Customer Advisory Boards allow customers to give candid feedback on their experience with your company, and we spoke with Bree Bunzel, Head of Global Customer Marketing at Dropbox, who answered questions around building Customer Advisory Boards and customer feedback loops.
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Q: In one of your previous presentations, you mentioned Dropbox has a separate Customer Strategy & Insights team. How does their work differ from the work you do? Why do you think the CAB should be owned by the PMM team instead?
A: I’ve seen CABs run in many different ways, owned by various departments - including events, product, product management, consumer insights & strategy, and PMM. Our Consumer Strategy & Insights group does a lot more mass-market research, segmentation, and persona building, but there is some overlap so we keep them informed.
The main goal comes down to what you want the outcome to be and which team and/or executive has the power to make that change happen. Do you want the feedback to impact product roadmaps, customer experience, the entire business? If it’s your roadmap, you should have the Head of Product as your executive sponsor, if it’s customer experience, it should be your Head of CX, and if it’s the entire business, it should be your COO.
The ownership of CABs extends beyond the actual day of CAB, but the post-event feedback and how these insights turn into action, and if your product team isn’t invested in the program, they’ll take one glance at your post-event summary doc and move on to other hot priorities. It will lead to disappointment from your team by not “finishing the swing”, and your customers will be left feeling unheard when they see no progress has been made since their last engagement with your company.
We had our executive sponsor as the Head of Product, and we partnered closely, driving this program in PMM. While I don’t know how PMM is structured and positioned in your organization, I can tell you why it worked well for us.
We started running our CAB out of PMM because:
- Our function is seen as the central glue between product, engineering, Comms, CX, etc.
- We partner closely with products to build Market Requirement Documents that help provide a broad assessment of the market, competitive insights, and key challenges we want to solve in the product.
- We own a lot of the content creation when it comes to product roadmaps and feature updates, and this is what is primarily shown during a CAB, outside of real-time demos and mock-ups from product.
- We own the Go-To-Market launches for these products.
- We own the Messaging and Positioning - These insights give us the empathy to support a value prop, positioning, and messaging with the customer in mind.
- We partner closely with Customer Marketing to build Advocates - These customers become long-term advocates of our brand, and we partner closely with customer marketing to amplify their stories and make them the heroes of their organizations, as well as be seen externally as thought leaders.
Q: How do you structure your CAB? I would be interested in any of the following:
Number of members
Demographic choices made (how were members selected)
Also, do you have just one CAB or are there places where you might consider multiple CABs?
What are the goals for the CAB for your business and what do your CAB members expect to get out of it?
A: We started our CABs with close to 20 members in a room, but what we found over time was that it doesn’t feel as intimate and it limits the “air time” and depth of feedback when across a half-day session, everyone only has a few minutes to talk.
We wanted to solve the customer experience and knew they’d rather have a more intimate gathering where they could learn from one another and build relationships throughout the day; our sweet spot has been 12.
When we discuss the idea of starting a CAB, we first start by identifying the audience we’d like to get feedback from. In the case of Dropbox, we have been evolving from a consumer brand to also include B2B with Dropbox Business.
On a company level, we had entered into a new category and wanted to assess how that was resonating with our newer and existing customers. We picked highly engaged Dropbox Business users and larger organizations with premier logos.
We hoped to be part of a VIP CAB experience and the program would further build our relationship with them and turn them into advocates. You can identify an audience by the level of engagement, big brands (which lead to future advocates), the highest revenue generated, key influencers, and beyond.
I’ve also seen CABs by product line and business size at other organizations, sometimes with multiple CABs solving for key industries, verticals, regions, etc.
We solve for a customer-first CAB experience, that makes them feel heard and invested in, and in turn, we want to create an environment that allows our customers to authentically voice their feedback so we are building a product vision together with the customer in mind. We did a lot of customer interviews on their “Why” for CAB, and it varied by industry, size, etc.
Q: What are some tips to create an engaging CAB conversation virtually? We'd typically have a lot of in-person activities and we're looking to foster that same engagement virtually.
A: We had designed our entire CAB in person, and then had to re-imagine the program remotely. We just had our first virtual SF CAB two weeks ago, and I also hold a monthly meetup with a few other CAB leaders at other tech companies, so I’m happy to share some early learnings.
We kept this to 2 hours, and this was the maximum time I would ask of customers. We worried a break in the middle would mean folks would drop, so we let customers take breaks if need be. While we don’t have it perfectly nailed, we found that having a facilitator is critical to having the virtual event flow smoothly.
There can be some awkward silences on virtual calls, as well as folks that don’t speak as much as others, and a facilitator helps close those gaps. We had a facilitator who had an existing relationship with a lot of our customers in attendance, which made the rapport and conversation flow more smoothly. We also had a lot of time for discussion and using Zoom, we used “gallery view aka Brady Bunch view” so customers could engage with one another, see each other’s reactions, etc.
