Earlier, I posted my thoughts on how to run an effective Customer Advisory Board (also called Customer Advisory Groups, CAGs, or CABs). Many readers of my post then contributed their own thoughts and advice... very good stuff. I've compiled their tips and tricks below.
"Keep Customer Advisory Boards small if you want meaningful feedback. I try to have multiple meetings in distributed locations so I can keep attendance to 10 or fewer."
"I try to find locations where people don’t have to travel. Yes, Pebble Beach is nice, but I’d rather have five distributed throughout the US."
"Never, ever let the account executives attend. Maybe sales engineers can, if they promise to behave. But I never let sales reps show up because they just can resist asking for the order. This is not what the meetings are about."
"I try to keep the meetings short. Say 9:30 to 4:00 with regular breaks. It’s a lot to ask for someone to give us an entire day."
"Bring marketing swag. I know it’s a cheap trick, but people like it."
"I will sometimes segment my meetings by vertical or channel. Sometimes, if you invite a reseller to a meeting, they’ll just use it to get all the contact names and then sell the attendees. Have to be careful about this one. In the past, I’ve also had attendees express concern about competitors being there, so it really depends on the nature of the audience."
"Product Management must own the agenda. I always try to give the attendees something the can’t get through our normal channels. Such as extra early looks at upcoming product that they care about. I want to make the attendees feel special."
"I 'market' the CAG internally and externally as 'by invitation only', so that it makes attendees feel special, it makes sales feel listened to, and I have the right to include/exclude specific individuals."
"It really, really matters who is in charge of the CAG. My experience is that it ends up being a part-time job for someone in MarComm and that leads to nothing (BTW: that’s actually worse than a disaster). You need someone who “gets” what a CAG can do for the company and who knows how to extract that info from your best customers."
"Somehow you have to make them WANT to attend your CAG get-togethers. What this means is that the info flow has to be two-way: they tell you want you want to know and you provide value to them that they can’t get any where else."
One additional key takeaway, which I really agree with, is to keep the information flowing with these customers BETWEEN Board meetings.
"A Customer Advisory Board should be viewed as a means for ongoing communication with a set of key customers, partners etc. I wouldn’t call a 1-time meeting with a bunch of customers a 'Board'. Whether they meet once a year, twice a year, or more, what happens between meetings is as important as the meetings themselves.
"What decisions were made with the info collected from the meeting? Let them know that. Got some follow up questions? Ask the Board. Have some new ideas that could use some quick input or validation? Ping a few of them.
"The objective is to build good relationships with the Board members so there is a level of comfort and communication that is well above what is the norm.
"It takes time, effort and commitment, but the payoff is more than worth it."