Five Ways Customer Advisory Boards Drive Customer-Led Growth Initiatives

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In talking to fellow customer marketers at the recent CustomerXCon 2023 conference held in Boston, it became clear that our charters and roles as marketers continue to evolve and change. The theme I kept hearing at the event was that customer marketers are focused on acquiring and mobilizing key clients to help determine, prioritize and drive corporate strategic growth initiatives undertaken by their C-level executives. While there can be several names for such initiatives, the top ones used by marketers I spoke to were “Customer-Led Growth” (CLG) or “Customer-Driven Initiatives” (CDI).

In discussing these themes, I couldn’t help but think about how customer advisory boards (CABs) – specifically customer-led advisory boards – seem to perfectly encapsulate, support and drive such initiatives. Here are five ways CABs can power your CLG and CDI programs over the coming year:

1. Focus on executives: When initiating a CAB program, care should be made to target recruiting customer executives to your initiative. After all, higher level executives will have knowledge and insights into the major goals and challenges of their companies and the market in general, and be able to provide material, strategic insights and guidance to your company through their participation on your CAB. Note that these executives may not necessarily be the user of your solution or service, which may even be another person or group in their firm. But focusing too heavily on recruiting product users can make your CAB focused on your product, tactical in nature and leading to mostly low-value tweaks to your products themselves – and not much else.

2. Strategic topic agendas: In line with the above, your CAB meeting agenda should not be made of generic corporate updates, sales pitches, new feature presentations or product demos. Instead, your agenda should be dedicated to more broad corporate challenges shared by your all your customers and innovative ways to overcome them. These issues should furthermore be determined by your CAB members themselves, through interviews and surveys that you provide to them well in advance. By allowing your executive customers to drive the agenda, not only will they be invested and engaged, but your company will benefit by better understanding their real pain points – and how to potentially mitigate them.

3. Resource prioritization: While there are likely numerous solutions and services your customers and the market itself would love to obtain (ideally very cheaply), your company likely has its own limitations and budget, time and resource constraints. As such, executive CAB members are ideal at helping your company prioritize your creative plans and investments for the coming year(s), and help eliminate the noise, fads and pet projects that just won’t yield the return for your company that other information sources (e.g. sales people, IT analysts, financial media) claim are the way of the future.

4. The bigger picture: CABs empower your own executives to see a larger piece of your market landscape – the larger system providers your may (or should) be integrating or partnering with, newer more nimble vendors who are proving unique services, and how your competitors are approaching your customers with the offers they’re trying to use to lure them away. This is information your company could never get from other, traditional information resources and can help your company partner, acquire, or otherwise maneuver to position themselves to thrive in your marketplace.

5. More active involvement: CABs should not be a program in which your customers passively show up for a couple meetings a year and forget about you in-between engagements. Instead, well established and run customer-led advisory board programs are a forum and resource for the CAB members themselves to float ideas and challenges, and collaborate with their colleagues from other companies on viable solutions. As such, these members are “co-owners” of the CAB program and are proactively involved in setting program themes and charters, aiding in recruiting, driving meeting agendas and topics, actively presenting and engaging in meeting discussions, and even driving post-meeting workstreams, deliverables or thought leadership pieces on solutions to shared challenges faced by all.

Customer-led advisory programs can become the flywheel in overall robust customer engagement and advocacy programs – and a cornerstone of any CLG or CDI program your company is undertaking. After all, executives from your best customers are experienced and have a wider exposure and awareness to market trends and dynamics that can materially help your company reach and exceed its critical, high-level corporate goals in 2024 and beyond. However, there needs to be a significant value-add for this transformation to happen, which means your company should invest the proper and necessary resources, time and attention to ensure your CAB program is set up for maximum success.

Rob Jensen
Rob Jensen has spent over 20 years in marketing, communications and business development leadership positions with leading enterprise business-to-business (B2B) software and technology companies. Throughout his career, Rob has successfully overseen groups that generated global awareness, increased lead generation and enabled sales teams for EMC/Captiva, Kofax, Anacomp, TRW, HNC Software and AudaExplore. In addition, Rob has specialized in initiating, managing and facilitating customer and partner advisory board programs for several of these companies in the U.S. and abroad.

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