How to ensure your customer advisory board meetings are a successby
How often should customer advisory boards meet? How can you prepare? What should be on the agenda? We answer these questions and more to help you get the most from your meetings.
As we discussed in our recent exploration of how to build a customer advisory board (CAB), while these boards are a valuable way of surfacing fresh insight into customer motivations, there are a great many considerations required when putting them in place.
And it’s not just deciding how many boards you require, and which customers should be on them either. There’s also the small matter of how often customer advisory boards should meet, deciding what should be on their agendas, and what follow-up activity needs to be taken.
So let’s take a deeper look at how you can ensure your customer advisory board meetings are a success - for both your organisation and the customers involved.
Where should customer advisory boards meet?
Given the proliferation of online meetings these days, it is very easy to assume that the most convenient platform for advisory board meetings will be via Zoom, Teams, Google Meet, etc. However, in-person interactions tend to generate far better conversations, and are more likely to surface more open and honest feedback. Think about your own experience with online meetings over the past few years and compare it with in-person sessions - there is much greater group involvement when they are face-to-face because people are more comfortable and engaged. They are less likely to become distracted and clock out of the discussion when it is face-to-face.
The other thing to bear in mind is that for many participants, part of the appeal of being on the advisory board is that they can network, and talk shop with other professionals. That kind of networking and development of connections doesn’t happen so readily when people aren’t in the same place.
How often should customer advisory boards meet?
Finding the ideal frequency for board sessions is crucial. Too many meetings will feel like a burden to the members and you risk a reduction in participation. But if the meetings aren’t regular enough, your organisation may not get sufficient timely insight, while the members themselves may feel that you aren’t fully committed to the idea.
A general rule of thumb seems to be that quarterly in-person events are a good starting point - and these can always be supplemented with additional calls, online surveys or online meetings where required.
Puja Rajmani, head of core product marketing at Gainsight, says that their advisory board meets at least four times a year - two in-person and two virtual: “Hosting these events is a great way to give back to your CAB – customers love it because it’s a great way to meet their peers and discuss business challenges.”
What should be on the agenda of a customer advisory board meeting?
Ensuring you’re prepared is crucial. As Puja notes: “This event is as important, if not more important, than the annual conference you may put on for your prospects, so make it a priority.”
So Puja emphasises that the owner of the CAB “should obsess about the agenda for the day, making sure it runs on schedules, all speakers are appropriately prepared, and the discussions are engaging and active.”
Do some prep work with a survey
Firstly, it could be a good idea to send a survey to the members in advance of the meeting. This could help you gather information and prepare for discussions that will take place on the day. It will also encourage participants to engage in a bit of thinking about a topic or subject ahead of the meeting.
“Your advisory board prep-work could entail having members complete a survey or answer some questions about how they’re using the product or what they’re experiencing in their respective industries. With this data in hand, you won’t have to ask these questions and you can use the results as a conversation starter,” recommends Heather McCloskey, VP of marketing at UserVoice, an organisation that has used customer advisory boards to great success.
The survey might also raise some ideas that you hadn’t considered for what should be on the agenda. “Don’t be afraid to ask your members beforehand what they’d like to see on the agenda. They’ll probably have some good ideas that will invigorate the other attendees,” adds McCloskey.
In an Insight Partners blog post about customer advisory boards, authors Mike Gospe, Samma Hafeez and Shirley Lin, also recommend sharing other materials in advance to help with the smooth running of the agenda on day: “Share background material prior to the meeting so CAB members are prepared. Pre-meeting materials may include a charter statement, agenda, CAB member bios, pre-reading articles, a short video message from your CEO, etc.”
What should be on the agenda of a customer advisory board?
Remember that the agenda should follow the 80/20 rule - the members should be doing 80% of the talking!
One model agenda recommended by the Pragmatic Institute runs as follows:
Introductions of company personnel and customers. It’s important that everyone is introduced, but you can also use this time to get the members to also talk a little about how they use your product/service as well.
Discussion of current challenges. What challenges are your customers facing when dealing with your product and company? Get attendees to talk about both the positive and negative aspects of your products and services.
Overview of product line. Give a brief overview of the features and benefits of your current products. Not everyone may be aware of all your products/services.
Roadmap of product plans. You may want feedback on your company plans, so share information or perhaps a demo to surface as much feedback as you can. Discuss how this new capability will affect their future business plans and the impact on their employees.
Open discussion. Have a list of items for discussion, such as features ideas, new product suggestions, new technologies that your customers are using in conjunction with your products. A good facilitator is crucial here. “Some companies will actually hire a professional facilitator to handle the moderation of the event, further ensuring that you won’t do all the talking and there won’t be any awkward pauses,” notes McCloskey.
Breakout sessions. It can be more effective to get feedback in smaller groups, so breaking out into smaller, more focused sessions can be recommended.
Review. Review the main points from the day. But also ask members what they liked and disliked about the board session and encourage ideas about how the board meetings could be improved in future.
Socialising and networking. The social aspect of customer advisory board meetings is important, so build in time for this in the agenda. McCloskey notes: “Many meetings feature a dinner or reception the evening before so everyone can get to know each other and get the pleasantries out of the way. You can also offer some pre-meeting breakfast time when people can chat a bit and warm things up. Don’t try and force any conversations during this time, although feel free to mingle and make small talk to build your report with your customers.”
How should you follow up after a customer advisory board meeting?
Of course, the hard work doesn’t stop when the customer advisory board meeting has finished. There are a number of next steps that you need to take to ensure that you are squeezing every last bit of value out of the sessions, and to make the participants feel valued and listened to.
First up, as soon as the customers have left, it’s recommended to get all of the internal team to meet for a post-mortem session, so that you can discuss things while it is all still fresh in the memory and make sure all the important insights were captured.
“Action items should be assigned internal owners to make sure follow-up happens sooner rather than later,” says McCloskey. “The meeting itself can be reviewed by those there to identify what could be improved. And each participant can be evaluated to see whether they’re a good match going forward.”
You also need to ensure that you follow-up with participants to let them know that you listened to their ideas and that you’ll be acting on some/all of them.
“They’ll want to see regular updates about the topics that were discussed,” notes McCloskey. “More than anything else, they want evidence that you were listening and took their suggestions to heart. Did the roadmap change? Was strategy adjusted? Did you invest in a new area?”
It’s crucial that you close the loop on the customer advisory board, as this will help to ensure members feel valued and don’t lose interest.
Puja Ramani recommends carrying on the dialogue in an online community. Gainsight’s advisory board members are also active members of its online community, which has become a useful place to continue discussions, with various threads and message boards formed around topics that have been covered in the CABs.
Finally, it is advised to send out a follow-up satisfaction survey to attendees to solicit more feedback about the CAB experience, and use the findings to help steer future sessions and make the next meetings even better.
After two decades of experience working as a journalist and editor covering business and technology, including over 15 years as editor of MyCustomer, Neil now works as senior content manager at skills-based workforce management platform provider Spotted Zebra. ...