Unlocking the Value of Customer Advisory Boards: Listening and Acting

As an advisory Board member, I want to give authentic advice on the company’s direction. Board members need to therefore be honest and thoughtful in our advice and the sponsoring company has to be open to that authentic advice, not defensive.

Organizations choose to convene Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) for a number of reasons, and the value CABs provide to the sponsor company should be tangible and measurable.  Counsel from top clients can help move the needle and provide value in the following ways:

  • Market-tested value propositions and messaging
  • New direction and approaches to the market based on external perspectives
  • Product and service innovation arising from insight into emerging customer needs and competitive landscape
  • New revenue and pipeline growth stemming from improved account positioning
  • Early insight into systemic versus one-off issues that may be impacting client satisfaction and customer longevity
  • Deeper relationships with clients and critical mindshare with this important group of influencers
  • Thought leadership created from the perspective of external stakeholders

However, in order to unlock this value, a two-way dialogue needs to take place.

Clients commit to CABs because they want to see you succeed.  To be effective, client members need to be true advisors, and be able to look past their client-specific challenges and provide guidance and input from an objective perspective.  These unbiased, honest views are the impetus for change.

On the other side of the equation, the sponsor company must be receptive to the advice offered by client board members.  The sponsor needs to listen and not pitch to the clients; they must take the advice to heart, bring it back into the organization, and evolve the strategy based on the advice offered.  Successful boards are able to set in motion many changes and adjustments based on the feedback of the board.  Creating a clear closed loop governance process ensures a system that incorporates input and shows CAB members the shifts that have taken place as a result of their counsel.

In our experience with CABs, some of the best board sessions have resulted from the most challenging conversations.  Tough, honest advice is not always easy to swallow, and it can be difficult to hear that clients don’t agree after hours, days, weeks, months were spent to develop a service or product idea.  When sponsoring companies bring that advice in and acts on it, the rewards are significant; clients feel ownership over the evolution, often sign up for pilot programs and are even more interested to see success.

Organizations that demonstrate back to their CABs how the authentic and thoughtful input is being implemented will continue to convene CABs with rich, meaningful discussions and members that feel valued – and heard.

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