Customer Advisory Boards are not a perk!


(Image credit: CYLM / Instagram)

A Customer Advisory Board is a valuable investment for DMO’s and their customers.

For DMO’s, it’s one of the most essential strategic tools they can leverage … as long as they create an open environment that encourages candid feedback and don’t see it as another opportunity to sell the destination.

Based on my experience, here are 7 suggestions to insure your next CAB meeting meets your DMO’s strategic objectives and creates a sustainable and successful council experience.

  1. Align your DMO Team

Does your team really “get” the DMO strategy? Are they aligned on the main objectives of the organization and would they give the same answers when asked “What are your three main strategic imperatives?”

  1. Identify the challenges and welcome candid feedback

What are your DMO’s main challenges? If you can create an environment where you are open and willing to identify any potential “elephants in the room”and receive candid input, it will empower your council to engage in a meaningful and honest dialogue.    It’s interesting to know what “other DMO’s” are doing, but do you want a “me too” strategy or is your vision to differentiate your destination and bring fresh ideas to the marketplace?

  1. Build a Strategic Council

Customers who bring you business … may not necessarily be the only ones you invite. A Customer Advisory Board is not a perk. It is not a “thank you for your business” event. Accordingly, the question to ask is, who will bring the greatest added value and challenge you in a positive way? Additionally, are you listening to those who don’t want to do business with you now. There is value in knowing why and adding those voices within the council.

  1. Reach out in advance

Set the tone for your Customer Advisory Board! Reach out personally to each participant in advance. Start the conversation, share your challenges and establish an open and honest dialogue from the outset. With an outside facilitator, your opportunity for success will increase significantly if they are “interviewing” the potential participants and encouraging your advisors to speak freely.

  1. Define the agenda

Our world is evolving at light speed. There is no need to send the agenda a month in advance. So much can happen in between. Rather confirm far in advance the schedule but provide the final agenda a few days before the meeting.This will give maximum flexibility to tailor the agenda to “real time issues” and/or challenges.

  1. Ensure “No sales speech” from your DMO Team

People will invest their time and share their personal opinion as long as they feel they are in an open and safe environment … and that you are not trying to wine and dine them to “sell them.”. The Customer Advisory Board is a time to build and/or strengthen relationships and to provide candid feedback. If it was different, it would be simple be referred to as another “Customer Event”!

  1. Allow enough time for discussions and for every Advisor to speak.

Two heads are better than one. Hence, make sure that everyone has an opportunity to share – regardless of their level of shyness! – and allow for a fluid conversation. As long as the discussion is valuable and not circular…be flexible with timing. However, stay firm with published start and end times. Your council will expect your meetings to begin and end on time.

A Customer Advisory Board provides the ideal setting to offer feedback, share ideas and grow customers into advocates through an engaging and fun experience.

As a facilitator or a participant, I always learn something or meet somebody new. As for me (and I think for many of your customers) that is time well invested!

The first book on the “Why?” of a meeting

A little less than ten years ago, back in Brussels, my business partner Georges Yana and I developed a simple, yet very effective, methodology with the objective of helping organizations to align their face-to-face meetings with their strategy.

After several years and many successful business cases, I told him: “Georges, we should write a book!”

His answer was immediate: “Sure! Who is going to write it?”

Needless to say that we kept adding great examples one after the other but none of us had (or took) the time to write.

Then I moved to the US and started Swantegy Miami with Vimari Roman. Last year, she made me commit to write this book because she said: “Every time we speak with a client and we identify their challenges, you always have an example to share. You should write a book!”

So, here we are Ladies and Gentlemen. On Sunday 12th June, “Meeting at C-Level – An Executive’s Guide for Driving Strategy and Helping the Rest of Us Figure Out What the Boss Wants” is officially launched – although already available on Amazon 🙂

The entire process from writing a book to editing, cover designing, formatting, uploading, printing and launching is totally new to me and I enjoy getting out of my comfort zone and learning new things thanks to many different people.

