Customer Advisory Boards: Get Your Internal Team Right

Companies launching a Customer Advisory Board or Council put lots of thought and attention to their recruiting of clients – who to invite, what criteria to use, how to get the mix just right.   But typically we see less attention paid to the internal team needed to launch and run the Board successfully.  There are a number of critical roles that need to be filled consistently and carefully if you are going to leverage the Council to drive change and get impact in your company over time.  Even if you are partnering with an outside firm to develop your strategy and then manage and facilitate the Board, you still need to make sure you have the right internal team in place to get the most out of that collaboration, and out of the Board’s advice and counsel.

The internal team needs to include these roles and responsibilities, working in concert, to get the Council launched and staying on track.  To be clear – these roles are not by any means full time – the clients we work with include these activities as part of their broader marketing or client experience responsibilities, and often combine them across team members.  And the amount of time required to spend on these tasks will ebb and flow based on the Council meeting schedule.  The main thing is to make sure that someone is on point for each of these aspects so that nothing falls through the cracks.   

  • Executive Leader. The Executive Leader – typically the most senior executive leader in the company involved in the Council (often the CEO in smaller companies) – co-chairs the Board meetings, and provides commitment, leadership and direction to the team on strategic issues and the agenda focus. He or she provides the vision and the consistent mandate that is required to demonstrate the importance of the Board for the company and to the other internal senior leaders participating and ensures the company follows up on the advice received. For more on skills needed in this critical role, see this post.
  • Program Champion. The Program Champion provides the strong support, content knowledge and tactical leadership required to drive the execution of an Advisory Council program. The Champion must have enough seniority and influence to command the respect of the senior executive team, and make things happen on a day-to-day basis within the organization, starting with recruiting, through agenda development, through to meeting execution and planning for next steps. The more complex and matrixed the organization is, the more important this role is in ensuring the right participation and buy-in to advance the program and track the adoption of the advice from the Council.
  • Program Manager. The Program Manager works day-to-day to manage all of the required internal co-ordination and communication to support the Board meetings and follow-through. The importance of this role is often underestimated. It requires strong organizational knowledge and internal relationships across the company in additional to project and program management skills to ensure the high quality experience Advisory Council members are expecting if they are to invest their time and energy. This is a role where content knowledge relevant to the Board’s agenda is also helpful.
  • Administrative Coordinator.  The executive nature of the Council membership and the high level focus of the meetings requires an Administrative Coordinator who is specifically on point to help schedule meetings with internal executives as well as the program team, deliver communications to the Board members, track and manage responses and requirements, and keep the team briefed on status and progress.   This is an area that can get lost in the shuffle of planning to launch a Council, but without it, the rest of the team will find it harder to focus on the strategic agenda.
  • Event Logistics Coordinator. The final area to consider is the role of Event Logistics Coordinator. The in-person meeting with your executive clients requires careful attention to supporting the meeting logistics including securing facilities, food and beverage, entertainment, and transportation. While this is not an event, these elements will help create the tone of the discussion, and reflect on the importance of your clients’ participation in this effort.

Again – these are not meant to be all-consuming roles, and they do not require full time attention.  But we have found in our work across many different Councils and Boards, if you map your team to these core responsibilities and make sure all of the bases are shared and covered by the right people, you will create a path to the results you are looking for from the program with a much higher chance of success.

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