Transcript: Lessons Learned From Launching Multiple Customer Advisory Boards with Amy Pang

On this episode, I was joined by Amy Pang, Director of Customer Marketing at Fortinet. She’s helped launch customer advisory boards at several companies and has also been on the other side as a CAB member herself. We talk about why you have to have a strong point of view during the planning process, why it’s best to start CABs with open feedback sessions and why it’s good to provide attendees with break rooms. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with Amy. 

Margot Leong: Hey, Amy. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I’m really excited to have you with us. 

Amy Pang: Hey Margot. Well, I’m really excited to be here. 

Margot Leong: First off, we wanted to start off by understanding a bit more about your journey to customer marketing and where you are today.

Amy Pang: I have been in the tech industry probably for about 25 years now. And my journey to customer marketing is probably similar to a lot of people that have been in the industry for a while. So I first started out in product marketing and kind of moved to marketing communications and really just transitioned to customer marketing because I was always working with the customers. 

I was already interested in kind of sharing their story, understanding how they’re utilizing our products and how to help their use case better. So for example, if they’re utilizing our products, you know, what features and benefits were they looking for? So really got the chance to meet with customers and talk to sales and it kind of naturally transitioned into the role.

I think, I honestly enjoy the most is really talking to customers and understanding their story and really seeing their growth within the product or within us as a vendor for them. What product did they start with? Why did they choose that? It’s also interesting to me, because sometimes I feel like why customers select a vendor is very different from why we think they would from a marketing perspective, because in marketing we’re always talking about, okay, this feature and benefit. It’s cost savings. And oftentimes it’s not. 

Sometimes it’s word of mouth. Sometimes they’ve talked to other people within their industry and they find out about us as a vendor and they’re like, okay, let me check you guys out. There could also be even just a great relationship with their account team or great relationship with support. I think oftentimes marketing and, just in general, people forget about that. There is still old school marketing of word of mouth. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s probably one of the most fascinating things about talking to users. When you’re in marketing, especially if you’ve done a lot of product marketing, you’re so steeped in the benefits, the value prop and you assume that everyone is doing it based off of that work.

And so it’s sometimes a really nice reality check to actually talk to users and be like, oh, actually, that stuff is great or what you put on the website, like that’s fine. But I decided to get it because buddy at this other company said give it a try or like, I have a long standing relationship with this AE who came from another company. 

Amy Pang: It’s funny you say that, because I’ve actually talked to customers where they specifically have moved to another vendor to ourselves because they follow the AE. It could be that they were at a different product completely different from a competitor and they actually follow their AE.

So it really is sometimes relationship based and that’s what’s so great about having customer advocacy programs is once you get a customer involved, they’ll bring that solution with you. So I’ve had customers who are big name brands, and they’re currently using our products.

 Of course they grow and they move to another role. They always let me know, okay, Hey, I’m leaving. And I’ll always say, Hey, you know, you can still be part of our customer advocacy program. We’re always love you as a champion of us. But let me know when you transition to a new role, if you’re gonna be utilizing us. And oftentimes I’ll hear, Hey, you know what, if we’re not utilizing the product, I’m gonna figure out a way to get your product into the door because they’ve had such a great experience. 

Margot Leong: It always wows me. So much of what we do is rooted in deep relationship building.

And so like at the end of the day, of course the product has to be fantastic. You know, the support has to be great, like it has to deliver on what the promises are from an external perspective. There’s a deeper reason why some advocates may continue to use the product or advocate for it at a new company. A lot of that is based off of some of that additional work that we’re doing within our advocacy programs. And so really rewarding is that they would go to bat for you at a new company where they also don’t have as much social capital built. That’s pretty amazing.

Just to go back to the first point about understanding or seeing that the reason why someone may decide to try out the company is different than maybe what marketing perceives. It’s just indicative of understanding patterns within customer journeys, right? So sort of mapping all of that out. And so there may be some journeys that are typical and maybe some that are atypical, but I think if you start to see patterns within those journeys, you can also start to understand, okay.

