Identifying the RIGHT Customers for CABs

You Want Customers with Insights and Passion for the “Jobs” They Do

November 15, 2022

Why do customers want to participate on an advisory board? Customers selfishly want to influence your product planning and your business direction so that your company’s products and services will be better at helping them get things done. Why not take advantage of the “free consulting” your customers can offer by engaging them in strategic discussions with your top executives. The more context your executives gain about how and why their customers are using their products/services, the more receptive those execs will be to creating new solutions that will better address customers’ needs. If you recruit the RIGHT customers, and plan wisely by integrating lean start up teams to execute on the CAB’s priorities, you’ll create a win/win partnership.



Many organizations are no longer running Customer Advisory Boards because they don’t want to wear out their welcome with their best customers. Yet customers love to be asked to help shape strategy and new offerings. In fact, the best way to focus your executive team on customers’ priorities is to combine customer advisory groups with lean start up teams for rapid execution. In this article, we focus on the first step in your planning process: selecting the right customers as advisors based on your executives’ strategic goals. We also explain how to combine your executives' priorities with your customers' priorities in shaping your agenda.

Whether you have business or consumer customers (or both), we recommend that you recruit customers who are influencers, end-users, champions and/or maintainers—not purchasers nor decision-makers. Why: you want to understand deeply the “jobs” these people are trying to do, and how your firm’s products and services fit in.


Customers Scenario Mapping Session

So, You Want to Engage with Customers….Great!

Best Customers for Advisory Boards. “Can you help us identify and recruit the right customers for our CAB?” Ellen asks. Ellen is the head of customer advocacy for a high-tech company. She’s doing the right thing. It’s January. She’s pretty sure she knows whom to invite for a CAB meeting her company hopes to hold in June. But she wants to pick our brains to be sure.

It’s very common for us to get a call asking us to help recruit customers and to facilitate Customer Advisory Board (CAB) meetings without a very clear definition of what kinds of customers make the most sense to recruit. Usually, we’re contacted by the person in charge of Customer Advisory Boards. He or she typically reports to the marketing organization.1 Often, the head of marketing has recently decided to launch or to revitalize a Customer Advisory Board. He/she plans to rely on the sales organization to supply the names of the people who should be invited to join this customer advisory group.

But, in this case, Ellen explains that she reports directly to the CEO. She’s assuming that the VP of Sales will give her a proposed invitee list. But she’s wondering whether she should provide him with a profile of the kind of person who would make the best contribution as an advisor. Based on the conversations that Ellen has had recently with some unhappy customers, she’s wondering whether she should invite some of these disgruntled customers as well as the ones the sales team nominates.

Why? To What End?

We ask Ellen what the mission is for the CAB. The most successful CABs are those in which the CAB sponsor has a clear mission in mind, we explain. Maybe they need strategic input from influential customers to improve customer retention or product uptake, or to pivot their business, or to change their business model. Or perhaps they’re working on a new product idea. Or they’re trying to uncover a customer need. Or they have a possible solution looking for a validated problem statement. Or they’re truly interested in understanding how certain groups of customers do things today and how they could improve or transform that experience.

We explain to Ellen that, in order to determine whether or not it makes sense to actually engage with customers strategically, and, if so, which types of customers, we ask three basic questions:

  1. What's the real purpose of this customer group or engagement?
  2. Which customer roles make sense to include in this group for that purpose?
  3. Will these customers actually be able to make an impact on your products/strategy?

Whether you’re planning a one-time customer engagement (which might lead to future get togethers) or, like Ellen, pulling together or revitalizing an ongoing CAB that will persist for several years, make sure you have...(more)

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[1] See “Why CABs Shouldn’t Be Run by Marketing,” by Patricia B. Seybold, January 16, 2014, Forum

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