Advisory boards are essential for customer reference programs, and yet most programs don’t establish one. As a customer marketing/customer reference/customer advocate program manager, you need regular feedback to ensure the program is on track to meet the needs of its stakeholders. Relevance is the name of the game. Your primary objective is to provide the most valuable assets (customer advocates and customer content) to Marketing for lead generation and branding, and to Sales to bring in new revenue. If the program isn’t positioned for those two objectives, it’s unimportant to leadership (“programma non grata“).
We believe the best was to stay relevant is to form an advisory board for your program, and then act on the recommendations the board makes. Here are answers to the most common questions we’re asked concerning the formation of a board.
- Who’s in it?
Representatives from your most valuable stakeholder groups including Sales, Marketing, PR, events, support, and customer experience should be included on your advisory board. And you should absolutely have an executive on the board (e.g., VP Marketing, CRP, CMO, etc.).
- How many members should it have?
If you assume that for any given meeting 75% of members will be able to attend and you want a quorum, we’d recommend a total membership of 10-15.
- How are members chosen?
It is essential that members feel they have a special responsibility, and that being a board member is a privilege, not a burden. With that goal in mind, we recommend having management nominate members from their respective departments with your criteria in mind. The ideal member is opinionated, thoughtful and cares about the companies’ best interest, not just their own.
- How often should the board meet?
The answer depends on what’s going on with the program. If your program is generally running smoothly, then a monthly meeting/call is probably sufficient. If you are trying to get a program off the ground or turning around an underperforming program, you may need more frequent contact.
- What can the members offer to the program?
First and foremost, candid feedback on what is working and not working. This feedback could encompass processes, policies, gaps in the database, technology, forecasted needs, and content feedback. We suggest that members see themselves ‘ambassadors’ for the program as well. That means they are the feet on the street, gathering feedback from peers, providing direction to new employees in their department, and disseminating program news among other things. Executives bring a different value proposition. First, their engagement ensures the program is not lost in a slew of other shifting priorities. And second, their dual visibility into the advocate world and the executive world will help connect dots between the two that otherwise would be overlooked.
- Should members be compensated?
That’s mostly a cultural question, but from our experience, if members are treated to catered breakfast or lunch at in-person meetings and they get to have input into a program upon which they depend, that is usually ‘compensation’ enough.
Putting together and running an advisory board may seem like one more thing you, as a program manager, don’t have time for, but think about the membership as an extension of you, program proxies, the face of the program. If you establish a sense of ownership from the advisory board members and build true team spirit, you will have made your job easier when it comes to program awareness, education, user adoption and ultimately results.