Creating and launching a product is one thing but developing and improving it is a whole other beast. One of the best ways to approach this is by absorbing as much feedback as possible through Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) and customer feedback loops

Tapping into honest critique from your customers is a crucial part of not only the strategic direction of your product, but of your organization as a whole – even if the truth is sometimes tough to hear. This guide will cover all the important aspects of creating a successful CAB, including:

  • What is a Customer Advisory Board
  • How do you structure a Customer Advisory Board? 
  • What are the benefits of Customer Advisory Boards?
  • How to conduct an effective Customer Advisory Board meeting
  • How to get the business to buy-in to your CAB
  • The DACI approach
  • What are the expectations of a Customer Advisory Board?
  • How Product Marketing Alliance carried out its first Customer Advisory Board
Want to know more about the what, why, and how of CABs? Don’t miss our Customer Advisory Board Certified: Master's course with Bree Bunzel, Head of Global Customer Marketing at Dropbox

What is a Customer Advisory Board?

Put simply, a Customer Advisory Board is a group of existing customers brought together on a regular basis to advise your company by providing forward-facing feedback on your product and strategic direction.

CABs give customers the opportunity to share best practices and foster community building and networking among peers, whilst also deepening relationships with your company executives and product leaders.

CABs can be run as in-person events, onsite or offsite, online, and/or a combination of them all.

What is another name for a Customer Advisory Board?

We work in the ever-changing world of marketing. Within this world, we experience new technologies, emerging trends, and a whole host of field and industry-specific jargon. 

We’ll keep this short and sweet. You might also know customer advisory boards as: 

  • Executive Advisory Boards
  •  Advisory Panels 
  • Advisory Councils 
  • Steering Committees 
  • A Board of Advice
  • Client Advisory Councils

How do you structure a Customer Advisory Board meeting? 

For a Customer Advisory Board that truly enriches product development, thoughtful structure is crucial. 

First, be clear on your mission – are you hoping to validate product direction or gather intel on market forces? With focused goals set, handpick 8-12 members who represent your core users and will give candid feedback. Send prep materials ahead so in-person time goes toward dynamic dialogue, not a dull presentation. 

Time is precious, but it’s also of the essence. So aim to dive deep on roadmaps, brainstorm features, and unpack challenges – this is a lot, but it’s all super useful information. Try to gather this essential intel in a way that uses peoples’ time effectively.

You’ll need to keep energy high if you want to ensure your members don’t get bored! So mix it up – vary the format of your CAB by breaking into small groups, bringing in guest speakers, and building in social time for networking

Feedback is everything. So be sure to follow up within a week to recap insights, assign action items, set the stage for next steps, and implement that info into products or strategies where possible. It also doesn’t hurt to get feedback on your end – don’t be shy to send out surveys to get a pulse on how the CAB meeting went. This shows you're committed. 

With the right structure, your advisory board can drive open, productive conversations that directly shape better products.

What are the benefits of Customer Advisory Boards (CABs)?  

CABs can help you validate a new company strategy

Will your bold new strategy set the world on fire or fizzle out? A customer advisory board puts it to the test. These trusted advisors assess if your strategic shift truly aligns with customer needs or completely misses the mark. 

CABs can help you validate your re-positioning/branding/messaging

Repositioning, branding, and messaging are huge aspects of a PMM’s role. but you can take the stress out of the pivot. Running your concepts by a Customer Advisory Board helps to relieve the stress of it all.

By illustrating your ideas, you’ll either see their eyes light up or watch it fall flat. Either way, you’ll get the benefit of an unbiased reaction. From there, you can learn whether or not your repositioning, branding, and messaging hits the mark or needs to be reworked. 

CABs can help you validate your customer experience

Customer experience is an ongoing journey for brands, and it’s important that you see this process through their eyes. 

Your CAB spotlights pain points that you may have become numb to and showcases standout moments you’ve taken for granted. 

Validate what delights customers and fix what drives them crazy.

CABs can help you influence product direction

Whether you’ve got a solid product that’s constantly selling or one that’s struggling to get off the ground, a Customer Advisory Board has a great way of guiding your product roadmap, validating planned features, and inspiring game-changing new ideas. 