I can tell you: “It does take a village to write a book” … and it is just the beginning.

Please download it, read it, offer it and if you feel so …write down a great review on Amazon.

Thank you.

Here is the link:


And so you believe you have been on an incentive trip?!


You just came back from a beautiful island where you stayed at a five-star property. You had a nice welcome cocktail by the pool and a farewell dinner on the beach. You are a top-performer for your company … and seriously, you have just experienced a very nice reward trip! Nothing more and nothing less. Your company may have invested a lot of money but is it really leveraging the emotional lasting impact a unique experience can create?

Incentive trips, reward trips or recognition programs as some people may call them, are one of the greatest tools to motivate your team and achieve results beyond the regular “yearly targets”.

As Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, wrote in “Winners Dream”: “To dream big, people have to feel big. (…) And I still believe that victories should be celebrated. SAP’s annual Winners’ Circle had become a sought-after event that inspired thousands of our sales professionals to achieve miracles on behalf of the entire organization.”

So how do you recognize a true incentive trip? Here are three key elements:

  1. Perceived value

A media company once offered its entire staff of 100, a top-of-the-line TV at the end of the fiscal year. When the employees got home, some significant others complained that “their spouse was working so hard for a year to only receive a TV which was on sales at Costco for x amount of dollars!”

Result: although it was a nice gesture, the price was known and the “perceived value” was much lower than what it should have been.

Alternatively: imagine walking out of a hotel on South Beach and discovering a motorcade of stretch hummers, settling in the cars and being escorted by the police to a private island for a Cuban themed party. The perceived value will definitely be much higher than the real cost.

  1. Contrasts / Experiences / Surprises

A FMCG company once brought its sales force to an all-inclusive property with traditional entertainment activities offered to all the guests staying in the hotel.

Result: no contrasts, no “unexpected moments”, no “corporate pride” and just regular moments. Few years later, people hardly recall the destination and don’t remember much of what they experienced.

Alternatively: imagine arriving in Delhi and going straight to the souk in tuk tuk, and, the next day, going to Jaïpur to have dinner with the Maharaja on the Lalique table in his private dining room. These are the type of contrasts, experiences and surprises you will never forget.

  1. Something you can’t duplicate

An insurance company once took their top performers to a five-star property in a ski resort. They had great dinners and were able to ski the entire time they were there. Nice but each of the participant could arrange this themselves without the “support” of the corporation.

Alternatively: imagine arriving in France at an exclusive spa in an upscale ski resort and being transferred by helicopter in front of the Mont-Blanc, walking up to an exclusive red velvet rope lunch party at a small mountain top and walking down the hill to a snow bar for lunch before taking back your helicopter. This is an experience that not many of us could have if we were to go back to that same place with our friends and family.

Do these three elements (Perceived value, contrasts and surprises, experiences you can’t duplicate) matter? Absolutely! With that mindset, you will definitely build a true incentive trip, reward or recognition program and you will create unique experiences which will motivate, and recognize your team like never before. These are the three main differences between an incentive trip and a standard company group trip.

Which experiences do you remember and why? Please comment and let me know!

The difference between the Swiss and the Maasaï

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It was a beautiful afternoon at the Olduvaï Camp in Tanzania and we climbed a little rock to watch the sunset on the Serengeti. The view was breathtaking and you couldn’t see a telephone line, a building or anything man-made 360 degrees around.

For a few minutes, we were contemplating the nature in total silence when he turned to me and asked: “Do you know the difference between the Swiss and us, the Maasai?” Then, with his huge smile he continued: “The Swiss have the watches, WE have the time!”

We burst into laughter and I never forgot that moment.

Working with different cultures is an amazing experience and it also has its challenges. How time is perceived from one country to another is one of them.

It is not a universal rule that you should answer an email in 15 minutes or you must attend a conference call while on holidays! Showing 10 minutes late for a meeting is not necessarily rude (actually, sometimes being on time can be) and starting an Opening General Session at 8:30 AM might force you to start your conference … without your international delegates!

