5 Tips for Starting a Customer Advisory Board (CAB)

By March 6, 2019Blog

Customers are the heart of any business, but ironically, they aren’t always the voice. It’s easy to remain in the feedback loop within your team or with your investors or even in trying to keep up with competitors. However, there needs to be room at the table for customers, too.

A customer advisory board, or CAB, is a formal group of customers that are interested in your company’s success and are willing to provide input and insight on an ongoing basis. Whereas a focus group may meet one time to contribute their opinion, CABs are in it for the long haul. It may also help to think of customer advisory boards as a group of product champions that you build deeper relationships with.

How to Create Your First Customer Advisory Board in 5 Steps

Customer advisory boards provide critical evaluations in a smaller and more manageable setting. While you should always be collecting customer feedback and NPS scores, having a CAB allows you to dive deeper on particular topics in a more conversational and qualitative way. When done well, assembling a group of go-to customer advisors can strengthen your business. It’s also useful for furthering your understanding of customers’ definition of success and aligning your product development with it. Let’s break down how to set up your first customer advisory board the right way.  

Choose a Purpose and CAB Needs

If this is your first time setting up a CAB for your SaaS business, there are a few different routes you can take.

First, you may choose to create a more general customer advisory board. In this case, you would select a diverse group of customers who you can talk to about any aspect of your business. On the other hand, you may find it more helpful to set up a CAB with a specific purpose in mind.

For example, separate CABs could be established for consulting on your business’ big-picture strategy, solutions and features, account management and engagement, or marketing and positioning. A specific goal-oriented CAB is helpful when there’s a particular area of your SaaS that you know needs help, or if you want to target a specific user segment.

No matter which type of CAB you choose to create, there needs to be a set purpose. Take time to outline what you hope to achieve through collaboration with customers. Are you hoping to gain feedback on an upcoming product launch? Or are you trying to learn more about user goals before you undergo a company-wide transformation? Getting clear on the purpose of the CAB process will make all of the following steps easier.

Write a Charter

Having a group charter establishes expectations for both your company and your advisors. This document outlines what type of users will be included on the board, what the purpose of the CAB is, how meetings will be conducted, and how progress will be communicated. Once again, spending the time to gain clarity at this step makes it more likely that your CAB will be a success.

Select the Right Mix of Users

There are a few phases within the process of filling your advisory board with people.

First, you need to determine what type of users your group needs. If you’re establishing a more general CAB, then aim for a diverse mix of customers. That means you should have small business and enterprise customers, as well as different company roles and levels of engagement. While you need customers who are motivated to help you, it wouldn’t do much good to fill the room with yes-men. That means you need a mix of NPS scores as well.

If you have a specific CAB in mind, you’ll want to make your group more targeted and choose people that will be impacted by certain feature updates, organizational changes, etc. Not sure how many people to add to your SaaS customer advisory board? Aim for anywhere between five and ten.

After you have an idea of the types of users you want to include, it’s time to start reaching out. You may choose to schedule exploratory calls if you need more information than your CRM or customer success software has logged. All of the work you put into outlining the group charter and the group’s purpose will come in handy when you’re inviting users to join the cause. It also doesn’t hurt to let them know this is a behind-the-scenes, exclusive group and that their feedback is valuable in helping shape the company.

Organize and Prep for the Meeting

Congrats! By this point, you’ve got a group of users who are ready to pitch in and help you problem solve. Now you need to prepare for your first customer advisory board meeting.

First things first, you need to establish a clear objective and agenda for the meeting. This means choosing a theme or a few high-level topics to consider. Depending on the breadth or depth of the issues you want to cover, it may be helpful to send out a preliminary survey. A short questionnaire related to the topic at hand can prime customers for discussion as well as provide a starting point for dialogue. By gathering some information before the meeting starts, you can focus on expanding on insights rather than collecting them. It’s also helpful to have a list of questions prepared for the meeting and to share as much information ahead of the meeting time as possible so everyone has ample time to prepare. This will make your meeting times much more productive and let your board know that you’re respectful of their time.

Run your first CAB meeting

Now is a good time to mention that you don’t need a large or formal meeting every time you want commentary from your CAB. Short and simple surveys are a great way to get quick and consistent feedback.

If, however, you want to bring your customer advisory board together in-person, there are a few extra considerations. First, make sure you have some way to record the meeting, whether in the form of video or transcription. This way you have a copy of the conversation that can be reviewed later, passed along to CAB members who couldn’t make it, or shared with other stakeholders. You should also prepare a plan for how you’ll act on the input you receive.

Next, you want to organize the meeting so that there’s time for socializing and networking before you get down to business. It should never appear that you’re trying to “buy” positive responses from your group, but it is nice to treat them to a meal. Moderating will be an important job at the customer advisory board meeting – you want to make sure everyone gets a chance to talk and that you stay on-topic.

After you’ve set up your first SaaS customer advisory board, it’s time to start thinking about how to keep the group happy and productive in the long run. This new group is just like any other stakeholder in your business, and they deserve consistent time and attention. Communication is also critical. If it seems that you aren’t taking any of their suggestions seriously or acting on their input, your CAB may start to wonder what the point is. Let them know how you’re using the feedback, and why you’ve made the choices you’ve made. Your CAB is a part of your team, and they should feel that.  

Have you created a customer advisory board before? What tips, tricks, and best practices can you share? Let us know in the comments below. 

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