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The pandemic has rapidly increased the pace at which companies must evolve to serve their customers, but as the world goes digital, it has also become harder to anticipate changing needs.

In order to design, build and maintain a product that meets changing customer demands, companies need a mechanism that provides unbiased insights from people that represent them.

By design, product advisory councils (PACs) are an invaluable tool that can provide direct access to the expectations of your customers. Once established, a good PAC will provide valuable perspectives on how to solve problems for a broader, evolving market while putting a real face and name to your customer personas, helping your teams feel more connected and motivated to provide tangible value.

There are a number of ways a PAC can influence your business decisions, but most importantly, they will help you prioritize features that have the most value to your customers and help position those features using the same language your customers use. And they can inform future content development by uncovering opportunities you might not have thought to explore.

Here are seven steps to help you set up a PAC and the steps for implementing them:

Define the goals of your PAC

First and foremost, define and align your goals for the PAC. These should be unique to your business, taking into account your industry, customers and goals.

It’s important to think about what you can offer the PAC members to keep them engaged considering your budget, time constraints and your team’s bandwidth.

A good place to start is to ask yourself how you want to grow. For example, you might want to expand beyond your current target customer. To do that successfully, you’ll need to understand how your new customers think. What are their challenges? What are their motivations? What language do they use to describe their work? This will inform the features you want to have to meet the needs of your new customer, as well as how to position the product’s value.

In this case, one of the PAC’s goals should focus on defining and evolving your market opportunity. Clearly defined goals are crucial to helping you decide the kinds of people you want to be represented in the PAC. Consider demographics (age, gender, occupation, location, etc.) as well as psychographics (fears, motivations, influences, etc.).

We implemented a PAC with pretty straightforward goals:

  1. Remain close to our existing customer base to prioritize how our product and marketing should evolve.
  2. Get better at overcoming barriers to purchase by increasing our understanding of buyers and how decisions are made.
  3. Validate and broaden our understanding of our next growth market — the folks we plan on selling to in the future.

At a high level, these goals are valuable because they serve as the inputs needed to inform our product development strategy in both the near and long terms, as well as how we can best communicate the value we want to deliver.

Ensure there is a clear, real value for PAC members who participate

It’s important to think about what you can offer the PAC members to keep them engaged considering your budget, time constraints and your team’s bandwidth. The spectrum for this type of value is wide and can include anything from offering peer networking opportunities to providing exclusive content/training or negotiated discount rates for select member services.

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