Cari Goodrich, Head of Global Enablement & Sales Programs at Looker, has helped to construct Customer Advisory Boards throughout her career at Google, Looker, Elastic, and Box. She joined the FirstMark Guilds to share the mechanics of what works and doesn't in constructing high-functioning CABs.
Who should be involved in planning a Customer Advisory Board?
The core group should have representatives from: marketing (product marketing & events), sales , and product with optional sub-groups from support, engineering, & customer success.
Whether the CAB lives under Marketing or Product depends on your business; specifically, it depends on the leadership that is most well equipped to run it. At Looker, for example, it lived under Marketing.
At Google, it lives under the Customer Success org. Lots of CABs are focused on product and product feedback, but as it becomes more complex, you’ll have to integrate sales so you can get feedback on the delivery approach.
How should I prioritize which customers to invite?
Before you start: Philosophically, one of the first things to be clear on: is the Customer Advisory Board primarily meant to collect feedback from customers? Or is it more a tool you’re using to boost engagement, retention, and expansion with existing customers? In practice, a CAB will help you do both; but your team should have clarity on the purpose of the CAB.
After your executive team is aligned on the creation of a CAB, which teams will run and participate in the CAB, and its fundamental purpose, the next step is to clearly state what you’re trying to get from the CAB. This will significantly influence who you choose as CAB candidates.
Some potential frameworks for prioritizing CAB invitations:
● Who is spending the most time on our product(s)?
● Who is pushing the product to its limits and/or wants to influence the roadmap?
● Do we have a representative group of customer segments? (by company size, product
line, region, etc.)
Over time - and in some cases right out of the gate - you will run a multi-segment CAB (across customer type, product line, etc.)
What incentives do you offer to customers to get them involved?
Providing tangible value to prospective CAB members is important, and will get them excited and engaged early in the process. Here are the top levers that will entice customers to participate:
● Access: exclusive access to beta features, facetime with company execs, getting the
first look into the roadmap, etc.
● Credits: give customers product or training credits as compensation for CAB
● Peer network: executives get enormous value out of being part of an exclusive peer
● “X-factor” Speakers at CAB events: think things like a private chat with Trevor Noah, or fun events -- one example is pairing a wine data set (presented through Looker, of course) with a sommelier and wine tasting, to talk about the influence of weather on wine quality.
Bonus: Expand the invite list and allow your members to include a +1 for any of the “X-factor”; participating executives will welcome the opportunity to look like a hero to their friends and family.
What is the best cadence of meetings for a CAB?
CAB meetings are the heart of the whole effort, and in some ways, the Zoom era has actually made hosting CAB events easier.
Prior to Covid, Looker followed a quarterly event schedule:
● 1x flagship, in-person CAB event (often tied to a company’s user conference). For
in-person events, venue is critical . Access to exclusive venues or surprising
experiences is what will encourage executives to get on a plane to attend a CAB.
● 3x virtual, Zoom-based CAB events
Bonus: if tied to your user conference, host your CAB before the conference, to help get as many attendees as possible in the room for your conference keynotes.
In the Covid era, the cadence has been exactly the same - the only different is that theflagship CAB and experience is now delivered virtually.
Finally, always have a professional note taker. This will help Product take notes to Engineering that are as actionable as possible.
Lightning Round Questions: CAB Best Practices
Should my CEO be involved?
Yes! It’s a great excuse for them to build executive relationships. Have your CEO send the invites. Emails from your CEO are way more impactful than from your account team or a Marketo blast. Use the CEO for outreach, engagement, and they should always kick off the CAB. (Although in some cases, this role may fall to another executive -- it really depends if your CEO is effective or wants to be involved in the CAB.)
Should early-stage companies have CABs?
Sometimes. It can be risky: first, because they’re time consuming to put on. Second, those early customers expect to be on CABs forever. But you can have it both ways: at Looker, for example, they created an institution called Looker Lobby (mini conference for pseudo-CAB members) without explicitly using the language of “Advisory Board”.
When should a company start thinking about a formal CAB? What’s the right size?
A great rule of thumb: whenever you’re ready for a user conference, you’re ready for a CAB. Keep the initial CAB size to something manageable -- 20 people max.
Should I set CAB terms?
Absolutely - setting terms is a great way to ensure you rotate more customers in. Here’s how to frame it: “Hey, you’re committed for one year, and then we can reassess.”