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 Customer Advisory Board planning for everyone involved. 

What makes a great customer advisory board? 

The ingredients that go into making a customer advisory board meeting—or any event— a success can be tough to pin down. There are so many variables to consider and it’s tough to account for them all: Have we invited the right people? Did we identify the right goals and objectives for the meeting? What about our agenda? Is it…boring?

Every organization is different, of course, and no two CABs are the same. But there are a few principles that can be applied to planning every customer advisory board. 

It starts before it starts

When your CAB begins, everyone will be getting their bearings. Most folks probably just got off a plane and are feeling out of sorts; they had to wander the halls of an office building or convention center and figure out what room everyone is meeting in; board members might recognize some of the folks they find there but most of them are strangers (or even competitors). The time spent getting settled in is time that could be better spent getting creative and talking with one another. 

Prepping your collaborators is key to getting things moving. Drawing on digital tools to make introductions, conduct surveys, and provide materials for review not only makes things more efficient but eases the weird transition into the particular headspace your group needs to be in. The ice gets broken, ideas get surfaced that you probably weren’t even aware of, and levels of expectations are set to where they need to be. You’ll find your group more engaged from the get-go and you’d be amazed at how quickly the real work can actually begin.

Collaboration vs. Presentation 

The best CABs are a series of honest, candid conversations between colleagues and collaborators. This is harder to pull off than it seems. These are your most valued, important stakeholders, after all: there’s a temptation to bombard them with a storm of slide decks and presentations, to demonstrate all of the cool stuff you’re working on and thinking about. 

But the reason you’ve called these folks together is for their insight. That doesn’t mean you should forgo your presentations entirely or turn the CAB into a focus group. It DOES mean that the event should be facilitated to make room for the insights you’re looking for. The facilitator can push to surface voices from the entire group, help participants make connections between ideas, and gather reactions from your team in response. The goal is to spend as much time as possible talking with one another instead of at one another. This has to be folded into every aspect of the event—including the agenda. And most importantly, collaboration has to be actively facilitated in the moment.

Fun: The Intangible Ingredient

Can you even “plan” for something to be fun? Isn’t that, like, the opposite of fun? Try marking it down on your agenda sometime and see how it works out:

There are a million ways to engage your participants, to make the event memorable, and, yes, to have fun at a customer advisory board meeting. You can build exercises and activities that are interesting or silly. You can spend time thinking about how engaging your written and visual material might be. But at the end of the day, the best way to have fun at a CAB is to have interesting, meaningful discussions with interesting, engaged colleagues. After all, how often do you get to sit down and really talk about your work with people that really understand it? That sense of connection is critical to every aspect of a CAB, and it’s the most important ingredient in setting up your customers to have fun with one another. 

Collective Next CABs

Collective Next has been thinking about and refining customer advisory board planning for over twenty years. Reach out to us today if you want to learn more about how to make your next CAB unforgettable.