Thursday, April 20, 2006

Customer Advisory Boards: the Good and the Bad

Some companies form customer advisory boards (CABs). Prospective and existing customers comprise these boards and provide input and feedback on one or more products the company is developing or offering.

Surely it's good to communicate with customers to understand their situations, problems, and suggestions. But is a CAB a good way to do so? Yes, but not for the reason you might think.

In general, you're much better off conducting one-on-one interviews with prospective and existing customers than convening meetings of a CAB. The group setting of a customer advisory board has many of the same drawbacks as focus groups. Above all, CABs are almost certainly not qualified to make decisions on which features to include or how to market your product. Board members are customers, not requirements analysts, design experts, or market strategists.

CABs are more useful for outbound marketing purposes. Forming a CAB is a great way of generating some word of mouth and PR for your product at a very low cost.

Recall the four-step process for developing a WOM marketing program:
  1. Find an existing community of users of your product.
  2. Determine what are they saying about your product.
  3. Engage them in dialog.
  4. Empower them to do things they might not be able to do on their own.
Do use your CAB (in addition to one-on-one interviews, ethnographic studies, and surveys) to gain an understanding of your market and get feedback on your product. But also figure out how they can help you market your product. Give them the information and the tools to get the word out on your product.

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