How to Set Up your First Customer Advisory Board (CAB)

Teresa Becker

Customer Success Strategist

What is a Customer Advisory Board (CAB)?

For SaaS companies, a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) can become a group of trusted influencers as you build industry thought leadership and relationships.

But given the benefits, a board of these customers can be very demanding on your time and energy – so is it worth creating and managing it? If so, how should your SaaS company start building this group of trusted advisors, and what should it look like?

Your Customer Advisory Board needs the same time and attention as any other key stakeholder relationship, not unlike investors or employees. CABs tend to be the most valuable in complex, regulated industries or with complex products and business models like enterprise software. The expertise of the CAB can help executives and department leaders understand the complexities faster and in turn act faster, creating a win-win situation.

Build Your CAB with the Right Mix of Customers

Before you grab a random smattering of customers from your CRM system and fly them into town, there’s a few things you should ask yourself (and probably some of your internal stakeholders) and even more things to keep in mind while you get your CAB up and running.

Getting the right mix of individuals is incredibly important when building your CAB. Having customers that are in it for the wrong reasons or aren’t fully committed can cause more harm than good. You should strive to have a group of approximately 10-12 individuals that represent a mix of various characteristics. It’s also important to have customers who have been with your company from the early days, as well as those who are newer and have a fresh perspective.

Equally important is to ensure you have brands of all shapes and sizes – not just enterprise brands and not just small to medium sized brands. Make sure your CAB represents your customer base well. In addition, be sure to include executive-level customers as well as those that are very knowledgeable users or influencers. And on the other hand, if your CAB is composed of all users and influencers, then it will be difficult to have more strategic conversations. The best CABs have a healthy mix of both.

Find your customer champions. Who are the customers that use your product fearlessly, are forward-thinkers, and push innovation? Who are you NOT meeting the needs of today? It’s best to start with a wide range of individuals, and gain insight from Customer Success Managers (CSMs) and others who work closely with customers to determine who should not be included, and who the top contenders should be. Often times a few will immediately rise to the surface, but be sure that the group is diverse enough to meet the needs of your CAB.

In a recent blog post, Stengel Solutions outlines their approach to finding the right candidate: “Of course, when forming a CAB you need to understand its purpose, but you also need to know what specific skills to seek. In general, look for diverse skills, expertise and experience. You want members who are problem solvers, strong communicators, and are open minded. Big names can be a bonus … but not always: Getting a heavyweight on your board of advisers can give you credibility, but it’s also important to have members who are going to spend the time to give you thoughtful advice or are well connected and willing to make introductions.”

Once you’ve identified the individuals you want to include, have an executive from your company – preferably the CEO – specifically invite the customer to be part of CAB and outline the requirements, travel, and input needed. Having the invitation come directly from the C-Suite will ensure the customer takes the commitment very seriously.

When to Form Your First CAB

Even when your company is just starting out, it’s important to have a group of customers who you can rely on to give you true, honest to goodness feedback about their experience and your product and services. Whether it’s a formal group or not, companies should determine 5-10 customers early on that can be a voice and that are willing to provide referrals and help grow your business.

Over time, it’s okay if your CAB changes and some customers leave and others step in – in fact, that’s perfectly natural. Most likely, over time the size of the organizations you’ll work with will be large as you gain more expertise and can service them appropriately, so it’s equally important to add enterprise customers so you have a full perspective.

Think About Your CAB’s Charter

According to a recent UserVoice article, one way to get organizational alignment on this topic is to create an official charter, not only will a charter help your company be on the same page regarding the purpose of your CAB, but it will also serve as a resource to share with potential members. Take for example the mission statement in Oracle’s BI Customer Advisory Board Charter which not only lists the organization’s objectives, but also its vision for the board:

“The overall objectives for the BI Customer Advisory Board is strategic planning, long term performance and growth. As a result of these objectives Oracle will be working with the customer to help set our future product direction. Our vision for the Customer Advisory Board is to have customers share how they are using our products in the “real world” and where they are going and for Oracle to share with CAB members our current plans and future directions. This feedback, will help build the next generation of the Oracle Business Intelligence Tools.”

Hosting Your First CAB

After your CAB is formed, it’s time to plan your first meeting. It’s important to consider the agenda and have a well planned out several days for CAB, including a large focus on product, services, customer experience, open discussion, and breakouts. Pragmatic Marketing gives a great agenda breakdown which you can read on their blog.

But beyond the quarterly in person meetings, what are other ways you can listen to your customers year round? So much can change in 3 months and customers now expect that you are keeping up with them on a regular basis – and especially those represented in your CAB. Beyond what your CSM is managing on a daily basis, how are your C-Suite executives involved in real customer situations? How can you gain knowledge from customers virtually, rather than just in person once a quarter? Citrix explains their full approach in a useful blog, but here’s a quick breakdown:

  1. Sales & Support Interactions
  2. Social Media
  3. Annual Customer Survey
  4. Inquiry Survey
  5. Net Promoter Score (NPS)
  6. Feedback requests at the end of a session
  7. Exit interviews
  8. Customer visits/phone calls/meetings
  9. Usability studies
  10. A day in the life

No matter what stage your company is at – whether you have a CAB formed already or not – there are always ways to improve the customer experience. While CAB is an excellent way to receive information directly and create a feedback loop with customers, there are other ways to better the customer experience as well.

Check out our resources below for more customer success best practices and insights for how your organization can listen to and learn from customers while showing them appreciation:

eBook:

5 Ways to Surprise & Delight Your Customers

Blog Posts:

3 Ways to Elevate Customer Success in Your SaaS Business

6 Listening Techniques of Great Customer Success Leaders

Learn more about how ClientSuccess can help your company develop a strong customer success methodology and strategy with easy-to-use customer success software by requesting a 30-minute demo.

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