The client advisory board is the single most powerful tool for obtaining detailed client feedback that you can use to tailor your practice to the wants and needs of your best clients. Like with many other things, preparation is a key to the success of your board.
Preparation includes addressing several fundamental aspects of assembling the board and holding a meeting, including having the right objectives and role for your board, making sure you have the right participants at the table, asking the right questions, and getting the right facilitator.
Another secret to boosting the productivity of your advisory board meetings is to distribute the agenda beforehand and to include support materials to provide background for the discussion. Shortly after I began organizing and facilitating client advisory boards, I noted consistent comments in the feedback we solicit at the end of the session. If we had not distributed preparatory materials in advance of the meeting the participants wanted it next time.
Advisory board meetings should focus on processing issues and listening to client feedback. If you spend most of your time in advisory board meetings presenting and reporting, then you're missing a huge opportunity. You probably spend most of your time in client meetings talking. Client advisory board meetings should be the clients' opportunity to talk and your opportunity to listen. Sending materials in advance will help make that discussion more productive.
Knowing the questions ahead of time gives board members an opportunity to consider how they might answer. It gives them the opportunity to engage their creativity. Being creative on-the-fly is hard, even for people who have a natural inclination - and most do not. Some personality types cannot come up with answers to difficult questions unless they are given some time to consider them. You probably know someone who has to "sleep on it" before they make an important decision. You will get more and better ideas if the issue has an opportunity to marinate in someone's mind.
Your board members will also be much better prepared to provide you informed feedback if they have background materials to prepare them for the discussion. If you want to ask the group about whether you should follow certain trends in the industry, give them a report about those trends. If you want to get their feedback on new formats for investment reports or financial plans, distribute samples. If you would like to get their guidance on how to address a particular challenge in your practice, include an article or two about how other businesses have addressed them.
Prepare your agenda, including the higher level questions you will ask, and distribute them to advisory board members two weeks in advance of the meeting. Follow up with them a week later and ask if they have any questions about the issues you plan to discuss or any comments they might share with you so that you can have them ready. You are not actually looking for much feedback in this follow-up call - it is more a gentle reminder to review the materials before they get to the meeting. They probably will not have looked at them yet.
The discussions you have in your client advisory board meetings will be dramatically more productive to the extent that you can formulate good questions in advance and get people to do some homework before the discussion takes place. Distributing the questions and support materials ahead of time is the first step in getting this richer outcome but it cannot assure that people will actually come prepared. What tips and ideas do you have to inspire people to prepare for meetings like this?
I would love to hear about whatever strategies have worked for you.
Stephen Wershing, CFP® is President of The Client Driven Practice. He coaches financial advisors to be more effective and successful, and attract more clients and referrals, by developing more client-connected and client-driven practices.