Take it from those who know – once you harbor their wisdom, you can use it to shape products they'll love. Customers know precisely what they want – and, often, what your competition offers. 

So lean on this invaluable source, steer clear of missteps, and build the perfect solution.

CABs can help you inspire ideas for future customer challenges that haven’t been solved yet

Your customers are visionaries, imagining solutions for challenges yet to emerge. Leveraging their insight can fuel innovation and surface untapped opportunities. 

Not only will your CAB validate product direction, but it also generates pioneering ideas for current customer pain points and/or needs not yet met.

Specifically, as a marketer, CAB insights can help you to:

  • Craft compelling market requirement documents that guide development, highlight must-have capabilities, and influence roadmaps
  • Shape convincing use cases, sharable narratives, and credible case studies
  • Recruit enthusiastic customer advocates to share their stories, provide referrals, and champion your brand across their networks. 

How to get the business to buy-in to your CAB

Securing stakeholder buy-in for a Customer Advisory Board all starts with WHY. You, your team, and your leadership need to begin by asking yourself why you want to start a CAB in the first place. 

Are you repositioning your customer strategy and need customer validation before making that leap? Have you decided you need to focus on investing in customer advocates to build confidence and improve retention

Have you launched a few sub-par products, and realized that the customer challenge wasn’t clearly identified or addressed? 

Once you’re clear on your priorities, you can define your key stakeholders. 

Based on your WHY, ask yourself which leaders are most important to include across your organization. 

For example: If you're most focused on repositioning your product strategy, you should be including your most senior product leader and product marketing leader. If you are focusing on improving retention, think about including a senior leader in customer experience, customer success, and customer marketing.

The DACI approach

Some find the DACI model to be the most successful in defining clear roles and responsibilities for the stakeholders included. For those who aren’t familiar, DACI stands for:

  • Driver
  • Approver
  • Contributor
  • Inform

There should be one Driver, one Approver (ideally someone very senior and influential who can make quick decisions without needing approval elsewhere), and a small group of Contributors who provide support in the form of content, customers, speakers, and a broader group of Informed participants.

What are the expectations of a Customer Advisory Board?

When you create a Customer Advisory Board meeting, it's not just another invite set out to jam up your calendar. It offers up a chance for members to directly shape a product. 

CABs should include serious talks from those in the know – unique insights that tell us what's really going on out there. They should facilitate open discussion and honest feedback about any challenges or issues.

In return, you should provide an inside look at what's next, from previews and prototypes to how a product is being used and what the roadmap looks like. 

These meetings need to count, but there’s no harm in mixing business with enjoyment – the more lively and comfortable a CAB meeting is, the better insights you can expect to gain. 

After a CAB meeting comes the all-important follow-ups and feedback. This is a great opportunity to let your CAB members know their opinions and takes were heard. 

How to conduct an effective Customer Advisory Board meeting

Forget stale slideshows and stiff small talk. Effective CAB meetings make members feel like their opinion truly matters – because it does.

Here are some tips on how you can create a CAB meeting that gets down to the nitty-gritty and delivers essential insights. 

  1. Get talking

Kick off with a fun icebreaker activity (is that an oxymoron?) that sparks conversations. Get personal from the start – go beyond job titles with intimate intros. Divide into small groups and get to know each other first before diving into juicy topics. 

  1. Make it clear that candid feedback is mandatory. 

Pepper in offbeat questions to uncover unexpected insights. Discuss dream products and far-out features to unlock innovative ideas. 

  1. Create an experience to remember

Invite dynamic guest speakers to energize the room. If it’s in-person, treat members to tasty snacks and refreshments to keep energy percolating. Make time for open networking and socializing, building genuine connections. 

  1. Use your CAB meeting to gain valuable feedback 

Listen intently to every word, reading between the lines for crucial subtleties. Promise tangible action on feedback; talk is cheap without follow-through. Send recaps detailing takeaways and next steps. 

When done right, CAB meetings have the potential to deliver fruitful actions and provide you with feedback that either validates your great ideas or shows you that you need to move in a new direction. 

How we carried out our first Customer Advisory Board

What motivated us to start our first Customer Advisory Board?

