Evidence abounds about the power of listening to your customers, and as we talk about frequently on this blog, Client Advisory Boards are an excellent tool to unlock and engage your strategic clients around their advice and ideas. But as most companies who implement an Advisory Board find out at some point or another, as careful as you have been in recruiting and building a Board, not all great clients make great advisors. So what happens when you have a dud?
Analyze why it’s not working
The first step is to understand the exact nature of the problem, to help determine how drastic a move you need to make. Is it a question of peer mismatch – too junior or senior for the rest of the group – and they just don’t fit in? Or is it that they really don’t want to be asked to help you build your business? In both of these cases, they likely want off as well. It may be that they are simply unsure of their ability to help, where coaching or offline discussion to bring them up to speed could make the difference. If someone is disruptive or has a chip on their shoulder, it is an opportunity to have an offline conversation to find out why, but there is no reason to subject others on the Board to such behavior.
Use the resources you have to do the research on the client, but the bottom line is – find out if it is serious or fixable and move on to the solution.
Fall back on your charter
The reason we create charters for the Client Advisory Boards we run is they provide guidelines and alignment about expectations and requirements to participate. Setting clear expectations around meeting attendance, input calls and other aspects of the role can make a difficult conversation easier. Pointing to a charter and reminding them of their original agreement is a lot easier than saying “you are fired” to a client.
Enlist others to develop an exit path
The sales leads or client reps in your company can be important allies in assessing the problem, and tactfully developing a solution. They can sometimes play an intermediary role in suggesting that someone else in the client company may be better suited to sitting on the Board, or in helping to relieve them of this burden on their important time.
In our work as facilitators for companies’ Client Advisory Boards, we often play this role. This allows our clients to maintain their relationship with the client and puts us in the role of Board manager. It helps our clients’ executive sponsors of the Board distance themselves from the confrontation, and can often help their client to walk away happy.
Decide quickly…but act with care
Whatever the problem, don’t let it linger and fester without a decision. It is too disruptive and too much of a waste of everyone’s valuable time. But that does not necessarily mean act in haste. Once you have the plan set, carefully lay out the steps. Sometimes these things take care of themselves once put gently into motion and the client has time to think through their own options. Sometimes external events take over and the problem gets removed for you. If you can create an opportunity that saves face or eases the transition, do it – your clients will still love you, even if they are off the Board. Even if it is clear at the start that your client is a dud, if you thoughtfully plan the exit it will cease to be a problem quicker than you think.
And don’t worry…you did the right thing
Even though it can take time, resources and some emotional energy, in the end it is right to remove those clients who don’t make good advisors. It may seem easier sometimes to indefinitely ignore the problem, but ultimately they will thank you – and so will all the other members on the Board.