A practical way to engage customers in your product development process is to form a Customer Advisory Council. This Council gives you a structured way to gain client input. It also creates a good sounding board for sharing your product ideas.
Who Should Be On the Customer Advisory Council?
Usually a Customer Advisory Council is comprised of seven to nine clients, each possessing keen insight into your market and how your product will be used.
Two Key Things a Customer Advisory Council Can Accomplish
First and foremost, you’ll want the Council to weigh in on specific strategic and tactical decisions that help you advance your objectives. This is the primary function of the Council. An added benefit of this is that you also gain a form of market validation. This validation from the field can buoy you up inside the company when you are faced with making unpopular decisions.
A second purpose of assembling a Customer Advisory Council is to attract new customers. Council members will likely engage in peer-to-peer conversations with others in the market. These conversations often hold more weight with potential customers than do company sales pitches, which are often disregarded.
Product Managers Beware
It behooves you to approach the selection of your Advisory Council carefully. If you stack your Council with individuals whose business is absolutely vital to your organization, you run a risk. These customers could potentially dictate the course of your products along a path that does not meet the needs of the majority of your customers. Proceed with eyes wide open.
Three Considerations When Selecting Council Members
#1 – What roles do you want represented on the Council? Are you seeking a group comprised of hands-on users, economic buyers, or individuals who are both?
#2 – Choose members who represent all regions your company serves. If you are a national company, select members from each region where you have a presence. If you’re an international organization, include members from countries where you do business.
#3 – Choose members based on their ability to contribute. You don’t want members who are too introverted to make valuable contributions. Likewise, you don’t want to populate your Council with those with such high self-interest that collaboration is difficult.
Forming a team that is balanced, knowledgeable, and collaborative sets your Council up for success both now and into the future.
In my next post we’ll consider what should go into an Advisory Council Charter.