Maybe people don’t go to the website as much based off of if they already knew someone that recommended us or are following the AE, but maybe they do need other types of material along the way. 

So I think like it’s just going back to always talking to your customers constantly because you just never know what you’re going to uncover and all the valuable insights you’re gonna get there.

Amy Pang: Totally correct. A lot of us in this industry, we’re always constantly capturing customer stories, whether that be key studies, videos, infographics. There’s so many different ways of capturing it. 

 Oftentimes what customers tell us, it’s a little bit different than the messaging that we’re trying to publicize out to prospects. And so it’s always great to hear the customer’s perspective and bringing that information back to the internal teams. So whether that’s product marketing or the product management team or executive teams is letting them know, Hey, this is what the customers are saying. We need to pay attention to what they’re saying and their feedback from the product side. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, exactly. And you’re providing basically them with the reality check. There’s a lot of teams. I mean, the funny thing that I think could happen especially as companies grow bigger or as different teams get more and more siloed is that you actually move further and further away from the customer. 

Even like a lot of growth teams, for example, or demand gen, they maybe never, ever talk to customers. And so how do you fully know what resonates with customers if you’re not talking to them all the time?

And so I think that’s also where customer marketing and advocacy, you just have this leg up. And so surfacing those insights is just so crucial. So you keep that cycle going. If you’re not getting the most hyper relevant or real time intel from your users, things move so fast now in B2B that, you could be left behind if you’re just not always understanding how are people finding you? What are the trends? How are they thinking about you? How are they thinking about your competitors? All that just is so important to inform your team and make sure they don’t get their heads stuck in the clouds. 

Amy Pang: That is so absolutely correct. I think a lot of times, especially when companies are new to customer marketing, they think we need to make the customer story fit our messaging. It’s the other way around. Just listening to the customer, hearing what they’re trying to say and taking what they say and creating the message. It shouldn’t be the other way around.

I mean, I’ve had people come back to me and say well, this isn’t what we want them to say. I’m like we can’t put words in their mouth. We should actually take what they say and rethink our messaging. If we are doing so many stories and the customers are saying the same thing, maybe we should think about transitioning our messaging a little bit. I know we want them to say X, Y, Z, but if they’re not saying that, or if I’m trying to get them to that and because we’re all like that, right. We’re running an interview and we ask the questions and we’re trying to leading them in to say that. I think most of us will find this. 

More often than not, we can’t really get them to say exactly what PMM or whatever’s trying to push us to say, and they say something different. And that’s when I go back to the internal team and say, Hey, this is what they’re saying. So maybe we need to like, rethink how we’re positioning this externally because customers have said this time and time again. So maybe that is what we should be saying versus trying to find a different platform of what we’re trying to perceive the product to be. 

Margot Leong: I could not agree more. And I think the companies that are going to truly listen to their users versus only hear what they wanna hear. Those are the ones that will be differentiated. Those are the ones that are ultimately going to last longer. Because again, things move so quickly in this industry, in this world, if you don’t have the most recent Intel and you’re not really fully listening to your customers. I think It’s just a fact of life. You’re gonna get left behind. It’s either you get with the program now or you are forced to get with the program through just learning through failure and we wanna try to mitigate that essentially. 

Amy Pang: You know, nowadays there’s so many ways to get that message back from the customer, listening to their story. I mean, It’s not just case studies anymore. A lot of us are doing CABs. A lot of us are doing just feedback sessions, round table discussions, there’s not not a way to get the content we need from customers. It’s just maybe sometimes not always public. 

And I think I finally see that transition, especially at the big organizations, because it’s always like, well, we need a case study. We need a story, we need a video. I’m like, well, that’s great, but we’re all at enterprise size companies and enterprise size companies, they might not let us promote their logo, but they’ll give us feedback in a different way, whether that be talking to PMM in a round table discussion, do a beta, join our CAB program. 

