What we learned from our first customer advisory board meeting

  • Pierce Ujjainwalla

    Pierce Ujjainwalla

    Co-Founder & CEO, Knak

Published Apr 22, 2024

What we learned from our first customer advisory board meeting

I recently wrote about how Knak was setting up its first customer advisory board (CAB). We wanted to create a formal process for gathering information about how our customers use Knak, and learn how we can improve it to better match their needs.

We held our first CAB meeting in Las Vegas in March, just before the Adobe Summit.

The meeting was everything I had hoped it would be – and that’s saying a lot, because I had high expectations.

This post is about what we learned from holding it.

We got the participants we wanted

As I noted in my earlier post, an effective CAB has to include a representative sample of customers. We therefore put a lot of effort into inviting the right people.

But the people we wanted come from Fortune 100 companies and have a lot of demands for their time; would they come to our meeting?

Knak CAB Members arrive in Las Vegas

They did.

I can thankfully say that our reasoning about what would attract them was correct.

First, we made the meeting convenient. We held it the day before the Adobe Summit, which most of the CAB invitees were already planning to attend. All they had to do was come a day early. And for those invitees who weren’t coming to the Adobe Summit, Las Vegas is easy to get to in addition to being an attractive destination in its own right. We also subsidized travel for a few people who didn’t have the budget to get to Vegas.

Second, we emphasized the opportunity to network by noting that the business part of the meeting would be followed by informal events that would allow people to mix.

Third, we offered attendees a memorable time. After the meeting, participants had a choice between three ‘experiences’ – getting a VIP tour of Sphere Las Vegas, driving a supercar at a race track, or taking a helicopter ride over the desert. Then we invited everyone to dinner at a great restaurant.

CAB Group Activities

Knak's CAB members got to pick from three experiences: VIP access to a show at the Sphere, luxury car racing at Dream Racing, or a sunset helicopter ride overlooking the Grand Canyon.

Fourth, we made sure the meeting was well-run – more about that later.

Our approach worked.

One person we’d invited was committed to attending another meeting and sent someone from her team to our CAB in her place. When she heard how great ours was, she told us she regretted missing it.

Long weeks of organization paid off

It took us five months to plan our first CAB meeting – five months for a one-day event. I was nervous, because we had only a short period of time – a few hours – to gather the information we were looking for.

But all our organizational effort paid off.

We left nothing to chance.

For example, we had booked a nice conference room for the meeting.

Long weeks of organization paid off - Meeting Room

The Knak team arrived at the venue hours in advance to make sure it had been set up according to our specifications.

We also created a seating plan that had Knak people interspersed among customers; we didn’t want everyone from Knak sitting together!

Then we did a dry run on-site, because as much as you can be prepared ahead of time, you still need to practise in the actual room. I wish we had given ourselves a bit more time to practise, because a few participants arrived before we had finished!

We also created, in advance, a WhatsApp group for meeting participants. This proved to be useful when we discovered the meeting room was hard to find; we quickly messaged directions to everyone.

There were a few small things we could have done better.

For example, participants were interviewed beforehand to sound them out on their expectations and the issues on which they wanted guidance. It would have been useful if we had summarized those interviews and shared them with everyone in advance.

It would also have been nice for our customers to network among themselves, without Knak people around.

But these small things did not prevent the meeting from being a success.

Bottom line: Be organized. This kind of event is a huge reflection on your brand to your most important customers, so act accordingly.

Our chosen structure worked well

The business part of the meeting itself lasted only four hours, from noon to 4 p.m. We needed to make those four hours pay. But the format had to be dynamic to keep everyone engaged. We plan to organize more CAB meetings; we don’t want our customers to groan at the thought of spending another four hours in a conference room with us!

I think four hours is about the right length for the business portion of the meeting. It’s long enough to produce results, but not so long as to have people get fidgety.

As for keeping the meeting dynamic, we wondered about the best way to do it. Do we break down into subgroups for discussions, or do we keep everyone together? Do we go around the table and let each customer speak in turn?

Our decision to hire a knowledgeable but independent moderator for the meeting proved to be the right one.

I had been worried that the meeting might be dominated by one or two people; in any group, there’s always someone who likes to talk. But the moderator, Paul Wilson, was very good at making sure everyone was heard. He also guided the discussion in a way that felt natural. It was like an organic conversation.