One cultural dimension is very helpful to understand the relation to time from various individuals: monochronism vs polychronism. It has been widely described by American anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher Edward T Hall in his book The Silent Language (1959), in which, as mentioned by Wikipedia: “Hall coined the term polychronic to describe the ability to attend to multiple events simultaneously, as opposed to “monochronic” individuals and cultures who tend to handle events sequentially.”

Let’s illustrate the point with a (slightly generalized) example: in France, you might speak about politics or soccer before the meeting starts; your cellphone might ring during the meeting; your assistant might come into the room to ask you to sign something urgent; when reaching point 4 on the agenda, you might remember something you forgot to mention at point 2 and want to come back to it, etc. In Germany, it’s quite the opposite and German people might believe that it is impossible to work with French people who can’t concentrate and can’t be taken seriously … while French people might believe that it is impossible to work with Germans because they are too dry and too serious. Guess what?! Both countries have great and successful companies … and are taking long breaks during summer!

In other words, one individual’s relation to time is deeply affected by her or his culture, there is no universal answer to it and it is certainly not fully correlated to the level of professionalism of the person you are dealing with.

So, the next time you are frustrated about timing issues, first acknowledge it; second, try to understand what is “standard” in the business culture of the person you are interacting with; third, have a conversation about this with her/him and, if all the above doesn’t work … remember the difference between the Swiss and The Masaaï!

Seven tips to leverage the power of Advisory Boards


In the early nineties, I was leading the Belgian Chapter of AIESEC ( , the largest international association of students in economics and management, and although we were students, we already had an Advisory Board composed of the main HR Directors of our sponsors companies (Accenture (now Andersen consulting), P&G, Unilever, Deloitte, etc). It gave the association a solid amount of credibility towards the business community and allowed us to get honest feedback and test new ideas.

Few years later, when I started Swantegy (, I put together an Advisory Board, made up of friends with C-Level positions. Once a year, I would outline to them all my challenges and was sure of getting direct feedback … very direct feedback!

Since then, as a participant or as a facilitator, I have been involved in Advisory Boards in various Industries and I’ve witnessed the impact they have on organizations.

Here are 7 tips for your next Advisory Board.

  1. Understand Why

I know, it sounds obvious but you would be surprised how often people don’t know why they set up an advisory board.

Why do you run an advisory board? Why do you ask people to block time in their calendar for you? Why do you invest in bringing your advisors together to discuss face-to-face?

Generally, the reason for your advisory board will fall into one or two of these three categories:

  • You want to use the names of the Advisors to open doors for sales or funding
  • You have specific challenges for which you are seeking honest and direct feedback
  • You want to grow your organization and are looking to tap into the minds of several experts on a regular basis, kind of informal Board of Directors.

Whatever the reason, make sure it is clear in your mind as well as clearly and openly stated to the potential advisors.

  1. Identify challenges

Your advisors are experts in their field and they are VERY busy. The better they are prepared, the better they will contribute but they need to know what you are seeking feedback on.

Identifying your challenges will have two direct benefits: it will help you focus on the essential questions and it will guide you in your short list of potential advisors.

  1. And the nominees are…

Based on the first two tips, make a short list of potential advisors.

Think diversity of backgrounds and experiences and think outside of the box. For instance, if your challenge is around compliance for a pharmaceutical company dealing with chronic disease, instead of your usual “pharma suspect”, bring on a behavioral psychologist or a marketing expert in loyalty program. They will likely generate new ideas that might result in a completely new approach.

Ideally, you will end up with 12 to 15 confirmed advisors which, because of the inevitable “no-shows”, will ensure a manageable group and great insights.

  1. Who facilitates and takes notes?

Ideally, someone who is not from your organization. Not only will they keep time and people on track, but they will also make sure to ask the tough questions and get true and honest feedback from your advisors.

Budget permitting, your facilitator will concentrate on the advisors, their non-verbal reactions and the pace of the meeting, while someone else will focus on taking notes and capturing every good idea for future implementation.