I’ve been in customer marketing probably for about, gosh, the last decade is really transitioned where it’s not about references in case studies anymore. It’s so much more, there’s so many other programs that can be done with customers. And I think it’s really exciting because I’m finally seeing the different internal teams opening up and understanding that, even though this big brand name, yeah, we signed them, but you know what, they can’t go public. So let’s see what else we can do internally that will still benefit us as an organization. 

But maybe we can’t say, Hey, we got Target. Because we all know in customer marketing, we’re never gonna get Target’s logo on your website legally and get their approval to sign up on a video or case study. It’s gonna be really hard. For me, I’m coming from a security organization, but like from other vendors, there are very few vendors that are gonna let you put those big brand names with approval on their websites. 

Margot Leong: Basically, if you’re thinking about it in a way of we’re really just a customer centric organization that is open to all kinds of feedback. At the end of the day it’s a very symbiotic relationship before customers can even really want to be publicly testifying for you.

First they have to be, number one, even satisfied with the product. Basically it’s like you’re chasing me down to try and get their logo. Like they haven’t even fully implemented yet, you know? 

Amy Pang: Oh my gosh. It’s so funny you say that, because I run into it all the time. Like we just closed the deal and they’re like, oh, well, let’s go get their case study. Let’s go get their logo. I’m like they bought last quarter. You have to wait 6-8 months for them to like get the product, implement it, deploy it. There’s nothing to share besides, okay. I purchased it. Okay. Besides that, what else is there to talk about? 

Margot Leong: A common theme on this podcast is that the success of this type of work is ultimately dependent on optimizing for long term relationships. But a lot of times what you get pushed on is to optimize for the short term. If you want the dividends to come later, where you have these users at all types of companies, even the big ones, really fully integrated into your organization, giving you feedback, them feeling like you guys are truly partners. Because that’s ultimately what you want, versus just one sort of shiny video or, or case study. Like you want them to really think about you as these are actual partners, not just vendors. 

Amy Pang: I’m sure we’ve all heard the same term, like the churn and burn, it’s okay, I just need this. And then, then we’re done. I’m like, okay, wait, we gotta think about how we’re gonna push the customer. We can’t just go, okay, let’s do this webinar. Okay, if we’re capturing for a webinar, what else can we do at the same time? So we get multiple content pieces versus just one thing.

I think oftentimes if you’re not in customer marketing, people forget, they’re like, okay, well I just need him for webinars. Let me just interview him with a webinar. I’m like what if we did a webinar, a case study and figure out if he wants to do blogs or podcasts or video, like we can gauge him, but see what else he’s interested in and present it to him in a way that first of all, doesn’t overwhelm them, but also makes their time worthwhile, right? 

Because if you’re capturing one story for a webinar and you don’t have anything for the case study, you don’t have anything for any other content pieces, then you have to go back. Because oftentimes whatever you’re capturing from one piece of content isn’t necessarily gonna work for everything else you’re looking for.

So it’s kinda like thinking in that way of multiple things that one time versus the one piece meal, which I think a lot of people who aren’t in customer marketing, don’t think with that hat on of, okay. I only got him for 45 minutes. What can I get in this 45 minutes of everything I need that will be respectful of his time.

Margot Leong: I think this brings up a great question, right? Which is, when you get that hunger from other internal teams for let’s get this, let’s get that. And you have your own process for not just optimizing for the short term, but really getting a lot out of it if you approach it in the right way. 

Basically how do you explain to them that approaching the problem with a hammer, there’s another way to do it that’s more elegant that can yield much better things in the future.

Amy Pang: I think a lot of times it’s just, exactly, like, hammering it in, because I’ve always had the problem of one team is doing the webinars. One team is doing something else and they bring us in almost at the end and they’re like, oh, I did this great thing. Can you make a case study off of this webinar? I’m like you probably should have brought us in from the beginning. It’s kind of like that. Gotta repeat it to them, got to bring it up all the time. So it’s repetitive as well as getting them to understand the customer first mentality. It’s not just about getting that one task or that checkbox completed. 

