CAB Dynamics: Guest Speakers

CAB Dynamics: Guest Speakers

CAB meetings should be memorable, valuable experiences.  Hearing from business luminaries, industry analysts, celebrities, politicians or your CEO can be fascinating contributors, but – if they’re not managed correctly – those same speakers can also detract from your ROI as a host.

CAB time is expensive time, each hour you spend in a CAB is 20-30 hours of C-level time.  That means that each hour of your CAB needs to meet a very high bar of value creation.  Picking the wrong speaker can end up wasting time and distracting members.  You want to choose a speaker who will act as a catalyst for CAB member conversations without distracting from the main agenda of your meeting.  Certain kinds of speakers carry more risk than others.

In this post we’re going to explore:

  • What’s the risk of having a guest speaker?
  • Which guest speakers are easy wins for a CAB meeting?
  • Which guest speakers are more demanding for a CAB meeting?
  • How do you harness the dark magic of your own CEO?

What’s the risk of having a guest speaker?

When it comes right down to it, you expect a return from your investment as a CAB host.  It’s a sound strategy to make members the star of the show, as their insights and trust drive the receipt of that return.  Guest speakers can compete with your members for precious speaking time.

Every guest speaker has to contribute a lot of value to justify a spot in the agenda.  Your job is to maximize value by making sure the right person is speaking and they understand the role you have for them in the meeting.

Which guest speakers are easy wins for a CAB meeting?

The best CAB speakers stimulate conversation without derailing the flow of the meeting.  You can use short sessions with a speaker to create mental breaks for your members.  Ideally, your guest speaker amplifies and enhances your other CAB sessions.

CAB Members are ideal speakers.  They know exactly what the CAB is set up to do and their role in it.  Their credibility as peers to the other members is irreproachable, and case studies about their experiences and perspectives are interesting to everyone.  They also don’t bend light like celebrities or CEOs can – more on this shortly.

Politicians make great speakers because they’re masterful communicators who frame the world in interesting ways.  They tend to stick closely to your meeting objectives, since they are used to speaking with clear goals in mind.  Their top-down perspective also provides your members a nice mental break from a close business agenda.

Specialist thought leaders can often surprise and delight your members.  Genuine luminaries abound in the world, and a good one is absolutely fascinating to CAB members, and their relative anonymity frees them from unreasonable expectations.  Plus, of course, they tend to be much cheaper than recognized thought leaders, which is nice.

Which guest speakers are more demanding for a CAB meeting?

Industry Analysts are extremely high value and very expensive.  As a consequence, they typically try to maximize their value by sharing as much knowledge and insight as possible while they are part of the meeting.  This makes them demanding, as the delicate balance of CAB interactivity can be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of their inputs.  Try to ensure analyst sessions are succinct (1 hour max) so that you can get back to engaging with CAB members and hearing what they think about the analysts’ content and perspective.

Recognized thought leaders like Seth Godin, Simon Sinek, or Brene Brown can be phenomenally interesting.  Personalities of this scale stimulate your executives and members to “think big”, and it’s often hard to return to the more prosaic elements of a CAB agenda after hearing from them.  We recommend setting up a separate “CAB Member Only” event or dinner to ensure they get the spotlight they need while preserving the integrity of your CAB agenda.

Celebrities such as actors, athletes or astronauts contribute more to the experience than to the personal and professional development of your attendees.  The best way to use these folks is to add interest to the pre-meeting dinner or reception, rather than in the main agenda.

How do you harness the dark magic of your own CEO?

Your CEO can be a phenomenal addition that makes your members feel privileged and prioritized.  However, since they are public figures with large personalities, comments tend to be addressed directly to them, eclipsing your other executives and breaking the discussion flow.  This means that their participation must be managed carefully.

Try to bring your CEO in for a handful of short, structured sessions and then get them out of the room right afterwards.  You should also set up a private room at the venue for the CEO to have 1-on-1s with your CAB members to underscore the value of their presence.  

This separation efficiently manages your CEO’s time while helping them build deeper personal relationships with customer executives – and protecting your CAB agenda.

Wrapping up

The right guest speaker, fitting seamlessly into your agenda, can easily become the highlight of your CAB.  Choosing a speaker with care and defining their session appropriately sets a host on track for a memorably successful CAB.

