How do you get your Customer Advisory Board (CAB) members to give you relevant feedback on a new product concept they haven’t seen before? This is a great question. Sometimes companies want to test new product concepts with their CAB. But if customers haven’t seen or used the product yet, how should this subject be tackled?

The answer is to focus on customer pain points, priorities, and business problems. Don’t worry about product features. The best approach is to structure a discussion in the following way:

1. Highlight the customer’s problem, not the product. State a business hypothesis related to a customer problem or pain point that your new product addresses. (However, don’t unveil your new product yet). Confirm that how you see the customer problem is in fact the way the customers view the problem. If you are out of sync here, your product won’t make sense to them.

2. Ask questions about how they are solving the problem today. Since they don’t have your product yet, it might be interesting to learn what alternatives they are using. And sometimes the competitive alternative is “doing nothing.” Ask customers to share their business priorities and criteria for solving these problems or issues.

3. Tell a story about a (real or hypothetical) customer use-case as you now unveil your new product concept. But, do not turn this into a sales pitch! Only with a confirmed understanding of the customer problem should you share your solution. Tell a customer use-case story. Do not dive into the features. And do not sell. Customers hate sales pitches in the CAB context. Ask the right questions. It’s not about “will you buy this new widget?” Instead, ask customers to provide input and feedback that will help you shape the solution concept and the likelihood that it will successfully address the customer problem or pain point. It is also appropriate to ask customers if they’d be interested in being a beta customer. That’s an effective way to close the discussion.

CABs are strategy-level focus groups. They are not meant to be product focus groups where actual users critique the details of your user product or service.  (You’ll need and want that feedback, but the CAB is the wrong setting, and the wrong audience, for that detailed conversation.) However, these CAB members are champions for your strategy and products. They want you to succeed because their personal success is often tied to your company’s success. Use the CAB meeting to confirm your value proposition and ask for guidance. Carefully crafting an agenda and directing the conversation in this way leads to some insights and perspective that would not be captured in a typical focus-group discussion of users. It’s an often missed perspective in the broader “voice of the customer” analysis.

What to read next: The perfect Customer Advisory Board agenda

What to read next: The differences between CABs and Product Focus Groups

For more information on agenda topics and customer engagement techniques, please see The Flipchart Guide to Customer Advisory Boards, Volume 2: How to execute a world-class CAB meeting.

Mike Gospe is a professional CAB facilitator.

With a specialty in CABs, Mike Gospe is a professional facilitator with more than 15 years of CAB experience. He’s helped some of today’s most innovative companies deliver more than 100 world-class CAB meetings. He leads KickStart Alliance‘s CAB practice. Contact Mike