#5: Hire Your Customers

From The 30 Best Business Practices of All Time, published by PROFITguide.com: Canada's trusted resource for entrepreneurs and innovative executives

Written by PROFIT staff

Wouldn’t you love to have an excuse to spend quality time with key decision-makers from your best clients, brainstorming ways to make your business more successful?

A customer advisory board (CAB) is just the excuse you need. The idea—whose practitioners include HP, IBM and Dell—is to invite 8 to 12 senior executives from those clients you do the most business with to meet with you twice a year. Guided by a facilitator, they’ll offer advice on your company’s products and overall direction. In return, they’ll have the pleasure of being asked for their ideas and the chance to network, talk shop and gain insights into how to do their own jobs better.

These boards work best for B2B firms. Those targeting consumers should instead use surveys or focus groups, because few consumers have the breadth of knowledge needed to offer big-picture advice.

Customer advisory boards offer a golden opportunity to deepen relationships with your best clients, making them more loyal to you and more likely to alert you to key changes in your market. But you’ll get these beautiful benefits only if you invite the right people to join. Customer advisory board specialist Mike Gospe, a principal at KickStart Alliance in Los Altos, Calif., says it’s vital to limit membership to “the 20% who provide you with 80% of your revenue.” He says many boards fail because they’re dominated by non-core clients whose feedback is too “all over the map” to act upon.

Gospe warns that client boards are worse than useless if you don’t act upon at least some of the advice. The last thing you should do is alienate your best clients by seeking their views on aspects of your business that you’re unwilling to change.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com