Specifically in B2B, Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) provide great ways to interact with the customer community and involve them in developing your product.
As described above, start by selecting strategic initiatives that are essential for your product strategy. Beware that running a CAB will be time-consuming – so less is more. Better ensure that you focus on those topics that are most important and where contributions by customers will be most valuable.
For the strategic topic selected, you now pick a number of customers. Actually, you start by building a shortlist: Which of your customers, do you think, could provide valuable insights into that topic? Who of them could be interested in joining?
Consider this shortlist as a wishlist – because you will have to double-check with Marketing, Customer Success, Account Management, and Sales whether to include them or not. Generally, don’t give up too fast – you just need to talk to customers. But there might be valid reasons for not approaching a specific customer right now.
And, yes, we say customer – because specifically in the growth stage we found it more useful to collaborate with the existing customer base rather than early prospects that weren’t even familiar with our product yet.
Specifically, when the format is new, you will have to run a dedicated kickoff meeting to set expectations, explain the rules, describe the format, and clarify questions. Also, better clarify the scope of this particular CAB again as you want to keep it focused on the selected strategic intent (some customers will try to hijack for other topics anyways, we promise).
Now it’s time to actually run the series of CAB meetings. According to our experience:
Depending on the topic, such a CAB series may run just a couple of months or even be continued over several quarters.
Based on our experience, the following may help to set up a CAB program successfully:
As written above, make sure you invite a good handful of customers. Too few and you risk building bespoke solutions. Too many and the meeting series will become unmanageable.
But also ensure a certain variety in terms of industry vertical, company size, country, etc. This will help to ensure building solutions that are widely adoptable.
Once the wishlist of customers has been agreed upon, also try to get hold of real users – or at least to get as close as possible to real users. The CxOs of customers, for most products, will not be users – so it is questionable not only whether they will find time but also whether they can provide true insights.
As Product Managers, we are often biased, we fall in love with our solutions. Oftentimes, it helps to involve experienced colleagues from user research who have more expertise in conducting interviews, listening to customers, and understanding nuances. Also, the design team should directly sit in the CAB meeting to avoid the Chinese Whispers game later on.
Participating in CAB meetings will mean a massive investment from customers, it will be time-consuming. Needless to say that you should be prepared well, share an agenda before every meeting, and have all the tools, whiteboards, prototypes, and demos set up.
Not only prepare before hand but also share all the learnings and insights afterward. Do so with the CAB customers (for example via email summaries) but also internally so that other teams across the entire company stay informed. With today’s online collaboration tools, you cour, for example, open dedicated channels in which you share updates and key learnings.
While you share key learnings broadly, make sure the CAB meeting is used to collaborate and co-develop with customers. This is not a company-internal meeting. Use different meeting formats for internal discussions but do not waste customers’ time with those.