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Does your company need to validate new products or feature ideas? Would uncovering competitive information, learning about your customers’ future business plans and strategies be of value?  Do you need greater insight into your customers’ buying process or channel preferences? For many organizations, conducting primary customer and market research to gain answers to these questions and insights into customer problems, strategic priorities, preferences, criteria and requirements can be a challenge on both budget and bandwidth. There are numerous primary research methods you can employ. But if cost is a huge consideration,  Customer Advisory Boards and Technical Advisory Boards (CABs and TABs) are an affordable customer-centric option.

The purpose of your CABs and/or TABS is to gain strategic insight and feedback and understand the issues driving customers and prospects business requirements and decisions. Knowledge gained from board members’ input can help a company of any size keep a pulse on the market, create competitive solutions, establish strategic and product priorities, and determine ways to deliver more business value. It can also be an excellent vehicle to solidify relationships with key customers.

There are two primary types of customer-centric advisory boards:

  1. Technical Advisory Boards (TABs). These are boards that can provide technical and technology insights and feedback, especially around technology trends, feature sets and tradeoffs and technical competitive intelligence. Therefore it’s imperative that members have technical expertise and competence.
  2. Customer Advisory Boards (CABs): This is a board generally comprised of people who can provide a broad perspective around business and market issues. Therefore, you will want to secure CAB members with business acumen and who are in the know or interested in being in the know about global economic, business and market issues.

What it Takes to Create Your Advisory Board

Boards are an investment of time and money.  While less expensive than conducting continuous primary research, there are still costs associated with boards. Without focus and management, the board will go idle and disintegrate.

Companies are often tempted to have an engineering/product or sales person manage their boards. Avoid this mistake. Sales people are about selling and CABs and TABs are about listening. CAB and TAB meetings are not sales calls. Nor are they about persuading these people about the value of your product. CABs and TABs are about listening, keeping a pulse on the market, and gathering valuable input.

Select someone from marketing or the management team to run and manage  your  board.

Gain insights into customer priorities, strategic initiatives, product requirements and more with advisory boards.

Your 5 Point Customer Advisory Board Checklist

If you’re exploring creating a CAB here are five considerations for your checklist.

1. Board Value and Purpose
Before you create the board, the leadership team should  define how the board will support the company’s priorities and business outcomes. We recommend conducting stakeholder interviews to support this process. Write a clear mission statement for the board. This will be essential when you begin board recruitment. Establish how the success of the board will be measured, such as impact on the rate of new product adoption, increased customer retention, growth of share of wallet, and so on.

2. Define the rules of engagement. Before you recruit people for your advisory, be clear about what you are asking of them and what you are providing in return. Define the service term, the meeting frequency and which meetings if any will be in person. Decide whether your company will pay for travel expenses. Establish what members will receive in return for their participation. While the company is gaining valuable market, competitive and product input, the company should send relevant company, industry, and economic information to board members.

2. Board Management and Board Experience Management
The quality of the experience board members have plays an instrumental role in their participation, tenure, and the value of their input. The value of a CAB for your company comes from listening and learning. So meetings should be designed to engage the members. Therefore be sure to invest some time and energy before the members are selected in developing the infrastructure and processes (such as logistics, facilitation training, issue tracking, board meeting minutes and distribution, pre and post meeting surveys, etc) you will use to manage the board and the board experience.

3. Board Member Selection
Recruitment is one of the most important efforts associated with creating a successful advisory board. A crucial step is identifying which companies (not the specific individuals yet) are ideal for your board. This means you will need to think about why you’re creating the board in order to establish the right criteria, define the right qualities, skills, characteristics and levels of members. We suggest keeping levels consistent. Most boards are grouped by discipline, but cross disciplines at the same level can provide an extra dimension. Give some thought to how many members to have on each board; typically this is 12-18. A rule of thumb is that about 70% of the folks you recruit will accept.

4. Board Communication
Keeping members engaged requires ongoing and consistent communication. Document the board process. Each board should have a documented mission and a set of published guidelines, meeting dates and agendas. Provide a long-term calendar of meeting dates so participants can arrange their schedules and travel accordingly. Because you are looking for informed opinions and input, encourage members to prepare feedback and input to agenda items. The information between the board and company should be an exchange so record and distribute meeting minutes.

5. Board Meeting Management
Establish a formal process around running and managing the board and its members. Remember the meetings are input sessions. In a way, each meeting is a mini focus group. As such, invest in a third party to facilitate the meeting. In-person meetings can be held on site or at a neutral setting (industry conferences) or online. Each meeting should include introductions and a review of the agenda. Board members should then be given an opportunity to present the information they prepared relevant to the agenda. These may be include presentations regarding market issues and trends, their own business challenges and strategic and technology investment plans, and new business initiatives and success factors. This way not only does your company benefit from the advisory board, but each of the board members learn from each other. Following these presentations, the facilitator should then commence a general discussion around the agenda topics asking specific questions designed to gather particular input. Common board topics often include discussion around product road maps, technology, market and economic trends, quality service and support, competitive analysis, and best practices.

Leverage a third party to facilitate your meetings. A third party helps avoid creating a bias. While not intended, having someone from the company lead the meeting and discussion can inadvertently lead the conversation in a particular direction. In addition, a third party suggests an environment designed to capture board views and options and presents the perception of openness. A good facilitator should be able to capture the highlights from the discussion, document key findings and provide recommendations for action.

Customer Advisory Boards Require Communication, Exchange, and Mutual Benefit

It is important that members understand their role and receive communication regarding actions taken by the company as a result of their input. At a minimum we encourage you to create these documents to share with board members.

  • An Advisory Board Charter (outlining the mission and objectives of the board)
  • A member commitment form
  • An NDA
  • Messaging that very clearly states what is in it for them, such as peer-to-peer networking, access to the executive leadership team and a sharing of best practices.

The old saying about the importance of a great first impression applies to your customer advisory boards.  A bad board experience can negatively impact a customer relationship, your referral rate, and future product adoption rates. Secure help if you don’t have expertise for creating and running a board.

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