When you’re looking for feedback on how to improve the services you offer or how you can attract more of your best clients, try tapping directly into the source — your client base. Who better to enlighten you about the way you run your practice than your clients? This is where a client advisory board is immensely valuable.
What is a client advisory board? It’s a group of your ideal clients brought together on a regular basis to provide input on what they like about your offerings and to give pointers on how and where you could make improvements. The goal is to create a stellar client experience that will make you a leader in your market niche.
It can be a little scary to ask for your clients’ candid evaluations, but keep in mind you have their trust and loyalty. They want to see you succeed! They can give you an outsider’s perspective, pointing out gaps in your services that you probably can’t see because you’re too close to the process. You can ask for their input on proposed changes and new services or suggestions on how to improve your marketing methods to attract prospects like them. Your prized clients are your “intel.”
Once you decide you want to establish a client advisory board, start by doing your homework. Through the years, we’ve compiled a list of valuable tips for forming a client advisory board for our coaching clients. We’d like to share them with you.
Think It Through
Determine your reasons and objectives for setting up a board, and make sure you’re willing to invest the necessary time and effort in it. Also, make sure you’re willing to act on the suggestions you receive; otherwise the clients on the board won’t feel needed or appreciated.
Make a list of areas where you’d like to receive feedback. For example: Are you considering a change in your fee structure? Are clients getting all the information they want during a review meeting? Are you planning to revamp your website? Are clients satisfied with the performance statements they receive? You might even include a question as simple as: Do you like the coffee we serve in the office? Be sure the queries address the clients’ personal experiences — ask what you can do for them, not vice versa.
How Many Members Do You Need?
We generally recommend that a board consist of somewhere between eight and 12 clients. If you involve too many people in the experience, it can become unwieldy and unproductive — just like having too many cooks in the kitchen. Instead, make sure you create an environment where everyone has a chance to be heard. You also might consider two- or three-year board terms so you can give other top clients a chance to participate and provide fresh ideas.
Who Should Be on the Board?
Select potential members from your list of best clients — those you’d like to clone. One of the goals of forming a board should be to determine how to attract more of your ideal clients. Consider inviting clients who are well-connected or influential in the community or business world. Do they have large social networks?
Diversity is another important aspect. Include men and women, single and married clients, retirees, and professionals from various careers or businesses. Be sure to include younger clients, particularly if you’re gearing up to serve the needs of millennial investors, who stand to inherit some $30 billion from baby boomer parents.
How Often and Where to Meet?
Most boards meet once or twice a year, depending on how busy their members are and how many topics you want to cover. Generally, it’s best to hold the meeting outside the office — in a restaurant banquet room, for example. That way you can include a nice meal. However, make sure it’s clear that this is a business meeting and not merely a social event.
Who Should Conduct the Meeting?
Many advisors find it’s helpful to have an outside facilitator handle the agenda. You could ask a client who is experienced in meeting planning, a center of influence involved with your firm or a wholesaler, for example. This way, you can take a more neutral role and give your full attention to the topics of conversation. Plus, clients will feel less inhibited about expressing themselves when someone else is running the meeting. Take notes or ask participants whether you have their permission to record the meeting.
How to Invite a Potential Member
After you’ve made a list of potential members, you’ll want to call them personally. This lets them know you truly consider them to be valued clients. Unfortunately, we find that advisors often don’t know how to approach this conversation. The right communication and words are crucial, so here’s a suggested dialogue.
Advisor to client: “I want to ask you for a favor, and I want you to know in advance that I’m not expecting anything and I’m fine if your answer is ‘no’ or ‘not now.’ I’ve been fortunate to have a number of great clients like you who have made a tremendous difference in my career. I’ve asked some of them to provide me with counsel on how I can meet more people like them and become the leading resource for [your niche — for example, physicians and small businesses]. This client advisory board would be like an ongoing focus group, and initially what I’d most like is advice on marketing our practice.
“I’m sure you have a lot going on, but I’m wondering whether you might be able to join the group for an annual dinner meeting where we can share our marketing ideas and get your input.”
Remember, you don’t ever want to ask for referrals outright during a board meeting. Once clients understand your market focus and commitment to building a business that puts them first, they’ll naturally start referring others to you. We call this “reversing the deal flow” — when prospects call you asking to become clients. These meetings are an important way for you to discover how your clients view you and your services and to collect valuable advice on promoting and branding your practice.
Agenda and Follow-up
Estimate how much you can accomplish in the time you’ve allotted. Send out the agenda to board members a week or two in advance, and include any materials that might be pertinent, such as a mock-up of a new brochure you’re working on. Leave time for socializing and networking after the meeting.
Following the event, send out a note thanking the members for their attendance and input. You can include minutes from the meeting and let the members know which suggestions you may be moving forward on. Expect your board members to hold you accountable, which means they’ll want to know how you will incorporate their input into your future plans.
Establishing a client focus group can help you strengthen relationships with your best clients, as well as provide a huge payoff in terms of business growth. The more you know about your clients’ likes and dislikes and what makes them tick, the easier it is to craft a financial advice experience that will exceed their expectations. And that can lead to a steady flow of referrals — without even having to ask for them.
Sarano and Brooke Kelley are co-founders of The Kelley Group, a leading provider of speaking, coaching and training to elite advisors and senior managers in the financial services industry. They are the authors of Reversing the Deal Flow: The Secret to Prospects Calling You to Become Clients. Contact Sarano Kelley at [email protected] and contact Brooke Kelley at [email protected]