7 Tips to Run An Effective Customer Advisory Board
I lead Gainsight’s Product Marketing and Technology Partnerships team and it is our mission to be the experts on our customers and our market. We also serve a cross-functional role ensuring our Sales, Services and Customer Success teams have all the knowledge and collateral needed to execute their goals.
What is a Customer Advisory Board?
A key component of bolstering our customer and market expertise is planning and executing our Customer Advisory Board. For those unfamiliar with a Customer Advisory Board (CAB), a company invites its key customers to a meeting to give candid feedback on the entirety of the customer’s experience with a company.
7 Tips to Run An Effective Customer Advisory Board
At Gainsight, I have been running our Customer Advisory Board for almost 2 years and want to share my learnings:
- Get Aligned on the Objectives – No one would disagree that getting customer input frequently is extremely valuable, but it is important to align internally on what the purpose of the Customer Advisory Board is. It is possible that you have multiple goals. For us, we want to engage with our key customers on important strategic questions for the business, but we also want to be able to have an indepth discussion on our product roadmap. To support that goal, consider hosting multiple CABs that are broken out along customer characteristics. That way you can target specific goals and hold the discussion that is most relevant to that group.
- Don’t Be Shy – Smaller companies can sometimes be reticent to ask too much of their customers because they don’t want to “bother” them. This thinking is flawed, because your customer’s success is intimately tied to to your success since you are providing a critical business process solution for them.
- Invest in High Quality In-Person Sessions – It’s important to invest in face-to-face sessions in addition to virtual sessions. We meet with our Customer Advisory Board at least 4 times a year. Two of those are in person and two are virtual.. Hosting these events is a great way to give back to your CAB – customers love it because it’s a great way to meet their peers and discuss business challenges. The owner of your CAB should obsess about the agenda for the day, making sure it runs on schedules, all speakers are appropriately prepared, and the discussions are engaging and active.. This event is as important, if not more important, than the annual conference you may put on for your prospects so make it a priority!
- Send a Survey Beforehand – Sending a survey beforehand is a great way to gather relevant information to prepare for a discussion during the live meeting and also get your participants thinking about a topic ahead of time. You can analyze and present the results to kick off your in-person discussion – making the discussion more efficient and demonstrating how much you value your customer’s input.
Consider Two Tracks (Executive and Practitioner) – During our last customer advisory meeting, we wanted to get input on two areas. Input from Executives in our customer base on company strategy and product roadmap but we also wanted to dig into the details with some of our Gainsight admins. We organized the day such that in the morning we have joint sessions that were applicable to all audiences and after lunch we broke into an ‘Executive’ and ‘Practitioner’ track.
- Keep the Conversation Going – Post Customer Advisory meeting, it is important that the dialogue does not end on that day. Most of our Customer Advisory members are also active members of our Gainsight Community, and it has become great place to continue the discussion post CAB with various threads and message boards formed around CAB topics. Your community can also be a good place to identify potential candidates for your next Customer Advisory board by monitoring which users and companies provide the most discussion. There is also a nice ripple effect to getting your biggest customer advocates engaged in the community. Other customers also notice this and decide to get more invested with your solution.
- Track CAB participation in your Customer Advocacy Efforts – Driving Customer Advocacy is one of the core pillars of Customer Success. It is important to track engagement in your Customer Advisory program when building your reference and advocacy program.
For example, we recently held an Enterprise Customer Advisory Day to get input from some of our largest, Enterprise customers to explore the unique needs of a large company and what we need to do effectively attract and retain a customer of that tier.
Gainsight is the operating system for companies like Box, MobileIron, SurveyMonkey etc. These companies are heavily vested in our success, because if we build the right products and execute well,, then they will benefit immensely. So our interests are mutually aligned. Due to this, customers are usually quite eager to participate in CABs so their voice is heard.
When thinking about who to include in your Customer Advisory board, you can use Gainsight’s Customer Tab to find your top customers by ARR, product usage and industry so you find the right customers based on your goals.
Since we use Gainsight internally, we have a lot of rich information on which customers are using which product and in what capacity. We are able to leverage that data in our Survey functionality to send targeted emails from within CoPilot to help us reach the right audience with the right questions.
In our last survey we collected input from our customers on what types of partner integrations they would like to see. Then, during the Customer Advisory session, we shared our analysis of the survey results which kicked off an engaging discussion with our customers.
In the morning, the combined perspectives of the Executives and Practitioners made for a unique and fruitful discussion. Both levels of the organization were interested to hear the perspective of the other and created a great balance between strategic vision and everyday execution. During the afternoon’s Practitioner track, our Product Managers and Engineers were able to get into the weeds with our Gainsight power users. The Executive’s afternoon session provided feedback to Gainsight’s leadership on the overall direction and strategy of the business.
First, you should show your appreciation and thanks to those customers who participate in your CAB. They are taking significant time out of their schedule to improve your business. Some recognition and thank you-gifts are well deserved! Second, you have identified those customers who are most dedicated to your company. These customers can be powerful advocates on your behalf but you should ensure that they are not pestered or overused. Start tracking participation in the CAB in conjunction with your other Advocacy Efforts to factor this into your management program.
In Gainsight, we have added custom fields to our Customer Info object to track CAB participation. This makes the fields easily visible on the C360 and can be incorporated into dashboards. We then manage the full scope of our advocacy efforts on a Gainsight home Dashboard.