How Customer Advisory Boards Help Grow and Retain Key Accounts

I really enjoyed hosting a webinar with Betsy Westhafer of the Congruity Group, discussing the power of Customer Advisory Boards (CABs). She is an absolute pro on this topic.

The impact of these executive meetings can be significant for your business in terms of growth and retention of key accounts. Plus, CABs deliver many other benefits to you, your KAMs, and your customers. It’s a real win-win-win that starts with true customer-centricity.

Check it out. You’ll be amazed at how valuable executive Customer Advisory Boards can be for all involved.

What is a Customer Advisory Board?

A Customer Advisory Board (CAB) is so powerful, it can convert even the most at-risk key account to a loyal partner that refers top prospects to your business. Now, that’s amazing!

According to Betsy, CABs have been around for a long time, but not many companies are taking advantage of what she calls a huge competitive advantage.

These meetings involve your executive team moving to what is referred to as a Growth Champion mindset that is customer-centric and an essential element of a successful CAB.

What IS a CAB?

An executive Customer Advisory Board is when your executive leaders meet with the executive peers from selected key customer accounts. These meetings are designed to help better understand the business issues that are driving your key customers’ buying decisions.

These are not focus groups where feature, function, or down in the weeds type of discussions take place. These are relevant conversations that executives like to have with the executives of their key customers.

Customer Advisory Board Meetings and Members

These CAB meetings are typically held offsite, two to three times a year, with calls in between. This is a strategic initiative, not a one-off event. So, a lot of energy goes into keeping the CAB engaged throughout the year, rather than just at meeting times.

These meetings are best held offsite, rather than at your home office, to provide a great environment for focus and avoid potential distractions. You want the customers to understand that this is important enough for you to take a few days out of the office to meet with CAB members and talk with them. That nothing else matters more than to be in this conversation with these key customers.

There are generally eight to 12 board members with a two-to-one ratio between the customers and the host company participants. So, there are twice as many customers as host company board members.

These meetings are all confidential. Everyone in attendance should sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) so people can share freely. You want participants to feel like it’s a safe environment to share things that they want to share but don’t want to go outside of the boardroom walls. That’s why it’s recommended that you don’t include competitors on the same CAB. Doing so inhibits open communication and sharing.

The Value of CABs

Having a customer advisory board is like having a seat at the table of a key account’s strategic planning meeting. You get to find out what’s on their mind, what they’re thinking, where they’re heading, what their plans are, what their priorities are.

It’s a phenomenal opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of what matters most to your customers. And over time, after two or three meetings, you get in this great cadence where these board members gel as a group.

As a CAB comes together, it feels like an extension of your team. Members get invested in your success and many great things result from it. That’s why it’s essential to be consistent when it comes to CAB meetings and engagement.

Benefits of Customer Advisory Boards

A CAB benefits your customers, executives, and key account managers (KAMs). Let’s take a look at what’s in it for each of these groups when it comes to executive CABs.

How KAMs Benefit from CABs

KAMs gain a lot when their executives initiate CABs with executives from their key accounts. They see increased revenue and retention while advancing to trusted advisor status more easily in these accounts. These benefits include:

  1. Identifying new sources of revenue by customer CAB members cross-selling to one another over dinner, for example. This group of people help each other by sharing what they know about your company and your products or services.
  2. Mitigating the risk of losing your key accounts. What happens is these customers get so invested that they don’t think about leaving because they don’t want to lose the value they’re getting from participating on the board. This creates resistance for them to even take calls from competitors.
  3. Gaining a better understanding of your customer’s strategic priorities and how you can best support them.
  4. Building rapport and deep trusted relationships with the executive team has a ripple effect that permeates the entire customer organization. Overall, this helps advance the KAMs relationship to that of strategic business advisor more quickly.

How Customers Benefit from CABs

Why would busy executives take time out of the office for a couple of days and hop on a plane to help a supplier, vendor, or strategic business advisor? There are many reasons, including:

  1. A chance to influence the direction of a key partner. Your business is important to their business. This gives them a chance to weigh in on your strategies, to make suggestions, provide input on what would be meaningful to them moving forward, and influence the direction of your company.
  2. Getting to see what’s coming and align their strategies accordingly. It may be acquisitions, capital expenditures, or product roadmaps that your execs are not ready to share with a bigger group. But these customers hear it in advance and that’s extremely valuable to them.
  3. The peer-to-peer engagement of having this small group of people that share many of the same challenges. Having a place where they can bounce things off and have as a resource is very valuable to them.
  4. It’s a lot of fun! It’s not a meeting where they’re trying to gain consensus or solve a problem on the spot. It’s focused on how can we do better by working together? It’s very collaborative.

There’s no angst or pain. A fun way to rise all ships that are there.

How Your Company Executives Benefit from CABs

Why would your company executives want to put their time and energy into a CAB?

Some of the reasons include:

  1. Validating strategies before investing a huge amount of time and energy into R&D, marketing, and a product launch that could potentially fall flat. CABs give executives a subset of key customers that they can share potential new products with and get their input. Having that input from the customers is such an insurance policy against product launch failures by validating concepts with the market and these key accounts.
  2. Creating internal team alignment. Being able to ask these probing and clarifying questions to get at the heart of what the customers are saying is incredibly valuable. Then there’s no argument against what the customer wants because they’re all hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth at the same time. These execs take that information and filter it throughout your organization. They take what they’ve heard to the product team, the marketing team, and the sales team. It truly helps align everyone around what the customers are actually looking for. And, of course, this alignment around what customers want is a huge advantage for KAMs too!
  3. Creating advocates. After about the third meeting CAB members often volunteer to help the host company do things like co-author a white paper, do a testimonial, or be a referral account.

Start Your First Customer Advisory Board Today

If your organization is striving to be more customer-centric, creating an executive CAB is an excellent initiative to include in your strategy. Take your time to select the right key accounts to include in your first CAB.

Then maintain consistent engagement with these board members throughout the year. In as little as a year your organization will start to see the benefits in terms of account growth, retention, and advocacy.
Are you looking for additional ways to grow and retain your key accounts? Register for KAMCon at early bird rates through February 28th.

CEO at Kapta
Alex Raymond is the CEO of Kapta.