Following Up: Customer Advisory Groups

Following up on yesterday’s post on Customer Advisory Groups/Boards/Councils, you should realize that the Cranky Product Manager is hardly the definitive authority on the subject. So she thought she’d ask you all to contribute your wisdom.

  • What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of Customer Advisory Groups?
  • Any tips/tricks on how to get the most bang for the buck from your CAG?
  • What are your thoughts on the following?
    • Getting the right people to attend, from both your customers and your company. And who are the “right people” anyway?
    • How frequently should you meet?
    • Who should organize the CAG?
    • Location, agenda, …?
  • Dos and don’ts for soliciting feedback that helps with product planning?
  • What was the WORST Client Advisory Group you’ve ever been to, and why?
  • And what was the BEST, and why?
  • What other resources (blog posts, articles) on CAGs would you recommend?

The CPM would REALLY like it if a customer-type also posted their thoughts on CAGs. Not too many of them read this blog, though, so maybe you could forward along the link…?

Please add your comments below! (Note that if you include two or more hyperlinks in your comment, the CPM will have to approve it before it appears, but she promises to do so quickly.)  Note that this is not an invitation to get spammy.

4 comments

  1. Mark

    1. Keep them small if you want meaningful feedback. I try to have multiple meetings in distributed locations so I can keep attendance to 10 or fewer.

    2. I try to find locations where people don’t have to travel. Yes, Pebble Beach is nice, but I’d rather have five distributed throughout the US.

    3. Never, ever let the account executives attend. SEs? Maybe, if they promise to behave. But I never let sales show up because they just can resist asking for the order. This is not what the meetings are about.

    4. I try to keep the meetings short. Say 9:30 to 4:00 with regular breaks. It’s a lot to ask for someone to give us an entire day.

    5. Bring marketing swag. I know it’s a cheap trick, but people like it.

    6. I will sometimes segment my meetings by vertical or channel. Sometimes, if you invite a reseller to a meeting, they’ll just use it to get all the contact names and then sell the attendees. Have to be careful about this one. In the past, I’ve also had attendees express concern about competitors being there, so it really depends on the nature of the audience.

    7. PM must own the agenda. I always try to give the attendees something the can’t get through our normal channels. E.g., extra early looks at upcoming product that they care about. I want to make the attendees feel special.

    8. I “market” these internally and externally as “by invitation only”, so that it makes attendees feel special, it makes sales feel listened to, and I have the right to include/exclude specific individuals.

    Enough from me.

  2. Dr. Jim Anderson

    CPM: God’s honest truth, I’ve never seen a CAG done well. I have, unfortunately, seen a number of them done quite poorly. Previous poster Mark seems to have a lot of really good suggestions on how to run a CAG well, so maybe I can make some “don’t do” suggestions:

    1. It really, really matters who is in charge of the CAG. My experience is that it ends up being a part-time job for someone in MarComm and that leads to nothing (BTW: that’s actully worse than a disastor). You need someone who “gets” what a CAG can do for the company and who knows how to Guantanamo Bay style extract that info from your best customers.

    2. Somehow you have to make them WANT to attend your CAG get-togethers. What this means is that the info flow has to be two-way: they tell you want you want to know and you provide value to them that they can’t get any where else.

    Oh, there’s so much more, but I’m sure that others will provide it…

    - Dr. Jim Anderson
    The Accidental PM Blog

  3. Saeed Khan

    Mark makes a lot of good points about the Board meetings.

    One additional takeaway is to keep the information flowing BETWEEN Board meetings.

    A Board should be viewed as a means for ongoing communication with a set of key customers, partners etc. I wouldn’t call a 1-time meeting with a bunch of customers a “Board”.

    Whether they meet once a year, twice a year, or more, what happens between meetings is as important as the meetings themselves.

    What decisions were made with the info collected from the meeting? Let them know that. Got some follow up questions? Ask the Board. Have some new ideas that could use some quick input or validation? Ping a few of them.

    The objective is to build good relationships with the Board members so there is a level of comfort and communication that is well above what is the norm.

    It takes time, effort and commitment, but the payoff is more than worth it.

    Saeed

  4. Scott

    I appreciate the feedback posted. We are in the process of trying to create Consortiums for our offerings, just a fancy name for CAG. We have had some smaller ones and the information flow was difficult to pry out of the attendees. This was for multiple reasons:
    1. They were unsure of the technology and it’s uses as it is very new
    2. I think we may have overwhelmed them with some MarkComm info
    3. Some weren’t current clients and they may have seen that as a detracting factor when in fact is wasn’t in the least.

    I would like current, past, future and any other parties interested in our offerings to attend any event where we might gain some insight as to what pains the clients are feeling.

    I will see how our program develops and share any successes or challenges with the group