How Citrix Evolved Its Online Community of Customer Advisors

How to Recruit and Manage a Private Customer Community—Patty’s Visionaries' Interviews' Series

August 6, 2009

What if you had an online 24x7 customer community to gain insights into your customers' needs, to solicit their input for new products and services, and to give you feedback on your plans? Many companies are now launching customer communities to listen in on customers' dialogues and to gain customers' input and validation. In 2007, Citrix launched a B2B closed customer community in order to perform customer research in near real time. They chose Communispace as their full-service partner.

Andrea Davidowitz manages strategic customer programs at Citrix. In this meaty best practices interview, she tells the how and why she launched a private B2B online community of advisors in 2007 and what she has learned about running and managing a private customer community. She also describes her company’s Customer Advisory Board program and why she launched this online community to reach a larger group of customers with more hands on interaction with Citrix products.


Citrix has been running a private online community of 400 customer advisors for just over two years. What does it take to get a useful online community off the ground?

  1. Recruit customers who are both knowledgeable about the use of your products and about their own company’s business strategy.
  2. Give them activities to perform every week—both surveys and fun things to do.
  3. Close the loop: Tell them what actions you’re taking about the advice they’ve offered.
  4. Spread the word: Make sure that everyone in your company gains benefit from and access to customers’ input and feedback.

Andrea Davidowitz, Manager Strategic Customer Programs

Andrea Davidowitz, Manager Strategic Customer Programs


Andrea Davidowitz is the Manager of Strategic Customer Programs at Citrix, a well-known technology company. Andrea has a great story to tell about how she engages with customers to bathe her organization in actionable customer insights. I asked Andrea to tell us about two of Citrix’s customer advocacy programs: Their Customer Council and their Online Customer Advisory Community.

Andrea: We have a few different programs here at Citrix that we use to advocate on behalf of customers. We have the Citrix Customer Council, which is a small group of executive level customers that meet in person to provide Citrix executives with guidance. We also now have our online customer advisory community. We also run the standard customer satisfaction and loyalty survey work that is typical in a lot of companies.


Andrea: We formed an in-person Customer Council about 11 years ago. That’s a very well established program here. It’s comprised of about 20 to 25 executive-level customers from our largest enterprise accounts. They meet in person with our senior executive team twice a year, and then we have a couple of virtual feedback opportunities with them throughout the year. They are very focused on providing strategic direction to Citrix.

Patty: How do you recruit these executives and how do you keep that group going? Are they the same people year after year?

Andrea: We invite customers to serve for one year. That’s the length of the tenure. So, at the beginning of every year, we reach out to the enterprise sales teams. We have a nomination process which we’ve refined over the years. We have a nomination form that sales reps submit, and then we have a whole in-depth review process which takes several weeks. Then we invite customers to serve for that year. And it does happen that we have about half of the customers that we re-invite to serve for another year, and about half tend to turn over. Often, it’s just natural attrition. So the group does stay fresh with a mix of new customers as well as returning customers.

Patty: That sounds like a good way to keep the membership fresh and alive as well as to keep continuity going. What have your executives learned from being with these customer executives? Do Citrix executives use these sessions primarily for feedback about what Citrix’s product plans are? Or do your execs solicit ideas and input from the customers? How would you describe the balance between what Citrix presents and what the customers present to Citrix?

Andrea: Well, I can say that we’ve really come a long way in that area in regards to the Customer Council because for, really, many years, it was a much more tactical group. We had a string of product road maps that we would present. The customers were lower level in their organizations, directly involved with using our products rather than with setting strategy. We were taking up a vast majority of the time presenting to them and then a small amount of time getting feedback from them on the product road maps. So that was a very tactical use of a Customer Council. The meetings had expanded at one point to three days with probably, 13 different presentations. It was becoming almost like a little conference.

Home Page from Citrix Customer Advisory Community

Home Page from Citrix Customer Advisory Community

© 2009 Citrix Systems, Inc.

Migrated from Product Road Maps to Customers’ Issues

Andrea: Then, about three years ago, we reevaluated that program, and we just didn’t feel that we were getting the right things out of it and decided that a Customer Council wasn’t the right venue for product road map feedback. So we made a decision to elevate the Customer Council and have it be more of a strategic forum. We took product road maps off of the meeting agenda. Instead, we’re able to leverage Webinars for that purpose, which the customers loved because the Webinars took place in between the in-person meetings, and they could have their technical teams join in the Webinar. Before, if there were some higher level folks in the Customer Council meetings, they were presented with information that was a little too technical for them, and then they would have to go back and relay it to their teams. So, this way, it was kind of a win-win for everyone. We took product road maps off the Customer Council’s agenda for face-to-face meetings, and then we were able to up-level the customers we recruited as well as the topics we discussed.

Patty: So, after you took the road maps out of the agenda and moved to more strategic discussions, what’s the mix of free-form discussions versus formal presentations? Do the customers present, or do the Citrix execs present with customers giving feedback?

Andrea: The most successful meetings have been ones in which our executives mostly listen as the customers talk about their issues. We had a Customer Council meeting a few months ago, and it was “knock it out of the ballpark” in terms of success! We had an opening presentation where we highlighted the key pieces of feedback that we heard at the meeting six months ago and what progress we made. So that’s a great validation for both returning and new customers that we’re listening, we’re making changes, and the meeting has value.

Then we presented a few slides on strategic topics that were of interest to us, and then we really spent about a day and a half listening to customers talk about those topics. So, it was a complete shift, it was mostly listening, there was no PowerPoint throughout the entire second day. We had a facilitation guide that we had worked out in advance. I met with the leaders of the different executives throughout the company and gathered from them what were the most important things they wanted to learn. So we had structure and we had a facilitation guide, but we were not presenting to them. We were really gathering their input. I think the biggest thing that our executives got out of the meeting was hearing what the customers’ priorities were. It was about the issues that were really important to customers and the areas that Citrix needs to get right or it will cause problems for customers.

I got fantastic feedback from the executives. The Customer Council meeting occurred just a week before our strategic 2010 planning meeting, so it was great timing.

Patty: That’s fantastic, great timing!

Andrea: So, I got a wonderful note from our CMO, saying that about 10+ different times the Customer Council feedback came up during that strategic planning meeting, and their input definitely influenced our strategic direction for 2010.

Patty: That’s fantastic! Congratulations.

Andrea: I have framed that email, by the way.

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