By. A.T. Gimbel
There are many challenges in product management: how to decide what goes on/off the roadmap; how to launch new products; how to nail the value proposition and messaging, etc. One way to help get better feedback on topics like these is to form a Customer Advisory Board (CAB). These key customers can provide critical feedback that better direct your path forward.
When setting up the CAB, you want to have a cross-section of customers that represent your business but are focused on a given product line/suite (i.e. if you have multiple products with different industries and use cases, do not lump them all into one CAB). I recommend selecting 8-10 to have enough different voices, but also knowing that every meeting there will be some no-shows. This allows for at least 6+ in attendance. I like meeting 3-4 times per year; 2-3 via conference/video call, plus once a year in person (and that meeting can be done around a major industry conference where customers will likely be going anyway). A potential agenda can focus on three areas: market topics, product topics and innovation topics.
Market topics - Focus on the latest industry trends/challenges
Product topics - Get feedback on current products, roadmap priorities, and example problems solved using the product
Innovation topics - Focus on ideas for new products and a path forward. Internally, this is often a great chance for other leaders (sales, engineering, marketing) to join the meetings and hear a lot of great feedback at once. Note, this is not a focus group on product features but more a group to guide and support your strategic direction.
Benefits to Customers
I’ve found customers enjoy several benefits from a CAB (in addition to the swag they may get)! First, they really enjoy knowing what you are working on and how you think—it cultivates commitment to know that you do care and are paying attention. Second, they like having direct input into the future of the product and knowing their opinions are valued. Third, they often enjoy sharing best practices, learning from each other, and building stronger relationships with peers. Lastly, they get opportunities to be development partners for new products.
Benefits to the Company
You get the reciprocal benefits to the ones listed above: customer engagement and relationship building (which can lead to retention, referrals, and upsells); more confidence and focus in roadmap decisions and future planning; development partners to build and launch new products and provide great feedback on feature/function, design, value proposition, messaging, and pricing. But most importantly, you are aligning your customers and your internal team on value and focus.
Setting up a Customer Advisory Board can pay great dividends to both your customers and your company … I highly encourage you to set one up and see how it works for you!