When we first developed Product Marketing Alliance, we'd gather feedback from our customers through many different means, but the main one was through typical feedback forms. 

This was useful, and we got a lot of value from it, but there was only so much we could get from this method. This is because we were typically missing the context behind the feedback our customers were giving. We figured that a CAB would help us to drill deeper into the top-line feedback we were receiving.

Setting up the Customer Advisory Board

When setting up the CAB, we focused on getting our chosen participants to agree to take part. After all, what's a CAB without CAB members?! 

Two things we knew we had to do was show our customers why we valued their feedback so much, but also show them what they'd get out of the session. So, we made sure to focus on the value prop when inviting them to join. 

Before the CAB, we came up with top-line talking points to have some structure throughout the session. A top tip from us would be to send this to your customers beforehand so they can prepare for what you're going to be talking about. 

This works twofold:

  1. You'll then get more structure to your CAB session and will likely get more out of it.
  2. You'll then understand what type of CAB member your customer is going to be. If they haven't prepared slightly beforehand, they're not going to be as bothered about a positive outcome for your product.

However, having too much structure to your CAB agenda can also be detrimental. You want your CAB conversations to flow freely enough that organic thoughts crop up as and when they need to. 

This can be really helpful in discovering things about your product and your customers that you didn't necessarily understand before. If you've planned too much, you won't find these things out as you're expecting and asking for things you already know. 

Our first CAB was one hour long. This is because we were perhaps a bit too conscious of taking up too much of everyone's time and wanted more people to say yes. But, we ended up regretting this as it’d have been great to spend more time with our members in the first round.

This was also just not enough time for everyone in the CAB to voice their opinion and to go into the amount of detail that we wanted. So, extending the session the next time gave us more insights into what our customers want, and it also gave our CAB members more time to express their thoughts and feel more appreciated and valued for their feedback, rather than being rushed to say what they wanted.

Things we changed about our website based on the CAB feedback

After our first CAB, there were quite a few things we changed about our website – mainly based on UX – that really did improve the quality of our community.

  • We invested in stronger search navigation so our content was easier to find.
  • We changed our homepage to make it more understandable for what we do as a community.
  • We rolled out a new main navigation which reduced the clicks needed and improved the overall user experience.
  • We created content hubs and resources for our new product marketers, as well as hubs for our leaders so that each segment had a specific place they knew they could go within the site that would be tailored more to their personal experience.

After we implemented these changes to the site, we shared them with our CAB members to get confirmation that we were on the right lines. 

Being transparent with our changes was also a way to show them that we valued their opinion and were being proactive. Then, they could see we were actually taking into account what they had said within the CAB to improve their experience. 

This is what you'd call "closing the feedback loop," which is an absolutely essential part of gathering any type of customer feedback.

A piece of advice for someone organizing their first CAB

The best piece of advice we can give you is to just get stuck in. By no means was our first CAB perfect, but it was incredibly valuable for us to learn more about what our customers want and so was a huge learning tool for us.

With this, don't wait to get it perfect, have a rough idea of what you want to do, and then carry it out as soon as you can. Once you've done your first one, you'll have a far better idea of what you need to change about your CAB to get even more value out of it – for you and your CAB members.

Want to learn more?

Exploring exactly what your target market craves and delivering a stellar product can dramatically increase your revenue. 

While Customer Advisory Boards undoubtedly serve as an invaluable source of information in supporting global companies to fulfill customer needs, you need to refine the process and ensure you’re ticking all the boxes. 

In the Customer Advisory Boards Certified: Masters course, Bree Bunzel outlines the seven key ingredients to a successful CAB approach:

  1. A strong business strategy and plan
  2. A clearly defined list of stakeholders, and their roles and responsibilities
  3. A defined target audience and engagement plan
  4. A customer-led agenda
  5. A well-documented call sheet for The Day of CAB
  6. A clear method for capturing and sharing customer feedback post-event
  7. A forward-thinking plan to continue the momentum with your CAB customers post-event

Join Bree Bunzel, Head of Global Customer Marketing at Dropbox and a CABs connoisseur, for 3+ hours of self-paced content and upskill and excel in an essential area of product marketing.