Let’s be respectful. They don’t work for us. They’re doing this as a favor. What else can we do at the same time? I’m constantly dealing with this on a weekly basis. I constantly have to remind and when I say it, they remember it. 

But then as they’re trying to check off that box, they forget. It’s consistent reminding, trying to change the processes. And it’s really difficult when those things don’t fall under the same team, especially when you’re a really big organization. Certain marketing pieces could be from one team versus the team you sit on.

So it’s trying to work cross functionally with them and getting them to understand it and having that customer first mentality. And I think that comes from the top down really is you have to get your executives to buy in that we need to think what the customer first mentality. If we’re doing this, what else can we do at the same time?

And it’s changing that narrative at the top is where I’ve found the most success is getting them to think that way. Otherwise you’re constantly beating your head against them of, okay, we just did this. We should have probably done this and shouda, coulda, woulda, but then you’re stuck. Because then you have to go back and ask the additional questions to get whatever content piece you’re looking for. 

Margot Leong: This is a question that we’re starting to get more and more often, especially as customer marketing teams are starting to grow. And so everybody structures things maybe slightly differently, but I’d love to understand how you’ve built that out at Fortinet.

Amy Pang: I’ve been pretty lucky because our team has grown the last couple years that I’ve been here. So I have one individual that’s in charge of all of stories. Now of course she doesn’t do all the stories across the board, but she kind of manages it from the higher level of what’s going in? What customer stories we have in place? I have another person that’s in charge of our customer programs. That’s our gamification program. That is our VIP program. And I have one other person that’s in charge of references.

I have a well oiled machine now, but we all kind of work together. So it’s not like the one person I mentioned that does case studies, she’s the only one that does case studies. We all work together. We have our hands in all of it, and it’s just easier to have one person to manage it from the top down. So they can see, okay, everything that’s in the pipeline of getting done, what else is being worked on in that instance. 

I might manage a team, I’m obviously always working on stories. I’m working on growing the programs, I’m working on getting additional members to our VIP programs. Customer marketing, you’re used to doing it all and we definitely have the same mentality.

Margot Leong: I wanted to set aside some time for really the crux of the conversation, which is actually about customer advisory boards. This is something that I know that you are passionate about. And so I know that you’ve had quite a bit of experience, building out customer advisory programs from scratch at quite a few different companies. 

Let’s say that you were advising someone who’s joined a new company and they’ve been put to work or they’re basically said, Hey we wanna build out a CAB program, go for it. How would you advise that they think about this? 

Amy Pang: I think it’s really meeting with all the people that have a hand in the game. So I would say meeting with the PMM team, the sales team, meeting with all the ones that really are gonna be affected by what you’re gonna gather at the CAB. A lot of times, if you talk to executives, they’ll say okay, the biggest customers. 

But sometimes it’s not because you want to get customers that are all across the board. So not just your enterprise whale accounts, but also the customers that have the best use cases, the ones that are using the products the best, as well as customers that maybe are on the fence and maybe they have products in the pipeline that they’re trying to close and it’d be worthwhile for them to meet with other customers. To build it, I would say meeting with as many people as you can and kind of getting those customers names.

If you have a customer support team, that would be the first team I would absolutely leverage because they’re the ones that talk to your customers day in and day out. So they know the ones that are the most happy and they know the ones that are kind of on the fence. 

I would meet with sales obviously because they’re gonna know which customers would be the advocates, the ones that would give good feedback. And then product management, product marketing, they will know which customers have the best use cases and they’ll probably have specific customers that they wanna get to know better, that they wanna understand the use case.

I think once you go into a company and they want you to put together a CAB, more than often, they’ll kind of have the names. They’ll kind of have an idea of who they want. It’s kind of your job to figure out, okay, who is really the best ones to have in this room and how big do I want it?

You don’t want your CAB to be a room full of 25 people. You want it pretty small in the beginning, especially when you’re just starting out. Because you want to have the people that are going to give you the best feedback as well as the ones that are going to be willing to be open. 

