Customer Advisory Boards – One of four types of team you may want to implement

Following on last week’s article about Customer Success teams, here are a few words about Customer Advisory Boards.

If your business has some very large customers whose success depends on your products and services, Customer Advisory Boards can be a great help. ‘Very large’ means they spend at least $5 million annually with you. The purpose of CABs is to allow your customers to give you advice. I have seen them implemented well, and implemented poorly. The difference between the two happens when a company forgets who is supposed to be giving the advice. (Hint: the customers.)

Members should view each other as peers

Members should be senior executives with similar job responsibilities. The closer the members’ profiles are to each other, the more they will enjoy getting together. Indeed, they are likely to continue their conversations between any meetings you may organize. I suggest having no more than about eight members. If you have more large customers, organize multiple boards, ideally by industry.

Three main benefits for the customers

The benefit of receiving advice from key customers should be obvious, but what is the benefit to them? Here are the top three reasons the customers will want to be members:

  1. The opportunity to meet their peers in other companies. Ensure you provide long, indeed very long breaks so they can interact informally. Don’t let any agenda item interfere with the break times.
  2. The opportunity to give you feedback about what they want you to improve. After holding an initial meeting, you should ask them to prepare such feedback in advance, presenting it at the following meeting. I suggest asking for a volunteer among the members and letting them do the work on their own.
  3. The opportunity to participate in creating new products and services that address their problems and business opportunities.

Avoid this mistake

Avoid treating a Customer Advisory Board as a captive audience for your marketing team. You should not be trying to sell them anything during the meetings. Ensure you treat them as an ongoing community, with regular phone, email and face-to-face interaction. Always bear in mind that they will enjoy meeting each other more than they enjoy meeting you. Ensure space for that to happen, especially as it will build a community around your products.

That’s it, short and sweet. Keep your boards simple too.

Next time: Executive Sponsors and Project Sponsors.