I’ve been involved in client or customer advisory boards for almost thirty years. Every time I get involved with one I’m amazed at how much value they bring to the party.
I often will read that advisory boards don’t work. When I read that I’m confused. Every advisory board I’ve been involved with has been extraordinarily useful for both the firm that sponsored the event as well as the participants.
What is a client advisory board?
Let’s start with what an advisory board is. A client advisory board is a group of clients who get together periodically to help you think about your firm’s client experience. Your board will be a cross section of the type of clients that you most want to work with. You might have people on your board who are experienced clients, new clients and even some that aren’t clients yet.
The key with an advisory board is having some diversity. You don’t want to have all people who will just say wonderful things about what you do. You’ll want someone who is going to start the conversation; someone who is going to allow others to say what they really think. I call this person the resident curmudgeon. Once this person gets involved in the conversation you’ll see better ideas than when everyone is trying to be nice.
What rules are there?
Like all well run organizations, there are best practices for running a successful advisory board. Here are ten rules I like.
1. Have a professional facilitator run the meeting. It takes skill running a good advisory board and you’ll want someone who knows what they’re doing.
2. Make sure you’re clear about what you want to accomplish at the meeting.
3. Make sure that all attendees’ only talk about what they personally would like to see and buy from your firm. Too often participants in advisory boards will talk about what others would want. You have to discount anything that’s said in that manner. You only want what the individual participants are interested in.
4. Your advisory board is going to help you understand what will make them happier clients. Your advisory board is not meant to help you solve business problems. They’re to help you understand what will delight your clients. Keep the conversation focused on that and you’ll have lots of success.
5. Have an agenda and updates sent to your board. The more information you provide for your board the more engaged and involved they’ll be in making your firm a priority of theirs. Your board members are busy people they have other places they could be. Providing them with ongoing information will help them stay more engaged in helping you create a better firm.
6. Hold your meetings two times per year. This time frame is enough to keep people involved and not too much to be a major time drag for your board members. You won’t be paying board members so you want to be aware of the gift they’re giving your firm.
7. Don’t hide when things are going poorly. There are times you might not want to share information about problems you’re having in your firm. This is the time you have to be brave and share lots of information. The more transparent you are to your board, the more they’ll trust you and the more they’ll help your firm succeed.
8. You’ll want to rotate membership of your board over a 3-year period. That way you’re continually getting fresh ideas and allowing a broader group of clients the ability to participate. You’ll find that as years go on your clients will want to be on your board. They’ll see it as an honor.
9. Be honest with your board. Yes, I’m repeating myself. If you’re honest and tell them what you think you’ll find that your board members will reciprocate. Remember, your board members really want your firm to succeed. They aren’t there to make your business worse. Just by saying yes to be on your board your members will become more vested in your success.
10. Say thank you in meaningful ways. Make sure you show your appreciation for board participation. As board members leave and their terms are over find a way that each person will appreciate for their service on your board.
What should I expect from my board?
You’ll find that your board will become your biggest supporters. Although you’ll never ask, you’ll find that board members will provide you with some of the best introductions to new clients. They’ll actively work for your firm’s success.
If you have people only speak from their experience you’ll pick up really important ideas about what will delight your clients. You’ll start to see common issues that your best clients have. You’ll start to hear about new services your clients will value.
Make sure you focus your board on what will improve their client experience. The value you’ll get will be much more than the cost and effort.