In talking to various customer advisory council (CAC; also known as a customer advisory board or client advisory panel) managers and session owners about their next meeting, they are often eager to tell their members the latest developments within their companies or present the latest features of their new product release. But such a host-company-centric approach is not how we would advise preparing for your CAC next meeting. Instead, we recommend each session owner (note: not “presenters””) answer the following questions as they prepare their content for the next meeting, in order to ensure a member-focused engagement:
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- Why is this session part of the upcoming meeting? Think (honestly) about why this topic is a part of the meeting agenda, what discussion it will generate, and what potential outcomes it may produce. Each session on your upcoming meeting agenda should have a purpose for being there, and should be member driven (more on this below) and/or should follow logical progressions from previous member engagements. In other words, if a session owner is merely assigned a presentation by a superior and has no idea why this topic is on the meeting agenda, that person should find out.
- Is this session member driven? How does this session address previous CAC member input and desires? Did members request this topic, such as through direct interviews, previous meeting surveys or other input mediums? Do members understand why this topic is a part of the upcoming meeting agenda? If your session is not requested or desired by the members, than you are likely putting your company first instead of them – a surefire CAC program killer.
- What is the goal of this session? What questions are you looking to answer and will this session convey and answer them? Will members and /or the host company acquire new insights? Each session at your next CAC meeting should be designed with the desired outcome in mind first; then a plan of how to best get there.
- What is the value of this topic for members? Will members acquire or uncover new ideas or best practices they can take back to their businesses? Will this session enable members to collaborate with each other, exchange ideas or benchmark their operations amongst themselves? Each session owner should know “what’s in it for members” – and convey this at the beginning of their session so this is clear. Otherwise, members may try to connect the relevance in their heads – and may not be able to do so – risking their interest and participation in your session.
- Should this session be a webinar instead? Many CAC managers or executive sponsors have a list of topics, updates or news they want to tell their customers at their next meeting. They may even have ideas about potential outside speakers: analysts, industry association representatives or even executives from other business lines they think would be great to get in front of their members. However, in our experience, many of these speakers and their topics are one-way communications that involve little member input or dialogue. As such, these topics would be much better off as separate online webinars available to all customers – not as engaging CAC sessions.
- Are you the right session owner? Are you the right subject matter expert on your topic? Do you understand the “bigger picture” and are able to answer questions without the need of other members from your team? Do you understand the goal and theme of your CAC program, and what was covered in previous engagements? If you’re coming in blind to your program, get caught up on what’s happened previously and make sure you can answer these and other questions. If not, perhaps you’re not the best person to lead this discussion.
- Are members well informed on this topic? Will members understand your subject enough without a lot of necessary background? Do they have the right knowledge or experience to provide insights on this topic? If not, what materials might they need to read before entering the discussion? Be sure your audience will be able to participate and (more importantly) contribute to your session, and offer pre-meeting reading materials if you believe some advance background would help get everyone on the same page before (not during) the meeting.
- How might this session be optimally facilitated? If your next CAC meeting will be 2 days of PowerPoint presentations with no additional interaction activities, your meeting may likely be a boring affair. Instead, think about how to add some interaction and energy to your session, such as through member break outs, brainstorming or capturing ideas on a whiteboard. Voting or prioritizing can often best be accomplished through engaging (and fun!) games. But this involves careful planning with the meeting facilitator, and ensuring all materials, rules and desired outcomes are thought through. (Professional meeting facilitation is often necessary to pull off such engaging session games.)
- How are you preparing your session for the upcoming meeting? Plan on not only creating your content, but practicing and reviewing your session in front of the executive sponsor and CAB management team well ahead of your next meeting. Simply showing up with your content without reviewing it ahead of time can lead to numerous potential negative outcomes – all in front of your superiors and best customers.
- Will you provide your content to members? Meeting content should be made available to CAC members; ideally before the meeting so they can prepare and collect their thoughts and ideas, or review with their relevant team members (especially for product discussions). You should be able to trust your CAC members with forward-looking information (e.g. product roadmaps) but, on the other hand, be careful about including highly sensitive information you wouldn’t want to fall in the wrong hands (e.g. pricing).
- What are potential session outcomes and company deliverables? If managed correctly, your session will likely yield an abundance of actionable input, suggestions and ideas to your company. Not capturing them or (worse) failing to act on them will provide the proverbial kiss of death to your CAC program. Be prepared to prioritize and act on gathered member input ASAP after the meeting ends, and tee up the potential team members and resources necessary to complete these.
- What’s your action follow-up plan? In addition to committing to prioritized action items, you’ll want to communicate your planned activities back to the members so they know their input has been heard and it is leading to action. There may be items that are quick and easy to accomplish, which you can communicate may be completed before the next CAC meeting. Other, more complex actions may take longer to complete, but you can communicate a plan and timeline for managing them to your members. Finally, don’t be afraid to tell members what you won’t be able to do and why – they will almost certainly understand and appreciate your honesty over not hearing back on their ideas.
Session owners need to take their responsibilities seriously and invest the necessary cycles to adequately prepare for their next CAC meeting. Not knowing answers to these questions can lead to negative – and potentially disastrous – outcomes that may significantly weaken your CAC program.