With Halloween upon us, it’s a good opportunity to reflect on the times when customer advisory boards (CABs) don’t go to plan. It can happen in the best of circumstances and to the best of people, even with the best laid plans. After all, CAB managers and executive sponsors are often working with numerous people from within their own company and with external customers, not to mention third party hotel, event and food and beverage staffs.

So while the vast majority of CAB meetings go off without a hitch, leaving customers and host company executives pleased (even thrilled!) with the engagement, perhaps some scary tales from the meeting crypt can serve as a reminder — or warning — for what not to do.

As such, here are the top six customer advisory board horror stories as gathered from our consultants:

Night of the Living Dead: Last Minute Preps

Creating and reviewing CAB meeting content late in the process can give any CAB manager nightmares. I’ve facilitated a couple meetings where content — including the company’s actual messaging and positioning — was still being hashed out at the onsite prep meeting the night before the meeting was to start. One of my colleagues told me a story in which CAB members arrived for the welcome reception only to see host company executives frantically still working on their meeting content.

Moral: While late tweaks can be expected, if your company is still creating content late into the night before your meeting, you’re doing things wrong and your customers will likely notice.

Related Article: Keep the Customer Advisory Board Meeting to Customers

Monster Mash: Rogue Executives

We’ve seen host company management harm meetings by going well off script. One executive was chastised by CAB members for presenting a canned investor presentation, while another had to be stopped after droning ad nauseam about his yoga class. I’ve experienced executive meeting crashers who showed up to the gathering uninvited and had to be asked to leave. Executives who ignore prep meetings have created havoc in front of customers. One sales executive showed up late, misunderstood what was being presented, argued with customers and attempted to take over the meeting to spin it into an overly optimistic sales engagement. When this didn’t happen, the exec left in a huff and even attempted to have the CAB cancelled.

Moral: Proactively communicate your meeting plans and timelines to your company executives, and have your program executive sponsor reign in rogue participants.

Ghouls and Goblins: Demanding CAB Members

While most CAB members are polite and professional, one of my colleagues experienced a “prima donna” who showed up to the meeting with five others from her company who were not invited, and demanded seats near the window for each of her party.

Moral: Communicate the participant meeting rules with your CAB members in your program charter document.

Jump Scare: Unplanned Noises

One CAB meeting managed by a colleague of mine was held next to a larger group next door. Thirty minutes in, the group next door started playing the national anthem very loudly, causing the CAB keynote speaker to stop and try to keep going again. He became flustered and seemingly never got his groove back after this.

Learning Opportunities

Moral: Let the interruption pass; or investigate your neighbor beforehand to see what they’re planning.

A Dark and Stormy Night: Outdoor Chaos

Dealing with the elements outdoors always presents a wild card for event planners. But things got dicey for one CAB meeting that was held outdoors on a windy day — meeting documents were blown all around. In addition, although under a tent, morning dew made the seats, papers and tables wet and outdoor noises drowned out much of the discussion. Finally, some wasps crashed the meeting, sending participants fleeing!

Moral: Keep meetings indoors and have a backup plan in case of inclement weather for outdoor activities.

Related Article: 5 Things to Accomplish After Your Customer Advisory Board Meeting

Dead Man’s Party: Wild Social Activities

One of my colleague’s companies held its CAB social event at a gun range, offering a selection of high-powered weapons laid out on a table for members to shoot at will – with no instruction provided or safety precautions taken – not to mention a full, open bar nearby. Fortunately, there were no injuries.

Moral: Keep social activities easy, low-impact and of interest to all attendees.

Conclusion: Avoid the Unplanned Strikes

The vast majority of CAB meetings go very smoothly, thanks to advanced planning, adhering to deadlines and excellent, proactive communications to all participants. But things can quickly go south if plans are not well communicated, participants ignore preparation and guidance, or the unplanned strikes.

fa-solid fa-hand-paper Learn how you can join our contributor community.