We find that the term Client Advisory Board is used fairly broadly to describe a range of marketing and sales related activities that involve some form of customer input and interaction. This can include anything from conferences, to online collaboration sites, to research panels, and beyond. And while all of these activities have their place and can drive tremendous benefit, they have different goals and outcomes from a true Client Advisory Board. In order to get value from a Client Advisory Board, it is important to pause for a moment to understand upfront what a Client Advisory Board is…and also what it is not.
What a Client Advisory Board is
A Client Advisory Board is a forum that brings together key clients and stakeholders multiple times a year to advise on strategy, product or service direction and innovation. It serves as a strategy-level sounding board for your leadership team to learn from and better understand your most important senior executive clients, and for your clients to engage with peers to learn from each other and contribute to a shared exchange of innovative ideas and advice. In a nutshell, a Client Advisory Board is:
- A listening tool
- An ongoing customer or market-oriented dialog
- A vehicle to focus business strategy, growth, transformation
- A program targeted to top tier strategic executive clients
And What a Client Advisory Board is Not
It is worth understanding what Client Advisory Boards are not, as mixing them up with other programs is a key contributor to failure. What is conspicuously absent from an Advisory Board is any type of selling or pitching or product level testing and discussion. Advisory Boards are also distinct from events and one-way sharing, as they are designed as ongoing, collaborative interactive conversations. They are not:
- A lead generation tool
- An event
- A focus group
- A research program
Strategy is the Key to Value
We have seen Client Advisory Boards or Councils operate on one of three different levels. And where they have true impact and value in driving the business forward is at the top of the pyramid. Understanding the difference before you start will ensure you are focusing and aligning your team in the right direction to lay the groundwork for success.
- Level 1: Product Board – The most basic and tactical level is usually focused on obtaining candid feedback from key customers to help improve customer satisfaction. These Boards function more like user groups and tend to work best with day-to-day client contacts rather than executives less familiar with tactical deployment. Product Boards can be useful in adjusting and refining existing products and services, but are less helpful in shaping future direction of the company.
- Level 2: Solutions Board – At a higher level, Advisory Boards can move beyond existing offerings and focus instead on bringing key customers into a collaborative process to more substantially redirect and create new product and service offerings. These Boards also require client members to have a deep tactical understanding of how your products and services work, as well as a broader view of the marketplace and business needs. As with the Product Board, your executive clients are less likely to be connected enough to the day-to-day, although higher-level business insight is required.
- Level 3: Strategy Board – The highest level Advisory Boards focus on bringing key customers into the inner circle of your corporate leadership, and use their trusted counsel to help refine strategy and accelerate strategic change in the business. These Boards require peer executive clients to engage with your own executive team. Done correctly, a strategy board will result in outcomes such as new market penetration, increased revenue and more.