Special Feature

Client advisory boards

A client advisory board (CAB) is one of the most effective ways to learn about what your clients value and how you can improve your practice. This three-part series outlines questions to ask before setting up your CAB, who should be on your board, and what your board members can expect.

Practice Management

Your nine to 12 members should represent four key roles

By Tessie Sanci |

A client advisory board (CAB) is part of an effective strategy for gathering client feedback. But who will fill those limited spots on your CAB? For starters, they should be analytical individuals who are comfortable sharing their opinions, says Julie Littlechild, CEO of Advisor Impact Inc. in Toronto.

Your CAB should have nine to 12 members, says Stephen Wershing, president of the Client Driven Practice in Rochester, N.Y. That is, small enough to ensure everyone has a chance to participate while keeping the conversation focused, and big enough to generate plenty of ideas.

With that in mind, try to choose a mix of members who will provide feedback that will help you attract and retain members of your target market. The following four roles should be represented:

1. Clients from your target market
The group you choose should represent the market you want your practice to appeal to most.

"You don't need a representative sample of small and big clients," Littlechild says. "You're not trying to get statistically significant information. It's really, [a matter of choosing] your most important group of clients."

So, if you want your practice to appeal to young professionals, make sure you have CAB members who represent that group.

2. The influencer
One CAB member should be an influential person in the community you are trying to appeal to, Wershing says.

This person could be a client, a prospect or a centre of influence. What's important, Wershing says, is that this person be a voice for the type of client you want to attract.

For example, if you want to appeal to doctors and you have a client who is the head of a medical association, you should ask that person to be involved because he or she is a person of influence in a community that interests you.

3. The facilitator
The person leading the meeting should be a neutral third party who does not have a direct interest in your practice.

Consider hiring a professional facilitator, who would be trained in eliciting opinions, responding to feedback and keeping the conversation moving. This person will also know how to handle any difficult situations that might arise.

"Imagine having to tell your biggest client to shut up," says Wershing. "That can be really hard for an advisor. A facilitator knows how to do that."

If you are not prepared to hire someone, see if you have a client or an acquaintance with skills that would lend themselves to this role. For example, if you know someone who works in corporate communications or advertising, they might be a good fit because of experience addressing and interacting with groups.

4. The advisor
While you should not lead your CAB meeting, you will participate. Your role here is to refrain from rationalizing any criticisms your board members may bring up. Instead, you should be asking questions to further understand their concerns.

So, if a client says he leaves a portfolio review meeting with more questions than answers, you could say: "How can I improve that? What would it mean to you if I could change that?"

You would also speak at the beginning of each gathering to recap the previous meeting's discussion and any actions that were taken — or not taken — from the ideas presented. 

This is the second installment in a three-part series on client advisory boards.

Next: What your board members can expect from their participation.