Customer Advisory Boards present very clear opportunities for the sponsoring company as they gain valuable insight from their most important customers. A recent article by Colgate’s CIO Tom Greene points out the reciprocal value of joining customer advisory boards for CIOs.
In the article Tom points to several areas of value that he has experienced in participating as an advisor to IBM. He also references the critical factors that he looks for in a customer advisory board that make it a good use of his time: access to a valued peer group, early market trends and innovation insight, deepening of a valued vendor relationship, and a professional and structured agenda developed by an outside third party.
I’d like to expand upon his point about agenda development by an outside third party since we are asked about the value that a third party brings to the advisory board experience. The following three points are mentioned by our board members as areas where a third party brings value that a vendor often struggles:
- Transparent and honest feedback
- Peer group buzz
- Facilitation and meeting experience
Transparent and Honest Feedback
It is an interesting human characteristic that we don’t feel comfortable sharing extreme feelings directly with others. Perhaps this isn’t true of all families – but in the context of Advisory Boards we find that Board members do not share with the vendor the things that they loved about a meeting. Similarly they don’t often share the things that they hated. But they do share those experiences with Farland Group. Our ‘trusted broker’ status puts board members at ease. We help remedy challenging situations and build on strengths for the next meeting.
Peer Group Buzz
“Everyone in the market is completely confused about what is being brought to market. No one is saying anything yet because we hope it gets better.”
A client board member shared the above quote with us and by doing so we could do two things very quickly: First, we could probe with other Board members to figure out if this was true across the group. Second, we could quickly take that feedback to the senior leadership of the vendor organization and fix it before the negative buzz became worse
Facilitation and Meeting Experience
Most Board meetings have actively engaged clients – like Tom – and executives from the vendor organization. This requires less facilitation on the one hand in pulling out particular perspectives and on the other hand, more active facilitation in ensuring that the critical areas requiring advice are put on the table. In addition, third party facilitators can help to stop overly active voices from clients or the vendor side to ensure that all are heard. Finally, executives are busy and keeping to a time clock is important to ensure that the meeting starts and ends on time. While vendors can do this, it is more challenging and uncomfortable for a vendor to ask a client to stop speaking than for a third party facilitator.
It is important to think about the value that customer advisory boards bring to you as a vendor and to your clients. As Tom points out – most clients are invited to many advisory boards and finding a way to make yours unique and ensure that it is run professionally is critical to increasing the value of your board for all involved.