I also believe that having that independent moderator contributed greatly to the success of the meeting – both in feel and content. Customers were at ease and open to sharing, and I think it was because Paul was not a Knak employee and no one was worrying that Knak was driving the agenda.

We also made a decision not to record the meeting; we felt people would be more open and spontaneous that way. We took notes instead – after warning participants not to think we weren’t listening if they saw us furiously typing on our laptops.

Could we have arranged for an official note-taker? I suppose, but I also wanted my own notes, emphasizing things that were important to me or listing the insights I had as the day progressed.

We had the right number of participants – and the right people

We needed the meeting to be big enough to yield usable results, but not so big as to bog down. We also worried about the right ratio of customers to Knak participants.

We got things right on both counts.

We had 17 participants in total. That was enough to produce the results we wanted while keeping things flowing.

Of the 17 people present, 10 were customers and 7 were from Knak.

That also felt right. We had enough Knak people to answer questions without dominating things.

The customers wanted to know more about our product, our vision and especially what we are working on and what our roadmap looks like.

Given that we sell to marketers, we wanted to make sure we had the right people to answer their questions. The six Knak attendees were from our leadership team. Having our experienced Chief Marketing Officer, Mychelle Mollot, at the meeting was particularly valuable, because ultimately our customers work with their own CMO. Her presence elevated the level of discussion by giving them a CMO’s perspective.

We focused on what we needed to get out of the meeting

In my pre-CAB blog post, I said that I would consider the meeting a success if we came out with a good handle on what our most important customers want, along with a clear understanding of how to prioritize our product roadmap.

So we went into the meeting focused on what we needed to get those results.

Again, being organized paid off.

Before the meeting, we created a list of questions we wanted answered.

Then we shared the list with the moderator, and asked him to steer the discussion towards getting the answers we needed.

That approach worked.

(To be honest, we only put the questions together at the last minute; next time we will have the list ready much earlier.)

I also wanted our customers to connect with our story so that they can feel they are part of the next phase of the company. So we emphasized where we need their help to get to the next level.

And it was important for me to build personal connections with people, to get to know our customers as individuals. While I do wish I had had more time to connect, overall I am pleased.

Getting More Personal Time In

(I also wish I put more effort into being ‘in the moment’ at the meeting, but that’s hard when you’re coordinating things and thinking about everything that has to happen!)

We were strategic in how we organized the meeting

We know from attendee feedback that customers appreciated hearing about our vision for Knak’s future and learning about what we’re working on.

But we were strategic in how we presented that information.

We laid out our vision first, then initiated a brainstorming session about how to build the campaign creation platform of the future.

Only then did we reveal our product roadmap, the list of projects we are working on.

Why did we do things in that order? Because we worried that if we talked about our roadmap first, it would compromise the brainstorming session. We wanted an unfiltered brainstorming session, from bias or constraints. If we’d revealed Knak’s roadmap first, it’s a sure bet customers would have focused on what they’d just heard instead of letting their minds roam free.

The meeting will change the way we work

I am convinced our first customer advisory board meeting will have a huge impact. It will change the way we plan and build our entire product.

Building a product without customer input is a bit of stab in the dark. You are kind of guessing what your customers need.

We are now able to move forward informed by the perspective of 10 of our biggest customers. That will save us time and prevent us from making mistakes.

With that in mind, we are already thinking about our next CAB meeting.

It will be easier to organize, since we now have a template. Our challenge will be to keep the second meeting as exciting and vibrant as the first.

One customer made a comment that sums up what an ideal CAB meeting should be. “I come to these things to learn, to network and to have fun,” he said.

I think that as long as we organize our next event with these three things in mind, we should be OK.

What an Ideal CAB Meeting Should Be

Share this article

  • Pierce Ujjainwalla


    Pierce Ujjainwalla

    Co-Founder & CEO, Knak

    Pierce is a career marketer who has lived in the marketing trenches at companies like IBM, SAP, NVIDIA, and Marketo. He launched Knak in 2015 as a platform designed to help Marketers simplify email creation. He is also the founder of Revenue Pulse, a marketing operations consultancy.

Why marketing teams love Knak

  • 95%better, faster campaigns = more success

  • 22 minutesto create an email*

  • 5x lessthan the cost of a developer

  • 50x lessthan the cost of an agency**

* On average, for enterprise customers

** Knak base price

Ready to see Knak in action?

Get a demo and discover how visionary marketers use Knak to speed up their campaign creation.

Watch a Demo