Advisor Insights with Dean Lindsay

Advisor Insights

Published 21 October 2022

London-based customer marketing guru Dean Lindsay is laser-focused on putting customers’ stories at the forefront of an organisation’s loyalty, retention, and growth strategies – and with great success. Having first forayed into customer service twelve years ago, Dean’s passion for listening to the customer to ensure a business is on the right path has evolved from creating loyalty campaigns to leading organisations’ complete marketing strategies.

Through driving customer advocacy and lifetime value, utilising reviews as a social proofing mechanism, and improving the overall customer experience in the B2B SaaS, technology and telecommunications industries, Dean’s unique and comprehensive experience has enabled him to plan and execute high-performing multi-channel marketing campaigns. But he hasn’t stopped there! Dean has for many years now utilised regular customer and merchant customer advisory board sessions to give organisations key customer insights, so organisations can shape future business strategy, approach, and product direction.

In this Advisor Insights interview with Advisory Board Centre’s Founder and CEO, Louise Broekman, Dean discusses how his enthusiasm to stay on the pulse of improving business performance has seen customer advisory boards become a crucial element of his profession. With several boards under his belt now for various organisations, Dean has mastered how to maintain the independence of members and a fit-for-purpose focus, which is akin to our own best practice methodology.

With customer centricity being a key buzzword now and something that organisations are trying to do, a customer advisory board is a fantastic way to get in front of your customers and learn from them on a consistent basis.


The Advisor Insights series are unfiltered conversations giving you a lens into real people and real businesses within the Advisor ecosystem.

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Louise Broekman: Hi, my name’s Louise Broekman. I’m the founder and CEO of the Advisory Board Center, and I’m here with Dean Lindsey as my guest. Welcome, Dean.

Dean Lindsay: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Louise Broekman: Yeah, it’s great to have you here. Now Dean is the senior manager for product marketing for (Dean has since moved on from this role). Dean, I had the absolute privilege and surprise to be able to see this great article that you published in June 2022 on your customer advisory boards. And so thank you so much for writing that article. It really prompted me to reach out to you and hear the good work that you’ve been doing.

Dean Lindsay: Happy you enjoyed it.

Louise Broekman: And so now today I want to get the backstory to your article which was really refreshing to see you know, a market trend that we hear a lot about, but actually people that are, that are doing it out there in market all the time. And I’m looking forward to hearing more about that story. Before we do that though, Dean, do you mind sharing with all of us a bit about your background to start with?

Dean Lindsay: I guess I’ve always been close to working with customers for about the last 12 years. So around 12 years ago taking calls from customers in a call centre that we call calling up counsel, their broadband having to deal with some challenging customers and your broadbands down customers aren’t so happy. And worked, worked up from being a supervisor and then to a team manager. And then I guess that’s where me being close to the customer sort of began. From there, I transitioned into marketing for EE where I worked on loyalty campaigns to keep customers and cross-sell campaigns. And then after that, I moved to QuickBooks where I launched my first customer advisory board with their customers there. Then left there to work for a company called Eight by Eight in the unified communications sphere and launched their first customer advisory council there. And then now I’m at I’ve launched our first customer advisory board.

Louise Broekman: Terrific. It must be a strategy that really works for you to be implementing it now across three organisations. In your roles, in the experience with customer advisory boards, how have they worked and maybe why did you set up your first one to get close to your customers?

Dean Lindsay: I think it’s important to get in front of them, and I think if you have a core group of say, 12 to 15 customers that are your go-to customers for better testing mock to messaging to show your product roadmap and just to ensure that you are on the right path in terms of meeting their aspirations, I think customer advisory boards are a great way to do that. With customer centricity being a key buzzword now and something that organisations are trying to do, a customer advisory board is a fantastic way to get in front of your customers and learn from them on a consistent basis.

Louise Broekman: And when you establish a customer advisory board Dean you have about 10 to 12 customers around the table. Do you meet with them regularly or do you hand-pick them each time? How does that work for you?

Dean Lindsay: So what I’ve found is that usually I think 10 to 12 is about the right number. You would want 10 to 12 in the room every time you meet. So I would suggest to try and have a number of around about 15 to where your go-to people and for one reason or another, people won’t be able to make each session. And in terms of how often – I would suggest we meet on a quarterly basis. So I would suggest almost picking your 12 to 15 and trying to get a commitment from them for a year in terms of meeting on a quarterly basis getting them for a year. And I would suggest as well mixing it between in-person and virtual. What I usually find works well is the first being a kickoff in person, and then three months later I’m meeting virtually and then the next quarter virtually again and again. And then after that you can either get their commitment again or refresh that and go to 12 to 15 more, you know people can leave organisations so on and so forth. And I think it is good to refresh that after that 12 months, but that seems to have worked really well.

Louise Broekman: And Dean, do you pay those advisory board members who are your customers? Or is it more about a customer and loyalty type program that you have?

