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Customer Advisory Boards, often referred to as “CAB” by B2B SaaS companies, is a group of customers who represent various sizes, sophistication levels, industries, and investments into your product or service. This chosen group of executives or high-level individuals is often very crucial in helping organizations make decisions, improve the product and service offerings, and even expand into new markets or geographies. In recent years, it was expected that companies would bring this group of customers onsite or would meet at a lavish location once or twice a year – maybe even once every few months. They would gather, share the newest developments across the company and product, and mostly listen to their customers’ feedback about what they valued, what they didn’t value, what changes they’d like to see, how they use the product, and so forth. They’d also indulge the customers with fancy meals, golf outings, spa retreats, and other activities to say “thank you” for trusting in their product or service and for giving up their valuable time to be part of the CAB. That approach still works today and is incredibly important for face time with customers. But how can innovative companies make CAB stronger, and more interactive? We’ll share some ways below:
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.
According to a Pragmatic Marketing blog, “Customers should be selected to participate in the CAB based on their ability to represent a specific market segment. We should avoid the loud-but-big customer–the ones usually suggested by salespeople. However, large customers are always important to your company and may be invited purely for improving customer relations with them. Ideally, each customer should be a bellwether for the industry they represent. Avoid inviting competing customers within the same segment so that competitors are not in the same council meeting. Competitors may be leery of discussing their challenges in front of one another.”
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.
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 blog post by Stengel Solutions they outline 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 to be problem solvers who are quick studies, have strong communications skills 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.
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 with the following breakdown:
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.