And I think it’s really important to go in and say, Hey, we want to hear back from you. We want to not only show you a roadmap, but we wanna hear your feedback, the good, the bad and the ugly. Tell us how our products work. Tell us how our product doesn’t work. How is support treating you? What can we be doing better?

I think when you go that way with customers, they’re a lot more open to being on your CAB and sharing their knowledge with you. 

Margot Leong: What I’ve seen is that the goals of having a CAB in the first place also differ not only based off of size and stage, but also based off of the top down, which executive was excited about the idea of a CAB and like, why were they motivated by it? 

 Some are very motivated by the ability to upsell, cross-sell, expand. Some are very motivated by how can we move into a new market? I wanna get feedback. 

I think there’s also some stuff around being even aligned on the goals of the CAB and having some of that in mind, maybe as you are talking to all these stakeholders. When I was doing this previously, is you know, I talked to everybody, all the stakeholders, they all had a different idea of what they were gonna get out of the CAB and they expected you to facilitate that for them, you know? Yeah, I’d just love to know like how you’ve thought about that in the past. 

Amy Pang: Generally how I’ve done it is I present the agenda to them. Obviously you go to them and you say, okay well, what do you wanna learn from these customers? Of course, the executive levels and sales are all gonna be upsell, cross sell, but you hit that completely. They’re gonna be like, okay, what else are they willing to buy? I see they have a million dollars, but they have a million in pipe. What can we do to close? How can we get them to sign on the dotted line?

It’s kind of where you have to go back and say, okay, great. I get it. But you realize that we want to get their feedback. We want to hear back from them. We can’t go into a CAB as a selling tactic, right. We can’t really have sales in there. In my opinion, that’s the wrong way to go in the CABs. 

You really need to go in to your internal teams and say, Hey, the whole point of this is to turn these guys into advocates of ours, to turn them into champions of ours, so that when we need to upsell them, they already have that plan.

And then to do that is really to get them bought into it, get them to know. Okay. I believe in their solution. I believe in their roadmap. Yes, they have these qualities, this product doesn’t work in this way, but they’re fixing it. 

And I think that’s what’s the most important. So go in there with open ears and saying, okay, we wanna hear back from you. What works the best for you? What doesn’t? We’ve presented you numerous different products. Is that kind of what you want? Is that what your industry is hearing? I think that’s where I think customers find the most value.

They don’t wanna go into a CAB to just hear about, okay, you’re gonna launch this product in 18 months. It’s gonna be X, Y, Z price. It’s gonna help you so much in this environment. It should be the other way around. It should be, okay, we’re thinking about launching this product in 18 months. Will this work for you? How else should we be presenting this to you? These are the features and benefits that we see. Does this speak to you? If it doesn’t and this isn’t what you’re looking for, what are you looking for? 

I think within any organization, I’ve been in security, I’ve been telecom, I’ve been in a marketing organization.

It’s always the same, right. Every user, even for ourselves, we’re using databases, we all have, okay, it’s great it works this way, but I really need to work this way. This is how my team can be way more successful. And I think it’s changing that narrative that we are not looking to sell to these guys, but what can we do to support these guys? What can we do to make them successful at their jobs? Because we all wanna be successful, right? We always wanna be good at what we do so that we get noticed from our executive management. And so what do we need to fix for our product? So how do we need to present that product so that our customers are gonna be happy and that we don’t make their day to day hard? 

And I think that’s generally how I like to present CABs, especially internally, I say, let’s do these first couple ones as feedback sessions.

 How I structure the CAB generally is I try to do the feedback session in the beginning and I say, okay, tell us about yourself. How are you utilizing our product? What benefits have you seen? What struggles have you seen? And then again, how have you worked with support? What’s worked for you, what hasn’t worked for you? And I structure the days so that I get the feedback in the beginning and then I present the roadmap at the end.