  1. Perry Mason or CSI Miami?

It’s better to sign an NDA than search for DNA after a leak of confidential information!

Everyone around the table should be reminded that all discussions and information are confidential and cannot be shared without your consent.

You will find the right balance between laying out the current reality and keeping the ingredients of your secret sauce.

  1. Don’t Sell, Don’t Justify, Just Listen

You have two ears, two eyes and one mouth, use them in that proportion!

Make sure you keep an open mind while listening and sincerely pay attention.

Avoid selling your products or services to your board, especially if it’s an advisory board made up of customers or potential customers. You will turn them off and make them wonder if you really wanted their feedback.

Don’t justify yourself. Constructive critics will make you better and stronger. It’s an advisory board not an exam!

  1. Follow Up and Implement

Your advisors will appreciate knowing what you took away from the advisory board meeting and how you are planning to implement it in your organization.

You don’t need to send a full report but an executive summary will go a long way and will make sure that they are ready for the next meeting.

Are you participating or facilitating Advisory Boards? Please share your thoughts and tips here so that we can all continue to improve.

600,000 Reasons for Free Wi-Fi

Last October, Marriott agreed to pay $600,000 in a settlement with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over allegations that its Gaylord Opryland Hotel & Convention Center in Nashville had blocked personal Wi-Fi hotspots from guests and accordingly, had forced them to use the hotel chain’s network … at a price!

One would think that such a fine would be sufficient to stop this practice but Marriott is fighting back and it’s starting to look like a MMA fighting between the two giants Anderson Silva and Nick Diaz!

In one corner, Marriott, the American Hotel & Lodging Association and Ryman Hospitality Properties with some other hotel chains and in the other… Google & Microsoft together weighing in on the side of the FCC! (See here and here)

But isn’t it a lost battle for the hotel chains? And what does security have to do with it, when one compares with a city like Tel Aviv offering free Wi-Fi citywide (which I believe will become the norm in the future).

I understand that hotels need to make money, but Wi-Fi is not an amenity anymore, it’s part of everyday life …

Today, when I check in at a hotel, I want to be able to use my three iPhones, my PC and my tablet; and that is if I’m traveling for business. Now imagine how many devices that represent if I’m staying with my family? Hence the logic of a personal private network.

I reached out to Corbin Ball (see here) for his views on this: “The major challenge with Wi-Fi is for large convention hotels and centers. Providing free Wi-Fi for 40 people at a Starbucks/Motel 6 is much, much easier than for thousands of simultaneous connections at a major event. The cost to support this is very significant. Part of Marriott’s argument is that they were trying to stop rogue hot-spots that degrade the service for everyone. This is why you frequently experience poor or very spotty Wi-Fi coverage at major exhibitions. An obvious answer is to provide free or reasonably charged W-Fi coverage so people won’t be tempted to set up their own hot-spots. Including the free Wi-Fi coverage as part of the basic room rental fee/guest room fee seems like good path, but these costs for bandwidth and the constantly evolving internet support infrastructure for big events are very significant.

Corbin has been heard!

Last December, Hyatt Hotels Corporation (NYSE: H) announced that, as of this month, February 2015, they will offer free Wi-Fi at all Hyatt hotels worldwide, providing connectivity and convenience regardless of booking method or loyalty program participation. “It has become an integral part of travelers’ daily lives and a basic expectation,” said Kristine Rose, vice president of brands for Hyatt. “Travelers shouldn’t have to remember which brands or locations offer it for free or the strings attached to get it.” And as I was finishing this blog post, Marriott just announced that they were pulling off of their petition against the FCC and they were going to offer free Wi-Fi to their Membership Rewards Members. Obviously, they have found the solution in terms of … security of the network!

Hotels have to make money and customers have to understand that there are no free luncheons, but in a world of increased competition (AirBnB anybody?), there must be a common ground where security, profitability and service are not mutually excluded from the equation.

Will the above issue impact your choice of hotels? Why or why not? Please comment below to share your views. Thank you.


