Dear Vendor: Customer Advisory Boards

Photo by AbsolutVision / Unsplash

Define the CAB’s Purpose (model)

Before you start picking participants to be on the board, you need to define what the purpose of your CAB is. If you’re purely wanting feedback about features or changes just before they roll out, then you may as well just focus on A/B testing and surveys to figure out if things will be well received.

Select your Members

Which segment of Higher Education are you wanting to engage with? After all, Higher Education is “ALL” the verticals.

Historical Context Matters

Vendors typically have high turnover in customer success/relationship management roles, and so it is common for the CAB members to have worked with the vendor longer than their rotating cast of CAB leaders. Long term membership brings with it a confirmation that the relationship is likely beneficial to member and vendor. It also means that there’s enough historical, institutional knowledge on the member side to help contextualize topics that may repeat after a few years.

Engage on Controversial Topics EARLY

Vendors aren’t always going to make every customer happy. Sometimes, the changes to a product’s features (or deprecating a whole product line) can cause significant impact to its customer base. These things happen for many reasons, and customers expect that the vendor will help them through these hard transitions (after all, technology is constantly changing, and we expect to keep up).

Trust. Trust. Trust.

CABs are built on trust.

Spend time effectively

Vendors need to understand…like… really understand that customers want their time spent on the CAB to be useful. Don’t treat every meeting like another one-way slide presentation of a roadmap…treat it more like an opportunity to get useful feedback.


Members should be expected to do a little work too, and not just show up for the free coffee (or not if it’s all remote i guess). Vendors can, and should ask the CAB members to do some internal polling of their own users, or reach out to other community members to broaden the feedback funnel.

Final Thoughts

CABs are a really useful way to get direct, blunt, helpful, productive feedback Vendors should absolutely engage in this kind of outreach if they can manage it effectively. Ultimately, no Customer Advisory Board is much better than a poorly run Customer Advisory Board.



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Nick Young

Nick Young

Cloud stuff, data, analytics; Google, Internet2 Advisory Boards & working groups. Higher Ed IT since 2002. @techupover and @usaussie on twitter