Eyal Danon, President and Founder of Ignite Advisory Group.
In talking to customer engagement professionals at a recent conference held just before the coronavirus pandemic, it was interesting to hear the various unique ways their companies manage their customer advisory board (CAB) programs. But in talking to these professionals, a more disturbing response emerged — that their customer advisory initiatives were managed solely by their product teams, not their own departments (supposedly) dedicated to customer engagement. Some even referred to their program as their “TAC” — their technical advisory board.
If your company has a CAB program that is operated as a technical or product function, you likely don’t have a true strategic CAB program and are almost certainly missing out on the many benefits a well-run CAB program can deliver. As such, here are five signs your technical customer advisory board is, in reality, merely a tactical user group:
1. It’s run by your product group. Your product team likely consists of the smartest, coolest and most valued engineers at your company, tasked with one of the most vital functions serving as the foundation of your business’s very existence. As such, they are likely hyper-focused on developing, improving or fixing your product line, and are likely unaware, uninterested or uncompensated for your customers’ other unmet desires and other macro-trends happening in your market. As such, your “advisory board” almost certainly focuses exclusively on the tactical minutia of your products and the “feeds and speeds” of their operations.
2. You have multiple CABs by product. Some “customer-focused” marketers I spoke with take the technical advisory concept even further, admitting that their company operates separate, distinct advisory boards for each of their product offerings. While products may, in fact, vary significantly by company or industry, they likely aren’t as different in the eyes of your customer, who no doubt uses many systems to operate their businesses. Having a CAB for each of your products is a big sign these are really just glorified product user group meetings and misses out on the opportunity for members to learn novel approaches or benchmark from different companies and industries outside of their own.
3. Members are product users, not executives. Well-run CABs are made up of executives from your customer base who have shared challenges with their member colleagues and insights into their corporate strategies, competitive pressures and macro-economic trends. As such, their input, ideas and recommendations can have a material impact on your company’s direction. On the flip-side, if your advisory board is made up of lower-level product users, you are likely receiving tactical-level requests to your product features or support desires — and little else — as these folks likely simply are not privy to more strategic and valuable corporate insights, and are thus unable to share them with your company.
4. Meetings feature screenshots and demos. Another sure sign your CAB is really a product user group is if your agenda revolves solely around your product: your new release, your recent bug fix, user tips and tricks, service and support schedules, etc. Worse, if your company actually manages to recruit users in-person into a room and subject them to hours of detailed screenshots and nth-level product demos, your “board” is really a group of tactical product users, and you simply could provide such details at their offices or, even more cheaply, online.
5. You are unaware of the outcomes. Many of the customer engagement professionals I spoke to were strangely not only uncertain of the operations of their technical advisory initiatives but unaware of the outcomes and impacts they were making. Well-run CAB programs not only uncover strategic guidance to companies, but the insights and opinions collected are so valuable, they are shared throughout host companies. Furthermore, recommended action items are captured, reviewed, prioritized and committed to by the appropriate department individuals — and shared with the CAB members themselves, who are updated on progress in subsequent meetings. If you (or anyone in your company) is at all unaware of what’s going on with your advisory program, it’s, again, either very much product-focused and/or perhaps not very well managed.
There’s nothing wrong with user group meetings — they often provide your customers an audience to view your new product features and contribute their desires about their use and function. But these are not true customer advisory boards that, when managed properly, deliver high value and strategic insights that can materially impact your company’s direction. Furthermore, they almost certainly deliver the exact opposite of the 80/20 rule (members speak 80% of the time; host company 20%) that we recommend.
Many professionals — even those focusing their careers on customer engagement — often do not understand the true value and potential that well-run customer advisory boards can deliver. If your CAB is product- and technically-focused, and ignoring more valuable and impactful strategic discussions, you are likely missing the boat — and not fully realizing what a CAB is all about.
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Author: Eyal Danon, Forbes Councils Member