What do your best clients — those who meet your target demographic and are pleasant to work with — value most about your company? Where do they feel you could improve, and what would they find sufficiently motivating to refer you to friends, family, and neighbors?

The “Homeowner Advisory Council” of Mark of Excellence Remodeling answered these and other questions in an evening of drinks and dinner with the New Jersey firm this fall. Held at a local restaurant, the $1,500 investment generated lively discussion and constructive feedback about marketing, trade partners, and pricing, as well as at least one new project (a kitchen addition) for a “council” member.

The objectives were to discover the company’s perceived strengths and weaknesses, understand how clients make major buying decisions, and explore referral strategies, says Neil Parsons, vice president of sales and marketing.

Twelve Mark of Excellence clients (couples) were invited to join the council and attend the dinner. The invitation also listed five broad talking points the company hoped to discuss. The four couples who attended had completed seven major projects between them. Parsons and the company’s owner, office manager, and design/build specialist guided the discussion.

Among other gleanings, the Mark of Excellence team picked up tips for better distinguishing their work and pricing structure, using marketing dollars more effectively, and helping clients manage allowances.

One suggestion was to reward referrals with treats from local businesses, rather than trips out of town. In the same spirit of community, Parsons has asked clients to join the company’s new “home maintenance club” (“it’s more inviting than ‘sign the contract,’” he says) and plans to host similar dinners with larger client groups every year.

—Leah Thayer, senior editor, REMODELING.