Customer Advisory Board Defined

A customer advisory board is a targeted group of executives from your customer or partner organizations who work with your senior management team to address industry challenges and guide your product and company vision and strategy. A board can be an invaluable tool to your organization and can also serve as a great relationship building tool to closely align your senior management team with senior members of your most strategic customers.  While all of this value can truly propel your business forward, it can also taint your corporate image and jeopardize some of your largest accounts if it is not executed properly.

Not everyone knows how to successfully manage a customer advisory board (or partner advisory board).  There are many aspects and nuances to a board that are not inherently apparent to those that manage them.  In fact, advisory board managers tend to make some very common mistakes, over and over again, which can be easily corrected with the proper guidance.

Below is a list of the top five most prevalent mistakes that you must avoid making yourself:

  1. Goal of Increasing Sales Revenue – One of the unspoken benefits of a customer advisory board is the resulting increase in sales.  Along with the closer relationships your senior team forges with members typically comes increased trust and larger deal sizes for your business.  BUT, it is critical that you do not consider sales revenue as a primary or even secondary goal for your advisory board.  It will cloud your judgment and skew your goal of having mutually-beneficial discussions with members.  As soon as members even faintly smell a sales pitch coming on they immediately close up and stop offering the insight you badly need. Do not fall in this trap. Again, the sales benefits will come, but you do not want to focus on them consciously.  Some organizations choose to keep all sales personnel, even the VP of Sales, out of all board activities for this very reason.
  1. Not designing and adhering to a membership profile – Identify and document who your ideal target member is (industry, title, personality, etc.) and closely stick to this description while recruiting.  It is easy to take whatever members you can get instead of rigidly following your membership profile.  What happens when you misalign members (not common seniority level, e.g.) is that some members feel uncomfortable in during meetings (even overshadowed by more senior members) and clam up or simply do not contribute to discussions.  Likewise higher level members feel they are engaging in discussions with individuals who do not share the same level of responsibility as them.
  1. Not abiding by the 80-20 rule of speaking – The goal of an advisory board is to listen to your strategic customers (your members) and extract meaningful intelligence to help successfully guide your business.  The operative word in that sentence is “listen”.  It is really easy to fall into the trap of speaking too much and listening too little.  Be sure to religiously abide by the 80-20 rule of speaking.  Let members speak 80% of the time and allow your staff to speak only 20% of the time.  If you have to cut one of your people off to make time for members to talk then do it.
  1. Not tracking member recommendations and your progress toward them – Yielding actionable insights from your advisory board meetings is meaningless unless you document and track progress against them.  You can then update your board periodically on your organization’s progress toward these actions.  If you choose not to focus on one or more key recommendations, then tell the members that as well. “Due to limited resources, we have chosen not to focus on recommendation ABC…”
  1. Not rolling out the red carpet for members – I was at an advisory board meeting (client to remain nameless) and the gift they handed each member was homemade chocolate. Really. This is a true story and obviously not how you treat your precious members.  Roll out the red carpet for them.  Buy them something nice.  Pay for their travel if you can.  Put them up in high-end accommodations.  Take them out to classy restaurants.  This is the image you want to project – that their contributions and time are invaluable.

These are just some of the many pitfalls advisory board managers can and do fall into.  Now that you know about these five, be sure not to fall victim to them yourself.  If you find that you need professional guidance for your board, don’t hesitate to contact us.  This is what we do every day, and we are here to help.



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