How to Run a Better Customer Advisory Council

In the last post I talked about some reasons why you should run an advisory council.  Customer advisory councils are more work than they look.  Here are some tips on running a better customer advisory board that have worked for me. 1.  Pick members wisely – Ideally council members like your company enough to give you their time but aren’t going to spare you criticism when you need it.  Overly positive board members or ones that are just too quiet aren’t going to give you the feedback you need. Set a term for membership so that you can change members if you aren’t getting what you need. 2.  Limit customers in a meeting to a dozen (and execs from your company to half as many) – The 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).  In my experience we had to have about 20 to 30 council members to consistently get 12 to attend a face to face meeting. 3.  Use an outside moderator if you can – 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.  A 3rd party moderator also saves you from having to tell your best customer to shush up. 4.  Plan months in advance – In my experience, your team will argue over what should be on the agenda.  Leave enough planning time in...

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...