Customer Advisory Board

What are customer advisory boards?

A customer advisory board, or CAB, is a collection of strategic users who come together to provide insights on strategy, offer input on products or services, and ideally help generate solutions to industry challenges. CABs can help your business discover how to stay relevant in an ever-changing market, understand market trends, and get a better grasp on where your competitors are operating and what they’re prioritizing.

Customer advisory boards (CAB) are one of the most popular feedback channels for a reason, they’re a great way to leverage some of your most perceptive users’ collective knowledge. During CAB meetings, customer advisory board members provide candid feedback on the product, present opportunities for improvement and product enhancements, and air their business’s use case (so you have a better understanding of how folks are actually using your product).

When should you leverage a customer advisory board?

Typically, CABs are made up of executive-level users who are able to provide in-depth insights, can present their business’s goals and strategic objectives, and they’re incredibly invested in your organization’s success.  It’s the chance to pose strategic questions to executives, so really your business should be taking advantage of this opportunity as frequently as possible. 

There is a multitude of instances when a customer advisory board can come in handy — some common motivations behind assembling a CAB include:

  • To validate the latest features and new product developments
  • To gather market and competitive intelligence
  • To build strong relationships with users and create brand champions

Why are customer advisory boards important for B2B SaaS? 

It’s not all that often you get the full attention of some of your most influential customers, and being able to draw on their experience on some pressing topics is priceless. Some of the benefits of a customer advisory board include:

Clearly understanding your customers wants and needs

Getting unfiltered truths from your users is not an everyday luxury for most product teams. Usually, feedback comes through sales or customer-facing teams, and with each degree of separation, the feedback becomes more diluted. 

CAB meetings provide some surprising insights into how your product is really being leveraged, what features or workflows they find cumbersome, and any shortcomings or hang-ups your users might have. They also reveal where there’s overlap between companies (and where contrasts lie), surface positives, and show the unexpected benefits of your product. 

Validating product plans

Before investing the valuable time of your product and development teams in researching, building, and marketing a new product or feature, a customer advisory board is a great source of validation. The executive users on your board can help distinguish which features are worthwhile and which can be passed on.

CAB members are in the field and up to date on the latest market trends and needs so they can provide valuable insight on which direction to bring your product in, what functionality is most useful, and where your product has room for improvement.

Increasing customer loyalty

Creating an outlet for open and honest communication with your users helps foster strong relationships. Your business and product will benefit by having more frequent interaction with the users in your CAB, a study by Ignite Advisory Group estimated a 9% increase in new business from CAB members within just the second year.

How to assemble a customer advisory board

Now that we’ve defined what a customer advisory board is and the benefits it can provide for your organization, it’s time to dig into how to assemble one. 

First things first, outline the objectives of the CAB. Validating product direction, staying up-to-date on market trends, and identifying new needs are all great examples of objectives to build your customer advisory board around. 

When creating a CAB, aligning the group and setting expectations and guidelines from the get-go is paramount, here are a few recommendations to get you started. 

  • Get representation from a wide variety of folks within your userbase. By getting feedback from a broad audience you’re opening the door to more perspective (and note, what’s important for one division could be irrelevant to another).
  • Set up meetings with as many prospective customers as possible. In a First Round Review article Peter Kazanjy offered up some questions to consider asking during these introductory interviews:
  • What are your most prominent problems? 
  • How are you solving for these problems currently?
  • How much time and resources are you spending solving this problem? 
  • How does this problem impact your business?
  • Keep track of your conversations; record the specifics for each member and rank the quality of their feedback so when it comes time to make a decision you have adequate details to ensure you’ve found the right fit for your CAB. 
  • Rotating new members and old is a great way to eliminate the risk of one business or target group from governing all your product decisions and new features.

How to manage a customer advisory board

Managing a customer advisory board can be a heavy lift, but the payout is indispensable for your product. Some things to take into consideration:

  • How often will your CAB meet? Quarterly meetings are the norm as they don’t strain or overextend the relationship, but allow your members to regularly communicate and voice their opinions. 
  • What should the structure of CAB meetings look like? Start with an agenda. Outline a flexible agenda so your users have some direction, but still, have wiggle room for healthy discussion. 
  • What are the areas of focus? Market trends, business goals, product usage, potential new features or services, the list goes on. Mostly anything your members surface is a great jumping-off point.

How to follow up on a customer advisory board meeting

Following up on customer advisory board meetings is the crucial final step. Gather your internal team immediately to discuss the learnings and insights found during the meeting. This can take the form of a post-mortem.

Your internal team meeting will ultimately lead to action items that should be followed up upon as soon as possible. Things like building new features and the launch communications all the way down to assessing the customer advisory board members to determine if they’re a good fit moving forward will arise post-meeting. 

Before moving forward and moving on make sure you’ve updated the members of your board on what has changed, what considerations you’ve accepted or passed on, and give them a general update on mostly any other topics discussed. (Following up via survey is always a great way to check engagement and sentiment.)

Companies that are committed to continuous research and collaborating with customers to satisfy their user’s needs will ultimately see success with their customer advisory board. And on the flip side, if you’re a user and are invited to stand on an advisory board, say yes! A customer advisory board is a wonderful way to share your insight and ultimately get what you want out of a product.