One of the keys to the success of a client advisory board is having the right people in the room to participate in the conversation. Many advisors assume that they want a good cross-section of their clients but I disagree.
The first objective of an advisory board is to provide you guidance on what you need to do to attract more clients like them. So, populate your board only with the clients you would most like to replicate or people who can introduce you to those kinds of clients.
An advisory board can be very helpful if you are trying to establish or focus on a niche market. In that case especially you would not want a cross-section of your clients but rather people who represented your niche or people connected to your niche. Your target clients may have unique or specific wants or needs and including participants from outside your niche will muddy that feedback. Compare your invitation list to your ideal client profile and the feedback and guidance you receive may be much clearer and tailored to the needs of the market you want to attract the most.
Beyond focusing on clients from within your target market, here are a few other tips on how to choose the best board members.
START WITH THE ANCHORS
When you build a shopping mall, you start by attracting the big, national retailers that will attract both customers and other merchants. They call them "anchor tenants." Similarly, you will want to start by attracting the biggest or most influential clients to your board. If you have any clients that are so big that it cannot be a success without their buy-in, you will want to invite them. Beyond that, you won't necessarily invite all of your biggest clients. You will want to invite a few of your biggest clients who best represent your target market.
Invite clients who are unusually well-connected or are thought leaders in your target market. If you specialize in a large local employer and have a client who is an executive or well-networked within that company, include them on the list. If you target doctors and have a client who is an officer in the local medical society, that would be a good candidate. If your niche is small business owners and you know the president of the chamber of commerce you get the idea. People who are well connected within the community of your best prospects can offer you especially valuable opinions because they can probably speak to the needs of many people in that group.
Sometimes it can be a good idea to invite people to your board who are not yet clients. If you know of influencers from the community you wish to attract, they can give you insight into what members of that tribe look for even if they are not a client. If you wish to develop a niche in which you do not have many clients today, it helps to get the advice of people from that market. I worked on an advisory board recently for an advisor who wanted to start a new practice focusing on the owners of small businesses. We comprised a board of business owners and their advisors, none of whom was a current client of the advisor. We invited them by saying "we promise we are not going to try to sell you anything. We want to create a new practice with services tailored to what you would most like to see in advisor. It would be very helpful if you would give us your feedback on what we are planning and help us make sure we are considering things that someone like you would find valuable." We got some excellent guidance.
CENTERS OF INFLUENCE
If there are other professionals who consistently refer you business, it can be great to have their participation. Not only can they offer you insight into the most important reasons that they recommend you, but they are in a position to send more people your way if you tailor your service offering to what they find most valuable. Of course, it can also be powerful for a center of influence to spend a couple hours listening to testimonials from your current clients about how great you are.
Who you will put on your client advisory board is one of the most important contributors to the success of the project. Assembling the right group will help make sure that what you learn enables you to attract exactly the kind of clients you want most.