The Top 5 Benefits of Hosting a Customer Advisory Board

By Rob Jensen

council meetingAs a Product Management professional, are you confident the products or services you have planned (or already under development) will be accepted – i.e. purchased – by your market?

If so, how did you obtain this confidence? Hopefully, formally engaging with – and soliciting feedback from – your existing customers to vet your product roadmap is the answer to this question. If not, read on.

For Product Managers, customer advisory boards (CABs) can be an efficient, effective method to gather customer insight and feedback to your current and planned offerings.

For the uninitiated, customer advisory boards (also known as a customer advisory councils) are forums to review industry trends, address mutual challenges or opportunities, and offer unvarnished insights and guidance.

For vendors, these councils are ideal for validating corporate strategies, gathering input on product development, and deepening relationships with key customers. In turn, there is just as much to be gained by the participating customers. (CIO Insight recently ranked the top 10 here)

A customer advisory board is perhaps most often associated with providing feedback and desired direction on the host company’s offerings. Indeed, in querying customer advisory board practitioners, our own survey shows that product direction is the top benefit host companies derive from customer advisory boards. But this benefit is only one of many.

Other research points to the ROI of such executive customer engagements. According to a recent Gallup poll:

 “A typical B2B company has an optimal relationship with fewer than one in seven of its customers… and only 13% of B2B customers are fully engaged.”

However, such “fully engaged customers deliver a 23% premium over average customers in share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth.”

Top 5 Benefits of CABs

Here then are the top 5 benefits product managers can get from a well-run customer advisory board program.

1. Feedback to the Product Roadmap

A customer advisory board is ideal for providing feedback and desired direction on the host company’s offerings. Your advisory council can offer an insider’s view of what your target buyer needs and wants from your products and/or services. A council also serves as a great platform for securing beta testers of your new offerings, helping you introduce your solutions and providing immediate validation – before you go to market.

Tweet this: The Top 5 Benefits to Customer Advisory Boards #prodmgmt #customer #research



Why you need an innovation team

By Steve Johnson

Every organization has to prepare for the abandonment of everything it does.

—Peter F. Drucker, American management consultant.


How does a pack of wolves take down a bear? They attack from all sides. While the bear is dealing with a frontal attack, another wolf is attacking from behind. Ultimately, the bear gets exhausted from turning and turning and turning to address each attack.

Sound familiar?

Maybe you’re the biggest vendor in your space but you’re being attacked by upstarts. After all, with today’s technology, a new player can go from idea to execution in weeks—less time than it takes for you to get a business plan defined and approved.

Maybe you’re the biggest vendor in your space but you have more ideas than you can execute. And as soon as you decide on a set of priorities, a big sale or executive pet project comes in that de-rails the plan.

To survive attacks from too many internal ideas and too many external threats, you need a nimble planning process to move (quickly) from idea to execution. You need to evaluate a new idea, test your hypotheses, and come up with a plan—before your competitors do.

That’s why I recommend an internal innovation team. A team dedicated to a single product idea. A team without a thousand meetings and phone calls and emails related to existing products. A team that is able to ignore “what is” in favor of what could be. Should you deliver via the cloud? Should you do a subscription? Should you sell over the web? Just because your company hasn’t in the past doesn’t mean you can’t in the future.

You can build a business concept and deliver it to market in only 90 days.Who is on the team? A business expert, a market expert, and a technology expert. (Notice I didn’t use titles here. The key is not the title but the expertise.)

And how responsive could this team be if it didn’t have to train everyone in the sales and marketing and support and services teams? Instead you build a small launch team focused on a small group of representative customers.

With a small team of experts, you can build a business concept and deliver it to market in only 90 days. It’s possible! After all, it’s what your competitors are doing.

Interested in the types of expertise in product management? Read my free ebook “Expertise in Product Management.”

About the author

Steve Johnson is a recognized thought leader and storyteller within the technology product management community. At Under10 Consulting, he helps product teams implement product management in an agile world. Sign up for his inspirational newsletter.