So that I get that feedback and I meet back with our executive team and I say, okay, this is what we’re hearing. This is what we’re presenting. How can we structure our messaging for what we’re presenting to match what their pain points are? Is this even right? Or should we just completely change it of, Hey, this is what we’re gonna think of launching. It sounds like this might not really meet what you’re doing. What are you really looking for? We hear you’re looking for ABC. Should we restructure the product? Should we change the product a little bit? That’s how CABs can be very beneficial to your internal organization as well as to the customer.

 The reason why I always put the feedback session in the beginning is if you think about it, they’ve all seen your product pitches, right? They’ve seen whatever you’re presenting, unless it’s something specifically brand new that you’re planning to launch at the CAB. More than often, they’ve seen that presentation or they’ve seen a version of that presentation or they’ve heard. Okay. Yeah. The product works this way. So they’ve kind of seen it, right. 

Especially if your sales organization is on it, they’ve already seen what’s in the plan. So the reason why I like to have the feedback session in the beginning is you get that feedback and you can think of, okay this is what we’re thinking. We’re presenting our typical PMM road mapping. This is how we figure it fits for their industries. 

If you go the other way around, then you have that feedback, but then they’re kind of like, okay, well, we told these guys this. Now what? They don’t really have an answer to my question, but if you do the other way, customers just like often for us, if you say, Hey, I did hear this feedback that this isn’t working out for you and you’re kind of looking for this feature. 

So we’re gonna go back as an organization and try to figure out how we can weave this request into what we’re trying to do in the future. Because I think that resonates with the customer more like, okay, you care about what I say and you care about what I’m looking for so that I can see that you’re gonna build this in later on. And I’m excited about that because I know at least you’re hearing me, you got what I’m looking to do. There’s a probability that I might see this. 

That’s how my thinking has always been and I’ve found success in the last couple CABs because customers wanna be heard. I mean, just like everybody else, they wanna be heard. They want you to hear what they’re struggling with and they want you to help fix that, especially as a vendor. 

Margot Leong: The way that I’m maybe understanding this is that basically if you are doing your jobs correctly, in terms of being customer centric, along the way, surveying them, you’ve already taken a lot of that in order to already inform the roadmap. And so basically the idea of having them share the feedback first is structurally useful in the sense that they’re all reiterating to each other or sharing with each other, how they’re thinking about these things, what the feedback is. 

 And so that is valuable, but it’s actually more valuable for them to hear each other and for them to notice the common patterns and themes. So that then when you guys, the next day or whatnot, then share the roadmap, it has aligned to that already because you’ve done all the work already. But the important thing is that their perception is that oh yeah, like it addresses so much of what we all are collectively curious about and need assistance with or care about basically.

Amy Pang: Exactly. And then, especially in CABs, what I witness is, one IT person can say, okay, this is my struggle. I’m trying to implement this, but I’m running into this issue. Sometimes it’s amazing because other people in the CAB will say, oh well, you know what? I ran into that exact same issue. You should actually be utilizing it this way. 

And so they kind of learn from each other. So it’s almost like you don’t have to step in because you have subject matter experts from 15, 20 different organizations and they can learn from each other. And teach each other. So it’s truly a feedback and learning session versus again, just us presenting. 

Death by PowerPoint. They don’t wanna see that. These are C levels or executive levels and they’ve all seen it. All of us have sat in those presentations. We’re like, oh my gosh. I wanted to learn from other people versus just going through slides and how this is gonna work, and this is gonna work. So it’s more beneficial for them. 

Margot Leong: It’s so interesting too, is the value of some of that human connection is if you have, let’s say like a three day CAB, the first day of the CAB, when people like, don’t really know each other. Versus the second day, it’s so different, like the energy is different, the conversations they have are different. And so it’s this amazing thing where it’s not just you presenting to them or you talking to them, it’s that they start talking to each other. And that is just an incredible thing to see. 

 Have you picked up any tricks in order to get customers to feel more comfortable sharing with each other, or to break that ice, because that can always be tough. Maybe some of the people in the room, depending on the chemistry and the makeup is that they tend to be more chatty, but they can also dominate the conversation. And there’s some people that are totally fine one on one, and then they’re quiet as a mouse, like the whole time. 