Dean Lindsay: Yeah, it’s more of a customer and loyalty program. I guess it’s the mutual benefits is that what they really find useful is meet with like-minded peers in either similar industries or different industries which have similar job titles that are going through the same challenges as well, so they can learn from each other. And then they also sort of get a, a for leadership sort of piece from each other. So they really take a lot from that. They also take a lot from learning where our organization is going in terms of our roadmap what we’re aspiring to do, what we’re looking to achieve, and to ensure it’s in line with their goals so that when they’ve got key projects coming up, they can see that it’s aligned with what we are doing. And it’s a real good way to, I guess, build that relationship and build that loyalty of your customers.

Louise Broekman: That’s great. And how long do the meetings normally last for Dave?

Dean Lindsay: So virtual can be anything from usually about two hours. The face to face, depending on how you want to set it up could be across one day or two days if you’re doing a face to face right. There are advantage and disadvantages with both. I think across a two day, which we did when we launched at Checkout. I think the real success with it is you get to learn from your customers that little bit more. So on day one we did round table introductions, questions such as what keeps you up at night? Learn a little bit more about them personally and about the challenges they face. And then day two was getting into sessions such as product roadmap supporting your success future of payments. And these sessions were also in terms of the topics we got there, buying and input by having, you know, introductory calls months in advance to find out what they would want to speak about, what’s close to them, because you want to ensure that the topics of interest to them are of benefit to them and are useful.

And it also gives them an opportunity to speak to our executive team. So they, they met with our leadership team and had some quality time with them in terms of, you know, getting into that little bit more detail when it comes to questions as well.

Louise Broekman: And in that process have you had any success stories or real surprises that have come from your customers going: “That’s a great idea,”, and something that’s actually informed your strategy?

Dean Lindsay: Yes. So I guess when, when showing them what’s coming down the line in our product roadmap in terms of what we’re looking to aim and achieve, that was really positive. And to see customers sort of really get engaged and get excited about what we have coming down the line. So that was, I guess the most beneficial session probably just to ensure that you know, we’re on the right path and it’s a path that aligns with them.

Louise Broekman: Yeah. Getting feedback and I guess capturing all that information, if it’s a two day meeting that’s a long meeting that, that you’ve got a great opportunity to really build those relationships, deeper relationships with clients too. How do you capture their feedback, Dean? What kind of mechanisms do you use?

Dean Lindsay: So what I would suggest is to try and get their buy-in in terms of a transcribing tool. If you can you know, notes taken throughout the day, so I suggest to have people as well taking notes in the background if you can. They’re transcribing tools such as and some others whereby you’ll be able to transcribe from a platform such as Zoom and be able to really get that verbatim from customers. I’d suggest if you can, to do that and advise your customers that it’s for transcribed use only, will only be held internally for notes. Cause I think that way you can really get that, that those sort of moments of magic and those real sort of insightful comments word for word, which can really aid and influence what you’re doing. And even as a step two process you can use that to feed into your sort of marketing language as it were. There’s a, there’s a lot of research tools where if you feed in transcribe such as that you start to get, you know, little trends that can really sort of influence what you’re doing as an organization as well.

Louise Broekman: How do you keep the conversation on track, Dean? You know, when you get your customer there, you may have someone who’s not satisfied with a product or a service. How do you, how do you manage that because you’ve got other customers there at the same time?

Dean Lindsay: So I guess when you are planning these sessions, I think you have to be prepared for that. And I think what’s important is, is that you, you do listen and take these on board. I think an important part of setting these up is that you’re taking the, the bad as well as the good, you know, the bad feedback you can learn from even more. So I would suggest to listen to them, make sure that they, that they have been heard. You do have those conversations you answer their questions there and then, but I think it would have to be something that would be taken offline as well as good feedback as well in terms of follow up and next steps. But I think it’s important that you then hand out over to the relevant people, such as the customer success manager or the account manager.

I have your set up at your organisation to follow up with that as well as the relevant other key stakes such as the product managers or the engineers that you’re going to need to be supportive to resolve those issues. It’s important to get those customers on board. But I think as well to, to avoid challenging situations in a group setting as much as possible, I think it’s important to have those exploratory calls only take about 15, 20 minutes when you’ve sort of invited them, giving them an overview of what, what you, what you’re looking to do, what you’re looking to learn, what you’re looking to learn from them, what the benefits are to them as a customer, is to ensure that they, you are listening to them, to, you know, to see any challenges that they may have from the outset. So you can actually get ahead of them rather than them appearing on the day. You know, you should be engaging with the CSMs, really learning about the account, what challenges they’re facing, what’s gone great, what’s gone, not so great, all those sort of things so that there’s no surprises and you’re prepared for such answers.

