It is often thought that you should have your product ready before asking for feedback. But that’s where you’re wrong: feedback is also an incredibly useful tool during your strategic thinking process where you’re drawing up the broad outlines. And that can come from different sides: from entrepreneurs with baking experience, but also from your potential and future customers. The easiest way to gather feedback is by means of a customer advisory board. How does that work? We’ll explain it all to you.

The idea behind a Customer Advisory Board (CAB)

The mission, vision and raison d’être of your start-up normally originate from the customer’s problem. It is therefore important that you map out the problem and the appropriate solutions from the outset. If it’s already skewed there, you’re guaranteed to run into a lot of stumbling blocks. Or worse, your start-up never gets off the ground because there is no decent product-market fit. Therefore, it is essential to collect feedback from the beginning.

For whom is a CAB relevant?

CABs are often recommended to complex start-ups offering, for example, enterprise software or complicated SaaS models. However, almost every start-up can benefit from this. It allows you to respond more quickly to the needs of the customer. And sometimes you even come across interesting extra features that you can then implement and sell. Being able to act flexibly is a must for young businesses.

What does a customer advisory board look like?

A customer advisory board is often wrongly compared to a well-organised focus group. Other sources compare it to an official advisory board of experienced entrepreneurs who sit on the customer side of your start-up. The truth, or the definition you are most comfortable with, probably lies between the two.

A typical early stage customer advisory board consists of a group of people who represent your future customer. What that customer looks like depends on your business, of course. Think especially of the difference between B2B and B2C, or SaaS vs. product. There may be young end customers with no experience with your product in your CAB, but also senior executives from companies you have worked with or want to work with. The latter are more likely to inform you about trends and opportunities in the sector, while potential customers from your target group are more likely to provide practical insights.

Especially looking for insights on a tactical level? Then organize specific surveys, user tests or focus groups. In the latter, you bring together 6 to 10 people who you question about your product. You then link the results of this research to your strategic findings from the CAB meetings.

CAB-meetings often take place a few times a year, but that too is completely up to you. Make sure you don’t ask too much of your CAB members, but do make it clear that their commitment is needed.

Why invest time in a customer advisory board?

  • The time and money you invest in the organisation of a CAB quickly pays for itself. If you anticipate well-considered strategic insights from the start, the chance that you will miss the ball is much smaller. Having to make a pivot after a few months is not only emotionally draining, it also wastes valuable time in the launch phase of your business. Save time and money by doing proper research.
  • If you visibly take into account what your customers think, you show that you are truly committed. The people in your CAB are usually your early adopters. They often become your first customers and sometimes even true ambassadors who tell positive stories about you because they feel they have contributed to your success.
  • You keep the feeling with your product. Being an entrepreneur means that you have to keep an overview at all times. You run your business so hard that sometimes you can’t focus on your core product. By being present in the CAB meetings yourself (as CEO), you learn more about the customer journey of your (potential) customer.
  • It’s simply a win-win situation: you get your info you need, your customers get the product they want to see and use faster.
  • Last but not least: the things told during the meetings form nice customer cases that you can use as a reference with potential customers. You can also get unique testimonials for your website!

Ready for your first CAB meeting?

Follow these steps and your first CAB meeting will be scheduled in your calendar in no time:

  1. First of all, you need people. It is best to look for them among your first followers and in your network. If you already have some clients or active communication channels, search there as well.
  2. Sometimes you may need to offer an incentive: think of a discount on your product, or highlight that CAB-member does look good on your LinkedIn profile. Above all, find people who are genuinely interested. People who want to see you grow (also as a person!) and are willing and able to make time for that.
  3. Plan the agenda of your CAB meeting in advance. Prioritize your themes and provide a limited time slot per theme.
  4. Facilitate the conversation. Provide 5 slides where you outline the problem in 10 minutes and end with some kind of trigger question to conclude. Then you give your CAB members an hour to discuss the issues. Variations on this are of course also possible, depending on the complexity of your theme and the input of your members.
  5. After the meeting, draw up a concrete action plan with the people responsible. Make sure that these are also followed up flawlessly. This way you can be sure that something will actually be done with the feedback!
  6. Set up an open line of communication for your CAB members. Let them know they can leave additional feedback at their convenience. This way they are extra engaged and you show that you are willing to listen to them at any time of the year. It also gives you insights that you would miss at the meetings.

Common mistakes at a CAB

  • A CAB is not a focus group! A focus group is more about the product, while a CAB is about the strategic. So don’t ask ‘what do you think of the design’ but rather ‘in what circumstances do you use my product or service’.
  • A CAB is not the same as your advisory board and does not replace it! A CAB provides feedback from an entirely different angle, and in that way is a nice addition to the insights you get from your advisory board.
  • Make sure you have different types of customers in your CAB, not just the best customers. They will often confirm what you already thought, even though you want to be challenged.
  • Why don’t certain customers buy? Which problems are you overlooking and which issues had you not yet detected? Don’t focus on the perfect customer, but on the customer who is not yet convinced.
  • We’ve talked about the last common mistake many times: don’t wait too long for your first CAB meeting. Grounded insights are timesavers and therefore moneysavers.

What advice do you follow?

The challenge for you lies in choosing which advice to follow. An advisory board, a CAB, your Board of Directors and possibly even focus groups… It soon becomes a lot, so whatever you do, make sure you can keep your head above water.