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How a Client Advisory Board Can Help Your Store

Oct 13, 2020 7:38 AM   By Leah Meirovich
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The days when brands made all their business decisions on their own are gone. With bigger competition, tougher economic challenges, and the increasingly scary potential of coming across as tone deaf in marketing campaigns, getting advice just makes sense. And who better to provide it than members of your target audience?

Having the input of a client advisory board “is so useful because it’s so spot-on to your particular market,” says jewelry consultant Phillip Bosen.

Just as important as understanding how to appeal to your intended customers is knowing how absolutely not to approach them, adds public relations and communications consultant Jen Cullen Williams.

“A client advisory board is a smart thing for any business to have, because you’re basically tapping into the people who would potentially be buying your things,” she notes. “They can really provide that insight and intel that would drive your business in the right direction, and also help prevent you from making any big and costly mistakes that are discovered by the bigger, wider community. They might be able to catch some of those things earlier on, and you can course-correct a lot quicker.”

The power of the pack

An advisory group is a great sounding board for any new initiatives you launch, Cullen Williams continues. And sometimes, members come up with game-changing suggestions you’d never have thought of.

Bosen recalls a session with his client advisory board in which he talked about efforts to attract younger male bridal customers.

“We feel like we’re doing a great job getting the older guys that are getting married for the first or second time, but we’re having a hard time with the young guys because they think we’re too expensive,” he told the board members. When one woman pointed out that the store didn’t really have anything for that demographic, Bosen was surprised; he’d been sure it did. But when he looked in the case, he found there were only three rings under $5,000. So he made an effort to carry 12 rings between $2,500 and $5,000.

“We rolled out those 12 rings, and it revolutionized the business,” he states. “The young male customers wanted to buy from us, but we didn’t have the right product mix, and I would never have known that.”

Drafting your team

Choosing the people who make up your board is an art form, says Cullen Williams, because they will be responsible for helping you make decisions on a variety of topics, and each can offer a different perspective.

“The most important thing is to determine exactly what your goal is in having the advisory board,” she maintains. “Is the goal to have them as a sounding board? Is it to have them as [brand] ambassadors? Is it to have them test products? You have to decide what you’re trying to accomplish and build a group of people that can help you achieve those things.”

She suggests mixing it up, bringing on parties such as your best customer, a future target customer, and some representatives of the younger generation, alongside clients with professional experience, such as lawyers and social media or marketing experts.

Depending on the size of your store, the best advisory boards should contain about 10 to 20 members and feature a broad cross-section of your market, with varying races, ages, classes, professions and interests, Bosen adds. While he says members can be of any gender, he prefers an all-female board.

“I run everything past them, because I think women are primarily the end-user of our products,” he maintains. “Therefore, they would have the best sense of how we should market, even to their men.”

He also stresses the importance of not overlooking casual customers. “You would think you should ask top clients, but these are not always brand ambassadors. You want people who really love your business, but it doesn’t mean they necessarily have to be top spenders. I invited a person that had been in the community about three years and had only bought one thing for $180, but they were raving about my stuff and told me they were so glad to have found their new jeweler.”

Those people can be great, because they are 100% on your team. They can be a strong voice for your brand among other customers and can help you learn how to capture the interest of others like them, Bosen says.

Sticking with the plan

Meeting once a quarter is a relatively easy ask for members of your board, as it doesn’t require them to give up too much of their personal time, the experts note. However, there are always alternatives if you need help on a specific project during an off period.

“You could have a bigger hoopla where you meet in person quarterly, but also have shorter phone calls once a month or bimonthly in between if necessary,” suggests Cullen Williams.

The most important thing, she says, is to make sure to set an itinerary up front detailing when you plan to hold each meeting and what you want to discuss. Inviting people to the board with no set goals, then calling them months later and expecting them to drop everything to meet with you is disrespectful to your members.

You should also avoid relying on them too heavily for customer-related advice. Instead, use them more as a think tank for brainstorming and providing opinions on new collections, marketing, websites and branding.

“You can certainly ask them for advice on how you can better connect with your customers, but I wouldn’t recommend that every single meeting is held like that, because their job is not to do your job,” states Cullen Williams. “It’s really if you want to show them the work that you’re doing and have them weigh in with feedback so you can enhance or improve your communications or product lines, or see any gaps or missing things that aren’t there so you can deliver a more comprehensive experience to your customers.”

A rewarding experience

Most advisory board members volunteer for the job and don’t expect pay. They’re just happy to have inside information on the jeweler they love, and they benefit from helping shape the business and collections. However, treating your advisory board is a good way to show your appreciation for their ideas, time and service.

Bosen turns his meetings into an impromptu cocktail hour, then draws the name of one attendee after each session. That person takes home a gift basket worth about $1,000, full of merchandise from other vendors in his area that appeal to a similar demographic.

“I ask [these vendors] to make donations a few times a year, and it’s reciprocal if they need it,” he explains. “It also helps promote their products to my customers, who could become their customers.”

Each Christmas, after the quarterly meeting, Bosen also throws a holiday party for his board and one guest each.

Alternatively, jewelers can treat their boards to a nice dinner while they speak, offer them discounts on products, give them a small token of appreciation from the store, or provide them with networking opportunities, says Cullen Williams.

Compensating board members for their service is “crucial,” she believes, “because you have blind spots as a business owner, and if you can make use of these people with different perspectives and different backgrounds, they can help you fight potential problems. The point of the board is to help you find those blind spots and fill them in. And if you’re lucky, maybe...there’s a customer base that you haven’t tapped into, that’s at your fingertips and that you just didn’t know about, and by having this diverse group of individuals, you discover a whole new potential demographic.”

This article was first published in the October issue of Rapaport Magazine.

Image: Jen Cullen Williams (left); Phillip Bosen (right). 
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Tags: client advisory board, Jen Cullen Williams, Leah Meirovich, Phillip Bosen
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