With the Coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world, the business of business is grinding to a halt. With restrictions on travel, gatherings, and even leaving your home, your upcoming in-person customer advisory board (CAB) meeting is likely to be cancelled or postponed, if it hasn’t already. But this does not mean your CAB program should go dark and lose contact with your CAB members. Quite the contrary – to keep your vital program momentum going, you should quickly pivot to hosting your next CAB engagement online via a virtual or online meeting.
While there are many articles about how to hold effective, general online meetings, here’s five proven keys specific to customer advisory boards when it comes to successful virtual CAB meetings:
- Invest in preparation: Even though your meeting will be online, you should still prepare for it similar to how you would for a face-to-face engagement. That means addressing topics that you know (via interviews or previous meetings) your members want to cover, a line-up of engaging session leaders, reviews of all meeting materials and rehearsals with all host-company participants before the meeting takes place. Utilizing your virtual meeting technology for this and testing its capabilities will ensure it’s working for everyone and that your meeting will start on time.
- Plan for member engagement: Virtual CAB meetings should still be exclusive forums to gather executive customer feedback and ideas. As such, all session leaders should be clear and communicate what they are trying to learn from members, and the questions they need help with answering. As such, sessions should be designed to best uncover and gather such input in a methodical, orderly fashion. In addition, you can leverage online meeting platform technologies, such as video, active curser and polling to keep members active and engaged. On the flip side, if your virtual CAB meeting is really a series of presenters providing bland PowerPoint “updates” on your industry or company, or (worse) product demos with little or no planned time or method for gathering participant input, your meeting is really a standard, one-way webinar, to which you might as well invite all your customers (and prospects, partners, etc.)
- Consider increasing frequency: If your agenda is quite full or you’re looking for an abundance of crucial feedback, the planned duration of your virtual meeting could start to get a bit long; especially in the eyes of your busy executive members. Virtual CAB meetings should not last all day or even many hours – we suggest between 1.5 and 2 hours. Any longer than that, and you might start to lose people, or at least their attentions. As such, if you have more content and desired feedback, consider breaking up your meetings into shorter, multiple engagements. With the current and developing virus situation, you might proactively plan on a series of virtual meetings for the foreseeable future.
- Use a skilled facilitator: Even though your meeting takes place online, you still need an experienced facilitator to ensure its success. This person will help manage the meeting similar to an in-person gathering, including establishing the participation ground rules, ensuring all voices are heard, clearing any input bottlenecks, and confirming that the meeting stays on-time and on-track with the agenda and desired outcomes. Failure to communicate the participation guidelines and desired outcomes may lead to minimal discussion – a virtual meeting killer! As facilitators should be skilled in meeting management and be perceived as neutral by participants, companies should strongly consider hiring proven, outside experts to optimize these important customer engagements.
- Communicate all outcomes: In the interest of communicating what you hope to accomplish on the call and learn from members, you should review these desires at the conclusion of your virtual meeting, and measure whether these objectives have been achieved. Assuming success, you should summarize these inputs in a detailed meeting report, and review, prioritize and establish an action plan to achieve them with your internal stakeholders. Finally, and most importantly, share these outcomes with your members, and the timeline for when you plan to accomplish them. Be prepared to provide progress in subsequent virtual meetings – if your CAB members do not see progress on their provided input, they will likely lose interest in your program.
Our friends at customer advisory board.org have also provided some outstanding guidance on the topic of virtual CAB meetings, and many tips for ensuring it goes well and all your members are heard.
With the world-wide Coronavirus pandemic, we’re living in a crazy time. But your CAB show must go on, and keeping your members informed, engaged and contributing will ensure your program is robust, developing and moving forward – and communicating to them that your company is alive, well and prospering in these troubled times.
Originally published here.