Love is in the air, but even if you’re not a fan of Valentine’s Day, take heart. Soon you can look forward to the CVS discount bin filled with half-price chocolates.

Dive in and use that sugar rush to consider how your relationship is going. Are you a good listener? Do you ask for feedback and ideas on how to improve the relationship?

We’re talking about your customer relationships, and here’s a tip: They need attention year-round, and not just from your sales teams.

If it’s been a while since you really listened to all the good, bad and ugly your customers want to tell you, then it’s time to start – or improve – your Customer Advisory Board (CAB) program.

Make a Love Connection, awkward moments and all

Your top customers have feedback you need to hearBack in the 80s and early 90s, the Love Connection dating show was The Bachelor of its day. Lucky singles only had to date three people to find their match – if they could get past the bad perms, acid-washed denim and on-air feedback from their dates.

Today, your top customers or partners have feedback you need to hear. An advisory board program matches you with a select group of executives who serve as a sounding board for ideas and offer feedback to guide the direction of your company.

Companies use advisory boards to improve their products, services, solutions, programs and policies, while strengthening customer relationships.

The candid nature of the discussions might feel awkward at first. But the payback is worth it, as you improve business productivity, increase new deals, create brand advocates and retain customers:

  • A study by the Business Development Bank of Canada found annual sales of businesses with an advisory board averaged 24% higher than the control group during a 10-year period.
  • Research of CAB data by the Ignite Advisory Group found CAB members add a 9% increase in new business for host companies after a year of participation, compared with non-CAB customers.
  • CAB member companies stick with you, showing a whopping 95% customer retention rate and 57% higher participation than non-CAB members in reference programs, testimonials and thought leadership efforts.


Building an advisory board? Use your account teams as matchmakers

Source the best candidates who will engage and offer useful, actionable feedbackThere’s no Love Connection without compatibility and mutual interests. Who better to match you with the right CAB customers than your own sales account teams.

Your account teams can identify and recruit customers who will be the right fit for your board. Not just in terms of representing specific roles and business functions, but also getting the right personality fit and desire to add value to the discussions.

For a winning advisory board, your dream-date customer should:

  • Represent one of your top 100 accounts by revenue
  • Have the personality to constructively give insights on how to make your partnership, product or solution work best
  • Help set their firm’s short- and long-term strategy and have budget authority to make the decisions that matter to your company. This is usually a C-level executive title for smaller companies, or a director-level or higher for larger corporations.

Involve your account managers to source the best candidates who will engage and offer useful, actionable feedback. Avoid individuals who only say you’re wonderful, or who repeatedly bash you like you’re on Bravo’s Real Housewives.


Time to commit and expect some tough love

Your top executives need to be all in.For your CAB program to succeed, your top executives need to be all in. This includes participating in meetings, throwing all their (and their team’s) support toward making the program successful and footing the bill to make the CAB program worth your top customers’ time and effort.

This isn’t the time to look for discount venues. Treat your board members right, with a healthy budget that includes lodging for attendees at a top hotel, swanky food and beverage, Instagram-worthy networking activities and top-notch marketing services for event management and production.

Likewise, you expect a commitment from your customer advisory board members. Ask for two years of their participation. You might even decide to let some members stay longer, if it’s mutually beneficial and they consistently provide meaningful and candid input.

Sometimes the feedback from your customers will be difficult to hear, but you need to hear it. Case in point: One company shelved a not-yet-launched branding campaign and went in a different direction based on candid and constructive CAB feedback.


Keep it intimate and build trust

Keep it intimate and build trustAs you get commitment from your board members, your goal is to slot 30-40 seats. This sized group will be large enough to get diverse feedback, and small enough to have an open discussion.

After all, what’s a relationship without communication? In addition to two-to-four in-person meetings each year, also plan for two-to-four virtual calls, progress reports and regular touch points throughout the year.

Ongoing communication and transparency will build trust, which creates a solid foundation for your CAB program. Gartner Brand Content Manager Kasey Panetta says:

“Openness and transparency is becoming an essential part of CX initiatives because customers feel they have better experiences when they trust an organization. The key element here is trust. Companies that are open and transparent to customers are typically better at creating positive customer experiences.”

Have a great first date with your board members using an onboarding process. Your CAB program manager and account lead will meet with individual customers or partners to provide a brief overview of the program, set expectations and answer questions.


Make yourself vulnerable and be a good listener

 80% Listening, 20% Talking for executives and session leadsA sure way to stifle customer feedback is for your executives to react defensively when they hear all is not rosy in the relationship. Have them check their egos at the door.

A simple “Thank you for your feedback” response will go a long way, once you show customers how you are acting on their comments. Follow up each in-person or virtual meeting with action and progress reports.

These high-level customer executives need to know you’re listening, acting and using their time wisely.
A mix of 80% listening, 20% talking is about right for your company’s executives and session leaders. They should be mainly in listening mode, not presenting a mood-dampening deck of PowerPoint slides. Encourage them to include discussion questions for each session.

Rarely, one of your customers might try to turn the entire meeting into a bad date with one Debbie Downer comment after another. In that case, it’s okay to pull that customer aside and let them know you’ll work with them offline to resolve their issues.


Bring your A game

Bring Your A Game - Lightspeed Marketing CABYour customers will expect a first-class event and program. A winning CAB program includes a clear mission, the right board composition, a strong internal team and an experienced agency partner to manage the program and logistics.

Team Lightspeed has partnered with our clients to build CABs from the ground up and improve existing CAB performance around the globe.

We create an environment for your customer relationships to thrive, while keeping you organized and on point.

Ready to start or improve your Customer Advisory Board program? Contact us at [email protected].