Why Advisory Boards Are a Successful SaaS Vendor’s Secret Weapon

If you’re an executive at a young, growing SaaS vendor, Louise Broekman’s story may sound familiar.

Some time back, the startup she headed—a networking service for HR and business professionals at SMBs—was growing fast in a huge, underserved market and poised for global takeoff. The clearer that opportunity became, though, the less sure Broekman was that a newcomer to entrepreneurship like herself could realize it on her own.

“I was making decisions as a business owner in a bubble,” she recalls. “I needed good quality people around me so that I could really road test my thinking.”

Filling an expensive C-suite with industry veterans wasn’t an option, though, and ceding control to equity investors held no appeal. So Broekman came up with a third alternative that proved to be nothing short of “life changing”: she formed an advisory board of independent outside experts. With its assistance, she grew her business to 135 offices in eight countries within five years.

“When you do it and you do it well, it’s incredibly impactful,” she says of working with advisory boards.

So impactful, in fact, that Broekman went on to create the Advisory Board Centre, a global professional association dedicated to helping the potential beneficiaries of advisory boards identify certified expert chairpersons to launch and operate them.

Those potential beneficiaries most definitely include you if you lead a SaaS vendor. Advisory boards cost way less than big-time business consultants, Broekman notes, and unlike a PE firm, they have only as much sway over company decision-making as you give them.

In contrast with the informally designed and haphazardly managed partner advisory councils most vendors have, furthermore, boards led by Broekman’s associates have clearly defined goals, carefully vetted members, and disciplined operating processes, resulting in greater impact and higher ROI.

“It’s about having structure and discipline and measurement, which is all around process and people,” Broekman explains. “When you get that right, everything else will follow.”

Most vendors have no one on staff with the know-how to run a board properly, however, and don’t know who best to put in charge of that task. “It bounces from the sales organization to the marketing organization, and these folks typically have full-time jobs,” observes Annette Taber, who led ten boards across 13 years at CompTIA before becoming founder and CEO of BoardSWAP, a channel-focused consultancy that helps businesses build, govern, and operate world-class advisory boards.

These days, Taber emphasizes, advisory boards come in more shapes and sizes than most companies realize. Some are ongoing, for example, and others temporary. Some guide executive teams on growth strategies, while others address specific projects like launching a partner community, revising a partner program, or expanding internationally. Indeed, per Advisory Board Centre data, 53% of newly formed boards are project-specific currently.

“Instead of being about the strategy, it’s about a strategy,” Broekman notes.

The product-focused partner advisory councils most familiar among vendors remain popular too, she continues, and for good reason. Successful software makers know that the surest way to build an engaged, revenue-generating channel is to give partners a voice in roadmap and portfolio planning.

“It just makes really good sense within any SaaS-based business to have a stakeholder-led strategy,” Broekman says. “It’s not just a good thing to have. I think it’ll be a necessary thing to have in the future.” Interested in putting the power of advisory boards to work for your business? Channel Mastered, through an alliance agreement with BoardSWAP, stands ready to help.

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