(This is my latest blogpost on which can be found at

Once upon a time, there was an invisible industry called “The Meetings & Events Industry”. Invisible because nobody knew that, in the US only, it was providing 1.8 million jobs!

When they were attending their company sales meeting, their presidential inauguration, their Super Bowl, their industry tradeshow, their congress session or their shareholders meeting, people never realized that hundreds of their compatriots were working days and nights behind the scene so that everything could run smoothly. The ghosts were at work!

At first, they didn’t realize that the venue didn’t light itself alone, the sound was not really “The Voice of God”, the chairs didn’t move themselves like in Fantasia, the invitations were not sent by Cinderella’s Aunt, the speakers worked hard to be as inspiring as Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, their hotel room was clean and ready to welcome them, their smartphone was connected to the web or they could review the conference content afterwards from the comfort of their living room. The ghosts had specialties!

Then one day, one of them heard that his niece, her daughter, his cousin, his grandson, had graduated from an “Event Management Program” at a very well known university. Although they were still not quite sure “what exactly that they were doing”, they realized that the ghosts were alive and kicking! The profession was taking shape.

Education and certification are essentials.

Today, there are more than 10,000 CMP’s worldwide. More than 10,000 individuals who have decided to complete the “Certified Meeting Professional” certification. Then to recertify through industry service or by consuming educational content. They speak the same language, they make sure your event runs smoothly and that your organization’s objectives are met. From AV to cultural differences in business, they have a vast array of specilaties they bring to your event so that you look great on stage or have an amazing and unique experience at the meeting you’re attending.

Next time you see me, shake my hand, I’m a CMP, a certified ghost, I make you look good and I’m proud of it!

When are you joining us in the CMP world? For a limited time, Events on is making it even easier with over 100 free videos eligible for CMP Clock Hours! For more information go to

My favorite App: “Holidays with the family”

For my first blog post, I wanted to share something I wrote on LinkedIn few months ago and which resonates as we start the Holidays.

Having moved with my family to the US almost 18 months ago, I discovered at the beginning of this year that there was something called “Spring Break,” but I didn’t change my routine and posted the following “Out of Office” message before going on vacation:

Thank you for your email. I’m currently testing a new revolutionary App called “Holidays with the family” which has been developed by my daughters. With one click, it switches off all electronic devices, social media tools and internet connections. I know it’s like being back in the 20th century but it is only a one week experiment so I know I can count on your support and understanding until next Sunday. In the meantime, if you need immediate assistance, please contact …

The response from my friends, colleagues and clients was unanimous: they all loved it and commented positively. I came back a week later, the team was still there, no client had left and the world hadn’t collapsed!

In all fairness, it took me some time to realize it. The first year I started my company, I checked emails and voicemails every single day, several times per day. I came back exhausted while feeling very guilty because I had “left the base!” The second year, despite a strong urge to “switch on,” I managed to unplug for a week and … since then, I do it every year two or three times per year! And guess what: it’s good for my business, it’s good for my family and it’s good for me!

The last days before leaving, I prepare the out of office message and switch it on a few hours before the close of business. At the end of the week, I take a 24 hours buffer to go through the messages at my leisure. Same with my voicemail which, upon return from Spring Break this year, had five messages … including one from my elder daughter who was checking on me!

Until recently, I always thought that this could only be possible if you were an entrepreneur, not a big shot in corporate. Then I read the article “Don’t disconnect, just unplugged” from David Sable, Global CEO of Y&R in which he wrote:

The real digital revolution recognizes that being unplugged adds to your ability to be plugged in. Because our technology solutions will only be as good as the people who make them.

And if we make our human interactions merely transactional, if we keep our thumbs active and our emotions still, if we lose the ability to connect as people, down the road I’d wager the technology will suffer, too.

I couldn’t agree more and have to revise my opinion: whatever the size of your company, whatever your level of responsibility, the more you’ll be able to unplug, the better you and your business will be.

When are you doing it?