I’ve run a few customer advisory councils and I’ve found them to be really useful both from marketing and a sales perspective.  Here are some reasons you might want to have product marketing look at running a customer advisory board:

1/ Customer Insight – the obvious reason for organizing a customer advisory board is to have a group of committed customers you can test assumptions and new ideas with.  Just be careful not to make the mistake of letting this small group drive development of features directly (trust me, at least a few of them will lobby hard for features that only they will ever need).

2/ Customer Referrals – one advisory board I ran we used this as a key success metric and actively solicited a certain number of referrals from each member.

3/ Operational Feedback – in addition to product feedback customer advisory boards are a great place to get feedback on how easy or annoying your sales process is and how customers perceive your service after the sale.  If you are planning changes to how your business operates, this group is a great place to get feedback.

4/ Case Studies and Joint PR – don’t forget to ask for permission to do case studies and video from your advisory council members (if you run face to face meetings, it’s a great opportunity to shoot video so plan for that).  Make sure to have some time to talk about joint speaking and press opportunities.

5/ Marketing Planning – As a marketer I’ve gotten great feedback from customer advisory council members on what publications they read, what conferences they attend, what analysts they listen to, who they turn to for advice and what search terminology they use when they are looking to buy.  This is really helpful in planning how to divide up your marketing budget.

6/ Increase Customer Spend – a council meeting is NOT a sales meeting, it’s a two-way dialogue.  However, one of the by-products of having customers on the council is that they tend to become more committed to your company and in the end, purchase more.

7/ Creating a Customer Community – more and more I’m seeing consumer-focused startups running larger advisory councils where one of the major goals is to get the members interacting with each other including sharing tips, techniques and best practices related to the product or service.  In my experience running a smaller CIO advisory council, we found one of the main reasons CIO’s wanted to join was to meet other CIO’s.

8/ Clues About New Markets – ask members about adjacent markets and purchases they are making in market spaces close to the one you are in.  For business customers there’s an opportunity to better understand how overall budgets are getting spent to make sure you’re getting your fair share.

My next post will be a set of tips for how to run an effective customer advisory council.

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