There’s so much value to be derived from everybody sharing their thoughts and discussing their problems with each other. How do you get customers to feel comfortable as quickly as possible doing that?

Amy Pang: I think it could be anything from like a fun icebreaker to opening up the conversation so that it’s maybe not as technical, but a little bit more personable like, tell us your experience with the product, tell us what led you to the product. So it’s not as scary because it depends on your product, it could be anything from IT guys to security guys to marketing people and they all have completely different personalities. Some are a lot more chatty than others, so it’s opening it up to them.

I think it’s really important to have a good leader in terms of the one that leads the conversation from your vendor side, right. It’s trying to bring people into the conversation that maybe are a little bit more quiet, maybe not as willing to share, or maybe a little bit more shy or doesn’t necessarily want to speak up and giving them that opportunity. 

So really depends. I would say things that maybe are not just vendor specific, but maybe more personable in trying to get them that way. It also really helps that you give a little bit more breaks, introduce everybody to one another. 

It kind is on a case by case basis. I don’t think I have a secret sauce. I think it really depends on the group of people, because I’ve had groups where they’re all really, really talkative. It just keeps going. And I’ve had smaller groups where, they’re a little bit more quiet. It’s having to just pull the knowledge from them and it’s hard. That’s why it’s important as you’re putting together that group, that you have a mix of personalities.

So not just a mix of industries or mix of products or mix of whatever use case you’re trying to do, but you also kind of need that mix of personalities. If you’re meeting with customer success and your account teams, they will tell you, okay, this guy’s kind of shy. Yeah, he’s great. But of course, once you get there, you have no idea what you’re gonna get, so it’s kind of rolling with the punches. 

So once they’re a little bit more quiet, maybe you pull ’em aside during lunch and seeing how are things going? See if there’s a way to open them up and maybe they are just shy and they generally don’t like to speak with the big group of people there. 

Margot Leong: I know that you have actually been on advisory boards yourself. You’ve been on the other side of it. And so I’m curious if that also helped you bring a new level of understanding or is there things that you picked up from other CAB where you’re like, Ooh, like I really like this. I wanna take this in. 

Amy Pang: I think definitely. I think it’s really like once you sat on one and you experienced, okay. I had to sit here for so many hours and it’s making your time valuable. I’ve sat in CABs where it was presentation after presentation, this is what we’re planning do.

 And I’m like, okay, great. You lost me after the first two hours. You’re sitting there for so long, it’s repetitive. And that’s where getting the feedback, getting people talking to one another, getting people to share their thoughts, it really helps open the conversation. 

And some of the things that I’ve learned like being on CABs is it’s also about the networking, right? So it’s about getting to know other people. So having those breaks in between, having something fun that you’re gonna do with other members.

One of the things that I learned was having the cocktail reception at the beginning. I really liked having the cocktail reception before because I got to know people. That gave me a chance to meet not just the vendor people, but other members.

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. I think the funny part is that anything like this where you’ve done an event and then you actually are part of the event, you are the customer, it really does open up a whole new level of maybe sometimes sobering perspective. It’s actually a lot for people to absorb and your human attention span can only last so long. You do glaze over at a certain point in time. And so I do think mixing it up is really important. 

Amy Pang: It’s also staying respectful of the customer, right. One of the things I did at one of my companies is I actually had break rooms because we know they’re still managing their team. They’re still working. They’ve taken time out of their work week, but they still have to actively work if something happens. 

So I found that something customers really appreciated was having a room for them. So if they needed to all of a sudden deal with the fire drill, all of a sudden, a bunch of emails are coming in so they have to take care of it. They appreciated that, right? Because we thought about that of, Hey, if you need to work, here are these three conference rooms. You guys could take your laptop in. If you need to take care of something, no big deal. Take that time out if you need. You’re thinking about them first.

