A customer advisory board is one of the best ways to make sure your business stays tuned into market trends and ever-changing customer needs. Virtually every large company has a customer advisory board to guide them on what they need to pay attention to. Every small business should have this board, too. Here’s how to set up and run one for your company.
What is a Customer Advisory Board?
A customer advisory board is a group of your customers who are willing to share their thoughts about your company’s products and overall direction. Without such insights, you are navigating in the dark.
Customer Advisory Board Objectives
Your customers look at your business from a different perspective. Their role is to provide guidance for your company. Whether they say it specifically or not, every customer is thinking this question every time they send you a payment:
- Is your product or service helping me with what I want or need?
When you facilitate your customer advisory board meetings in a structured way, you will get rich insights for your strategy. These will inform your product roadmap, go-to-market strategies, and answer the biggest question of all:
- Why do your customers buy from your business?
Setting Up and Running Your Board
Creating your customer advisory board, a.k.a. client advisory panel, starts with inviting your customers to participate. There are probably several customers you can think of immediately who buy from you regularly. Your raving fans are your easiest choice to invite.
Selecting who will be on this board is different than choosing a board of directors, which have a fiduciary responsibility to your company. Customer Advisory Board members typically don’t get paid but you can offer them a gift for their participation.
Side note: it’s important not to shy away from talking with dissatisfied clients, though they may not be a fit for your advisory panel.
Invitation Letter to Join Your Advisory Board
Email an invitation letter to 10-12 clients that you’ve identified at first. If you only get a few responses, you can add more clients later. Here’s a sample invitation letter that you can copy/paste/edit to invite clients to join your board:
Hi <client name>, thank you for being a great customer of <your business name>! We’re forming a Customer Advisory Board and I’m reaching out to a small handful of our clients to invite you to participate. We’re hoping to get detailed feedback on our products, services, roadmap and ways we can serve you better.
We plan to meet as a group twice a year online for about an hour each time. You’ll be joined by a very select group of other customers to share your opinions about new products and features we are working on. We may have follow up questions for you individually and we would value time with you one-on-one at your convenience.
I’m happy to answer any questions you have. Would you be open to joining our Customer Advisory Board?
Ask Members to Sign a Confidentiality Agreement
Since you will be disclosing insider information about your company like your roadmap and future plans, you want to make sure that whatever you share does not leak out.
Send advisory board members a confidentiality agreement (this link is an example agreement on our site – be sure to have a lawyer review to make sure you’re covered fully). This will help protect you legally and send the signal that your conversations should remain confidential. Once your customer has signed the confidentiality agreement, you can send them a welcome letter with your meeting dates.
Include a reminder at the start of every meeting, perhaps a quick slide that reads “Confidentiality Reminder,” to reiterate the importance of board confidentiality.
Schedule and Facilitate Your Customer Advisory Board Meetings
Schedule customer advisory board meetings twice a year as a group and once a year or ad hoc with each member individually. Get these meetings on everyone’s calendar and send reminders well ahead of time.
Sample Customer Advisory Board Meeting Agenda
Prepare for your board meeting with a detailed company presentation, just like you would prepare for a corporate board or investor meeting. You can exclude the financial components about your business.
- Show product demos that include unreleased features
- Illustrate product or feature ideas or prototypes that you have in the works
- Ask deep questions about what kinds of problems your advisory board members are looking to solve, including ones that are not related to your products and services
- Allow members to share success stories, service issues, and challenges they experience with your company (you can even ask for permission to use the success stories as a business case study to use in your marketing)
- Inquire about competitors, as some of your customers may also buy your competitors’ products and services
After your customer advisory board meeting, send a thank you letter as a follow up. You can also send a token of appreciation like a gift certificate, box of cookies, anything to express gratitude.
Incorporate Feedback Into Your Business Plan
Your goal for having a customer advisory board is to get feedback on what you are doing well and what you should improve. Your advisory committee can provide insights into what they think of your plans. They will share what they are seeing in the market and what they need from you as a company.
Your advisory board members may also share what they know or hear about your competitors. This can be very valuable as you chart your path forward.
This way, you stay ahead of the curve and know what to tweak in your business before it’s too late.
Author: Raj Khera, Publisher of MoreBusiness.com