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How Should You Participate in a Client Advisory Board?
Monday, March 11, 2013
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I gave a presentation on client advisory boards this week and a participant asked about the proper role of an advisor in the board meetings. Should you attend? Should you speak?

Let me start by pointing out one thing you should NOT do: facilitate the meeting. First, facilitation is a skill. Hey, your clients could easily pick their own mutual funds. They hire you to do it because you have certain knowledge and skill when it comes to choosing the right ones in the right proportions. Same with facilitating a meeting.

Next, a third party running the meeting can accomplish things you cannot or would be awkward for you. How do you suppose it would go if you had to tell your biggest client to quiet down? Also, a third party can ask things about the best way to roll out a new service because from them it is information gathering – if you asked the same thing it would be selling.

Most important, though, is that when you stand up and go to the front of the room something fundamental changes in the dynamic.  For the advisory board to bring you the biggest benefit, you need to be part of the tribe, participating in the conversation with your clients and being perceived by them as being part of the group.

The question arose in my session this week because the facilitator had instructed this advisor not to talk during the board meeting. His role was to listen and take notes. OK, I get the idea. And I understand the positive outcomes to be gained by listening. Still, I have to disagree.

If one of the objectives of the advisory board is to tie you closer to your clients, you really need to interact. I don’t want you observing the conversation, I want you IN the conversation. And interaction is so much more powerful than passively listening. I also record meetings and capture a lot of the conversation on flipcharts, so the advisor does not need to take notes.

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HOW you participate is critical. There are innumerable ways you can inadvertently derail the conversation. Participation is not without its risks.

Clients are in a relationship with you so that you can tell them the right things to do. That means we have to cultivate the advisory board environment to be the other way around. We want them to be telling you what to do for them. If someone asks “why don’t you do this?” and you answer, you run the risk of people falling back into their usual role with you and stop offering input.

The best advice I can offer is to participate, and when you participate make it in the form of a question. Sounds easy but this usually takes some coaching. When a client expresses a concern or a desire for something to be different (which, by the way, is the only time when something productive is created in a board meeting), don’t respond – explore. How would you most like it done? What in your mind would be the best outcome? What would it mean to you if we could do something like that?

You are not committed to doing anything because someone brings it up at a board meeting. Your promise is to listen openly, accepting all input, so you can bring it back to your team and do some strategic planning around it. Your objective is to get feedback, suggestions and guidance.

So your role is to make sure your clients feel like they have been heard and that you are committed to tailoring your business to provide them the experience they want most. Engage with them in a constructive way, and it can be a powerful driver of loyalty.

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