A client advisory board is a powerful tool advisors can use to better understand their clients and receive feedback on how to be more attractive to their ideal client. In addition, client advisory

board meetings often generate referrals for the advisors who hold them. Finally, a client advisory board with your top clients can deepen the relationship with your centers of influence, paving the way for additional referrals and possibly a professional partnership.

The goal of a client advisory board is to assemble a group of diverse clients to provide specific, honest feedback. The board is an opportunity for advisors to build stronger relationships with their clients, obtain critical feedback on their practice and procedures, and create another stream of referrals.

Step 1: Establish a Client Advisory Board

The first step to establishing a client advisory board is to understand the tangible benefits it can provide your practice. For many advisors, this process can be intimidating. Having top clients discuss your practice, including strengths and areas of improvement, requires confidence and courage.

The first step also involves managing all of the logistics of the client advisory board, including scheduling the date of the client advisory board Meeting, securing a venue and inviting your clients to the event. Choose a facilitator for the meeting – either someone within your office or an outside colleague. This person will lead the discussion and provide you the opportunity to listen for important feedback and contribute to the conversation.

Before the meeting, the roles of each party (advisor, facilitator, staff and board) should be clearly defined, including each individual’s purpose, commitment and role. This sets expectations, helps the clients feel more at ease and ensures the meeting does not stray from its intended agenda. Your most important role is to be open and to listen.

After you have confirmed a date and venue, select a good mix of 7-15 clients whom you would like to duplicate in your practice. Call clients to personally invite them. Clients should be informed they will be meeting with other clients and that they will be asked questions regarding their relationship with their advisor. They should be told that they are not required to answer any questions that they do not wish to answer or disclose any information they do not wish to disclose.

Step 2: Conduct the Meeting

Begin with a welcome. Introduce the topic, key objectives, set ground rules and begin the discussion. Take clients through the agenda.

Have the facilitator ask your clients the challenging questions. Use the questions as a tool to communicate the goals and future of your practice. Are you seeking to grow? Ask your clients how you can attract more people like them to your practice. Are you planning to start offering other products or services? Ask your clients what more they want from their financial advisor.

Take notes during the discussion to accurately capture feedback and follow-ups. Try to stick with the agenda, but if the discussion goes in a different direction, allow it as long as it seems like productive information. Take notes of all client feedback, even if it is something you disagree with or don’t like. This helps you be prepared later if the client asks why nothing was done with a particular bit of feedback.

Step 3: Follow-up

After the clients have left, talk with your staff about their general feelings regarding the meeting to get their feedback while it’s still fresh. You can schedule another staff meeting to review all the feedback and create an action plan.

It is important to follow-up so everyone knows the client advisory board meeting was valuable and to ensure the advisor and the board are on the same page. After the meeting, send a summary letter to clients who participated in the client advisory board meeting. The summary letter should include key points, a request for referrals and ownership of follow-up steps. It may also set the expectation for continued/future meetings of the board. Within the summary letter, manage client expectations following the meeting by reiterating that every suggestion will be evaluated and many – but not all – will be implemented in the practice.

Incorporating a client advisory board into your practice will yield many tangible benefits. Use the feedback to further develop your practice and identify the improvements necessary to provide a better overall experience for your clients and earn more of their referrals.

Chris Kirby, Senior Business Consultant, Securities America Financial Corporation. Chris is a business consultant for Securities America's Practice Management Group and serves as a consultant/coach for the firm’s Business Consulting Service, helping advisors manage a more efficient, profitable and satisfying practice.