(Part 2 of 2)
OK, so you've concluded two things:
1) You're responsible for making a customer advisory board a huge success.
2) There are significant pitfalls and risks relating to the first point
Here are some recommendations that come executing more than 50 advisory board meetings.
1. Agree on Focus. Sound simple, but is this going to be focused on users (so it is more of a user council) or is this focused more on the buyers? Is the objective to gather and validate feature requests and roadmap OR is it to understand longer-term strategic directions? You'd be amazed at how many advisory boards try to cram all of this in and end up getting no results and a bunch on annoyed customers. Align on this, get it down on paper and hold it religiously.
2. Choose Wisely... or Else. Choose accounts based on the various customer segments you serve. Weight the attendance based on the strategic importance of the segments. Also, avoid focusing on all of those customers who love talking to you, attending all of your webinars and customer events. The important things is to hear from a range of customers, not from 42 people from the same account.
3. Share your plans early. Let your targeted prospects know what you're planning. If you're going to have separate user and buyer tracks, tell them. If you're going to have potential competitors in the same room, tell them. Some love hearing from their competitors, others will refuse to share if competitors are in the room. Your goal is to create an environment of open, candid sharing and being transparent with your plans is the first step.
4. WIIFT. Or in other words, "What's In It for Them?". You've got a laundry-list of things you want to discuss but what is the value in all of this for your customers? What will they learn that they can't get by just holding a 1:1 meeting with your salesperson or executive? This often gets overlooked or minimized. Nobody wants to come to a 3-4 hour infomercial.
5. Invest in a Moderator. Too often, the head of products or one of the executives acts as the "master of ceremonies". While this can work, too often it leads to the vendor doing 70% of the talking. The best way to ensure customers get sufficient "air-time" and there is ample dialogue is to leverage a moderator.
6. Plan Ahead. Another faux-pas is to send out invitations a few weeks ahead. Really? In most cases, mid/senior-level managers usually have calendars that fill up weeks if not months ahead. They also may need to clear participation with their manager and/or legal. So, plan on sending initial invitations 8-10 weeks ahead of time.
7. Consider a Guest Speaker. Besides using a moderator, one way of keeping it fresh and
preventing a vendor infomercial is to invite a guest speaker. This could be an industry analyst, a researcher, a professor, a member of an industry or government association. Someone who can provide a relevant, interesting perspective and would be something your attendees wouldn't get by just meeting with your sales rep.
8. Follow a Consistent Agenda.
a) Introduction of attendees, including their role and how they leverage your offerings
b) Customer Direction. Each attendee should spend 5-10 minutes talking about their
strategic direction and how it relates your business. This can be done with or without
c) Discussion of Challenges. What market challenges are they facing? What is and isn't
working with regard to their interaction with your company and products? What could
ease these challenges.
d) Product Review. Briefly review current offerings. Often times, you already have
solutions that can address their challenges... they just don't know about them!
e) Roadmap. Provide as much detail as you can while still making it clear this is work in
progress and you're open to feedback. Sharing mockups is great. Make it clear how this
roadmap will impact their future business plans, initiatives and employees.
f) Discussion. Have a list of items to share/discuss including features, new products and
technologies. Don't forget about other "touchpoints" like services, support, webinars,
etc. Leverage the moderator to prevent this from being a complaint session.
g) Review. Be sure to recap the major points and themes of the day, what they liked and
disliked. Follow up with a survey in case attendees were hesitant about sharing
feedback with you. 9. Collect and Assess Feedback. Collect both qualitative and quantitative feedback from attendees and share the feedback. Let them know what you'll be changing and reinforce your willingness to listen and share direction based on their input.
10. Repeat...but not too often. Most companies quickly realize that doing CAB meetings 2x per year is just about right. Done more often, there simply isn't enough "news" to share and it becomes more of a mechanical and unsatisfying exercise. It's better to err on the side of too infrequent and have attendees clamoring for more interactions.
So, there are some practical recommendations from someone who has done it well... and not so well. Keep it simple, keep the customer (not your needs!) front-and-center and do everything you can to keep it interactive. Good luck!