In the May issue of Financial Planning magazine, I discussed how client perceptions may have changed over the past three years. I use the term Client 2.0 to describe this more-cautious and aware buyer, and offered thoughts on how you can better connect using an evolved Client Communications 2.0 plan. I spoke with several smart, accomplished advisors and industry consultants such as Ed Jacobson, Steve Saenz, Carol Anderson and Amy Mullen to hear their comments. There was way too much information to fit into the magazine pages – but I didn’t want to leave it on the cutting room floor, so I am bringing it to you via The Marketing Maven blog.
Based in Sioux City, Iowa, Dr. Don Heilbuth has a Doctorate of Education in Adult and Higher Education, a Master of Arts Degree in Counseling, Guidance and Personal Services, and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration and Psychology. He decided to become a financial advisor, 29 years ago, and apply his teaching and counseling skills to help people with their money matters. “It was either that or join become a minister,” he says.
Given Heilbuth’s background, education, natural instincts and professional tool belt, its no surprise that his practice was not negatively affected by client attrition and angst during the 2008/09 market turmoil and Wall Street scandals. Here’s a quick look at what’s in Heilbuth’s Client Communications Tool Belt.
28-POINT ANNUAL CONTACT SYSTEM
To help curb client anxieties and improve communications, he and the other advisors at EFS Group LLC, a fee-based firm that offers securities through independent broker/dealer Securities America, Inc., decided to institute in a 28-point annual contact system.
“We have various educational events, such as town hall meetings,” Heilbuth says. “We also have been trying to do more golf outings, summer barbeques, wine tastings, and other client/ prospect events – things that get people together for fun and relaxation – that’s especially important when times are tough. While survey’s, letters and reports are all part of our 28-point annual contact plan, it’s important to connect on a personal and social level as well.”
NO “C CLIENTS” ON THE LIST
Heilbuth’s firm has segmented their client list into three different groups, AAA, AA, and A. As a long-time marketing communications consultant, I like the fact that every single one of the firm’s clients make the “A list” (how demeaning to be categorized a “C” client – or to be treated as one). The EFS Group uses a CRM system to send customized messages and special invitations to each segmented client group.
THE EVER-FRESH WEBSITE
They also updated their website twice in the last three years. From a marketing communications perspective, this is good – you want your marketing messages and client communications prose to really resonate with your readers, so revising the language on your website, brochure, etc. to stay relevant and jive with the times is a smart way to let people know that you are paying attention and putting yourself in the reader’s shoes. A caring practitioner who takes the time to think about and post or print the most appropriate information for the firm’s clients and general public will be seen as a better resource than a practitioner who’s website and brochure are out-of-date or even slightly off-target.
“We totally revamped our website, adding stuff like Seminars and Weekly Commentaries to it. We wanted it to have a fresh, easy-to-follow and fun look to it,” he says. The firm will consider adding social media to the mix when Securities America rolls out a content creation and compliance solution this summer. He’s thinking about adding a professionally produced video series and a super-charged professional profile through special vendor agreements negotiated for Securities America reps.
THE NEXT-PHASE SYSTEM
“We have also been very consistent in articulating the benefits of Securities America’s Next Phase™ program, a system that allows us to build customized proposals based on placing the client’s retirement investment dollars into five-year segments according to time frame needs. The time segmented methodology reduces the impact of emotions,” Heilbuth says. “It reduces the urge to sell when the market is bottoming out. It gives people a lot of confidence in their plan. I'm totally dedicated to it. Securities America makes it easy to implement and manage client portfolios through their Managed Opportunities and/or Advisor Directed platforms.“
A FIRST-RESPONDER MENTALITY
When there is extreme market volatility, the first thing he does is call and check in with the client, just to see how they're responding to recent market events. “We reassure the client and visit with them regarding how their money is currently being invested. I talk to them about the time-segmented investment model, which we are totally dedicated to for our client base. I also invite them to come in for a Rediscovery Meeting, a process that Securities America developed and encourages all of their registered representatives to use that allows us to really dig in and discuss things in greater depth. Before I get off the phone, I thank the client for having faith and trust in me, and I tell them that we will build on that.”
Everyone in the seven-person office is encouraged to belong to and participate in at least two community organizations. This creates more opportunities for connecting on a personal level. “We have two client advisory boards, one for our general client base and one for a niche we have in our community,” Heilbuth adds. The firm targets MidAmerican Energy Employees, schoolteachers, widows and divorcees. “When I meet new people I invite them to come in for a complimentary Discovery Meeting,” he says.
CLIENT-FOCUSED DISCOVERY MEETINGS
The first topic they cover in either the Rediscovery Meeting (if a client) or the Discovery Meeting (if a prospective client) is values and concerns. He asks questions such as:
- What about money is important to you?
- What do you want your investments to achieve?
- What keeps you up at night?
- What are your top three concerns?
- What is your life style?
- How involved are you in charities? Sports?
- When do you want to retire?
- What do you plan on doing in retirement?
The second thing they talk about is legacy. He asks questions such as:
- What are you most proud of achieving?
- Do you want to leave money to your loved ones and/or a favorite charity?
The third thing they discuss is family. He asks questions such as:
- What family members are most important to you?
- What schools did you go to?
- Do you have pets? Special friends? What are their names?
The fourth thing they discuss is relationships. He asks questions such as:
- What clubs or organizations do you belong to?
- What churches, synagogues, mosques or temples do you go to?
- How important are those relationships?
He then drills down and talks in greater depth about money. He’ll ask:
- What is important to you about money?
- How do you save?
- What are your opinions on taxes?
- What have been your best and worst investments?
- What are your investment holdings?
- Do you have life insurance, investment properties?
- How do you feel about carrying debt?
- When was the last time you reviewed your will and/or trust?
- Who is your current attorney, your life insurance agent, your CPA?
- Who are your current advisors?
- What are your likes and dislikes about those advisors?
- What's your best and worst experience with an investment advisor?
The next thing he covers is expectations. Heilbuth will ask:
- How do you see me helping you?
- What are your expectations?
- How do you see me helping you?
- How often do you want to meet?
- How often do you want me to call you in to meet?
Finally (if you are counting along with me, this is question set number eight) he closes with the discovery question. This can be the most important question of all:
- What did you discover about yourself in our conversation?
“Don and his team have maintained very close contact with current and prospective clients through email, educational events, town hall meetings, small group activities, quarterly or semi-annual reviews and periodic phone calls,” says Kirk Hulett, one of the practice management experts at Securities America who helped develop many of the client communications tools and strategies referenced above. “Service is their mantra. As a result, they have a very loyal clientele.”
Marie Swift is president and CEO of Impact Communications, Inc., a full-service marketing communications and PR firm that has for over twenty years worked with some of the best and brightest in the financial services industry.
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You might also be interested in her Networking 2.0 blog on www.womenadvisorforum.ning.com.