A Zero Budget Customer Advisory Board

I’ve run customer advisory boards at big companies and loved them but I’ve generally avoided running one at a startup because of the costs.  Recently however I’ve helped a startup launch a customer advisory council with zero budget.  Here’s what we did. The Setup: Starting With the End in Mind First we laid out the goals for the customer advisory board.  The company in this case has a low-touch sales model and the over-arching goal of the advisory board was to establish deep executive relationships with a group of around 20 customers.  Our goals went far beyond gathering product feedback.  The goals: product feedback and input on upcoming product releases insight into shifts happening in the market, discussing shifts in the customer buying processes feedback on potential changes to pricing and bundles getting customers engaged in marketing activities such as case studies, speaking engagements and other PR opportunities. The Prep: Selecting Who to Invite Based on what we were looking for we decided we settled on the characteristics of the customers we would like to invite: fit into our target segments had been an active customer for at least a year did not have a major open customer support issue (to ensure the meetings didn’t become support sessions) The Offer: Invitations and Expectation Setting We discussed whether or not we would need to offer customers something in order to entice them into joining the board.  In the end we crafted a message that centered around our desire to work with them to understand their needs and serve them better.  The “reward” for taking part would be that their input...

8 Reasons to Run a Customer Advisory Council

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...

10 Rules for Running a Customer Advisory Council

Why aren’t you running a customer advisory council?  A customer advisory board or council is a great way to gain market insight, attain feedback on strategy and direction as well as build deep relationships with key customers.  Here are some tips I wish someone had shared with me before I ran my first one: 1.  Pick your customers wisely – Go as senior as you can.  You want folks that are thinking strategically.  Get members that are at the same level.  They are as interested in networking with each other as they are in meeting with you.  Only have a couple of customers so far?  Work your network to get non-customers in the room.  Don’t be afraid to ask board members and investors to help you get advisers. 2.  Don’t cheap out on hotels and food – Do you want to spend a couple of nights in the Holiday Inn eating burgers?  Your customers are important and no, they don’t want fries with that. 3.  Limit the number of customers in the room to about a dozen (and execs from your company to half as many) – A customer advisory council meeting should be an interactive session.  That’s hard to do with too many people in the room.  The fewer attendees from your company, the more likely customers will dominate the conversation.  This is a good thing. 4.  Use an outside moderator – A moderator can more easily control the room if things get off-topic and experienced moderators can draw out quiet participants to ensure the conversation isn’t monopolized by your more outspoken advisers.  You don’t want your CEO...