CAB Dynamics: Venue Selection

CAB Dynamics: Venue selection

Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) can bring immense strategic value to your company.  But gaining that value takes considerable thought and careful detail-oriented planning.  Choosing the best location, hotel, and meeting space are critical to ensuring a positive end-to-end experience for your customers and executives.

We’ve hosted CABs from New York to Bali and even Monaco.  That breadth of experience gives unique insight on which locations are ideally suited for playing host to a CAB – and which aren’t.

How do you choose a destination for your CAB?

Choosing the right location for your CAB is all about lowering the barriers for your customers to participate.  Long plane rides, connecting flights, and exhausting drives to the venue can all make attending much less appealing for busy executives.

Host cities with large airports and within one or two time-zones of your prospective members make coming to a CAB meeting much more attractive for your CAB Members.  Traveling from coast to coast in the United States is a 6 hour flight, which generally involves losing a whole day to travel on both ends.  Dallas, Chicago, and Denver make good middle ground locations if you have members who will be flying from both coasts.  If your Members are concentrated in one region, try to avoid making them fly for more than 4 hours where possible.

By and large, CAB Members need to show a good return on their time investment to attend a CAB.  A good way of helping them along is by choosing a known business hub.  New York, Chicago, London, Frankfurt, Singapore, or Sydney all make great locations because so many companies have offices in those cities.  Members can visit their local office or a customer before or after attending your CAB meeting, making it clear to their teams that this is indeed a productive work trip.

A few exceptions are worth pointing out.  A big event or scenic destination can justify breaking the “4 hour flight rule” if it’s sufficiently tempting.  Restful, scenic places like Amelia Island or Sea Island (or Bali – but enough gloating) can help your customers disconnect from the day to day and give you their undivided attention.

Which venues maximize CAB collaboration?

Once you’ve selected the right destination, the next step is to choose the right hotel venue.  With a senior executive cohort, you’ll naturally want a five-star hotel.  But it’s important to remember that you’re looking for intimacy when you choose your hotel.  Meeting areas should create a comfortable generous workspace, but ought not be cavernous ballrooms.  Members need to feel that they’re collaborating as an intimate candid group in a privileged space.

Avoid the huge venues in Las Vegas and Orlando – we often recommend a well-appointed boutique four-star hotel over a large chain with five-stars, solely based on its intimacy.  A CAB is a collaborative conversation, not Comic-Con.

We tend to choose meeting rooms which are spacious, but feel reasonably full when 20 people are collaborating during the sessions.  We also like to book a second room nearby for private breakfasts and lunches, as well as breakout groups when required.  Members always know where they have to be, and very little time is lost to room changes.

Wrapping up

Every hour of a CAB meeting represents 15-25 hours of C-level time and considerable expense, so  streamlining travel and ensuring comfort and creativity are vital.  Seamless, well-orchestrated CAB experiences lead to camaraderie and memories that customers will recall with fondness for decades.

CAB Dynamics: Host Value

Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) are the single most effective long-term platform to guide, protect, and grow a B2B tech business. To understand why, it’s important to have a clear picture of what a successful CAB looks like and what kind of ROI you can expect.

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CAB Dynamics: Member Value

Customer Advisory Boards can be extremely valuable. But when you’re planning one, it’s easy to get caught up in the anticipation and only focus on how your organization is getting value.
Building a CAB program that offers strategic insight to your team over the long term, means incorporating serious respect for your CAB member’s time as well as their strategic priorities.

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Advisor Deal Dynamics

Advisor Deal Dynamics

Sourcing Advisors manage the largest RFPs in the market.  Of the 1500+ service providers, only a few dozen make it onto a recommended provider list, and of the ones that do even fewer are placed on a long list.  

Competing to be included in just the first two phases of an advised procurement process is a task worthy of the Olympics and you haven’t even gotten to the shortlist or final selection.

We regularly speak with executives who just aren’t aware of how challenging and competitive the Advisor relations game can be.

In this post we’re going to explore:


How do you get there?

