Business leaders often approach us with questions on how to effectively start (and keep) an advisory board, and if the time investment is worth the outcome in today’s social media age where so often advice and opinions are shared so publicly. The truth of the matter is, that despite getting access to many more opinions and ideas via social platforms, an advisory council targets exactly the people whose opinions matter most, allows for you to control the narrative, and creates a safe space (in person or virtually) to dig for insight, ideas, and actions from your chosen advisors.

We partnered with a client who recognized the importance of strong listening initiatives. They began with a partner roundtable to test the waters with their partners. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and they moved to a full advisory council (more on that later).

So, how can you implement an impactful advisory board in your own business?

Step 1: Determine if an Advisory Council is Right for Your Business

  1. Do I have a strong base of partners or customers that I need to deepen the relationship with at the executive level of our and their organizations?
  2. Do I have a designated and empowered program management with sufficient operational resources that I can dedicate to manage an advisory council on an ongoing basis?
  3. Can I leverage an advisory council as a sales and demand generation tool, as well?
  4. Will my executive team and the partners or customers commit to face to face and virtual workshops at least two times a year, and commit to serving on a council for at least one-to-two years?

If the answers to the above questions are mostly ‘yes’, then an advisory council will be a good move for your business. But what to do next?

Step 2: Start With the Basics

  1. Decide and Develop a Clear Vision for the Council. As any organization should have a clear vision, so should your advisory council. What are the goals, purpose and overall vision of your council? Why are you starting this council?
  2. Make a List of the Ideal Member Attributes. To start, blend your advisory members to reflect your ideal partner mix. As you mature in councils, you could then go the route of different partner type councils: ie. Distribution, MSP, Alliances. At the start, it’s important that it is a mix of partner types, of long-standing and new partners, and of demographics – age, gender, experience levels. It’s important to be specific and clear on the partner role you want – ie. The President, Executive or Owner or a more technical/CTO-focused advisory council. It can be difficult to mix those roles too much in one council.
  3. Pick a Comfortable Number of Council Members. Ideally, 10-14 members. If you decide to pursue a council with above 14 members – that is up to 24 or so – it is very important that the actual meetings are broken into roundtable and smaller group discussions mingled with large group discussions. This makes for a stronger experience and the members’ voices are heard more regularly.
  4. Determine the Most Appropriate Term for Members. We like to see a commitment of 1 – 3 year(s) from each advisory board member. When the organization has a short sales cycle, is transactional, and/or is a very fast-paced company, one year may make sense. Two years seems an ideal number for many companies in between. Companies who have a channel partner mix which is mature and stable and typically work with the same partners may leverage a longer, three-year commitment.
  5. Will your members be Appointed or Elected? For your first council it may be easiest to appoint members following the interview process. Moving forward as your council progresses, an election may provide a more unique mix of members. Either way can provide great outcomes. You may also do a mix of appointing members and then further holding elections for specific member positions.
  6. Identify and Prepare Clear Objectives for Council Members and Meetings. These should align with the vision and goals of the advisory council. The objectives need to be simple and clear- and agreed upon by any chosen council members. These objectives can shift as the council develops and grows, but will likely mostly remain intact based on the overall vision.
  7. Ensure you have a Strong Executive Sponsorship before you move forward. The executive sponsor will act as the bridge of your advisory board. They are driving the vision and future of the company but want to bring the customer and partner viewpoints into those decisions.
  8. Hold Member Pre-Interviews (ideally with a 3rd party) to understand lay of land. 3rd party moderation can be of great value when it comes to pre-discovery. This includes interviews, surveys, and general understanding/listening before-hand.
  9. Choose your Council Members. What is the right ‘mix’ of customers, partners and other stakeholders? We prefer either a partner advisory council or a customer advisory council. If you decide to mix them they should be either equally mixed to reflect the balance of your business (if your goal is to have 50% of your business with/through partners – you might consider having 50% of your council as partners and 50% as customers). If you have the luxury of mixing the two, then you could have a “guest” model where there are 2 seats on each council for the opposite group- for example, a partner council would have 2 customer guest seats.

Now that the basics are taken care of, the team you place in charge of the advisory council will need to start organizing and getting the word out to partners, customers and employees.

Step 3: Make an Announcement to Your Organization’s Network

Declare the Official Launch of your advisory council with a clear mission, goals and objectives. Send out a press release from your company, along with the matching social media announcements. Also, prepare a message that your new advisory council members can share via their social accounts.

Step 4: Get that First Meeting on the Books

Drive the top priority actions for the first meeting so that by the next meeting (and progress updates in between), the council sees action, focus, and dedication to ‘upward movement.’ It is important for the members to feel valued and ultimately fulfillment from this meeting, so they are excited for the future of the council and also confirmed in their decision to join as a member.

Step 5: Don’t Lose Momentum

Deliver a timeline, meetings, executive sponsors and ongoing designated support including operating cadence. Ensure that the members (and your organization) are seeing proper follow-up from the first meeting, have a clear timeframe on the scheduling of the next meeting and any actions that are needed prior to it. Since advisory councils don’t meet very often, find ways to engage with the members during the ‘off-times.’ Start a social media group, email chain, etc. where your members can hear from you and each other during those times. Here ideas can be shared relevant to the actions from the first meeting and it will serve as a great place to discover agenda items for future council meetings. Regardless of how you want to stay connected to the members, be sure that you are always staying true to the original vision of the council.


Now back to our client story. Our client used these criteria and tools to move their advisory council forward. In doing so they pinpointed their top critical success factors: A 3rd party outside objective facilitator, pre-interviews to understand exactly what is on the partners’ minds, and a very structured council meeting agenda balanced with the important topics and maximum listening from executives and minimal PowerPoints.

We believe if you follow the steps in this guide you will find value, immediate action, and purpose for your advisory council. The time commitment and resources will be an investment well worth it with the outcome you, your customers and your partners will gain from a successful, thriving ad