Practice Management > Building Your Business

Ron Carson: Want Growth? Do Client Advisory Councils the Right Way

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.

As part of our initial diagnosis with new coaching members at Peak Advisor Alliance, we ask many questions including, “Do you have an Advisory Council?” The responses to that question often include phrases like, “Yes, I tried one; but it did not work,” which would seem to affirm Angie Herbers’ assertion (AdvisorOne blog, Sept. 3) that “I’d predict that sooner or later, you’ll regret starting the council.” 

What we uncover in failed advisory councils is that poor execution of a great concept resulted in a bad outcome. Even great thinking, if poorly applied, will lead to poor results. The partial list of advisor execution errors include:

  • Lack of ground rules
  • Failure to set clear expectations
  • Failure to ask questions in the right tone or manner
  • Asking the wrong clients or centers of influence
  • Lack of an outside facilitator or skilled internal facilitator
  • Poorly set agendas and no evolution in quality of agendas
  • Poorly chosen meeting date and location
  • Failure to really listen to what was being said—both the literal and sub-textual elements.

So how do you properly execute a client Avisory Council to make it your single best source of new business? You start by understanding your two main objectives:

  • You want to create ambassadors to go out and tell your story
  • You want constructive feedback on how you can develop and implement the best client experience possible.

To find helpful qualified and additive council members, you need clients who are centers of influence (COI)  and think constructively. In most cases, these are small business owners (like you), executives and successful retirees. You communicate your expectations to these clients that you selected them because you ‘need their help’ and ‘want their insights.’ You want this to be a critical discussion… it is not meant to be a love fest.

The next step is your agenda. Your first meeting is critical. You need to exert effort here. I suggest your first agenda have only three topics (and the third is optional):

1)  A discussion of your vision, mission statement and value proposition. A huge amount of preparation occurs here. You will be sharing a compelling vision; defining the client experience you want to deliver; and describing how you want to grow, but in a thoughtful, measured way.

2)  You complete a classic SWOT analysis. What are our firm’s Strengths and Weaknesses? And, although less critical, what are some Opportunities and Threats? Here is where a great facilitator earns their money and where you, the advisor, listens and learns!

3)     Optional: you may have an additional item you really wanted to discuss. If so include it; but, it can likely wait.

The result from your first session should be 6-10 clients and centers of influence who now have a great understanding of why they like you so much, feel excited by your compelling vision, have a clear understanding of the type of new clients you desire, and, if you have executed properly, feel a certain level of ownership for your results.

I routinely receive comments from Peak Advisor Alliance members about client comments that occurred during the meeting. Their clients respond with statements like, “Why didn’t you just tell us you wanted to grow? I know several people to introduce to you,” and “Wow, I didn’t understand and appreciate all of the value and services we receive. I want to help some friends by introducing them to you, because they are not getting this type of thinking from their advisors!”

The beauty of the second topic is that you have now fleshed out the agenda for your next meeting! The SWOT analysis will produce several ‘strategic initiatives’ for you to start addressing. It is critical that you and your team dedicate time and energy to addressing the opportunities and issues learned from the SWOT analysis. You may update your Advisory Council members between meetings as progress is made on those initiatives. These items will then be discussed at your next meeting. Break it down simply: here is what we implemented; here is our progress report; and we want your thinking on these last issues from the meeting. Now, your council becomes a group that can help you with both various tactical and strategic issues for the practice. Your council should now be up and running well.

I agree with Ms. Herbers’ premise that Advisory Councils can have a downside, but it is a downside you can choose to avoid entirely with the proper commitment. This response only begins to address the thinking and preparation needed to properly execute the single most impactful way to grow your business. The benefits of having a vibrant Advisory Council are too great to ignore.  

I stress some simple themes to members every single day. Acknowledging good thinking and executing it well gets you a long way to a successful practice. Implementing an Advisory Council is good thinking. Use your confidence to execute it well. Make it a goal to have your Advisory Council established by February 2013, and, if you have executed everything we’ve outlined above and you are disappointed with the results, call one of our coaches (800-514-9116) for a free consultation to discuss your specific situation. Tell them Ron sent you. If I wasn’t 100% certain that this works, I wouldn’t continue to implement it and learn from it 25+ years running.