First, there are some brutal statistics… 

There’s no sugar coating it, if you’re a smaller firm this is a hard game to play.  Of the hundreds of advised RFP’s which are put out into the market each year the vast majority go to companies with over one billion in annual revenue.  This is a competitive landscape where you may have to re-think how you define “small” and “large” companies.

Only about twenty percent of all advised deals are won by firms with under one billion in annual revenue.  Of those, roughly a quarter (~ 5%) are won by firms who fall under the five-hundred-million annual revenue mark.

What this means is, if you’re a young energetic company who’s looking to make a mark on the industry, you’re going to have to play in a pond with some very, very big fish.

Why do big companies out compete small ones?

As a Sourcing Advisor, your reputation in the market is absolutely everything.  When they manage a hundred-million-plus RFP, the expectation is the project will be designed and executed flawlessly.  So, when that advisor is recommending service providers there’s a strong incentive to pick firms who have well-proven track-records of capability and reliability, even if they’re offering the more expensive solution.

Size is a huge asset.  Lean mean operations may help your firm in other areas, but they can hurt you here.   The deal sizes here are so large that they can easily swamp smaller teams who lack the bench of talent and resources that larger firms can muster.  Advisors often preclude service providers from bidding on a deal if that deal would represent more than five percent of your annual revenue.

Finally, big companies are often easier for advisors to work with.  Major players will have a well-established Sourcing Advisor Relations team who know how to play the game and play it well.  Those SAR teams will be backed up by a robust deal pursuit team with tried-and-true processes for executing on very large deals.  The complexity inherent in deals of this scale will be no problem for really big players.

All of this combines to paint a pretty daunting picture for smaller firms who want access to some advised RFP’s.  However, while the big guys do hold most of the cards, they don’t have all of them.

How can you win?

Preparation is key here.  You need to be ready to make the most of it when you’re invited to a long list because you won’t be offered every deal you might want.  It’s critical to have processes in place that will let you capitalize on the opportunities you do get and show the advisors just how capable you are.  One great way to build that competency is to bring in outside coaching to help your team prepare.

Build a laser focus on your unique selling propositions.  You’re not going to beat the big players by offering the same service with a smaller team and a lower price point.  Being able to clearly articulate three to five places where no competitor can match you can help differentiate your offering.  However, they need to be truly unique, sourcing advisors work with these deals every day, generic uncreative USPs will be obvious to them and will hurt your chances at winning the bid. 

Where the large players are winning based on the scale of their teams, smaller players need to focus on innovating.  This is where being lean, and mean can actually help you craft a resonant value proposition.   Big companies have a harder time cutting through the bureaucracy to create truly groundbreaking solutions.  Capitalizing on that advantage will set you apart and show the advisors that including your offering in their long list can give the customer access to more variety when selecting a solution.

Lastly, none of this is a replacement for experience.  One of the biggest indicators you can give the sourcing advisor about your team’s ability to execute on large deals is a strong track record.  Effectively messaging your history of successfully delivering large projects will reduce the perceived risk of selecting your solution.

This isn’t an easy game

It takes time to start winning deals.

Everything we’ve talked about so far has focused on getting onto a long list.  But, that’s just the beginning.  Being included on a long list is like making it onto a national Olympic team, you’ve made it past the trials and proven you’re one of the best, but now it’s time for the real competition to start.  

Going from the long list to the shortlist and on to winning RFP’s doesn’t happen overnight.   This discipline has Relations in the name for a reason, relationships are critical, and those take time to deepen.  Expecting to win deals immediately is a pathway to heartache.  It’s important to understand that Advisor Relations is a game where persistence and consistency win the day.  You won’t win every time your team is up at-bat.  The important thing is to keep showing up to play.

Clear messaging is critical

It may sound obvious, but Advisor Relations isn’t like Public Relations or Analyst Relations.  When talking with advisors you have a lot more rubber meeting the road.  It’s important to avoid the theoretical or philosophical lingo which might serve you well elsewhere.  Stay practical and keep a focus on concrete ways in which your unique selling propositions will create a tangible impact for the customer.

Staying pragmatic will help position your firm as a solid dependable option for winning the deal.  You need to clearly convey to the advisor where you’ve done deals like this before, demonstrate that you can comfortably handle the complexity, and back that narrative up with strong customer references.

