Who should join our board as advisors (and who shouldn’t)?

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.

Balance the board as a whole

Match the composition of the board to its intended impact—and the feedback you’re hoping to receive. You can consider its balance by:

  • industry
  • role
  • geography
  • value to and competition with one another
  • and more.

Consider their individual qualities

The ideal advisor has both the acumen and attitude to counsel you. You’re looking for top customers who:

  • are leaders, innovators, or thought leaders in their industry or profession
  • can advise beyond their own account issues
  • will consider each other peers

Should we invite prospective customers?

Tread carefully. Board meetings are deliberately not sales events. They are an opportunity to engage key customers—get their knowledgeable perspective on your strategy, business, and position in the market.

With less (or no) skin in the game, prospects:

  • are less committed to your success and a role in advising you.
  • cannot offer other members lessons from working with you.
  • often require more work to engage than the value they provide.

All of which can undermine your other advisors’ participation.

Should we invite external thought leaders?

All of the cautions about prospects also apply to external thought leaders, with two additional risks:

  • Customers will perceive them—rather than you—as more expert on key issues.
  • Customers will become less candid out of concerns over confidentiality.

Occasionally, a market watcher or researcher can provide a valuable industry perspective. Make sure they offer just as much insight to your customers as to you. And consider limiting their participation to a guest role or occasional participant.

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