As we enter a new year, it's a good time to reflect on Customer Advisory Boards…
A vendor’s customer advisory council can be a great venue for CIOs to provide feedback about IT products and services – but only if you get the chance to speak.
After 45 minutes of sitting in a vendor’s customer advisory board meeting, listening to the CEO deliver his standard strategy and road map presentation uninterrupted, the CIO of a major retailer had heard enough.
“I have already seen this presentation; it’s on the investor relations section of your website,” the CIO interjected to the somewhat stunned CEO. “You spent a lot of effort and money to get me and my colleagues all here. What advice are you looking for from us?”
After a bit more discussion, the CEO finally got it. He realized council members weren’t there merely to be another passive audience that would quietly listen as he discussed his plans; instead this was an all-too-rare opportunity to gather customers’ views on the complicated challenges – and often-messy tradeoffs – he and his company faced. The meeting agenda was hastily changed, and the rest of the day was insightful and beneficial for everyone.
Unfortunately, the CEO-drones-on scenario can be quite common. However, when properly established and operated, customer advisory boards can benefit all participants–especially member CIOs.
Customer advisory boards should be a forum for reviewing industry trends, addressing mutual challenges or opportunities, and offering unvarnished insights and guidance. For the vendors, these councils are ideal for validating corporate strategies, gathering input on product development and deepening relationships with key customers.
However, the participating customers have just as much – if not more – to gain.
First, by participating on advisory boards, CIOs can get firsthand insight into a vendor’s road map, provide feedback directly to the product management and support teams, and ask for capabilities that would help their own organizations. In addition, vendors often select beta users from their advisory boards, enabling participating CIOs to test-drive the latest products and provide feedback.
Perhaps more important, while participating on such boards, CIOs can discover best practices from peers who have faced and overcome similar challenges. The networking with peers also could lead to personal and professional growth opportunities.
But for all the potential benefits to CIOs, advisory councils, if poorly run, can waste your valuable time. Thus, there are some red flags to watch for.
If your vendor is hell-bent on self-serving product demos or sales pitches, run. We recommend the 80/20 rule: Customers do 80 percent of the talking, vendors only 20 percent. This is probably the single best metric for measuring the performance of a CAB program!
Advisory boards should be a collection of your peers, so another red flag would be if the board members are a mix of people of varying levels of responsibility, not just CIOs. Another big problem is if your vendor doesn’t seem to be listening to the customer feedback – i.e., it isn’t implementing any recommended direction or following up with agreed-upon action items.
Finally, advisory boards should be part of an ongoing, multiyear discussion, so be concerned if the company doesn’t have a plan for continuing engagement or, worse, you haven’t heard anything since the last meeting six months ago. Like many things in life, when it comes to customer advisory boards, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out.
When properly managed, advisory councils present a great opportunity for CIOs and host companies, with benefits that can vastly outweigh the potential negatives. Understanding this should keep any CEO from delivering uninterrupted 45-minute talks to rooms full of CIOs.