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8 Reasons to Run a Customer Advisory Council

I’ve run a few customer advisory councils and I’ve found them to be really useful both from marketing and a sales perspective.  Here are some reasons you might want to have product marketing look at running a customer advisory board:

1/ Customer Insight – the obvious reason for organizing a customer advisory board is to have a group of committed customers you can test assumptions and new ideas with.  Just be careful not to make the mistake of letting this small group drive development of features directly (trust me, at least a few of them will lobby hard for features that only they will ever need).

2/ Customer Referrals – one advisory board I ran we used this as a key success metric and actively solicited a certain number of referrals from each member.

3/ Operational Feedback – in addition to product feedback customer advisory boards are a great place to get feedback on how easy or annoying your sales process is and how customers perceive your service after the sale.  If you are planning changes to how your business operates, this group is a great place to get feedback.

4/ Case Studies and Joint PR – don’t forget to ask for permission to do case studies and video from your advisory council members (if you run face to face meetings, it’s a great opportunity to shoot video so plan for that).  Make sure to have some time to talk about joint speaking and press opportunities.

5/ Marketing Planning – As a marketer I’ve gotten great feedback from customer advisory council members on what publications they read, what conferences they attend, what analysts they listen to, who they turn to for advice and what search terminology they use when they are looking to buy.  This is really helpful in planning how to divide up your marketing budget.

6/ Increase Customer Spend – a council meeting is NOT a sales meeting, it’s a two-way dialogue.  However, one of the by-products of having customers on the council is that they tend to become more committed to your company and in the end, purchase more.

7/ Creating a Customer Community – more and more I’m seeing consumer-focused startups running larger advisory councils where one of the major goals is to get the members interacting with each other including sharing tips, techniques and best practices related to the product or service.  In my experience running a smaller CIO advisory council, we found one of the main reasons CIO’s wanted to join was to meet other CIO’s.

8/ Clues About New Markets – ask members about adjacent markets and purchases they are making in market spaces close to the one you are in.  For business customers there’s an opportunity to better understand how overall budgets are getting spent to make sure you’re getting your fair share.

My next post will be a set of tips for how to run an effective customer advisory council.

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  1. Running our Customer Advisory Panel has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my company! They’re invaluable for all the reasons you’ve mentioned, plus it enables Product Managers to build great one-on-one customer relationships which again can be invaluable. Were I to move on to another gig creating another advisory panel/board/council (whatever you want to call it) would likely be one of the very first things I’d look to accomplish!!

    Thanks, Jason

    • Hi Jason – I’m just like you on that one. There’s no question that there is a lot of work involved in running a great one but once it’s running it’s an amazing resource, particularly for smaller companies.
      Thanks for the comment!

      • I do understand the need for customer council. However, I wonder what’s the value proposition for the customers for providing referrals or doing case studies. Would like your views

        • Hi Bikash,
          That’s a great question. There are 2 key reasons.
          First of all you’ve created the council to build a tight relationship with a set of key customers. When they agree to be part of your council they have made a commitment of their time and energy to help your company be successful. That’s the tone you’ve set for the council. They are showing up because they want to help you (which includes helping you serve them better). Once you’ve proven that you value their input, that you are listening to them that you want to have a relationship with them, then you can ask for their help and the will give it to you. But you have to do the work to establish the relationship up front. Cold calling customers you’ve rarely spoken to and asking them for a reference or a referral is not only uncomfortable for everyone involved, it rarely works.
          There’s another reason they will want to do things like case studies, speaking engagements and PR with you. Your customers are often looking for ways to raise their own profile in media – either for the sake of their company or because they are interested in getting their personal name out there. Part of building a relationship with your customers is figuring out how you can help them. Teaming up for the purposes of PR and visibility will be of value to at least some of the customers on your advisory board.

  2. April – you nailed a great list of 8 benefits. With all the hype of social media, face-to-face gathering are still a strong way to ascertain information and explore markets.

    • Hey Jim, Thanks for the comment. I agree that there is no substitute for face to face customer interaction. At the same time I’ve talked to two online consumer-focused startups this week about doing broader-scale customer councils that would never meet in public. The idea is to do a series of video calls and webcasts to get the group together. It’s not as good as face to face but I think there is still real value. And clearly this would never be a replacement for social media interaction with customers (or vice versa) but that also doesn’t mean they can’t be complimentary. We are lucky in marketing – we have a lot of rabbits in our hat and which ones we pull out depends on the audience 🙂

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