Customer Advisory Board

Specifically in B2B, Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) provide great ways to interact with the customer community and involve them in developing your product.

Customer Advisory Boards for Strategic Topics

In some companies, CABs are implemented very much on the executive level: Once every quarter, the CEO, CRO, and CPO of the company would meet with 3 or 4 hand-picked customers to discuss highly strategic matters. The customers will also be represented by executives. For example, at Market Logic we built a leading insights platform helping insights and business professionals at major global brands. Here, the Chief Marketing Officers or VPs of Marketing of customers were members of the CAB.
While this may be useful for executive alignment, it was actually less actionable for the Product Management team. Hence, we organized CABs differently at Quentic: Instead of a single CAB, we decided to run multiple such co-creation groups – one for each initiative, or strategic intent, that was part of our product strategy. For the Product Management team, this was way more concrete, allowed closer collaboration, and also brought us closer to the actual users.

Setting up a CAB Step by Step

Select the Topic

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.

Pick Customers

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.

Invite Customers
Send invites to those customers you agreed upon. Explain what the CAB will be about and what you expect from them. Specifically, clarify that this is not a one-time meeting over a cup of coffee – but rather will be a series of meetings and, hence, also be quite time-consuming for them. Also explain what customer will get out of it. At least they are being heard, they will have a way to bring in their ideas and needs. In some cases, this may also mean early access to new features or even some discounts. And then wait for them to come back. Don’t expect feedback in hours and days – sometimes it will take weeks. Use different channels to remind them in a polite manner, for example via the consultant who meets with them over a workshop or similar. Ideally, you gather 5-6 customers because 1 or 2 will be too few, there will be a high risk of building a bespoke solution that doesn’t serve a general need. And with 10 or more customers, it is hard to run actionable workshops with active participation – the risk is high that it becomes a presentation without all of the customers being truly involved.
Kickoff Meeting

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).

Run the CAB Series

Now it’s time to actually run the series of CAB meetings. According to our experience:

  • Monthly meetings of 60-90 minutes work best and also ensure that ideas keep fresh and participants stay engaged.
  • Follow a similar process as when executing Product Discovery internally, e.g. by following the phases of the Double Diamond model.
  • For example, your CAB #1 could be used to clarify and align on the specific problem; then CAB #2 to explore the problem space and prioritize opportunities; then subsequent CABs to explore and validate solution ideas.
  • Be open and involve the customers in the CAB as early as possible. Even with early prototypes, fat marker sketches, or similar. And as soon as there is some real software to show, share it with them. Again, remember, the goal is to collect qualified feedback as early as possible.
  • Refine ideas for solutions step by step. Later in the process, a CAB meeting may very well look at running software already and just try to optimize details.
  • If technically possible, give CAB customers early access to the new product or feature. This could happen, for example, in a sandbox environment or in customer-specific training environments. Make sure they can try before the change in behavior goes live.

Depending on the topic, such a CAB series may run just a couple of months or even be continued over several quarters.

Tips and Tricks

Based on our experience, the following may help to set up a CAB program successfully:

Select the Right Customers

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.

Invite the Right Participants

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.

Involve the UX Team

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.

Prepare Well

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.

Share Insights

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.

Avoid Company Gatherings

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.