Customer advisory boards can deliver tremendous strategic value to your organization if you organize them with the appropriate customer roles and have business conversations. Employ these three best practices for your customer advisory boards and you’ll be able to accelerate the maturation of product management and product marketing with greater focus on delivering strategic value to the customer.
Customer Advisory Boards: The Playbook:
1. Recruit VPs and Senior Directors
Your ultimate goal with customer advisory boards is to align priorities across your portfolio to the operational business priorities of your target customers. If your solutions advance the right operational metrics for the customer, they’ll invariably deliver strategic value to the C-suite.
2. Don’t Create Customer Advisory Boards for Every Product
Many organizations make the mistake of creating customer advisory boards for each product. If most or all products in your portfolio target the same markets, that may be the worst thing you can do. It just reinforces existing product silos within your own organization.
If your goal is to create solutions where multiple products together have more value than each has individually, organize cross-functional customer advisory boards that represent the customer departments/functions that your products target. For example, if your products target the HR function, organize your CAB with senior managers from recruiting, benefits, payroll, personnel, etc. Here’s why.
Your customers are looking to eliminate silos in their own organization so they can operate more seamlessly for their customers. They desperately need your solutions to remove those silos.
3. Ask These Three Questions Then Shut Up and Listen
- What are the top priorities in your department?
- Why are they critical to the success of your department and the organization?
- What are your biggest obstacles to successfully executing those priorities and why?
These questions always produce jaw-dropping moments in the form of a situation, priority or a problem that you never expected to hear. These moments are one of the best things that can ever happen to you as they keep your product priorities focused on customer priorities with the highest value.
The Jaw-Dropping Moments!
Here are a three of many jaw-dropping moments from CABs I’ve facilitated for my clients.
- My client’s top priorities were incremental improvements to existing products and a new reporting solution. 30 of the largest retailers on their CAB told them that their existing solutions were more than good enough. Their biggest issues stemmed from the communication lapses in their global supply chain, something that was outside the scope of my client’s solutions. What my client and their customers collectively discovered was that the data captured by their existing solutions could have a significant impact on solving those communication issues. Cha-ching! Product roadmap re-routed and a new solution immediately validated atop the priority list.
- During the 2009 recession, a group of senior executives from 15 large banks told my client that they’re spending at least 90 cents of every dollar to retain current customers. My client had good reason to believe that the massive loss of customers would have them doing just the opposite and had big plans aimed at helping them acquire new customers. Plan B was instantly hatched and became the top priority!
- A group of 15 CMOs from some of the largest non-profit organizations told my client that despite their big titles, marketing wields very little influence. My client was about to pull the trigger on a sizeable product investment aimed directly the marketing function. Emergency brakes applied immediately!
In all three of the customer advisory boards referenced above, my clients were on course to do things that were nowhere near the top of their customers’ priority list. The validation and re-prioritization were quickly done in one fell swoop, and in one case, a new solution was defined.
How valuable is that?