4 lessons Product Managers can learn from Target’s failure in Canada

by Saeed Khan

target-no-heart-canadaTarget is a retail giant in the United States, with about $75 Billion in revenue and over 1,800 stores nationwide. In 2012, Target announced it would open stores in Canada; it’s first international expansion beyond the United States.

In March 2013 Target opened it’s first stores in Canada, quickly expanding to over 130 stores across the country within the first year.

And then, less than 2 years after opening it’s first stores in Canada, Target announced that they were closing ALL Canadians stores, and laying off all 17,000+ employees including some at their Minneapolis headquarters who were hired to oversee the Canadian operations.

The state of the failure is significant, with almost $5 billion to be written off by Target.

How did Target fail so miserably and what can we learn from this fiasco?

1. Understand and meet market expectations


disappointment valley  right-arrow-small

First, it’s important to understand Canadian consumers. We loved shopping in Target stores in the US. They have good prices, good merchandise selection (many items not available in Canada) and very helpful staff. When shopping at a large retail store, what else could one want?

When Target announced they were going to open stores in Canada, many Canadians expected those same attributes — price, selection, service — to be part of the Target experience in Canada. Sadly, that was not the case. Prices were mediocre, selection was poor and the service was nowhere near what it was in the US.

Great Customer Service (in the US)

For example, I was once in a Target store in Sunnyvale California. I asked one of the  staff where I could find a clothing item, and the person literally walked me across the store and pointed out exactly where that item was and made sure it was what I was looking for. He then walked back across the store, I’m assuming to resume what he was doing.

This level of service  was nowhere to be found in the Target stores in Canada. The staff were competent, but competent is not memorable, and certainly didn’t meet expectations set by their American coworkers.

Tweet this: 4 lessons Product Managers can learn from Target’s failure in Canada #prodmgmt #target



Product Management and the Consolidation Curve

by Rivi Aspler

When I saw the following image in in the latest Forrester Wave™: B2C Commerce Suites, I realized both the intensity as well as the inevitability of the consolidation phenomenon in the industry.


I also came across the article The Consolidation Curve,  by Graeme K. Deans, Fritz Kroeger and Stefan Zeisel, which describes the four stages of industry and market consolidation. Just like product maturity phases, markets have their own maturity cycle and phases, and it’s important for product managers to understand the dynamics of markets as they mature.

Stages of Market Maturity

Stage 1 – Opening

“The first stage generally begins with a single start-up or with a monopoly just emerging from a newly deregulated or privatized industry. But this 100% industry concentration quickly drops off. Soon, the combined market share of the three largest companies drops to between 30% and 10%, as competitors quickly arise to create the frontier of industry consolidation.”

If you are a product manager that is trying to introduce a new product to the market, you in for a tough fight. Innovation is indeed disruptive, and people don’t like disruptions. You are probably investing as much time into the definition of the new product as to the proving its advantages over the existing substitutes.

Stage 2 – Scale

“This stage is all about building scale. Major players begin to emerge, buying up competitors and forming empires. The top three players in a stage 2 industry will own 15% to 45% of their market, as the industry consolidates rapidly.”

If you are a product manager that is working in a scaling market, you face the harsh competition of the veterans and the new players that are starting to catch up.  It’s time to make sure that your competitive advantage is clear. This advantage will determine if your company will be bought or left behind as a follower after the big ones ….

Stage 3- Focus

“After the ferocious consolidation of stage 2, stage 3 companies focus on expanding their core business and continuing to aggressively outgrow the competition. The top three industry players will now control between 35% and 70%of the market. By this time, there are still generally five to 12 major players.”

If you are a product manager who is working in a market that is in the process of focusing, you are probably not working as hard as you did before 🙂 (compared to the opening and scaling stages). You are still required to make sure that your value proposition is well perceived by the market and that your competitive advantage is indeed stable (don’t rest!), but now, sales people are the ones that are front and center, trying to get as much as possible market share.

