Managing Multiple Customer Advisory Boards: Five Tips for Companies and Customer Marketers

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We sometimes talk to customer marketing professionals – especially those working for large companies – who tell us their firms operate multiple customer advisory boards (CABs). These are often focused around different products, industries, participants, regions or other technologies that (supposedly) justify the need to separate their boards into myriad programs run by various people, units, departments and geographies. These programs may also, in actuality, be customer focus groups, user groups, round tables or other short-term (or one-time) programs that may also no longer be in existence—and are not actual CABs by our definition. Regardless of the name, in merely asking how these programs are going, we are often struck by the uncertainty over what a particular company is doing with their CABs, how they are succeeding or how they are communicating their results.

As such, here are some tips for companies, customer marketers and CAB managers who may be running multiple CABs, and how they can improve their overall program effectiveness.

1. Justify your myriad programs: In today’s era of mergers and acquisitions and company turnover, some CABs may exist simply because another since-acquired company had one or one was requested by an executive long ago who may not even still be in her role or at the company. Marketing, product, sales and other executives should get their arms around the CAB programs they have, who is running them, where these report into their organizations, the board membership (companies and people) and, most importantly their status and results so far. While some companies have all CABs managed by a single group or person, larger ones may have various units or departments involved. Get them together to at least communicate – there may be synergies that everyone can benefit from. Understand whether any programs are “on hold,” and what’s needed to restart – or eliminate – them.

2. Scrutinize product CABs: The above is particularly true for CABs formed around your myriad products. While you and your company may have very good reasons justifying different CABs for different products, just as often, we talk to customer marketers who unnecessarily separate – and water down – CAB efficiencies by distinguishing them by product. Marketers need to remember that while you may view your own products as unique and special, your customers likely use many different products and vendors as part of an overall solution in their operations – which would they would be more interested in addressing as a whole. Finally, product CABs tend to be so product specific that discussions center around feature updates and tactical user changes, which are not overly valuable and are better saved for your product user groups.

3. Communicate results: In talking to customer marketers about their myriad CAB programs, we are often struck by how little they are aware of how their myriad CABs are going or what they are achieving. Any well-run CAB program should be uncovering many insights and suggestions that would benefit many departments and the company as a whole – and as such should be shared as broadly as possible. In other words, if you are not aware of how your various CAB programs are going, they are likely not well run, leading to low-value tactical user insights, and are not uncovering the higher-level strategic insights and improvements that can materially impact your company.

4. Share procedures and resources: Company-dispersed CABs are usually run by various people who don’t talk to each other, meet at different times and locations and are operated in wildly different manners. Here, there likely exists some opportunities to standardize procedures, materials and resources that will improve the overall experience for all your customers. Consider establishing a “CAB Center of Excellence;” a central repository of CAB materials (charters, CAB member lists, meeting reports, resulting action trackers, etc.) from very program. Get all CAB managers together to review their program operations and share the things that work well so everyone can benefit – especially your CAB members.

5. Consider collapsing and combining: Often, through our discussions with customer marketers, it seems that companies have too many CABs that are spread thin, not well managed, on hold due to various reasons, understaffed or underbudgeted or simply unknown because of a lack of communication. Such companies would be served by holding less CAB programs, combining and collapsing programs into fewer but stronger and better managed programs, made up of customer executives (not necessarily product users) that understand strategic issues and can provide real benefit and advice to your company. As we recommend at Ignite, do a CAB well, or consider not doing one at all.

Running multiple customer advisory boards can have great benefit for customer marketers and the companies they work for. But each must be established properly, communicate with each other, and share resources and successes to ensure maximum success. If you consider the myriad CABs in your company and you don’t know how your programs are being run, who is running them or the status or the successes of each, then it might be time to examine each program and see if there is an opportunity to improve it, collapse it into another program, or eliminate it all together.

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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