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A Customer Advisory Board and your Product

conference, meeting, event, advisory board, strategy, marketing investmentIn order for businesses to generate revenue, they must be able to sell a product or service to customers. While that is a simplified scenario, it is the underlying truth of all for-profit businesses (and even most non-profits and governments). Though sales teams and product teams spend a lot of time thinking about what and how they will sell, they don’t necessarily think about who they are selling to.

It seems obvious that in order to sell your product you first need to think about who will buy it, however, the customer is one of the more overlooked parts of the sales and marketing process. Development and sales teams get caught up in the logistics of how they will sell that they forget that their most useful solution for improving sales is, in fact, also their customer.

What is a customer advisory board?

One of the best ways to leverage your customers for improving your product, marketing tactics, and sales pipeline is to facilitate the creation of a customer advisory board. A customer advisory board allows organizations to get direct feedback from their customers on a wide range of elements related to your products. You can bounce ideas off of them, get their feedback and first impressions, and better understand who they are and what their motives are. Throughout the process, you can use this information to improve your products, create new offerings, and mine them for case studies. All of this creates an self-sustaining ecosystem that allows your sales and marketing teams to thrive.

How to select the members of your customer advisory board

You may realize the need for a customer advisory board for your own business but it’s best not to get too far ahead of yourself. Establishing a customer advisory board does not mean you should just go out and pick a bunch of random people off the street to represent your customer-base. Before you start picking people to be on your board, which is a commitment of time and money, you should consider a few key components of an effective board member.

One way to get organizational alignment on they types of customers to include in your CAB is to create an official charter. This will help your company be on the same page regarding the board’s purpose, but it will also serve as a resource to share with potential members. This ensures that everyone is moving toward the same objectives and keeps your board members on track for providing the right types of feedback and having the right expectations for what it means to be a board member.

Who will fill the seats on your board?

The customers who fill your board seats should fit within one of your user personas (if you don’t have user personas yet, you can actually use your board to flesh them out) and should be in your target market. In some special cases you may want to use customers who aren’t yet in your market, but generally, it’s better to get feedback from those you know would potentially use your product or service.

As you recruit, make your potential board members aware of the benefits of membership:

  • Potential for free airfare, lodging, and meals.
  • Potential influence on the development of products
  • A peek future plans and developments in progress
  • Preview and early access to new features and products

It should be made clear to anyone you put on your board that it’s not a permanent position. To ensure that you are always getting the best feedback, you want a mix of experience on the board and fresh eyes. It’s good not to allow anyone to stay on the board too long (two years is generally a good term) and you don’t want to give any one person on the board too much power. Both of these errors can water-down the effectiveness of your board.

Putting together a customer advisor board can be an essential part of your product and service iteration process. Not only can they ensure effective product development, but they can help improve and refine your marketing and sales efforts.

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