Client Advisory Councils: Great Process Will Set You Free…Really.

Many find process to be stifling, that it can be an inhibitor to creativity, that it is time consuming.  Through our work on Customer Advisory Councils we have found the contrary to be true:  process enables, rather than inhibits, a better conversation.

Picture this.  A Customer Advisory Council where members regularly attend meetings and provide valuable insight into market and industry issues; an Advisory Council where the sponsors know the members and their pain points and provide a view into the overall strategy and go-to-market approach of the organization.  What is one of the key differentiators that set this Advisory Council apart from those that flail?  Process.

Below are areas where we find process facilitates – not hinders – progress resulting in the rich, interactive dialogue and reciprocal value that we all seek from an Advisory Council.

  • Process ensures sponsors are well prepared.  Advisory Council meetings are no place to wing it, with high stakes relationships sitting in the room.  A regular cadence of input calls with senior executives of the sponsoring organization ensures that they are in tune with the issues and trends that are top of mind for members, and are also prepared to discuss strategic imperatives that members are interested in getting an early read on.  They arrive at the meeting fully prepared for the right conversation.
  • Process supports dynamic agendas.  Well-designed agendas can make a meeting; loose conversation can break one.  Members want to engage in agendas that are meaningful to them.  Member checkpoints, strategically scheduled before meetings, create opportunities for council members to provide input to agendas, resulting in ownership of the agenda and reciprocal value for both members and the sponsoring organization.  The members come to the meeting already committed to a good dialog and well prepared to share their insights.
  •  Process defines expectations and creates a framework for conversation.  Even the most casual of executives will concede that being well briefed to have a conversation with clients will drive a better outcome for all.  Well thought-out pre-meeting materials and presentation decks set expectations on the intent and create a framework for the conversation that will take place in the meeting for both the sponsoring company and the clients.  Developing background materials and questions for consideration – and sending them to members in advance of the meeting – prepares both members and sponsors for the conversations and offers an opportunity for members to enlist their extended teams in providing input to the strategic topics that are on the table.  Don’t miss the opportunity the set the stage.

Similarly, advanced planning for speakers, including high-level guidelines for presentation decks combined with preparation sessions, enable speakers to refine their key points to target the areas where they truly want to get strategic advice.  These same guidelines help to keep the sessions at the conversational level, instead of a situation where the council members are being talked at rather than the interchange of advice that we are all seeking.

There are just a few of the ways we find that process can enable the kind of conversation that drives progress on an advisory council.  What are your experiences injecting process into your advisory council management?  Do you fear it or embrace it?

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