Implementing Customer Discovery

Once a more extensive Product Management team had been in place, we were ready to initiate a customer discovery program so that we could involve our customers in improving our product offering and implementing future capabilities. One element of that was to establish Customer Advisory Boards and we want to share some experiences and learnings from that.

Why Customer Advisory Boards?

We are hopefully all familiar with the idea of customer interviews. Is a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) just another interview? Let’s think about the purpose and pain you have, for example:
  • Any strategic decisions that you’d like guidance and feedback on via deepened talks with your customers?
  • Got an idea you would like customers’ continuous and balanced input throughout the Solution Validation?
  • Would you like to broaden your view of our customers and their world?
In such scenarios, it’s more effective to invite a manageable group of customers and have regular meetings with them. During this series of meetings, you can delve deep into your goals and pains, while having enough time in between each meeting to act upon their feedback and adapt the agenda of the next meeting. That is basically what a CAB is.

It’s about your goal, your customers, your organization, and your market. Depending on that, the CAB size can vary, such as from 4-6 people, or even more. The frequency can vary, such as from once a month, 1.5 hours long, to every other month, 2 hours long, etc.

The Success Factors for Running a CAB

Depending on your organization, you could be running the CAB with a UX Researcher/Team, completely by yourself, or with close “supervision” from your stakeholder, e.g., founders and sales. In any case, being clear about your goal is vital. Even if the reason that you need a CAB is to help you define your business or product goal, still, set a goal based on this, e.g., test your assumptions on value and viability.


It's a group meeting.

As a general but even more so in group meetings, we shall keep them focused, so that important items are covered and irrelevant ones are excluded.

It’s a meeting with more than one customer.
Regardless of offering any incentives or not, your customers sit with you, engage in the topics you brought in, and often work interactively on a worksheet with you. Make it count. Additionally, customers have points to make. It’s rarely the case when a customer participates in an interview or CAB that they only “just want to check what this is about”, rather they have a point or two to make straight into the product team. It’s expected that they will try to interject. You can only get what you want out of this meeting if you know what you want so certain that any disruption or distraction will not affect you from getting it.
It's a work-intensive meeting.

As mentioned above, typically a CAB runs once or every other month, 1 – 2 hours long. It’s not just another customer interview where you can hop in on the clock without any preparation. Every CAB meeting requires preparation, be it a template worksheet, prototype building, rehearsing, or even just the time slot scheduling of back-and-forth emailing. These are all time-consuming activities. Again, make it count – what do you want out of it, how do you get it?

The Vanilla Extract of CAB

One drop of vanilla extract in 300 grams of batter makes your cake smell heavenly. What is the extract ingredient in running a CAB?

It's the infrastructure that fosters customer openness.

  • Our company has paved the way to ubiquitous customer feedback channels, which are all fully active: Community, user forum, customer interviews, etc. Customers know they can talk to this company.
  • But customers also talk to each other, especially the customers who attend the same CAB. they discuss privately, how to better use the product, better understand each other’s use cases, better understand how our product serves different industries and companies, and put things into perspective for them.
  • The power of community is often not discussed in the B2B Product Management world. In social media, cryptocurrency, and gaming industries, the “user community” is often a BUZZWORD. One Hamburg-based gaming company told us, while other gaming studios spend 10-20 million euros a month for buying players, they nurture an active community and get constant loyal new users for free. Because once users begin to talk to each other, the snowball starts rolling.
  • Same in our community, often there are discussions where one customer raises a concern that another customer’s wish doesn’t work for them, thus better not be implemented. There are also cases where more than 10 customers join hands and all confirm they have exactly the same pain point and help Product Managers enormously.

Case Study - First 100 Days of Implementing a CAB

Remember your goals. Set the right context for the customers.
Grow with the CAB. Get comfortable and connect well with your customers.
Be persistent and patient. You don’t get the ultimate outcome out of one or two sessions.

Here is how it went for one of the CABs that we organized:

  • Day 1: Knowing what goal we want to achieve
  • Day 5: Knowing what discussions can help me get there
  • Day 10: Knowing who I need for these discussions
  • Day 15: Started internal communication loops for assembling a CAB
  • Day 20: Continued: As a classic example, Sales allowed us to contact one customer while Consulting objected
  • Day 30: Finally able to send out the first batch of CAB invitation emails to customers
  • Day 35: The first customer responded with a “yes”!
  • Day 40: Waiting
  • Day 45: More waiting…..
  • Day 50: Four customers confirmed. We decided to wait no more, better kick it off and adjust
  • Day 55: Found a mutual appointment for all four customers, UX Research, ourselves
  • Day 60: Prepared agenda, interactive worksheets, demo materials, and presentation
  • Day 61: Synced with UX Research
  • Day 64: Rehearsal
  • Day 65: Kick-off meeting for that CAB, finally.
  • Day 65: Debrief and reflect
    • The preparation was much needed.
    • The goal and Big Picture, e.g., rapport and long-term relationship with the customers, matter more than the one or two questions that went out of hand or very well.
    • The right CAB member constellation is vital. Uninvite the customer if found not suitable.
  • Day 75: Found a replacement customer
  • Day 80: Once again. Sent invites for the next CAB
  • Day 90: Prepared worksheets based on the current goal
  • Day 91: Synced with UX Research
  • Day 95: The second CAB meeting
    • Showed the CAB a prepared wrap-up from the previous session
    • Checked if still on the same page
    • Started the new topics
  • Day 95: Debrief and reflect
    • Our desired feedback was received quicker than in the first CAB. Dynamic would always change. Bear in mind our long-term goal is more important than the feeling of one or two sessions.
    • The replacement CAB member turned out to have missed the meeting. This happens. Be prepared for that in the future as well.
  • Day 100: build on the previous learnings, send an invite, and start again!

Further Reading

How B2B product teams can incorporate VOC more systematically

An interview with Ayham Ereksousi, CoFounder CEO at Stomio, former product leader at Cisco Meraki and Snap One.

Esteban Contreras | Product State