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On a bumpy car ride in the hot desert sun on his way to observe and make recommended improvements to a client's customer advisory board (CAB) program, our founder, Eyal Danon, knew he was in trouble.

The faces of the executive CAB members in the truck with him also expressed concern when they finally reached the destination of their meeting "social activity": a remote gun range. There, the participants were led to tables filled with a wide selection of high-powered weapons for them to shoot at targets at will—with no instruction provided or safety precautions taken. Of course, a full, open bar was at the ready nearby should participants get thirsty amid the "fun."

A high-ranking executive member of the board turned to Eyal and accurately summarized the scene for himself and rest of the participants: "I think I'm in Hell."

Customer Advisory Board Basics

For the uninitiated, here's a brief description of customer advisory boards (also known as a customer advisory councils): CABs are forums for reviewing industry trends, addressing mutual challenges or opportunities, and offering unvarnished insights and guidance.

For host companies, these boards are ideal for validating corporate strategies, gathering input on solution development, and deepening relationships with key customers. For participating customers, there is just as much (if not more) to be gained in turn, such as the ability to influence their vendors' product road maps, acquire best-practices from peers, and help solve shared business challenges.

When done right, CABs can provide an abundance of valuable insight to the host organization, as well as a proven return on investment. In fact, companies that have active and successful CABs have a 9% increase in new business among advisory members after a year of participation compared with non-advisory board customers, studies show.

On the other hand, poorly run, poorly funded, or poorly resourced programs can do more harm to your brand than good. Mistakes made in front of your best customers can have a backfire effect: You can lose support, confidence in your business, and revenue.

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Rob Jensen is senior consultant and facilitator at Ignite Advisory Group, a consultancy that helps B2B companies manage their customer and partner advisory board programs. Contact him at rob.jensen@igniteag.com.

LinkedIn: Rob Jensen