FAQs: Advisory Board Sessions

We already run Advisory Board Sessions that are led by one of our executives. Why should we pay an outside firm to do what we are already doing?

Three reasons: credibility, objectivity, and skill level.

  • Credibility. One of the challenges in recruiting an Advisory Board is to convey to potential participants that the sessions are not sales meetings disguised as Advisory Boards. Having sessions moderated by in-house personnel, particularly those drawn from sales and marketing, screams "sales meeting" to those who are suspicious of the process. Furthermore, Advisory Board sessions run by in-house staff are most likely to be attended only by those who like the executive running the session and have positive attitudes toward the company. Bringing in an outside moderator diffuses the sales meeting suspicion, builds credibility for the process and allows us to draw a broader cross-section of customers and prospects to the Board.

  • Objectivity. Few in-house moderators, no matter how unbiased they try to be, can bring true objectivity to the session. They are often placed in the role of defending the products, services, and policies of their companies. A well-trained, outside moderator brings objectivity to the session.

  • Skill Level. While it is possible that a company executive might have excellent communications skills, it is unlikely that he or she would have the level of skill that a trained moderator has in moderating Advisory Board sessions. Nick Calo, Calo Research Services' lead Advisory Board moderator, has moderated over 2,000 group discussions for companies throughout the country. He developed the first widely recognized moderator training course in the industry, and he has graduate degrees in psychology and marketing. He knows how to draw out uninvolved participants, equalize the contributions of potentially dominant participants and to focus the discussion on subjects that are valuable to the client. It is very unlikely that a business executive without Nick's experience and training would exhibit his skill in moderating Advisory Board sessions.

Aren't Advisory Boards just focus groups run with the same participants over and over again?

In at least three ways, Advisory Board sessions are different from focus groups. Advisory Board members:

  • Are hand-picked, based on their knowledge, their communication skills and the different points of view that they can bring to the table. Generally, you know much more about a potential Advisory Board member than you would a potential focus group participant.

  • Are committed to the process. They have a vested interest in the outcome, because their success is tied to your success. Few focus group participants would have this level of interest in the success of the process.

  • Can become a sounding board for sensitive issues you would never consider sharing with a group of randomly selected outsiders.

Our customers are scattered throughout the country. Wouldn't it cost a fortune to fly them to our location for Advisory Board meetings?

There are three ways to avoid flying participants to a central location for an Advisory Board meeting.

  • Find a location where Advisory Board members are likely to convene on their own, and hold the session there. Most industries have annual conventions, trade shows or meetings that are likely to be attended by Advisory Board candidates. Consider piggybacking the Advisory Board meeting with those industry events.

  • Run regional Advisory Boards. There may be regional pockets of potential Advisory Board members clustered around the country. For example, if your target audience is the financial community, your company might run two Advisory Boards: a New York session for East Coast participants and a San Francisco session for West Coast participants.

  • Conduct the sessions via conference call or an Internet meeting. Not all sessions need to be handled as in-person sessions. Consider running one annual meeting in person and handle the other three sessions via conference call or an Internet meeting.

How many sessions per year should we run?

Some companies choose to run Advisory Board sessions quarterly. A quarterly schedule maintains involvement for both the participants and company management.

Other schedules might be equally appropriate. If change is slow in your industry, bi-annual or annual meetings might be appropriate. On the other hand, if change is rapid in your industry, or you are operating in a rapidly evolving environment (e.g., participating in a merger or acquisition), then sessions might be run more frequently than quarterly.

How many people participate in a session?

Generally, 6-8 participants is the ideal size for an Advisory Board session.

How long does a typical session last?

For sessions in which all participants are local, we recommend half-day sessions. If participants travel from out of town for the event, then full-day sessions are recommended.

Who should I contact for additional information?

Call Nick Calo, the President of Calo Research Services at 513-984-9708. Or, e-mail him at ncalo@caloresearch.com.