Stage 4 – Balance and Alliance stage

“Here the titans of industry reign, from tobacco to soft drinks to defense. The industry concentration rate plateaus and can even dip a bit as, at this stage, the top three companies claim as much as 70% to 90% of the market. Large companies may form alliances with their peers because growth is now more challenging. Companies don’t move through stage 4; they stay in it.”

If you are a product manager who is working in a stage 4 market, you are probably a bit bored… incremental additions to the product will do just fine…. Until that new start-up arrives, knocking at your door, that will open up the market once again.


Tweet this: Product Management and the Consolidation Curve  #prodmgmt #productmanagement 

About the Author

Rivi-colorRivi is a product manager with over 15 years of product life-cycle management experience, at enterprise sized companies (SAP), as well as with small to medium-sized companies. Practicing product management for years, Rivi now feels she has amassed thoughts and experiences that are worth sharing.

It’s Time to Give Your Product Portfolio a Good SWOT

by John Mansour

In B2B, assessing your product portfolio’s

  • Strengths,
  • Weaknesses,
  • Opportunities and
  • Threats

should be an annual ritual.  Why?  This exercise offers a macro view of your portfolio’s performance and provides valuable insights that are key to a solid market strategy, which ultimately impacts your product, marketing and sales priorities.

What is a Product Portfolio SWOT?

swotIn its most basic form, a portfolio SWOT is a matrix of products and market segments where the cross-section illustrates the relevance of each product to each of your target market segments and financial performance of your company (total revenue for all products) in each market segment.

Why Do It?

The primary goal of performing a SWOT analysis isn’t so much about how your products are performing, but how your company is performing in each of your chosen market segments as indicated by the sales of the most popular products in each segment.  It reveals a critical insight into how your customers utilize your products in the form of logical business solutions. Key takeaways that guide your portfolio strategy decisions include:

  • Identifying market segments where you’re strongest (by revenue and number of customers) and understanding how much runway remains for growth.
  • Identifying market segments where you’re weakest – and understanding if it’s more of a sales and marketing deficiency or product deficiencies.
  • Identifying market segments that are most opportunistic. In many cases your weakest market segments are the most opportunistic because your products have high relevance.  It’s simply a matter of exerting more marketing and sales effort to seize the opportunities.  In other cases, it may be new markets where emerging needs play to your strengths.
  • Identifying the biggest threats in your product/service category. These can be new competitive threats, disruptive technologies, shifting business models, etc. that threaten to make your company less relevant in the eyes of prospective buyers and investors.

Who Owns It?

In smaller organizations, the ownership typically falls on product management.  In larger organizations, product/industry/solutions marketing or strategy teams own it.

When Should You SWOT?

Once a year should be sufficient for most B2B companies.  Ideally, it would be completed or refreshed as a precursor to your annual strategic planning cycle.

Making Your Portfolio SWOT Actionable

Your portfolio SWOT analysis is one of several data points that are key to aligning your products and services with market segments most conducive to reaching your company’s goals.  Make it actionable by comparing your SWOT results to the dynamics in each of your target markets and the biggest obstacles those organizations are facing.

You’ll quickly see where your portfolio is strong, where it’s at risk and where your biggest opportunities are in the short and longer term.  Product, marketing and sales priorities will quickly come into focus.  Build a portfolio strategy around those priorities and then, as usual, focus on relentless execution of the details.  You’ll love the results!

If your product priorities are constantly competing and…constantly changing, contact us today to learn how our framework and training programs can get your product portfolio on the straight and narrow to deliver higher-value solutions and accelerate growth.

Tweet this: It’s time to give your product portfolio a good SWOT #prodmgmt #productmanagement

About the Author

mansour-colour-small2John Mansour is a 20-year veteran in high technology product management, marketing and sales, and the Founder of Proficientz, Inc., a training and consulting firm that specializes in B2B product management & marketing.