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  • Writer's pictureMadeleine Milne

The 5 Ws of CABs

Gone are the days where we believed we all had an inner Steve Jobs and could predict what our customers wanted or needed. Not only is it unrealistic and perhaps slightly egotistical, but nowadays your customers want to be part of your narrative and journey. One way to involve them is by creating a customer advisory board, or CAB.

What are CABs?

Companies set up CABs to gain strategic input from their most valued customers. This operates rather like the official board of directors, but without the participants having to assume the legal or fiduciary implications associated with a “real” board.

What CABs are not is a sales opportunity. They are also not product feedback sessions. In fact, they are not really about your company at all. They are an opportunity for you to gain insight into your customers’ focus, concerns and ambitions for the next 3 – 5 years, so you can ensure you continue to be in sync with their plans and priorities.


A CAB needs to be a company-wide initiative. Yes, you need a person within the organisation leading the charge, but the most successful examples are cross-functional and involve the most senior executives in the firm.

In terms of size and stage of company, a CAB is most relevant for organisations with a critical mass of customers (50+) and in a clearly defined market segment. If your organisation is earlier stage and in more of a reactive, testing phase then it is less likely to be as impactful.

Equally, the customer candidates should be relevant for the strategic questions you are posing. Don’t undersell yourselves. Pitch the gig to the right seniority, then ensure the invitation is sent from an equally senior individual within your own company.

Why do them?

Companies with an effective CAB are demonstrably more successful than those without one, and relationships can be significantly strengthened by them. People buy from people, and in more difficult times, human relationships are going to become ever more important. CABs enable organisations to stay up to date with market trends and changes. And, of course, organisations gain valuable insights cost-effectively this way. All of which can give you a powerful edge on your competitors.

You may be thinking that this all sounds great, but why would our customers be interested in getting involved? Well, it gives them an opportunity to network with their peers and talk about strategic issues they care about. They are Interested in gaining a strategic insight into your company and they probably want to influence your roadmap to their best advantage. And finally, it’s human instinct to want to help, so as long as you show you are sincerely and genuinely interested in what they have to say, and will act on it, they will be happy to support you.

When should you consider creating a CAB and holding the meetings?

Generally, the earlier the better, but CABS are most effective when you have a critical mass of customers and are occupying a clearly defined market segment. However, do not make the mistake of forming a CAB, organising an inaugural meeting, and then forgetting all about it. CABs must be considered as part of an ongoing programme for your organisation, maybe meeting twice to three times a year, depending on how many strategic questions you might be looking to receive input on.


Post Covid, the trend for most businesses is to deploy a hybrid of in-person and online meetings. The same applies to CAB meetings, with the structure, length and frequency adapting to what the business requires.

That leaves the question of how, where and when fits in. We can support your organisation in designing, developing, implementing and overseeing world-class CABs. Contact us if you would like to learn more or click here.


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