Customer Marketing , Customer-led Growth

Launching a World-class Customer Advisory Board (CAB)

Kalina Blog CABs (1)

The ins and outs of setting up your CAB for success

The most important part of being a customer-facing leader is listening — listening to our customers’ challenges, successes, aspirations, innovative ideas and, yes, criticism. With that said, it is imperative to create forums and allow your customers to engage and exchange notes, but none of that can happen in a safe space and forum to create this energy.

In this piece we’ll discuss the pillars of designing and setting up a world-class Customer Advisory Board (CAB), to help move your organization closer to its customers and prospects, simply by focusing on driving value. We’ll look at:

  • How leading SaaS brands are approaching Customer Advisory Boards
  • What to think about when starting your CAB from scratch
  • Ways to keep your CAB engaged beyond just quarterly or bi-annual meetings

It’s a Customer-Led Growth leader’s responsibility to create an environment where customers can be heard, and where they feel they can candidly share the information that is vital for the leadership team — along with our product, sales, and customer success teams — to know in order to execute our goals on behalf of customers.

What is a Customer Advisory Board?

A Customer Advisory Board program, or CAB, is a customer-led committee made up of strategic customers who work closely with company executives to provide guidance on corporate strategies, offer input on products and services, and address and create solutions to industry challenges. The customers in the process are carefully selected based on their seniority, industry, account size, brand credibility, and influence. When building your advisory board, it is important to tier your top customers and establish this tiering by outlining the criteria. Work closely with your leadership team to understand their needs so you can feel confident on the board you establish. Remember, the board should make an impact on the company’s future. These customers will be sharing feedback on the company’s product direction and core values, and these customers will be helping you ensure you become a thought leader in your space. 

Customer Advisory Board Examples: Key Components for Success

Like any vital corporate initiative, launching a Customer Advisory Board requires thought, planning, and company-wide cooperation. As for the key components of a successful Customer Advisory Board, I outline my key components as such:

  1. An overarching theme that is compelling to CAB members — customer experience, for example, for a board of retail executives
  2. Customer Advisory Board members who have equal stature to create an environment of peer exchange
  3. Strong follow-up and ongoing management of the Customer Advisory Board after and in-between face-to-face meetings
  4. Creating a sense of shared future
  5. Committing to active listening
  6. Ensuring that board meetings promote engaging initiatives that add real value

A Well-designed and Managed Customer Advisory Board Enables Companies to Benefit

Once you have the characteristics of your Customer Advisory Board objectives laid out in front of you, it helps to articulate how, as an organization, you intend to benefit from creating the board. While this is an important step, keep in mind that Customer Advisory Board benefits must run both ways for a CAB to be a success. That said, I expect each board design to help a company with the following:

  1. Increase understanding of how the company’s products and services benefit customers
  2. Increase understanding of how to best close product or service gaps
  3. Validate strategy and gain feedback for new ideas and product development
  4. Gain internal alignment on customer perspectives and go-to-market plans
  5. Deepen relationships with top accounts
  6. Increase market intelligence on competitor strategies
  7. Strengthen customer advocates

What Makes a Customer Advisory Board Unique

While the key components and benefits of a CAB are somewhat universal, we also want to make sure the board is unique in some significant ways so that you can feel confident that you are providing value to your board members.

To that end, I usually focus on the strategic selection of customers as we start to assemble a  company’s Customer Advisory Board. The panel starts when we create a core internal team that focuses on selecting a strategic board. 

I usually sit in a room for several weeks outlining the type of customers that we think will make an impact on our business. We also thoughtfully plan our agenda and the components for our inaugural meeting. Each CAB member we select has an intriguing background.

I keep in mind that the company I’m building for is a unique business that caters to a variety of clients. I believe the next generation of Customer-Led Growth leaders will play a huge role in forming companies’ products and vision through the lens of the customer. I am always privileged and delighted to have such unique perspectives in one room that will make a meaningful impact on our future.

Five Key Takeaways and Tips to Run An Effective Customer Advisory Board

So, what have I learned after developing multiple CABs for up-and-coming startups to publicly traded companies? As you assemble your Customer Advisory Board, my key takeaways are as follows:

  1. Selection Process: CAB member selection
    • Selecting the right customers — this may be the most important part of launching your Customer Advisory Board. When designing CABs, I schedule ongoing meetings with our executive team to review a list of our key customers. The executive team reviews each key customer, and we ask ourselves the following:
      1. Is this customer strategic?
        • ACV and overall size of prize with account 
        • Brand recognition
        • Seniority for the person invited to join CAB  
      2. Will this customer drive innovation in our products?
      3. Is our executive sponsor at the company senior enough to join?
      4. Will this customer be willing to commit the time necessary to serve on the CAB?
  2. Collaboration: CAB Content
    • Partnering with the product, account management, marketing, and customer success teams is key to launching a successful CAB. You want to make sure that you create content that taps the entirety of your organization’s expertise.
  3. Location / Agenda
    • A board member usually devotes an entire day to attending your CAB meeting. It’s important to make it worthwhile for your board members. At past companies, I have chosen sunny San Diego, NYC sky rises, and SFO Fairmont Hotel experiences for our CAB meetings. CAB members fly from all over the world to dedicate time to your company and choosing a unique city and venue adds a special touch to your customer experience.
  4. Surprise and Delight
    • I ensure there is a fun aspect in every CAB meeting. On the day of CAB meetings, the board members sit through an all-day session discussing industry trends, product roadmaps, and much more. It’s always great to end the day with a fun event to show your appreciation to your key customers. In the past, I have scheduled a VIP mixology course for our CAB members and continued the evening getting to know one another. Paying attention to the details that go into ensuring you provide a good experience from beginning to end is key to having a successful CAB.
  5. Follow-up Strategy
    • Once the in-person meeting is complete, the important work continues; The follow-up begins. You want to make sure you keep the momentum going. Following up with thank you notes, feedback surveys and the next steps for the next meeting are key to keeping high engagement with this select group of people. 
    • Also, it’s important to relay the key finding of the CAB to the company leadership team. Once the meeting is complete, be sure to design a debrief document showcasing the list of CAB members in attendance, quotes from customers, survey results, and what the CAB members are expecting to see in the next meeting. This is extremely important to show the success of this impactful meeting. 

Ultimately, to have a successful Customer Advisory Board, you must collaborate with multiple stakeholders to ensure you design an amazing agenda with fulfilling content. You must be thoughtful in every aspect. You must be precise and consistent. These are your prime customers, after all. In fact, as CAB members, they are now your prime partners as well. Above all else, you want to be sure they’re treated that way. 

What’s next?

Ready to learn all there is to know about establishing a CAB and setting up for success? Sign up for our upcoming live workshop with Kalina, and prepare yourself by accessing an entire resource area dedicated to this important program on the CLG Campus. 

Sign up for our upcoming live workshop with Kalina