We also had a session where we asked a few questions around their top of mind topics on remote work and had them chat with one another, learning from peers instead of us talking and presenting the whole time. I've heard a few other companies do well with Zoom's breakout room functionality, but ensuring an internal teammate is in each breakout to capture and report back on insights.
We can’t replicate the nice venue, meals, and in-person connections, but we tried to add some personal touches, like sending UberEats virtual gift cards before so they had a “meal on us”, as well as a virtual care package after with some goodies tied to our Dropbox culture and values. We are still learning as this was our first event, but we were happy with how the first virtual CAB was received.
Q: Have you ever had a customer request to be on your CAB but you've not felt they were a good fit for it? If so, how did you manage that? We recently had a case like this and felt like we were walking on a tightrope not wanting to tarnish our relationship with that customer by turning them down, but also wanting to ensure all our CAB members were 100% what we're looking for.
A: I can see that being a tricky one, I feel for you. We haven’t had any requests in the past, but I can see this coming up as our CAB program continues to grow.
My recommendation is to be clear on the goals for the program, what you are solving for, and the criteria to select those CAB customers, including how many and how diverse you would like the group to be.
For us, having a group of 12 for a region, which must cover a diverse set of factors by industry, roles, journey stage and beyond - this makes it difficult to have the program as a free for all.
We are working on more frequent touchpoints to avoid this becoming an issue, including events where a broader group of our VIP customers can join in for an exclusive TED Talk-like webinar, etc. so they still feel special.
Q: How often do you run your Customer Advisory Boards? And in between those meetings, what do you do to keep everyone on the CAB engaged?
A: We started our CAB programs in person once a year in each region, and are now exploring more frequent cadences on a bi-annual or quarterly basis virtually. These more frequent engagements also don’t necessarily mean it needs to be a brand new product roadmap, but we can use it to get pulse checks and provide opportunities for them to connect with us and their peers.
We are also looking at finding more ways to add more value to these VIP members, with exclusive round tables and/or webinars to make them feel special year-round. We also have our CSM account leads that engage with these customers on a more frequent basis.
Q: How have you engaged your CAB to have fruitful and strategic discussions about product roadmap planning?
A: We design our CAB program to be customer-led, meaning we spend time talking to customers about what they’d like to get out of being part of our CAB. Their reasoning may be to provide product feedback, it may be to engage and ask questions to our senior leaders, it may be to connect with other peers. Within their needs for providing product feedback, we collect key topics they would like us to focus on for the session, and we then take these inputs to design our CAB experience. Our number one priority is making these customers feel heard and providing an open, authentic environment for them to share and connect openly.
Our preparation also goes deeper with our facilitator. He/she works to understand each customer’s briefing document, use case and key priorities in detail before the session, so when product updates and features are shared, he can draw upon previous knowledge and call on specific customers based on whether the product solves for their specific use cases. Preparing facilitated questions in advance is critical, and you never want to ask “What do you think” - it will almost always be crickets (trust me, we’ve learned the hard way 😉)
The key thing to remember is this is a CAB, not a design research session. We aren’t asking for feedback on the details of a button and user flow, but more broadly understanding whether the key needs of our customers will/will not be met with our roadmap.
Having an impactful discussion is one part of the experience, the second is properly recording the notes and summarizing and circulating key takeaways with internal stakeholders who own the changes. Having your key internal stakeholders at the CAB - such as your C-suite and product leaders - will help create this impact, with the advantage of hearing feedback first hand and turning it into action.
Q: Where do you suggest starting if my B2B company is setting up a CAB and would like to understand end-users AND our partners? Would it be wise to have an end-user CAB and a separate partner CAB?
We're computer hardware with a traditional distribution sales channel, so it can be difficult for us to get insights from end-users because we don't know unless they register their products for warranty themselves.
A: I would recommend breaking out the CABs as end-users and partners have different "whys" and reasons for engaging with us. We currently have a separate partner CAB, and the content is focused on education, incentives, sharing of use cases and peer connections, and future roadmap. Our admin and end-user CABs are much more focused on roadmap feedback, sharing of use cases, customer experience, and peer connections. I think partners would want to connect with other partners on similar use cases, and end-users to connect with others like them as well. These broken out CABs would also ensure the right internal executives are on each, as I would envision our Partner executives would not find as much value listening to an end-user CAB. I would recommend having less of your staff in the CAB than customers for both.
In your case, I can see it valuable partnering with your channel partners to get closer to these end-user challenges, concerns, and needs, and understand what would incentivize those end-users to participate. Maybe there could be an incentive for partners to recruit end-users to join CAB? We haven't needed any pay for their time because we figured out their "why" for being part of CAB (influencing our roadmap, engaging with our executives, and connecting with their peers).