Last year, our company (Mailchimp) created an advisory board of 11 highly engaged customers and partners across a wide range of industries, business sizes and locations from around the world. The initiative was a long time coming, and its positive impact has already been felt across many corners of our team. 

Whether you’re thinking of gathering customers in this way or continuing to innovate with a board you’ve already established, here are five ways your company could benefit and learn from a program like this. 

1. Prioritize Customer-Led Innovation

When we release a product, it can be tempting to put our heads down and assume that we've built the best, most beautiful, most functional thing out there. But even when customers are mostly happy with their experiences, we’ve found that we gain a lot of actionable feedback and ideas for the future simply by opening a dialogue.

For example, we often hear board members share their productivity hacks or workarounds — ways they're using software that don't necessarily align with what our product teams intended. Seeing our tools from these new angles can help us unlock more effective customer education methods. But on a larger scale, it can also challenge us to better align our products with how real people are actually using them. As these marketers, business owners and partners approach our tools with fresh eyes, they push us to change the way we think and allow us to reconsider what’s possible. Without them, we’d miss a lot of opportunities to improve and innovate. 

Related Article: Why We’re Thankful: Our Favorite Customer Advisory Board Social Activities

2. Foster Transparency Between Company and Customer 

We're very fortunate that so many of our executive leaders make a point to attend our customer advisory board (CAB) meet-ups. We are not afraid to bring folks who are not typically talking to customers into the conversation, which nets plenty of great a-ha moments. An agency owner, for example, might get the chance to ask Mailchimp's chief product officer directly, "Why is this working this way? What customers really need is a way to … " 

CAB members also appear on customer panels, which we broadcast to employees once per quarter, or participate in beta testing for new features. This peek behind the curtain at our business drives impact far beyond the CAB itself. Our customers are marketers, after all: It’s vital to build a level of trust and rapport that enables them to be our best spokespeople, too. 

3. Identify Market Insights Across Industries 

By design, our board represents companies and agencies of many different sizes across many different fields and industries. We wanted to elevate voices that could represent the broadest range of customers possible, and building a community that's diverse in every sense of the word is vital in that mission. 

Learning Opportunities

With that in mind, it's incredible how often our conversations land on common insights or challenges that persist across these vastly different fields. Whether our customers are commiserating over supply chain issues or geeking out on the latest martech trend, the dialogue between these seemingly contrasting companies can reveal common priorities across a much larger marketing landscape — and allow us to build better solutions.

Related Article: Tales From the Crypt: Top 6 Customer Advisory Board Horror Stories

4. Build Enthusiasm Through Customer-to-Customer Relationships 

Your company doesn't necessarily have to be at the center of every positive outcome that your CAB generates. Some of my favorite connections to witness were the ones made between the members themselves. 

We had customers on the advisory board learn from (and, in at least one case, ultimately hire!) the partners that served alongside them. We repeatedly see folks gravitate toward one another with side conversations and networking chats to help them solve issues (marketing or not) that they are facing as a business.

5. Improve The Experience for Every Customer

Sure, it's the most obvious end goal and probably the tallest order. But in the end, every other benefit of the CAB ultimately serves just one: to unlock ways we can improve experiences for everyone. 

It's a big part of why we're intentional about elevating as many unique experiences as we can. It's also why we bring executives in for these off-the-cuff conversations, to help ground our work (and our product) in the day-to-day realities of the people who actually use the products to grow their business. And it's why our CAB will continue to evolve and adjust based on feedback from its members and our teams. When we make time for deeper listening, our customers always guide us to stronger outcomes.

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