Customer Advisory Boards, or CABs, sound simple on paper: pulling together a group of handpicked clients that are important to your organization and talking with them about your strategy. No problem, right? For the next few months, we’ll be exploring why these events are so much more challenging than they appear and how Collective Next is thinking about ways to elevate CABs for everyone involved. 

The Problem with CABs

Think about the last time you took part in a Customer Advisory Board. What do you remember? Listless expressions? Folks checking their phones or watches, waiting for lunch to begin? Chances are that someone gave a PowerPoint presentation at some point, but you probably don’t remember what it was about. And what did your team learn from the experience? Were there any flashes of insight? Did the room ever light up, excited about a new idea or initiative? Or when it was all said and done, was your biggest action item to hire a different caterer for next time?

You are not alone. Customer Advisory Boards can be rich, invaluable experiences, events that can change the way you run your organization and draw you closer to your most important stakeholders. But like anything that we’ve been doing for a long, long time, it’s easy to lose sight of why we run these events in the first place. Before we explore how to improve the experience, let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons why your CAB isn’t as effective, or as useful, as it could be. 

CAB Fatigue: This ain’t your clients’ first rodeo. 

There’s a certain novelty to CABs within any organization. We run them once or twice a year (if that) and we get excited about them. Our customers might be…less excited. Valued clients and stakeholders are also valued by other organizations: they work with other companies for different needs and get invited to CABs on a regular basis. As a result, your customers walk into each advisory board meeting with their own expectations, their own internal-comparisons to other events, and a certain amount of fatigue for the entire endeavor. CABs (or any event) should be designed with that fatigue in mind from the outset. But we get so focused on the novelty of the event for OUR organization that we forget how rote CABs might be for our participants. 

The One Way Street

Your organization is probably one of the most interesting things in the world…to you. And rightly so! There is so much happening behind the scenes, so many exciting initiatives just about to get off the ground. It’s perfectly natural that you’re pumped to share what you’ve been working on. CABs often run the risk, as a result, of turning into press releases: a one-way sharing of announcements and forthcoming projects aimed exclusively at gathering approval and plaudits. OR the opposite might occur: agendas get planned that turn the event into a focus group, presenting your board with a series of open-ended questions that are posed, then quietly recorded. But the purpose of a good CAB is to promote collaboration, to challenge and be challenged by one another, and to find solutions that none of you could have discovered on your own. The one-way street, in either direction, is not only boring. It’s a waste of everyone’s valuable time and energy. And that’s a waste of the opportunity CABs present in the first place. 

Ghosting Your Customers 

What makes clients want to come to the next advisory board meeting? There’s the experience itself, of course, and the value of the information exchanged. But more than that? It’s the sense that the conversation will have an impact when the event is over. CABs aren’t effective when they’re limited to the four walls of the event. They’re the beginning of new initiatives, new strategies, or new ways to refine the way your organization operates. And when the CAB is over, the real work is just getting started. Clients want to know about that work: how it’s progressing, what insights need to be clarified, what follow-up questions you might have. It’s a demonstration of the value you place on their time. Too often, clients and organizations stop thinking about CABs until it’s time to schedule the next one. When you ghost your customers after the event—when you don’t follow up and keep them posted on what their insights have inspired your organization to do—why on earth would they want to spend time talking with you in the first place?

Collective Next CABs

How can you avoid these common Customer Advisory Board pitfalls? And beyond that, how can you create and design experiences that will not only grow your business but excite and delight your most important customers? Collective Next has been thinking about and refining customer advisory boards for over twenty years. We’ll explore these topics and a lot more over the next few months. Reach out to us today if you just can’t wait and want to talk.