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An Executive's Perspective on CABs and Other Major Customer Input Programs

Posted by Bill Lee on June 4, 2008 at 11:30 AM

Sean Geehan, Founder of Geehan Advisory Boards, will be leading a panel at this year's CAB Exchange Summit. Sean is an important thought leader with Customer Advisory Boards (CABs), particularly with senior marketing executives. He has presented to the CMO Council, The Conference Board, the American Marketing Association and other important groups.

Q. Sean, you work with executives a great deal and have also presented to senior executives at forums like The Conference Board. Can you tell us a bit about these?

A. My observation is that there is an increasingly amount of pressure for firms to be more in tune with the market - so every marketing dollar has the highest impact possible, and expenditures for product development, services and innovation hit the mark the first time. In today's market, companies and executives don't have options to spend on areas that are not aligned with market expectations (customer centric, focused, etc) or innovative. They are going to these events with hopes to learn how to translate these important concepts into meaningful tangible plans and results. Marketing leaders have a real opportunity to benefit from the convergence of these two concepts.

Q. From your observations and experience, what is the major disconnect between how CAB managers view their programs and how senior executives view their programs? Do CAB mangers sometimes miss "the big picture"?

A. I'm not sure they miss the big picture as much as they are challenged or politically unable to get to the business leaders that sponsor the program engaged up front. The initiative must be centered around your executive's priorities, the general response is that "our executives are too busy." All executives are busy, but the market pressures are now aligned with marketing and those leading customer programs, especially high level customer programs.

Think about the most important issues discussed at the Executive Forums I mentioned above (Customer centricity and innovation). Getting executives involved in a high-impact, light lifting manner will catapult your CABs real impact on the firm. CAB leaders need to be bold and make the ask!! I will say, much misalignment comes from how much people within organizations believe their executives know. CAB owners often tell us our Executives "already get that", "don't need this", "would never do that", they need to be bold enough here to ask as well. That in turn will fill-in the blanks to "the Big Picture" every executive needs to confidently and clearly set the organizational direction.

Q. Let's look at the value that executives place on CAB programs. How much of it is objective, quantifiable metrics? How much of it is subjective or intuitive?

A. Typically a BU president or CEO views these more subjectively. They are looking for direction, validation, strategic guidance, and acquisition opportunities. Most CEOs want "direct business level market input" to provide them the confidence and clarity to lead their firm. Their direct reports are looking for more tangible evidence of the ROI. This will justify the spend, commitment and sponsorship across the organization. I strongly suggest a CAB scorecard, which I will provide and review at the CAB Exchange Summit in July.

Q. What does it take to get an executive involved in a CAB program? Have you ever seen a case where an executive who believed that CAB programs aren't worth the investment of time and money they require, had their mind changed because someone put together a business case for the CAB program?

A. Getting executive buy-in is simple (but not always easy). You must prove unquestionable strategic value as the people on the board must be those which the Executive respects their perspective, and the dialog needs to be aligned to the priorities the Executive has laid out to the firm. Bottom line, ask yourself: "How relevant is this CABs mission to this executive's goals and objectives?" The greater the alignment, the better your chances of support, engagement and continuous involvement. I've seen a number of situations where the executives have abandoned the program because there was not enough strategic value in the program - but once we've been able to get the right people in the room and deliver an insightful agenda rich in dialogue, the executives become strong advocates for the program.

Q. What does it take to keep executives active and involved in a CAB program?

A. Relevancy!!! Are the discussions and level of perspective relevant to the executive's and firm's success? It's the only thing that matters.

Q. When it's all said and done, where do executives find true value in a CAB program?

A. If they are gaining greater peace of mind with the key decisions they are making due to the input the CAB program provides. If a marketing leader (or CAB leader) provides that to the executive team, not only will the executive continue to support the CAB, the marketing professional will also become a "GO TO" person for them!

If you have any additional questions for Sean, he can be reached at

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