When we help companies think through whether or not to launch a customer advisory board, the decision often comes down to some combination of business reason, customer reason, and organizational readiness.
Companies apply “customer advisory board”, “client advisory council”, and similar terms to almost any forum involving customer input and interaction. Such a broad definition—“a forum for customer feedback”—causes confusion. In our definition, we reserve the term “customer advisory board” to refer to a strategy-level listening tool and sounding board that offers equal value to both you and participating customers.
The key word in “customer advisory board” is customer. The advising members of your board should represent your top accounts or most strategic relationships—be it by revenue or other measure—with a vested interest in the strategies you plan to discuss and shape.
Executives invest their energy in programs that make a difference to the way they do business. Your board must be a two-way proposition—with equal value offered to both your organization and your customer board members.
Customer advisory boards falter and lose steam for a number of reasons. The source of the problem often comes down to a weakness in internal focus and accountability, strength of the membership, strategic value, or the quality of content and conversation. There are three ways to address the struggle: recommit, redesign, retire.
Enterprises launch advisory boards to accelerate change, uncover opportunities, or otherwise strengthen their position in three areas: strategy and market insight, relationships, revenue. Your ability to listen and take action determines how fast your organization gets results.
It is true that not all customers make good advisors—and customer advisors can struggle in the role for many reasons. But, as with any business relationship, how you solve the problem often leaves more of an impression than the problem itself.
The cadence and format of a customer advisory board’s meetings should suit your particular advisors and the board’s charter. A common, successful equation is to meet in person for one to 1.5 days, once or twice a year.
Timelines are always a concern for companies considering a customer advisory board. How long will it take like launch the board? Recruit advisors? Develop a meeting agenda? Yield value? We outline some factors that influence the speed of each process.
Senior executives from your organization can—and must—play a role at every stage. In contrast, your sales executives’ ideal role is to identify potential advisors and apply the lessons learned. How you involve both sets of these executives can send important signals about your organization’s sincerity and commitment to a successful advisory board.