a representative group of customers that meets periodically to offer advice on the product and company direction.

Sample invitation text here.

No sales pitches allowed: Equally important to outlining your objectives is getting executives, stakeholders, and your sales team to understand that while Customer Advisory Board meetings may lead to sales, they are not sales calls, nor are they intended to be.

Benefits to sell to CAB members:

Reasons they’ll join: They want to network, they can get a clear picture of your strategy, it is rare to find vendors care what customers think.

Common mistakes: Don’t rush, don’t talk too much, don’t invite everyone.

How IBM talks about them: The goal of Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) is simple: to provide a unified, open forum for a select group of forward-thinking customers. As a CAB member, you’ll gain a greater understanding of our product strategies, provide your thoughts and ideas and help ensure that what we develop aligns with your vision for using analytics to achieve your goals.

How Cisco talks about them: The Global Customer Advisory Board (GCAB) brings together Cisco’s Executive Leadership Team and a select group of global business leaders. Through a series of interactive roundtables and discussion forums, participants help Cisco set strategic priorities and shape opportunities for joint success. GCAB takes place over two and a half days. Due to the limited number of customers selected to attend each GCAB, we ask that participants attend the entire program. Invitations are exclusive to invitees and may not be transferred. GCAB is a great opportunity for participants to meet peers in the industry, share ideas, and guide Cisco on how today’s market transitions will shape our future together.

Most of the cursory reading is large companies that are doing this onsite and in person or at a hotel like a retreat. I’m just hoping to get an hour or so phone call going.

This is a bit service-y but Fast Company had a list of the traits of companies that are open to having CABs:

  1. They are sincerely growth-oriented.
  2. They believe in gathering unfiltered feedback to refine their future plans and services.
  3. They are passionate about developing trusted advisor relationships with senior decision makers and industry influencers—and making a difference.
  4. They need to adapt quickly to industry and regulatory shifts to ensure continuity.
  5. They are action-oriented, and are willing to implement actions that advisors recommend.

Another list from Fast Comany – traits of good CABs:

  • Define the purpose of your CAB.
  • Create a written profile of the ideal CAB member.
  • Give yourself ample time to recruit members.
  • Establish clear expectations with potential new members.Keep the group small and intimate.
  • Mix it up [with] an equal number of existing clients, top-tier clients, and a few prospects.
  • Address the compensation issue early.
  • Develop a written advisory board member agreement.
  • Stay fluid [and] be prepared to replace up to a third of your members every year.

I’ll add more as I find it.

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About Andy Wibbels

Andy is an award-winning blogger and author of the book Blogwild! A Guide for Small Business Blogging. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Entrepreneur, Wired, Business Week, Forbes, and other national and international media. He was worked at several San Francisco startups including Typepad, Get Satisfaction, SInMobi, Keas, and Mindjet. Currently, Andy is Director of Marketing at Lucidworks. Tw · Fb · G+ · Li

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