A customer advisory board can be a great way to capture high level roadmap feedback from your most important customers. But to my mind, it's main value lies elsewhere: in giving your most important customers the feeling (and reality) that they are being heard not just by a CSM or a sales rep, but by the executive team; in giving your customers a chance to hear from each other, which validates their individual decision to be your customers and often also cross-pollinates ideas / use cases / product upsell conversations.
CABs are great. Customer advisory boards have several common objectives in mind, including:- To create champions for the brand- To validate product ideas and guide the product roadmap- To help shape marketing messaging- To gather market intelligence
- Understand the buying triggers of the company’s market- Provide beta users for the company’s new products- Help the company identify new markets
A customer advisory board can provide insights into how customers are actually using your products, what aspects of those products are most important or beneficial to them, and what other functionality or tools they believe would complement or enhance your offering.
Customer advisory boards are great ways to bring product, leadership, and your customers face-to-face to really help everyone understand if what is being built will really solve customer needs. Along the entire product development journey, there are ways to involve customers that aren’t just focused on getting people to use a beta version of a product. I have found that customer advisory programs that meet semi-regularly and ideally at least once a year in person are helpful in building rapport both between product, leadership, and customers, but also between customers themselves–becoming the foundation for a true community program.
The end goal of the advisory board program shouldn’t just be to influence the roadmap. It should really be to improve customer satisfaction/NPS, and NRR. You might find that a customer advisory program actually helps you identify a product marketing gap – such as not enough onboarding collateral – that has nothing to do with the product roadmap. So go in with an open mind, and keep your eyes on the goal of improving the customer experience.
You’re describing a common situation. Customer advisory boards (CABs) represent an important channel for bringing VOC into your organization, not just for immediate product development but also to understand overall trends in the market. Before convening your CAB meeting, product marketing and product management should have a common understanding of what they want to achieve. Product management should be able to provide their input but product marketing should lead the conversation and be responsible for delivering the summary document. I would also caution that a CAB should only be one of many channels to use as VOC. They are often composed of the largest, most important or most outspoken customers. Because they represent such a heavy center of gravity, they have the very real potential to bias your product roadmap in a direction that is not always in your company’s best long-term interest. I’ve seen products that lost significant market share because they were essentially tailored to the desires of two major customers while ignoring the needs of everyone else. One simple way to address this is to have multiple CABs representing different customer segments.
It's best practice to create CABs with one specific business focus – and that focus could very much be to help inform your product strategy. The weight that member feedback carries depends on the makeup of your board. If you have diverse representation across all segments, use cases for your product and types of users, your CAB can be a key input for your roadmap. And because you have access to the members over an extended period of time, you might find that the feedback builds upon itself in a way that other feedback you've received from surveys etc does not. It should not replace any of the other voice of customer research you do (surveys, interviews, etc), but rather be an additional input.
Some great feedback I got about CABs, in general, was to think about your CAB as an aspirational group - not only are they your ideal customers because of their type of business (if you are B2B) but they are your ideal contact because of their experience with your product and industry. So, in a lot of ways, the feedback you might get from this group could be more valuable as you set out your long-term vision vs your short-term roadmap.