Being small has its benefits

Large firms have some clear advantages in the eyes of customers and sourcing advisors.  Their stability, track record, and bench of team members make them into the safe, if expensive, choice.  But smaller firms aren’t without their own strengths.

When it comes down to it, Advisors are consultants, and they charge by the hour.  That means that they need to constantly demonstrate value to their client at every stage in the vendor selection process.  Rehashing a top 10 list is something a client can do themselves by reading an analyst report, so Advisors have a strong incentive to include smaller, specialist firms into an RFP process to provide some good options.

Highlighting your team’s ability to flexibly innovate, your dedication to customer alignment and your lack of an unwieldy bureaucracy creates a compelling value proposition.  You won’t be winning a lot of deals at first, but the more times you give yourself at-bat, the better your odds become.

Wrapping up

It’s important to set reasonable expectations for your Advisor Relations program, understanding that firms under $1 billion in annual revenue are playing at a disadvantage.  However, that doesn’t mean you can’t leverage some of your strengths to improve your chances of winning a deal.

For smaller firms, Advisor Relations is a game of patience and perseverance while you build awareness and understanding of your place in the market.  But when you do start winning deals, the payoff is massive.


Core AR Coverage vs Broad AR Coverage

Core Coverage vs Broad Coverage

Analyst firms can be thought of as delivering two types of exposure for your company, dependent on their influence and scale – Core Coverage and Broad Coverage. 

An effective Analyst Relations (AR) program needs to understand how and when to balance the two, which is the topic of today’s post.

The Costly Allure of Core Coverage

Larger analyst firms are well suited to helping refine your vision, strategy, and market positioning, and publish canonical competitive market reports which we refer to as Core Coverage.  No one questions the incredible market influence of a Gartner Magic Quadrant, a Forrester Wave, an IDC MarketScape, or an Everest PEAK Matrix.  This is what most people think of as Analyst Relations.

Gartner, Forrester, IDC, Everest – and for IT services, ISG as well – are the biggest analyst firms in the market, with over 85% of enterprise buyer awareness.  They employ some of the best-informed and most intelligent people in the technology industry, and any strong AR program needs to include these firms in its coverage focus.  But their dominance in buyer awareness often leads AR teams into making a strategic mistake.

The big three have pricing models which reflect their status as industry leaders. 

We regularly see AR teams focus so tightly on Gartner that they fail to seek other analyst coverage which can have better ROI.  Placing in the Leader Quadrant of a Magic Quadrant is immensely valuable for your brand, and being covered in a Gartner white paper can be very impactful too.

However, Core Coverage is a very costly game that strongly favors large companies.  Too much Core Coverage spending can easily devour most of a smaller company’s AR budget without much to show for the effort. 

We all know how what sort of ROI startups buying Superbowl ads have enjoyed over the years.

The Hidden Power of Broad Coverage

Just below the Core firms sits a significant group of first-rate research firms with more focused coverage and deep competency and credibility in their chosen research areas.  Firms like Constellation, HFS, Celent, Omdia, and Avasant and aren’t trying to boil the ocean with their coverage, which lets them add more depth and nuance into their research.

Mid-sized analyst firms offer different propositions, such as deep vertical knowledge, niche geographical coverage, and specialist horizontal technology expertise, which we refer to as Broad Coverage.  These firms are particularly useful for cost-effective demand generation campaigns centered on webcasts, white papers, case studies, market overviews, and other cobranded material.

Here’s the good news:  Broad Coverage firms are generally more entrepreneurial in their pricing by virtue of their lower market share, and they pay more attention to scale-up and growth brands.  They’re also more responsive and easier to work with than the big players.

Incorporating Broad Coverage into your AR strategy for vertical, geographic, or technical coverage – and particularly for custom research that can drive demand-gen campaigns – will really help you realize your ROI goals for the program.

Wrapping up

Core Coverage and Broad Coverage are interlocking pieces of the AR puzzle.  Core firms are phenomenal for market-wide competitive reports and provide incredible endorsement for your brand, but with a price tag to match. 

Broad firms extend that headline coverage with targeted earned coverage and demand-gen support that will help you make the most impact from your precious AR budget.