Learning more about your customers was always desired by businesses of all sizes but has never been easier. The most recent example we can find is of Amazon acquiring iRobot, the maker of Roomba, a series of autonomous robotic vacuum cleaners. This move can allow them to tap into a universe of customers' household data.
There are now tools that can give you detailed insights about who they are, what habits they have, how they interact with your company, and in which ways they learn your product. However, all of this data is "secondary" in purely academic terms.
What makes a difference is "primary" data collected directly from your customers. There is immense value in talking to your customers and giving them time and space to voice their opinion. If you’ve tried this method before, you probably know that some customers can be a goldmine of information, while others can waste your time.
To get the best information out of your most valued customers, you can do one thing - create a customer advisory board.
What is a Customer Advisory Board?
A customer advisory board is a group of customers that companies invite to meetings once in a while to give feedback about their product. Ideally, you meet up with your customer advisory board at regular intervals to discuss matters such as:
- Rating their overall satisfaction with your product
- Validating your product ideas
- Getting bug reports
- Getting feature requests
- Finding areas for improvement
- Getting help with marketing messaging
- And more
The quality of information you get from your customer advisory board largely depends on the number and type of members it includes. And if you're unsure about creating a board such as this one, you've arrived at the right place.
Benefits of Customer Advisory Boards
You may look at some of the text above and wonder if it makes any sense to create a customer advisory board. After all, it is a lot of work to find your ideal members and hold regular board meetings for the entire endeavor to make sense. However, it brings a few practical benefits that can't be ignored. Let's discuss each one of them in detail.
Listening to the market
As hard as you try, you can’t always know what your ideal target market wants. As big global events happen (such as pandemics), they change the pace of life and work. New trends, pain points, and opportunities emerge. Your competitors move and shake the playing field making it a must for you to stay up to date.
Instead of constantly fishing out comments and looking through media mentions of your competitors, you can utilize a pool of the most relevant people asking for their opinion directly. This way, you save significant time, money & effort working only on the opportunities that carry "validated" potential.
Focus on actual customer needs
If you’ve ever been in a situation where you wondered if your customers need a feature or not, then you know how hard it can be to guide your product decisions toward the right path. Following the first benefit we mentioned in the previous section, you don’t want to guide your new features and updates based on your gut feeling of what the customer needs. Most times, business owners have a completely different perception of where the product should go compared to the actual people that use it.
Instead of wondering what to do next, simply ask your customer advisory board. They will know what features they’re lacking and what needs to be fixed or built for your product to make their lives easier. It's time to throw the guesswork out of the window.
Getting feedback on your ideas
Say you want to launch dark mode as a design feature in your app. Looks great, takes some of your dev time but you’re wondering if anyone would actually use it. A customer advisory board is what you need - a group of people to tell you if your idea is worth spending time on.
One of the best ways to save money and time and guide your product in the right direction is to get feedback before you invest a cent in developing a feature.
Validating your product direction
Let's suppose you want to change the direction of where your product goes and focus more on the enterprise B2B segment. That’s a pretty risky move to make out on a limb without proper research.
A customer advisory board can give you a bird’s-eye-view of your target market allowing you to get a better idea of where your product can and should go.
Sharing your product roadmap
Perhaps you’re not a fan of public roadmaps. After all, everyone can see them, including your competition. If you want to keep your roadmap available to only certain people, a customer advisory board is your best bet.
Within your board, you can share your product roadmap. It will help you determine whether anything needs to be removed, changed, or moved up in the queue based on customer priority.
Announcing new product updates
If someone needs to hear about your latest product updates first, this should be your customer advisory board. They were probably the first ones to be involved in the development and planning of the updates in the first place.
Moreover, your CAB can be extremely helpful in finding ways to promote your new features to your target market. In short, if you are on the lookout for help with your marketing strategy, this can be a good place to start.
According to Nick Bennett, Director of Evangelism & Customer Marketing at Alyce.
How to start your customer advisory board
Now that you know some of the perks of having a CAB, you’re probably wondering how to create one. Even though it may sound simple in theory, things are more complex in practice. Before you get started, you need to do one thing…
Determine the goals of your customer advisory board
There are lots of different reasons why you’d want a trusted board of customers at your disposal at all times. Before you start assembling this group, think of the few main reasons why you’d want to have it in the first place. Ask yourself:
- Do you need ongoing feedback about the quality of your product?
