Getting systematic feedback from a client advisory board can revolutionize your business, says Stephen Wershing, president of the Client Driven Practice in Rochester, N.Y.

A CAB consists of a select group of clients who offer guidance and suggestions to improve your business.

Typically, a third-party facilitator — not you — will run the actual meeting. But long before your CAB convenes, you must find the right issues to discuss. Follow these tips to find the best topics for your CAB meeting:

> Find your value
Ask clients how you are different from other advisors, says Wershing, to discover your unique value.

Your first CAB meeting should revolve around these three questions:
– Why did my clients choose to work with me in the first place?
– Why do they continue to work with me instead of another advisor?
– What would make them leave my practice?

After your CAB members start to answer these questions, Wershing says, you should be prepared to dig deeper. Almost everyone will come up with stock answers, such as: “It’s your people, client service and integrity that make your business great.”

But you must ask clients to be specific about how those things make your business different. What is it about your staff that your clients like? What aspects of your service keep them loyal to you?

> Focus on new skills
Talk to your CAB members about the client experience your business offers.

Ask members to evaluate your services, Wershing says. Questions to ask include:
– What kind of services do you wish the firm offered?
– What kind of skills would we need to bring to the table to provide those services?

Use the information gained from the answers to these questions to help you tailor and customize your client service to best fit your ideal client profile.

> Talk about your team
After a year or two of working with a CAB, let the board become a more influential advisor to your business.

You can discuss staffing issues at CAB meetings, says Wershing. For example, if you have recently lost an assistant or receptionist, ask members what qualities and expertise you should look for when hiring a replacement.

> Let clients elaborate
Frame your questions in away that keeps the conversation going at a CAB meeting.

Asking a generic question such as “How are we doing,” Wershing says, will result in one-word answers like “great” or “fine.”

Instead, ask questions that will force people to elaborate and talk among themselves, he says. For example, ask what services you should be emphasizing or dropping from your business.

> Stay focused
Keep the meeting focused by limiting the number of topics covered.

As a general rule, Wershing says, you should cover a maximum of three topics at a CAB meeting. In some cases, you might discuss only one or two issues if they are particularly broad topics.

Covering more than three topics at a CAB meeting indicates that you are not going into enough detail.

This is the first installment in a two-part series on client advisory boards. Next: working with a facilitator.