The success and value of your advisory board experience is heavily influenced by who sits around the table providing you feedback.
The client advisory board is the most powerful tool I know for soliciting valuable, actionable feedback to help you improve your client experience.
The kind of experience your best clients will want to tell their friends about and turn into referrals. And to get the clearest, most focused guidance you will need to carefully compose the group.
Here are eight pointers to put together the best possible group:
1. Clients in your target market
when I am working with an advisor on assembling a new board, before I start making suggestions I will usually ask “who do you think you would like to have in the group?” A fairly common response is “a representative sample of my clients.” But I don’t see this as ideal. You can get clearer, more consistent feedback from a group comprised of specifically the kinds of clients you would like to attract. Who from your client base would you most like to clone? Bringing together clients of different descriptions, who look to you for different things makes the feedback muddled and confused. What they tell you can be hard to interpret or hard to translate into specific changes or improvements. Or you may get different board members wanting very different things. If you can put together a group with profiles who are consistent from the perspective of what they most value from you, you can get a richer, deeper conversation and better guidance.
2. Prospects in your ideal market
Most client advisory boards are made up mostly clients, but you don’t necessarily have to limit it to that. In some cases, let’s say you are trying to open up a new market or make better penetration into a market that a minority of your clients come from, you can invite people from that profile even if they are not currently clients. I have facilitated several groups composed entirely of representatives of a target market and even centers of influence who were not clients. There are a few special considerations to keep in mind when you extend the invitation to participate. But that outsider’s perspective can be surprisingly valuable.
3. Biggest is not always best
You will probably want your biggest clients on your advisory board and most of my clients’ boards include some of their biggest clients. Many (maybe most) advisors can think of one or two of their larger clients that just don’t fit the mold of most of their clients or the clients they most want to attract. You are better off without those clients on your board.
4. Choose clients who utilize the full range of your services
If you define your value proposition by specific services or as a collection of services (if you are tempted to use the words “comprehensive” or “holistic” in describing what you do) choose clients who utilize those services. This most frequently comes up when an advisor who does financial planning thinks about inviting an “investment only” client on to their advisory board. Clients who do not take advantage of what you consider your flagship services or those services that you think differentiate you from other financial advisors are not in a position to give you quality feedback about those services. They will also likely not provide you referrals of people who seek those special services. Even if they have ideas about it, they clearly do not value it. They are not credible sources of guidance on how to improve those services. (The one potential exception to this might be clients who indicated they would use the service provided a few aspects of it were changed.) Put the emphasis on clients who come to you for the kind of work you believe makes you special.
5. Clients who have had a bump in the relationship
Who do you think are your most loyal clients and most likely to refer you? It is not usually the ones where everything has always gone well. You might be surprised, but the most loyal clients are often the ones who, at some point, had a problem that you addressed promptly and resolved satisfactorily. And what better way to demonstrate your commitment to making sure that things consistently improve than to invite those clients onto your advisory board? Having board members who have had to express a concern to you also help get the right culture going within your board. You want people who can speak to some of the defects and blemishes in your service. The most value you can realize from your client advisory board experience comes from identifying something that can be improved for the better. Solicit participation from people for whom you had to fix something.
6. Centers of influence
Many of the advisors I work with invite a center of influence on to their board. One advantage is that (assuming they have referred clients to you) they can represent the perspective of several (or even many) clients. This effectively multiplies the feedback you can get. Another is that they get to hear firsthand how much other ideal clients love you and the service you provide. The ultimate outcome you probably seek from having an advisory board is an increase in referrals, and a center of influence is in a much better position to be a source of referrals than a client. Clients occasionally hear their friends say things that might trigger them to refer you. An accountant or attorney probably meets with people who would make great clients on a regular basis. They can also share ideas and strategies that have been effective with clients like yours from their own experience.
7. Think broadly about centers of influence
Accountants and attorneys are the obvious candidates but who else is influential in the community of your target market? If you want to do more work with physicians, how about the chair of the local medical society or a dean from the local medical school? If you focus on employees of a local university, why not consider an executive from their HR or benefits office? If you can think of someone you might like to network with, they might be a candidate.
We know that some clients refer more prolifically than others. There are just some people who like to get other people together. They like to find solutions and resources for practically anyone they meet. Provided they are in your target markets community (and I mean that culturally rather than geographically) they can be a great addition to your board.
If you are thinking about putting together your client advisory board, who would be the top 10 people you would most want to participate? If you currently have a board, how many of these categories above are represented? Fine tune the membership of your board, and you can derive significantly more value.
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