Louise Broekman: And it’s also being respectful of them and their input, isn’t it, by knowing your customer and why they’re there. Yeah. and what kind of follow up after you’ve had like a Zoom meeting or the two day meeting, what kind of follow up do you do with that? Because I think it’s interesting when people sit on advisory board saying, Well, I gave them the feedback, but no one listened to me. So how, how do you, how do you manage that?

Dean Lindsay: I think it’s, it’s important to capture everything in terms of when you get the certain challenges customers are facing to capture that and to ensure that you’re having follow up with them. So, you know, following the session you know, you’d have a, a thank you email, next steps in a, you know, a group email and then individually catching up with everyone via yourself directly, whoever’s leading on the customer advisory board or similarly through your CSMs or account manage account managers. And I think it’s just, I think the one thing the most important thing is to keep the conversation going, to keep that communication going, whether it be via email, via Slack channel which is something that can work well or a LinkedIn group I guess however you’re wanting to keep that conversation going or, you know, an email group, which we also have for our customer advisory board to be able just to keep that conversation going through their preferred channels as well.

Louise Broekman: That’s terrific. And I guess you know, for you being doing this for, for quite a while, Dean, what tips would you give to others, both executives and advisory board professionals around, you know, establishing a customer advisory board?

Dean Lindsay: I’d say speak to key stakeholders in your eating within the organization as to what you’re wanting to do, why you’re wanting to do it. And I think from those conversations, you can then really have a think about what type of customers are you wanting to be part of your board. So in terms of industry I’d suggest to have a wide range in industries to try not to have too many of one.

So I’d say you, you’d want to definitely speak internally in terms of what industries you’re wanting. I’d also say in terms of the consistency how often you want to meet in terms of quarterly I would say to, to have that cadence. What’s important about these is that it’s not a, it’s not a one and done strategy. You need to meet with them on consistent basis. I’d also say to make sure that you understand that your customers time and your customers, you know, are precious, and you need to be really mindful of that. So for example, although we have the two day session, you know, we did provide hotel a very nice dinner, which was an on the after day one, which was a really nice way to sort of informally, you know, have conversations then lead into day two and also make sure that you’re surprising and delight.

And so although we didn’t you know, we didn’t pay them, you know, there are ways we did give some nice gifts in terms of making them part of the, the, the customer advisory board and making it giving them that sort of, that sort of moment of feeling. I’m special in terms of a customer of yours. And I think another important one is, is to listen and really actively listen. I think you need to do this as a way of listening to your customers, not as a way to presenting information to your customers. I think it’s really important that you really think in that way as well. It’s their time to really sort of discuss and air views. And I think when you come with that approach, I think you really, really get a lot more from it.

Louise Broekman: Dean, if you were to say the ratio of speaking versus listening to the customer, what would be the percentage breakdown out of a hundred percent for both of those?

Dean Lindsay: I’d say about 40% speaking, 60% listening, and maybe even as low as 33% speaking. As an organisation and six, 6% listening, I think you need to sort of be there. Cause I think that’s where you really get, you know, the best moments.

Louise Broekman: But that takes discipline and preparation to do that, isn’t it?

Dean Lindsay: It does. And I think, you know, in terms of your sessions and, and organizing that, I think that the way you sort of frame it is almost having, you know, those raw insightful questions and quite open-ended questions to lead your customers into conversation, you know, then responding, you know, can you go into a little bit more detail then that questions like that are really helpful to get that little bit more, that sort of, I guess, that little more layer of detail from your customers as well.

Louise Broekman: No, that’s that’s terrific. Dean. I really appreciate you sharing your knowledge with the advisory board global community. Thank you for doing that and I look forward to staying in touch too. So on your constant journey of doing these customer feedback has become more and more important, hasn’t it, in the customer journey?

Dean Lindsay: It really has. And I think this is a really great way to get more detail from feedback. You know, NPS surveys are very, very important. You know, discussions that CSMs have or account managers have with customers are very, very important. But I think this is a great way to get a little bit more detail on your feedback. And, and I think it’s a really important thing to then feed back into the businesses, well, to learn, change, adapt, and I guess be aware of what challenges your customers are facing to be able to ensure that you are reacting in an appropriate way.

Louise Broekman: So we have a best practice framework Dean, which is around five key principles of an advisory board, having clarity of scope, having, you know, very simple robust structures and disciplines, measuring the impact of, of what you’re doing. Having someone that’s independent, making sure that the members of the advisory board are independent of each other but also ensuring it’s fit for purpose. So you’ve demonstrated all of those best practice principles and the way that you’ve done that. So, so good on you for implementing best practice and just doing it because it’s a good strategy. So well done.

Dean Lindsay: Thank you. That’s good to hear. I’m happy that those things aligned with you.

Louise Broekman: Absolutely. Thank you Dean, very much for taking the time.

Dean Lindsay: Thank you. Thanks a lot for having me again. Appreciate it