- Do you need validation for new features?
- Do you need to identify new growth opportunities?
- Do you need help with your marketing and messaging?
Once you know exactly what you want to achieve, you’ll have the foundations for creating a customer advisory board.
Selecting your members
Probably the hardest part of creating a customer advisory board is selecting who gets to participate. Get the participants right and you unlock a world of knowledge for your product. Get them wrong and you’ll waste time for yourself and even worse, for the customers you trust and love.
There are many directions for selecting your members, but the basic one is that your customer advisory board should have diverse members representing your target audience. If you serve more than one industry, try to get representatives from a variety of industries, from companies of different sizes, locations, and so forth.
Ideally, you want to have people representing different ranks within an organization. From a customer support rep to the chief of operations, you should have different titles on your board, if possible.
Last but not least, make sure to choose people who are great communicators and outspoken, so you don’t have to do the extra work to get them to speak up.
Inviting the members and convincing them to join
While the idea of a CAB sounds enticing to you, it may not be the case with your customers. After all, what’s in it for them? They are the ones giving their free time and voicing their opinions to help you with your product.
To convince them to join, you’ll need to offer some kind of incentive. What you want to offer depends only on your budget and imagination. Before offering an all-inclusive holiday in a beach resort, think about offering:
- Guidance for the product
- Exclusive access to new content and features
- Being a part of an exclusive community of leaders
- Immediate access to your company’s leadership
These should be enough to engage those who are passionate about your product. For those that need some additional convincing, think about some (non)material ways to get them on board.
Remember that your CAB is invite-only and that each member should feel like joining an elite, private club. Throughout your invitations and sessions, make sure to remind them of this fact.
You may be tempted to incentivize your board members with cash awards but this could easily backfire because you may start amassing people who are only in it for financial gain. Participation in the CAB should be absolutely free with some incentives from your end.
For example, if you’re getting your board together in one place for a meeting, consider paying the cost of their commute and accommodation.
Customer advisory board meetings - top tips for success
Now that you assembled your customer advisory boards, you need to call them in every once in a while to have meetings and get some quality feedback.
Conducting a good customer advisory board meeting
Before you start, create an agenda of what you’re going to discuss. A good practice is to inform your participants beforehand about what you’re going to talk about or have them do a quick survey or questionnaire to get the information they need for the meeting.
Besides that, you need to determine the goal of each meeting so it’s led by purpose rather than just random questions where you ask for feedback.
Template agenda for your customer advisory board meeting
The next time you want to run a meeting here is an example of an agenda that you can use. Of course, it will differ on a case-to-case basis, but it’s a good place to get started.
- Official introduction
- Introducing (new) members
- Explain the purpose of your CAB (if it’s the first time meeting)
- Discussion topic
- Saying goodbye and announcing what happens next
Who should lead the customer advisory board meeting?
Someone from your product team should start the meeting with a prompt, and open the topic of discussion. Once that part is over, the majority of the talking should involve only the participants.
The product manager should merely jump in to navigate the direction of the meeting.
How often should you have customer advisory board meetings?
There is no single answer to share. The best frequency is the one you’ll find useful for your product team. Once per year will do more harm than good because, by the time you get to the meeting, many people will have forgotten about the CAB, moved into new positions, left their companies, stopped using your product, etc. Needless to say, a frequency such as once per week is too much as well.
A couple of times a year might be your best bet. However, it will depend on what you want to achieve.
How big should a customer advisory board be?
In this case, bigger is not better. If you have 50 people in your CAB, it’s going to become too much to handle, and a typical meeting will be unmanageable. While more opinions are better, it’s not practical in this situation.
The ideal customer advisory board should be somewhere between 10 and 20 people. This is a good enough size to give you a broad sample of participants, while also being small enough to manage a board meeting.
Add time for networking
Customer advisory boards are a great opportunity for your customers to connect with each other. After each meeting, set aside some time for them to exchange a few thoughts and get in touch. Not only will it improve the customer experience but will also make them more excited about the next CAB meeting.
