Ask Cindy: Can I use our Customer Advisory Board (CAB) for doing customer development?

What happens to the questions that go unanswered in the chat sidebar? Whenever I give an online talk or workshop, there are questions that I’m not able to get to and answer. I recently started saving them and here’s the first one I’ll answer here.

Customer development is pretty universal – and also, different companies and industries have established varying levels of formality in how they communicate. (That’s why so many answers start with the oh-so-frustrating “It depends…”)

A reader recently asked, “hey – we have an existing Customer Advisory Board. Can I use them for ongoing customer development?”

Maybe!  And also, I advise against limiting your customer development interviews to the folks on your customer advisory board.

We invite certain customers to join a CAB for a reason: they’re important to us. That means we already hear from them quite a lot. 

We show that importance through greater access to our team – customer success managers, premium support, roadmap previews with the product team, etc.  This means we are likely already over-indexing on those customers. 

Are they representative across the customer segments you’re targeting?  Do their needs or behaviors diverge quite a bit from other customer segments you care about?    It’s usually a good idea to contrast CAB feedback with that from lower-profile but still valuable customers.

Let’s dig into why that “maybe” should be “maybe not”:

Sometimes the expectations and communication styles we’ve established with CAB members conflicts with customer development.  Remember that customer development is open-ended, exploratory, and covers questions that we’re open to invalidating and killing.

Look elsewhere for your customer development participants if:

  • Your customer advisory board meets quarterly
  • Meeting agendas are published in advance, previewing decisions that are already finalized
  • Your purpose is primarily about giving customers a preview of what’s coming / access to early information (as opposed to changing based on their feedback)

I’ve made the mistake of trying to engage customers like this in ‘exploratory’ conversations and it has created a lot of work in resetting expectations!

On the other hand, your customer advisory members may hang out in a Slack channel and freely exchange questions and blog posts with each other and your team.  You may have set the expectation that you’ll communicate transparently with the group. 

You’ll still want to be clear about the purpose of customer development, but this audience will more readily transition to this style of communication.

Do you have a talking to customers question you’re wondering about. Send it to and you may see it answered here soon!