Advisory Board Facilitation
Meeting Facilitators International has been facilitating Customer Advisory Board meetings since 1997. We have facilitated sessions for Moen, Sprint Nextel, Eclipse Aviation, Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Pratt & Whitney Canada, Perkin Elmer, Widex, Cegedim, CDSPI, Sanofi Aventis and others whom we cannot disclose.
In this article, we discuss why you would want an advisory board, how to design an advisory board meeting, and what pitfalls to avoid. We also discuss why you might want to use an advisory board facilitator.
Why use a Customer Advisory Board?
Customer (or Client) Advisory Boards are the probably the best way there is to hear what your customers want to tell you. They can tell you what is important to them and how well you are doing at it. They can help you understand and address industry issues. They can tell you which product improvements you show them are priorities and which are not. They can give you feedback on prototypes. You will get unfiltered feedback that you can never get from surveys or your sales force.
Why would a customer want to attend an Advisory Board Meeting?
First off Advisory Boards are not right for every industry. The more important your products are to your customers, the more these customers will want to attend. For really important products customers will invest significant time and effort to attend.
In some cases, such as Clinical Advisory Boards, it may be appropriate to pay your customers to attend. But money should never be the sole reason for attending.
Corporate policies will prevent many customers from accepting payment. But you can increase your attendance by piggybacking on industry events and conferences.
Networking, best practice sharing, and joint problem solving are other powerful reasons to attend.
What do you need to design an Advisory Board Agenda?
There are two questions that you need to answer;
- What do you want to get from this session?
- What will your customers get from this session?
Once you answer these questions we can recommend a whole range of activities. These include brainstorming, debating, priority ranking, problem-solving and more.
What pitfalls should be avoided?
Here are four pitfalls that you need to avoid;
#1 Loss of Focus.
The number one problem is the “while you are at it” syndrome. This is where in designing the session the group allows itself to lose sight of the core purpose of the meeting. They want the facilitator to ask a whole bunch of other questions, “while you are at it.” In some cases, every single person has a long list of detailed questions. When asked; “why include these questions?” the answer is often that “it would be nice to know. ” Stay focused on what you need to know. If you don’t know what you are going to do with the answer, don’t ask the question.
#2 Thinking More is Better
Another common problem is clients who want to recruit too large a group. They think that if eight customers are good, then thirty customers is better. The problem is that there are only sixty minutes in an hour. That is just two minutes each if you have thirty customers. This just isn’t enough time. It is better to go deep with eight customers who leave the room happy than it is to frustrate thirty of them. If you really want feedback from a bigger group you should consider holding multiple sessions. You can also ask us about Audience Response Systems or breakout groups.
#3 Trying to make an Advisory Board Meeting into a Survey
The next major pitfall to avoid is the temptation to treat the advisory board as if it were a survey. Clients who do this develop long lists of detailed questions that they want answers to. The problem once again is time. Sixty questions, in a four-hour meeting, with eight participants, means 30 seconds per question per person. This does not give much opportunity for insight.
Our first answer to this problem is to turn the detailed questions into structure probes. We use three levels of probes.
First level probes are open-ended;
- What do you like about the new software?
- On the flip side, what don’t you like?
Second level probes are more directive;
- What do you think of the new reports?
- Where did you get lost when you tried it out?
Third level probes are what I think of as “if not mentioned, then ask?”
- The history report has a new layout, is it an improvement?
- Would adding a breadcrumb trail help with navigating the report?
What you will find is that with the right questions we get 90% of the issues on the table with just the level one probes. The facilitator can then smoothly work done to a lower level probe to fill in the gaps. This is a far more natural and enjoyable experience for the participants. And it gives better results to you, the client.
We saved the worst for last. The final pitfall that must be avoided at all costs is selling. Your customers came to the session because they believed that you wanted to hear from them. Any attempt to sell to them will not be welcome. In fact, it will hurt your relationship with these customers.
You can show them all the products and product ideas that you want. You can ask them what they like about the idea, and what they don’t like. You can even ask them why someone might want to buy something like this. Or how much they might be willing to pay for this. Just don’t try and tell them why they should buy it.
Why use an Advisory Board Facilitator?
There are several reasons.
- One of the most important is neutrality. A neutral facilitator will make your customers far more far more willing to speak their mind.
- Furthermore, the facilitator’s training and toolset will help them get unspoken concerns and questions on the floor. This includes not just bad news, but good news as well!
- An experienced facilitator knows how to handle participants who are overly enthusiastic. They also know how to draw out the overly quiet.
- When we facilitate advisory board meetings we are the ones who take the notes. We take them on a screen with a data projector so everyone can see.
- And we will never give you just a brainstormed list. We will always priority rank it and explore in more depth the most important ideas.
- Finally, by freeing yourself from the need to run the meeting you are going to be able to sit back and really listen. And isn’t that the purpose of the exercise?
To discuss your Advisory Board Meeting please, contact Meeting Facilitators International. The initial consultation is always free.
From Our Clients
“Over the past five or six years we have worked with Bruce more than a dozen times as a focus group moderator for our pharmaceutical and medical device clients. The clients are always impressed with how quickly Bruce picks up challenging concepts and how easily he communicates them. The high-quality feedback and insight he draws from the focus group participants is what we are all looking for. Bruce’s track record in exceeding client objectives makes me extremely comfortable recommending him to any of our clients regardless of therapeutic area.”
“We wanted to find somebody unbiased, with no agenda, who could lead the retreat and pull in all points of view. Bruce did this and more. He brought some clever ways to make sure that we fully explored our ideas and he forced the discipline of setting priorities and of committing to an action plan. We have now used him three years in a row since everyone sees the value he adds and trusts his process.”
Mary Todd Peterson