Margot Leong: Yeah, absolutely. And I think, I think that there’s sort of two ways to approach CABs. And I think there’s like the first tier, and then there’s like a second tier. The first tier is you approach everything with, what can you do for me. What can you as a customer do for me as the company, which is why I’m gathering all of you in this room for three days or whatever. 

And then the second level is what can I do for you? And so that’s a whole different way to look at it, which is whatever I can do for you ultimately ends up benefiting me. It sounds very simple, but it’s actually a very different way of looking at it. And I do think that internally there are egos that you probably have to also manage, right? 

Even just my own experiences, some people or some executives are very used to, okay, I’m the star of the show now. Yes. Alright. Like I have this beautiful presentation. There’s the roadmap and the vision, you know? And going back to you as the person running this show has to come in with a very strong point of view is massive because it can be easily derailed if you don’t have a very strong point of view on this. 

Amy Pang: It’s so funny you said that because when I start planning these, that’s the first thing I tell my executives or the people that are gonna present. I say, you’re not the main speaker. If a customer starts talking, you let them talk. They own the floor. The whole CAB shouldn’t be just us talking. It should be them talking. It should be majority of the time them giving us feedback, giving us their thoughts, telling us what they think.

And we chime in as they ask. We don’t want it to be just us. If you’re talking too much, then that’s an issue because you should be asking them questions as you’re presenting, Hey, what are your thoughts on this? I just presented this great new feature we’re planning to do in the next six months, get their feedback then. Don’t just keep going, but take those breaks and get their feedback. 

Margot Leong: Yeah, and I think that’s partly why having a great facilitator is so important because there’s a lot that you can miss if you just keep barreling on, if you’re not always taking those check-ins or breaks to be like, okay what do you think about this? Or this person who’s maybe been quiet, do you have any thoughts? Just constantly having that curiosity and making sure that you are recording that because the thing about having an event like this is that it’s also part of your brand. 

You’re getting very important customers in a room, also ties back to your brand perception in terms of all of these little things. They’re all picking up on the signals and they can tell pretty quickly whether you’re the level one type of company or you’re like a level two kind of company.

Amy Pang: Exactly. Customers can tell right away. And I think as a facilitator, you almost have to be brave enough that okay, if you have executive person up there rambling on. Maybe we’re talking a little bit too much. Let’s hear what they have to say. And let’s have them ask a couple questions. It’s a conversation versus a presentation. 

Margot Leong: How do you think about measuring the success of the CAB? There’s a few different ways to maybe think about it. Maybe there’s also like the specific ROI metrics around upsell, cross sell expansion, blah, blah, blah, blah. But I’m more curious, how does your team think about success in terms of the things that we have just been talking about? Do we really care and has that been conveyed to customers? But yeah. I’m curious how you guys think about success. 

Amy Pang: I think really it’s the feedback we get. Did we hear from everyone? Did we get the information we needed from those customers? Do we actually grow that relationship? That person has flown all the way here. They’ve spent two and a half days or three days with you. Did we get a chance to build that relationship? Not just from us as an organization, but as a customer marketing team, did we grow that relationship with that person? Do we think we can actually go to this person for references, for case studies, for analyst stuff, PR stuff?

And did we give that customer what they wanted? They attended this because we found out they’re dealing with this issue. Did we fix that issue for them? What else do we have to do that they ask us for, and taking those notes and taking those takeaways. 

Margot Leong: Do you get pretty rigorous about recording that somewhere where it’s okay, these questions align to these customers. Did we move the needle on any of these areas? 

Amy Pang: Definitely try my best and take as many as notes as you can. You try to get as much information as you can. And I think what helps is having other people in the room, taking notes or note takers, or trying to get as much as you can and recording it all. 

Margot Leong: Amy, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. 

Amy Pang: Thank you, Margot I did, thank you so much.

Thanks for tuning into this episode of Beating The Drum. For more interviews with advocacy leaders and tips on creating customers that will sing your praises, head on over to our website, If you enjoyed today’s show, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to rate and review us. If you know someone that would be a great fit for the show, I would love to hear about it. You can reach out at Take care, everybody. 



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