Customer advisory boards (CABs) are a proven, strategic approach for business-to-business (B2B) companies to engage the senior decision makers from their customer organizations. A CAB brings together executives from top customer firms into an active and lively forum to review industry trends and offer unvarnished guidance and insights to the sponsoring company.
When done correctly, CABs are an ideal method for a business to collect feedback for its corporate strategies, gather input to its product roadmaps, and deepen relationships with its best customers.
However, a customer-driven advisory program's core value proposition is mutually beneficial collaboration, which results in reciprocal value for both the host company and the participating members. Over the course of over 200 engagements advising B2B companies in managing their customer and partner advisory board programs, we have identified numerous benefits that participating executives can obtain from participating in well-run CAB programs.
If you have been invited to join a customer advisory program, here are the top 10 reasons you should accept.
1. Influence Vendor's Product or Solutions Roadmap
First and foremost, by participating on a vendor’s advisory board, executives gain first-hand insight into the company’s product and solutions roadmap and planned enhancements. As such, they are provided the rare ability to learn about upcoming products ahead of the market. They have the opportunity to provide feedback directly to the product management leadership and communicate desired improvements and development of additional capabilities that would directly help their own companies. Such improvements, if implemented, can lead to numerous efficiencies and benefits for executives in their own operations.
2. Gain Insight Into Vendor's Strategic Initiatives
In addition to the product roadmap, advisory board members can gain significant, forward-looking insight into their vendor’s strategic corporate initiatives, and provide a voice in these plans. Such initiatives can include “big bets” on technology development direction or investment, strategic partnerships, or even merger and acquisition targets. Such insight allows participating executives to align their own technology development decisions to what is happening in the marketplace, and consider the best vendors and service providers to meet their evolving needs.
3. Learn Best Practices From Peers
Advisory board meetings should be driven by mutual challenges faced by member executives. All participants can share and learn from the (often innovative) tactics deployed to solve similar issues. As other members usually have confronted related challenges, learning from and benchmarking against other CAB members is a key benefit of participation. These interactions result in actionable insights executives can take and implement immediately upon returning to their own organizations.
4. Test Drive New Products
Often, companies qualify and select beta users from their customer advisory board membership. Participating executives get to test drive the latest product and provide direct feedback, often for their own benefit. In addition, vendors will sometimes offer financial incentives to garner valued beta feedback, such as a discount on the released product itself.
5. Interact with Vendor’s Executive Management
Executives who participate on customer advisory boards always highly value their ability to interact with their vendors’ executive management team. They see firsthand as these leaders provide insight into their strategies, as well as rationale for their trade-offs and business decisions. Since the customer advisory board setting offers additional interaction over meals or other activities, executives become better acquainted on a personal level and can gather more insight into their backgrounds and experience.
6. Improve Customer Service and Support
In addition to product direction input, executives often offer feedback that drives product service and support. Such input typically comes from a direct experience — positive or negative — amongst their teams. The customer advisory board forum may tap that experience as a real-world case study and craft direct improvements that could significantly benefit operations of multiple CAB members.
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7. Gather Industry Insights
Customer advisory boards provide participants a unique and all-too-rare opportunity to learn about developing industry and technology trends, and see to what extent such trends are having on other, similar companies — or completely different industries. This knowledge allows them to benchmark such trends against their own organizations or get ahead of the curve for their own planning and investment purposes. Such data may emerge from the vendor company, peers, or even third-party guest speakers, analysts or industry thought leaders who spoke at the meeting.
8. Help Solve a Business Challenge
Customer advisory programs can do more than simply communicate and gather product feedback, by providing an opportunity to bring a group of experts together to solve a business problem or leverage a business opportunity shared by all participants. As such, participating executives are afforded a chance to collaborate on solutions, processes or technologies that will help themselves, the host company and others within their fields or industries.
9. Be Included in Thought Leadership
Host companies turn the executive collaborations and solutions uncovered by their customer advisory board programs into innovative thought leadership. They communicate these findings through white papers, case studies or articles, which can be used for marketing and publicity pieces by all parties. Such items not only reflect the positive outcome of the initiative, but, more importantly, shine a positive light on the participating executives, bolstering their image and reputations in their industries.
10. Network for Professional Growth
Customer advisory boards enable executives to interact with their peers to not only benefit their own companies, but network for myriad potential personal and professional growth opportunities. It’s not unusual to see outspoken or outstanding CAB members join host companies or other member organizations. In our interactions with CAB members over the years, we have seen members steadily move through the ranks within their own organizations or move on to manage organizations for larger companies.
A customer or partner advisory board is successful only when all participants derive value. And while advisory boards can sharpen and accelerate a host company’s focus and go-to-market plans, just as much benefit can — and should — be gained by the participating members as well. Assembling a peer group of customer executives as strategic advisors that also influences the industry in which they operate is the promise and potential of customer advisory boards. As a participating executive, that is a promise you can bring back to your own company.