When guiding our clients to establish and manage their customer advisory board (CAB) programs, we’re sometimes asked about the need to interview CAB members in advance of an upcoming meeting. After all, as CAB managers may attest, they “already know” the challenges faced by their customers, and thus the topics and content that should be covered during the next gathering. However, while many companies think they understand their customers, we have discovered that this often is not exactly the case – at least to the extent they believe in the first place.
As such, here’s eight tips when it comes to interviewing customers in advance of your next CAB meeting:
- Just do it: We strongly recommend companies engage their clients in advance of their CAB meetings, and certainly before the inaugural meeting, which will set the foundation and tone for all meetings going forward. Doing so will ensure you understand not only the challenges and roadblocks faced by your customers, but, perhaps more importantly, related ones outside the value proposition of your products or services that you were not aware of that may be added to your roadmap or offerings to address or solve – and expand your product footprint, improve your support and increase your revenue. In addition, prioritizing such “top of mind” topics with your members will ensure your CAB program is on-point and hyper-relevant when the discussions begin.
- Gain a broader perspective: You likely already have a decent understanding of the challenges faced by your customers via information provided by your sales or product teams, previous interactions at trade shows or user events, or online mediums such as online surveys or net promoter scores. But each of these mediums has their flaws – sales teams may mostly communicate roadblocks that will lead to more product sales while surveys may only uncover the “squeaky wheels.” Such intelligence may also be outdated or not particularly relevant to your CAB members, who are likely more senior executives who may or may not be users of your solution and, more importantly, have exposure to more strategic drivers and issues behind why your product was selected in the first place.
- Engage internally first: Before talking to your customers, it’s important to talk to your internal stakeholders who know well the market, industries, trends, regulations and technologies. Such people might include your sales and product teams, but also your marketing, support, service, implementation or other strategic functions. Hold a meeting with these leaders to solidify your company’s understanding of customer challenges, potential inhibitors, and macro trends impacting them.
- Use a guide: The output from your internal stakeholder meeting should be a discussion guide with a menu of topics to review with your CAB members to gather their perspectives and prioritize their interest and relevance. (We don’t recommend conducting an interview with a customer empty-handed without some content to get the discussion flowing.) In addition to your topics, be sure to ask whether there are some other subjects or trends not included in your discussion guide that the members want to ensure is part of your upcoming meeting – asking for this “off the menu” content can lead to some thought-provoking topics that you probably had not considered.
- Leverage a third party: Customers may feel strange or hold back on communicating real challenges if they are talking to their vendor directly. They are often more honest and able to think out of the box if talking to a third party that acts as a neutral conduit to their real and associated daily challenges – topics they may otherwise believe are outside the scope of their vendor when this may not be the case.
- Communicate the results: CAB member interview results are usually an insightful piece of research in their own right – prioritizing issues in a surprising way or uncovering related challenges previously unknown or not considered by host company leadership. Summarizing and reviewing these results with the stakeholder team will lead to new customer insights, and anticipation of the upcoming CAB meeting to flesh these topics out further.
- Drive your agenda: Let your CAB member interviews drive your upcoming meeting content by putting top concerns early in your meeting agenda – the top two or three prioritized topics should be covered on day one. Insights from the individual interviews could furthermore be used to address specific members and bring them into the conversation during the meeting. Be sure to include breakouts or team exercises that explore potential specifics on what can be done to address or solve such challenges – and where your company can help provide such a solution.
- Repeat the process: With the success of your initial meeting in addressing the highest desired topics, you’ll want to repeat the interview process going forward to ensure your program remains on point. You’ll also want to interview new CAB members as they come into your program, to ensure their voice is included in upcoming engagements.
Interviewing CAB members is a crucial part of a robust CAB program – one that will enlighten your stakeholders, focus your content, optimize your member engagements and ensure your ongoing discussions remain relevant to your members.
Ignite Advisory Group is the leading global authority on Customer Advisory Boards. Ignite’s proven methodology for managing and evolving Customer Advisory Boards includes a 4-stage process, encompassing 48 deliverables and measured by 20 metrics to deliver a clear ROI. To learn more about how your company can benefit from Ignite’s CAB methodology and process, contact us today.