We are sometimes asked by companies why they need a third party partner to help design, launch and deliver a Client Advisory Board—why not do it in house? And the answer is—you can. Many others have found that given a Board’s complex operations, critical conversations, and sensitive relationships, an outside specialist makes for a stronger, more successful, and more strategic Board. Here’s why.
An Outside Partner Amplifies the Investment Successful Boards Need
If you’re convening a Customer Advisory Board to strengthen relationships and strategies, those outcomes don’t come as a matter of chance. They come from investment, discipline, and a specialized form of engagement—all of which an outside expert puts in place.
Provide the level of effort that internal teams can’t spare
One thing to consider is whether you have the right team and resources in place internally to make it happen. Many marketing groups—and their senior leaders—are often too stretched to be able to devote the right amount of time and effort. If you are trying to engage your most senior clients, the last thing you want to appear to do is skimp. Professional expertise with launching Advisory Boards also helps you ramp up more quickly and get to that all important first meeting.
Signal your commitment to the Board’s success
One Board member shared that the use of a third party expert makes a strong statement about the sponsoring company. On our onboarding interview, he told me, “The fact that they hired you to do this tells me they are taking this seriously. It makes them seem committed to real feedback and to making changes based on that.” Others have described the professional lens a third party brings as adding gravitas to the conversation and a discipline to ensure a focus on value.
An Outside Partner Plays Roles You Can’t
An outside partner also augments your Advisory Board by taking on tough but necessary roles your own colleagues might find challenging and uncomfortable when engaging their own clients. Here are some of the specialized and value-added roles that our own clients—and the Council members who participate – say a third party facilitator and leader adds to their effort.
Play the honest broker
An outside facilitator provides an impartial lens to listen and elicit open sharing. Our clients often note our ability to keep meetings from drifting into selling, which is tempting and challenging to self-police, and which can quickly derail a Council discussion.
Wield the velvet hammer
Advisory Boards must focus on constructive, strategic content and conversation to yield value and insight. An outside facilitator provides the discipline, the coaching and the interventions required along the way, from pre-meeting preparation through to the meetings and beyond. That outside oversight ensures the right dialog without creating sticky or uncomfortable situations for the sponsoring company or for the clients.
Serve as the powerful glue for collaboration and co-creation
We hear from both our clients and their Board members about the value of our role of bringing them together to build co-created agendas and to give clients a voice. One Council member we work with—Tom Greene, the CIO of Colgate-Palmolive—recently described his perspective on this benefit in his article Why CIOs Should Join Customer Advisory Boards.
Uncover ideas and insights that clients don’t always share
Our clients are often surprised at what we hear from their customers when we talk to them one on one. One executive regularly says to us, “How did you find that out? We talk to them all the time and they never said anything about that!” Our lack of direct involvement in delivery and the day to day interaction of the client relationships helps elevate the conversation. It allows us to have candid and open conversations, focused on extracting the right kinds of stories.
Facilitate meetings toward mutual benefit
The Board’s meetings are where the quality and outcome of the interactions and exchange is really on the line. Good outside facilitation can make a meeting, and ensure that your executives the ability to really share and participate. Everyone leaves the meeting feeling like they have gained and shared value from their involvement. On the flip side, poor facilitation can derail your best efforts.
Manage membership challenges and opportunities
Council membership is key to the success of an Advisory Board, and requires care and feeding to manage, particularly when important client relationships are at stake. We often are called to advise on the best approaches to handle situations such as obstructive or unhelpful members. We leverage our independent status as needed to directly (and delicately) handle communications to those difficult members on behalf of clients.