By Evan Rich
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you’ve likely experimented with a number of customer initiatives, both tactical and strategic, aimed at more deeply engaging your client base. Among the most valuable arrows in any CS person’s quiver is the Quarterly Business Review. QBRs represent a great opportunity to score valuable facetime with key decision makers in order to better understand how you can drive success for their business and secure the all-important renewal. There have been many excellent pieces written here on how to run an effective QBR, and all of them rightly highlight appealing to an executive audience. But there are always those white whales who you can never quite convince that your QBR is worth their time. If this feels reminiscent of a situation you’ve encountered recently, then I have just the three-letter acronym for you: CAB. It’s time to consider putting on your first Customer Advisory Board.
Why executives will attend
Bringing all of your customers together in one place gives executives the chance to meet (and often reconnect with) industry peers focused on solving similar problems. Even if your client base spans industries that appear unrelated, your CAB members will benefit immensely from comparing notes on universal subjects like talent acquisition and organizational development. If you view your company as the leader in the space, then don’t rely on industry conference organizers and independent analysts to bring everyone together. Leverage your position in the marketplace to become the epicenter for innovative leaders in your category. You’ll quickly become an integral part of how your customers build their personal brand and network, providing these individuals with a sounding board to help them excel in their current roles and perhaps even facilitate a connection that leads to their next job. This alone can be the carrot that entices senior leaders to engage with your team.
It’s also important to recognize the differentiated value that your organization brings to the table and leverage that to draw attendees. Your CAB should feel like an extension of the brand you’ve established with top enterprise accounts, so be sure to employ the same personalized approach that already distinguishes your Customer Success and Support teams. Remind your customers of how different you are from all of their other vendors and position your organization as the preeminent thought leader. Have your CEO or another executive paint them a picture of what the next few years looks like, both from an industry and company perspective, and outline your plan to stay ahead of the competition. Speak to how this vision has informed your product decisions to date and provide CAB members with the rationale for where you’ll be making strategic investments going forward. Earning their buy-in now will position your CSMs and Sales reps for more collaborative conversations down the road.
What’s in it for you?
In CS, we’re all about creating value for our customers--sometimes to a fault. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re delivering significant value to your customers by building this robust executive network for them and providing expert analysis on the current and future state of the industry. It’s okay to be a little bit selfish when preparing the CAB agenda. This is your opportunity to learn why your top customers made an investment in you and uncover what it will take to continue earning that commitment each year. Ask each customer to come prepared to speak to 2-3 strategic initiatives they hope to implement over the coming year. This insight will not only be valuable to how your CS team services the dozen or so customers represented at the CAB, but will also inform how the rest of your go-to-market operation engages with prospective clients. You’ll start to see trends and consistent language used across certain verticals and can adjust your communications accordingly.
It’s also important to ask your customers how they define success internally. If you’re running effective QBRs, then you likely know how each customer is measuring your performance, but it may not be abundantly clear what is driving their expectations. At the CAB, you have access to individuals who can provide context on why the organization cares about these things. For example, if your customer says that the speed of your service is important to them, press for specifics on how those milliseconds saved impact end user experience and their ability to generate revenue. These are metrics that your team can reference in future QBRs to quantify the impact that your services have on the customer’s top line.
Launching Your CAB
There are different schools of thought on how to build a CAB. Choosing which one is right for you depends on the size of your organization, available budget and composition of your customer base. For simplicity, let’s consider two extremes with the caveat that there are several variants in between. At one end of the spectrum is the concept of assembling a geographically distributed group of executives that represents your client base and having them convene once every quarter in different locations. This does require a sizable investment, both in terms of dollars committed and time spent, as you will likely need to cover travel costs for some attendees in addition to securing event space and coordinating activities to keep everyone occupied. It’s also important to keep in mind that a multi-day event like this does require a significant commitment from your customers. Alternatively, if this feels like too large of an ask or expenditure, then try bringing the CAB directly to your customers. Identify 3-4 cities where your clients are highly concentrated and plan an annual event to bring these leaders together. Reduce costs by utilizing your own office space (if you happen to have a presence locally) or ask a customer or investor if you can borrow a conference room for the day.
Regardless of logistics, as you start to gauge interest in launching a CAB, focus on making sure customers appreciate all the potential that lies ahead. Hopefully when your invite arrives this time, the opportunity will be too good for your white whale to pass up.
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Evan Rich - Evan formed the Customer Success team at NS1, an infrastructure technology company that is changing how internet applications are delivered. As Director of Customer Success, he is responsible for account management, support and professional services. Evan holds a BS from Cornell University and resides in New York City.