Creating True Peer Networks through Advisory Boards

It is clear to many what the value of a Customer Advisory Board might be for the sponsoring company – great advice and insight, new ideas and strategic direction, deeper relationships with high value clients leading to new opportunities. Additionally, executive peer connections formed through the Advisory Board reflect strongly back on the sponsoring company. Sponsoring companies benefit from the brand lift associated with an ability to convene senior leaders and the thought leadership that follows.

Our clients and prospects often ask us: how do the clients get value from serving on a Customer Advisory Board?

It often surprises those companies – until they see for themselves – just how much value their executive clients get by simply being part of the Board network. One executive recently shared his perspective on the importance of a true peer network:

“I have gained so many learnings from this Board and the networking opportunities presented. Most of us have experienced similar problems, and I receive calls from Board members and make my share of calls too. I encourage new members to leverage the full breadth of what is around the table.”

In our work helping to build and facilitate Customer Advisory Boards, we are repeatedly reminded by the Board members we interview how much they seek and crave connection to real peers. They value the opportunity to share stories, commiserate around challenges, and learn across industries and organizations in a safe and collegial environment with others at their same level.

So why are Advisory Boards such a particularly valuable forum for this? Executives have many opportunities to meet, learn from, and collaborate with other executives of all types. Below are examples of what makes this unique:

True executive peer communities and environments are few and far between.  We often hear that many of the groups, associations and forums that are out there to serve all types of senior business leaders – even the most exclusive – often devolve to include lower level participants and aspiring leaders, rather than the intended audience.

Convening a group of peers about a specific topic is difficult to achieve on your own. Another area we hear about is the value in connecting with peers around a shared set of challenges or areas of focus that are not accessible in other environments. It can be hard to meet peers in other industries, or in roles that tackle the same issue but fall into different functions in different organizations, for example. And many executives are simply too busy to build that kind of network from scratch themselves.

Very few forums provide a safe zone for sharing. The other challenge we hear is the difficulty for executives to find an environment which offers all of the above and provides a confidential, trusted setting. Few executives will open up when they are unsure how their comments will be used, and by whom.

First-hand knowledge exchange feeds executives’ needs to access ideas quickly.  Executives place a particularly high value on what they learn from peers, and we often get feedback on how the time spent with other Board members provides efficient and rapid access to new ideas and broader thinking from that valued audience. Executives don’t have the time to chase after learning in all its potential formats, and a concentrated environment brings tangible value.

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