Be careful of making commitments
The meeting goes well and you’re excited about the changes suggested by your CAB members. You’re so excited that you promise to have it all built within the next quarter. Then you meet with your devs and they tell you that they have a mountain of a backlog making the shipment possible somewhere 2 years down the road. You would want to avoid such a situation, wouldn't you?
Be careful about making any commitments or promises after your board meetings. Write them down, promise to consider them, and then report on your findings later when you have all the information.
The questions to ask your CAB
Every good CAB meeting starts with questions for your members. Yours will depend heavily on your business goals and what you want to achieve. However, here are some general questions to get you thinking in the right direction:
- To stay relevant in the next 5 years, what do you think our company needs to do?
- In about 3-5 years, who do you think is our biggest threat in terms of competition? Why?
- If there is one thing that we could do to provide more value for you, what would it be?
- Say that we are expanding into a new market tomorrow. What changes do we have to make to our brand?
- What do you feel is the one thing we’re missing right now to make us more competitive?
The more specific your goals are, the more detailed and granular the questions can be.
Take action on feedback
One of the best things to do with your CAB learnings is to get down to business. The feedback you get from these meetings is worth its weight in gold and your best course of action is to do as your advisory board tells you. Whether it means launching a new feature or fixing some bugs, get to work and show your members that you appreciate their opinions and act on their feedback.
Announce new product changes to customers
If your CAB is the driving force behind new product changes, make sure that they are the first to know about your new initiatives. This way, you’ll increase their engagement and encourage them to contribute even more in future CAB meetings.
What happens after a customer advisory board meeting?
The first thing to do after a CAB meeting is to thank your members for participating. After that, tell them about the next steps - when they can hear back on their suggestions. Then, tell them when you’re going to see each other so they can know what to expect.
Once you have all of their ideas in one place, prioritize what you need to do first and start getting some work done. Last but not least, plan for your next meeting in advance.
Add time for networking
Once the CAB meeting is done, leave some time in the end for the participants to get together and socialize. You want to get a sense of companionship going and one way is to get everyone to talk to each other after the meeting.
It’s not a foolproof plan, but getting people familiar with each other and making some friends is a good way to get them motivated to attend the meeting time and again.
Alternatives to a customer advisory board
There can be a situation where you may not be willing to invest the necessary time and money to set up a customer advisory board. There are other options out there that will take less time and money to pull off. Here are some that you’ll want to consider.
Tools such as FeedBear let you manage all of your customer feedback in one place. If you want to collect both quantitative and qualitative feedback and manage it all with a single tool, FeedBear is worth a shot. Within it, you can:
- Create a feedback board to collect feedback
- Let your customers comment and vote on feature requests and tickets
- Move your feature requests and bug tickets to a roadmap (public or private)
- Keep your customers up to date by sending them notifications for everything they commented on or upvoted
- Maintain a changelog for all of your customers
- And much more
If you want to automate the most tedious parts of collecting and managing feedback, this is the route to take. Unlike a customer advisory board, feedback software like FeedBear lets your entire customer base interact with your brand and leave feedback.
Want to give FeedBear a try? Sign up for a free trial today!
Using your project management tools
If you’re not a fan of investing in feedback tools, you maybe want to try using your existing project management tool. For example, Jira and Trello - both have pretty good roadmap support. As we’ve previously mentioned, these tools can be great for managing feedback internally, but for customer-facing feedback management, they can be pretty limited in their features.
Having customer interviews
Sitting down with a customer for a one-on-one conversation is by far the best way to hear what they have to say about your product. You can collect qualitative feedback easily and this is often the best source of information for your product team.
There are downsides, though. It takes a lot of time (and money) to manage interviews at scale. Besides the interview itself, there is a lot of prep work beforehand and once they’re done, you need to transcribe those interviews, make notes and create a roadmap.
A customer advisory board is one of the best ways to get in touch with your customers without contacting hundreds and thousands of customers at once. If done correctly, a customer advisory board is massively helpful for your product, marketing, and sales teams.
However, with that said, it may not be the quickest and cheapest way to get feedback from your customers. If you’re looking for one way to automate the most tedious parts of collecting feedback so you can focus on interacting with your customers - give FeedBear a try!