Client Advisory Boards….What I Wish I Knew Then

Client Advisory Boards are a proven vehicle for engagement and co-creation, but getting one off the ground is always a learning experience.  In this occasional series, we will share some of the lessons our own clients have shared with us as they have gone through the process of building and maintaining an Advisory Board or Council of their own.

Here are three “ah-has” we recently heard to incorporate in your own planning.

I didn’t know recruiting would take so long!
In their enthusiasm to launch a Client Advisory Council, many of the companies we work with initially set an aggressive schedule to get to their first meeting.  They are anxious to engage with clients and start reaping the benefits of collaboration and don’t want to delay.  At the same time, we find the biggest hurdle to a quick start is identifying and recruiting the right members.  There are a number of reasons this can be a challenge (read more here on that), but we have seen it take anywhere from three to as many as eight months to get enough members on board for a strong first meeting.  After rescheduling the initial meeting date to provide more recruiting runway, one client admitted his surprise in just how hard it was to get traction—he had expected it to be much easier given how many clients they have, and how much their own client teams talk about wanting more ways to engage.

Now I understand why less content is more!
One of the challenges in helping our clients prepare for an Advisory Board meeting is helping them to understand the kind of content that works best in and Advisory Board setting.  It is very hard to break the habit of reusing existing content, or creating long decks that carefully detail all the facets of their thinking, rather than presenting highlights to drive discussion.  We recently had a breakthrough with one leader, who after the fourth meeting where the group only got as far as Slide 2 on his deck, and the clients gave him more strong feedback about tailoring his story, said “ok, I finally believe you that I need to get crisper and focus more directly on where and how to get advice.” (Read more on the content trap.)

I didn’t realize just how much the clients would value their participation!
One client confessed after the first two meetings that she had been losing sleep since deciding to launch an Advisory Council because she just did not believe their clients would get value from the Council too.  It was very clear what was in it for her company—insights and great advice on how to evolve and shape their strategy; honest and open feedback about the business; and line of sight into what their most valuable clients cared about.  She was very surprised to learn after hearing the feedback from the two meetings just how much the clients liked the peer connections and valued access to other executives (her own executive team and the other clients) who share their challenges and perspectives.  (For more on this, read about the Power of the Peer.)

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