January 31, 2021

Customer advisory boards are a gold mine for startup brand champions – TechCrunch

Yousuf Khan is a partner at Ridge Ventures. Prior to joining Ridge, he was the first CIO of Automation Anywhere, CIO and Vice President of Customer Success at cloud-based AI platform Moveworks, as well as CIO of Pure Storage, Qualys and Hult International Business School.

As a 20-year CIO and advisor to multiple startups, I sat on many customer advisory boards (CABs) and saw how they were formed. Some companies have highly functioning CABs, others merely serve as feedback loops. Any startup striving to connect directly with their customers would benefit from establishing one.

Here are some considerations to make certain your customer advisory board is a success.

Why CABs matter

For those unfamiliar, a customer advisory board is a group of customers who come together to share their experiences, insights and advice with an organization. First and foremost, the CAB functions to recognize and include the voice of the customer, an essential part of your company’s journey since customers interact closer than anyone with your product or service.

It’s best to designate early adopters to be on the board — those who took a chance on you and have been on the frontlines as your company evolved — as well as some newer customers.

While establishing this group signals appreciation and respect for your customers, it also provides an opportunity for you to formalize and structure the feedback you are requesting from them. You can seek validation for product ideas or guidance on roadmap development, test out marketing messaging and even tap into market intelligence.

The greatest benefit of a CAB, however, is the creation of champions for your brand. These loyal partners will ultimately offer testimonials, references and referrals. Key to this partnership is a shared sense of playing a small part in building the future of your company.

The greatest benefit of a CAB is the creation of champions for your brand.

Assembling your CAB superteam

The best route to assembling your CAB is to start with a very small group and expand slowly. There’s quite a bit of nuance in the selection of who to include. Do you go after the executive who sponsored you, the one who saw a vision and thought your solution would fit?

Perhaps. But that individual may not be using your product every day, be involved deeply in its operational aspects and/or have their finger on the pulse of the end-user’s experience.

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