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The Best Bang For Your Discovery Buck – Customer Advisory Boards

customer advisory boards

Customer Advisory Boards (CABs) are still the best bang for the buck when it comes to “customer discovery,” not to be confused with user or product discovery! More on that later.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of facilitating numerous customer advisory boards for my clients. There are two common denominators in every meeting.

  1. The discussions between your customers are invaluable because of the rich context you’d never get in one-on-one discovery meetings with those same customers.  
  2. There’s a jaw-dropping moment in every meeting when your customers will say something that drives a stake through the heart of your most logical and your most common-sense assumptions. 

The #1 Mistake With Customer Advisory Boards

The biggest mistake companies make with their customer advisory boards is they spend too much time validating their own plans and priorities and not nearly enough time understanding the customer’s plans and priorities. 

Sure, you want feedback and validation, and that’s one of the most valuable things your CABs can do, but you’re missing a golden opportunity if you’re presenting more than listening.

Making the Best Use of Your Customer Advisory Boards

Think of your customer advisory boards as a series of meetings that’ll get you to a desired outcome – delivering products that have quantifiable customer value while supporting your organization’s growth, adoption and retention goals.

For example, let’s say you have two CAB meetings every year. Take the following approach and you’ll forever endear your customers to your company and its products.

CAB Meeting 1

Make the first CAB of the year a pure discovery meeting. Your goal is to find out from VP/Director level managers what their top priorities are for the coming year, why those priorities are important to the departments they manage, and how they impact the performance of their company’s goals at the executive level. 

Then find out why they have trouble executing on those priorities and the workflows and user jobs that most need to be improved to eliminate their current challenges.

Lastly, have them prioritize the troublesome workflows and job tasks that have the biggest impact on the execution of their priorities.

That’s it! Done. 

In the eyes of your customers, it will be the best CAB you’ve ever had…until the next one. Expect product issues to surface during the discovery discussions and just steer those issues back to how they impact user jobs, workflows and outcomes. Keep the discussion focused on their business, not the product.

CAB Meeting 2

Now it’s time to show customers how well you listen and then demonstrate your superior talents for delivering features with true measurable value.

Between CAB 1 and CAB 2, you’ll certainly be building and releasing new features, planning out your strategic roadmap for the coming months and quantifying the value of these solutions back to your own organization. ** Take special notice of how this process ends with your own product/business goals. It doesn’t start with them.

You’ll also be interviewing users, creating wireframes, and designing new features that’ll be delivered in the coming weeks and months.

Kick off CAB meeting 2 by first recapping what you learned in CAB meeting 1. Second, communicate what you’ve delivered since the last meeting, and how those features map directly to their top priorities and how they eliminated many of the obstacles they faced executing on those priorities. 

Next, communicate your strategic roadmap items that cover additional aspects of their top priorities, the ones you haven’t got to just yet.

Then make the last part of the meeting a discovery segment just like CAB 1.

If by chance you have four CABs a year, just repeat meeting 1 in Q3 and meeting 2 in Q4.

Your Cycle of Continuous Discovery

What you’ve created is a highly structured cycle of continuous customer discovery. Your CAB meetings have formalized the customer business discovery and directed your (more frequent) user and product discovery sessions to the users, jobs and workflows that have the greatest impact on the higher level customer priorities, all of which are measurable.

The bottom line – formalize customer business discovery. It’s the lynchpin to delivering guaranteed customer value. Then iterate on product and user discovery to make sure your solutions hit the value bullseye with great usability. It’s really not that hard (in a relative sense of the word)!

Jaw-Dropping Moments – Just for Fun

Here are a few of my most memorable jaw-dropping moments from facilitating customer advisory boards for our clients (with their customers).

Jaw-Dropping Moment 1

Shortly after the 2008 financial crisis, a FinTech company that processes credit card transactions for many of the big banks and card issuers was planning a series of enhancements to help their customers acquire new and more creditworthy cardholders to make up for the many cardholders they lost via default.

Their customers told them point blank they didn’t care one bit about acquiring new customers. They wanted to make sure they were doing everything possible to hang on to the remaining cardholders they had, at least in the short term.

Jaw-Dropping Moment 2

A software company that targets large non-profits was just about to kick off a major development effort for a new solution targeting the marketing function. Then a group of 15 Chief Marketing Officers from some of the biggest non-profits told them the following: We have big titles but the reality is we’re just order-takers at the beckon call of fundraising.

Whaaaaat (my client’s reaction)? A multi-million dollar mistake avoided, not to mention the time lost!

Jaw-Dropping Moment 3

A tech company that targets the fashion industry wanted to find out what types of analytics would be helpful to customers to improve their odds of success with new styles and colors. 

So, I asked a group of senior managers (customer directors and VPs) to fill in the blank on the following statement.

“If we could provide our stakeholders with [this information], the success rate of our new styles and colors would skyrocket.

There were some awesome responses. Then the jaw-dropping moment came.

One customer said, “the only problem is, no one would look at that information if we served it up on a silver platter,” to which all the other customers agreed.” 

The Importance of Starting With Customer Outcomes

The reason I share those jaw-dropping moments is to amplify the importance of starting with customer outcomes. One you understand what they need to accomplish and why it’s critical to their success, all you have to do is find and eliminate the biggest obstacles. 

It’s the easiest way to consistently deliver guaranteed customer value that by default, supports your organization’s financial and strategic goals.

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Top-Down Customer Discovery – Uncovering THE BIG WHY

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by John Mansour on June 12, 2024.