Customer Advisory Boards: Do You Need One?

A customer advisory board can give you valuable input on how to grow your business. If you've considered assembling a customer advisory board, you probably know that you can learn more about how your customers perceive your products and services, how adequate your selection and support is, and what needs you could fill in the marketplace. Some businesses are hesitant to employ a customer advisory board, because they are hesitant to let others be privy to the cogs and sprockets that make the company go. There is no golden rule for when you should form a customer advisory board. Many large firms have such boards, but that doesn't mean even a sole proprietorship can't have one. Large or small, customer advisory boards serve the same purpose: unbiased opinion and a window for opportunities.

Be prepared

There are a few points you must consider when determining if you should assemble a customer advisory board. You must be willing to listen to what the board has to say. Have questions prepared for board meetings (two or three times annually) and offer some direction; then sit back and listen. If you have trouble taking criticism, no matter how constructive, you won't keep a board very long. Remember, these are customers giving their time to help you.

Do you have enough members?

Also, ask yourself whether you have enough customers for an advisory board. If you're just starting out and have only a handful of customers, your efforts are better spent marketing your business. Most customer advisory boards have eight to 12 board members, so make sure you have enough customers to at least fill your board. That is all you really need - if you have eight customers and all are willing to serve on your customer advisory board, you can learn valuable information about their needs right away to attract new customers. That being said, even startups can lay a foundation for a customer advisory board by inviting other business owners, targeted prospects, accountants or other helpful individuals to serve on an advisory board. Original membership could be added to or replaced as you gain customers who are willing to serve on the board.

Get marketing feedback

Do you like to save money? Marketing research is exhaustive, time-consuming and - if hired out - expensive. Customer advisory boards are free and help you define new concepts and learn specifics about your company instead of just showing you current market trends. Do you like to anticipate market trends and find new market segments before the trends are obvious? A customer advisory board does these things for you. Since your customer advisory board members are donating their valuable time and energy for your benefit, it's a good idea to offer a small incentive or thank-you gift in return for their service. If you know everything there is to know about your business, your customers, marketing, emerging technology and have the ability to predict the future, you probably do not need a customer advisory board. If you realize that advice well-taken can grow your business, then you would be wise to assemble a customer advisory board.