Once you’ve decided that a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) is critical to your business, it’s time to make sure you deploy one correctly. If you haven’t yet decided that a CAB is required for your small business, I’d recommend that you first check out Why your small business needs a Customer Advisory Board right now, and come back to this article.
This article shares best practices for small business Customer Advisory Boards, which should be conducted much differently than at large enterprises. Small business CABs must be much more efficient, cost effective and agile, reflecting the economics and competitive strategies of most small businesses. Be very careful when getting advice on CABs since all most all of it is geared to the gargantuan enterprise. Here are our top eight recommendations for an effective and efficient SMALL BUSINESS CAB:
1. Define your theme and questions well in advance of connecting with your advisors: Respect the time of your participants. Not having strong focus on what you want to know and the questions you need answered wastes time. Do so repeatedly and your participants won’t be active for long. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that great insight will just come from a great conversation. Those with experience know that little of this great information ends up being actionable.
2. Have a formal scorecard: Your CAB shouldn’t be a free for all. Information isn’t insight. Insight is getting information you need to achieve specific goals. Specific goals are best captured on a scorecard. This should guide CAB activities and be used to communicate progress to all involved stakeholders. Make sure you get qualitative and quantitative data. People often shy away from the latter, thinking it will be hard to get. Get past that fear if you have it—if you ask, many people will give you their best guess or a range for a particular metric. For a sample scorecard, email me at andrewhorton@mySMEAdvisoryBoard.com.
3. Ask your questions and then shut up and listen: Entrepreneurs have to have massive conviction and stand strong in the face of adverse feedback. This reality can get them into a bad habit of not truly listening and in many cases pushing feedback in the direction they want, with great influence. A CAB is a great tool to help you and other company leaders go into listening mode and hear fresh insight right from those who are, or aren’t, currently buying from you.
4. Only focus on a few items at a time: You shouldn’t try to cover everything at the same time. Beyond the time drain this creates, it also results in distraction for your participants, which detracts from results.
5. Compensate participants: If you truly value the time of your participants you need to ensure that they are compensated. Traditional CAB structures typically wine and dine participants. Online CABs, especially those geared to small business, should pay directly for their time.
6. Do it online: Old school CABs require extensive time in meetings and related coordination in advance. Travel, lodging, entertainment and time away from business are all costs that add up quickly. They’re usually done only once a year as a result—twice being a stretch. At the speed of business today, there’s usually no time for these day long events and much more frequent feedback is needed.
7. Do it individually: Traditional CABs are facilitated group sessions. Even with professional facilitation, group conversations result in group think, which is the enemy of what you are trying to accomplish with a CAB in the first place. It is more effective to have an online CAB when interactions are direct with each member. In this context, feedback can be truly independent, objective and confidential.
8. Take action and communicate it: It’s critical to take great notes, make decisions, take action and then share those outcomes with your participants. This feedback loop reinforces the value they feel from being involved with your CAB and your organization. Keep on top of your action items and relentlessly follow-up.
Few uses of your time are as valuable as giving a CAB a try. If you have time to setup your own online CAB, these best practices will help. But if you’re seriously constrained for time, you can now enlist a turnkey managed CAB service for the first time—www.SMECAB.com. Register here and you’ll get a month free. No obligation. No credit card required. No risk. No cost. If you continue beyond the free trail, the cost is $195 per month—similar to a premium LinkedIn account—a small investment to get a huge strategic leg up on your competitors and to drive more sales.