You know that great new client you just signed, the one you want to keep for years?

The way you treat that client during the next 100 days may very well determine if you have a client for life who sends lots of new business your way — or one that jumps ship to a competitor sooner than you think.

That’s because clients go through seven distinct phases when they work with you. But chances are that you catch on to only about half of them. And that could be costing you dearly in terms of client loyalty, referrals and assets under management.

Here’s why the first 100 days are all-important and how you can deliver an amazing experience at each of the seven phases to have clients with tremendous lifetime value to your practice.

THE FIRST 100 DAYS

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Across all industries, 20% to 60% of customers leave within the first 100 days.

The idea that your future success is driven largely by the service you provide during the first 100 days after a prospect becomes a client comes from Joey Coleman, the “chief experience composer” of Design Symphony, a company that helps firms enhance their brand experience. In this role, Coleman has helped scores of companies deliver experiences and service to clients.

Consider his findings about customers’ behavior during their first 100 days as a client:

  • In the typical business, across all industries, 20% to 60% of customers leave within the first 100 days.
  • The “defection rate” is 32% in the first year for the banking industry, with 16% happening in the first 100 days.
  • In a subscription-model business (such as software as a service), 20% of customers will leave in the first 100 days.

Coleman doesn’t track the attrition rates for financial advisers specifically. But our research at CEG Worldwide tells us that 97.5% of investors with more than $2 million in investible assets have two or more advisers. So while you might be able to say that you haven’t lost a single client in the last decade, ask yourself if they are really with you — or if just part of their wealth is.

In addition, we observe that 30% of new business will come from client referrals. What are you doing in the first 100 days to help ensure great introductions from raving fans?

Why do so many clients defect in short order, or why do they entrust you with only part of their wealth? When we decide to do business with someone, we go through a series of phases that Coleman has identified.

ASSESSMENT

At this stage, prospective clients are comparing you with not just all the other advisers out there, but also with the prospect of not doing anything different at all with their money. This phase can last a few days to as long as several years.

This is where you need to show prospects that you are actually different than the rest of the pack and that they should seek you out instead of staying in stasis. Advisers don’t generally do a great job here. Just notice how many of your peers’ websites talk about treating clients like family and putting clients first. The terms and language are all being recycled, and to prospects advisers all look the same.

Some advice to consider: Have a free, downloadable document on your website showing what people can expect if they become clients. This should walk them through the first year of your client experience and how you and your team will meet, work and communicate with them. You might even do this using a professionally shot video. This is very comforting to those who do their homework on you.

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Make your kick-off meeting a bit of a spectacle so the new client feels cared for and maybe even amazed.

ACTIVATION

This is Day 1, the moments when clients sign the agreement and clock starts ticking on the first 100 days. This may be when you start to pay less attention to the person and turn your focus to more prospects. That is a big mistake.

This should be when you energize the relationship by letting the individual know there is a clear transition from prospect to client. All this might take is a handwritten note thanking him for putting his trust in you. Amazingly, such a little touch blows people’s minds these days. Other options include emailing or mailing a printed process map and success checklist that offers a tangible artifact of the brand experience. Here again, a quick thank-you video (even one shot on your phone) can be a big differentiator.

AFFIRMATION

This occurs when the person who excitedly said yes to you starts doubting the decision — the classic moment of buyer’s remorse. When any of us say yes to something, our brains flood with good-feeling dopamine. But it recedes almost instantly and uncertainty creeps in.

The trouble is, advisers rarely do anything to counter this feeling. You’re high-fiving your team while the new client is worried he did the wrong thing signing up with you. Unless you reaffirm his decision fast, you put yourself in a big hole.

To fill this gap, send a third-party testimonial or case study that offers validation of the client’s decision (assuming compliance approval). Pair it with a message noting the person’s wise choice to help mitigate any feelings of buyer’s remorse. You might also send the new client your latest article or white paper that shows your expertise and credibility. You could even create a short video acknowledging that we all get buyer’s remorse after major decisions and that we need to remember why we took this step in the first place.

ADMISSION

Invite a client in to do business with you the first time. This is the kick-off meeting, where you get to show her that life with you will be really beneficial and different.

I’m sure you’ve done plenty of kick-off meetings and I imagine you probably go about them in a fairly rote manner by now. Instead, make your kick-off a bit of a spectacle so the new client feels cared for and maybe even amazed. Some smart moves advisers make include:

  • Reserving a parking spot with the client’s name on it right out front by the main office door.
  • Having the receptionist prepared with the new client’s favorite beverage or snack.
  • Check social media to learn some personal “likes” of the client, and reflect those interests at the meeting.

Notice that these aren’t huge, expensive steps to take. They’re small, but deeply meaningful to the clients. Even better, these are systematic steps that you can repeat over and over again easily.

ACCLIMATION

At this stage, the clients start to really see what doing business with you is like. This is when your clients start getting all that new account, trades and transfers paperwork in their mailboxes, and they wonder just what they should do with all of it.

At this phase, we strongly recommend that all advisers conduct a follow-up meeting, generally 45 days after the initial session. At this follow-up session, you ask new clients to bring in all that paperwork so you can go through it with them and help them sort and organize it. This small bit of hand holding can really ease uncertainty. At this meeting, it’s good to introduce the client to other staff members and explain how various employees can help her with many of the questions that she might have over time.

For example, you can explain how a junior adviser in your firm can be the go-to person for questions about trades that were executed. This tells new clients that your staff is not a lesser version of you but rather an extension of you. It will also help ensure that clients don’t demand to talk to you for everything they need help with.

ADOPTION

The client starts to take ownership of the relationship and feel truly invested in it. You know you’re at this stage when a client calls you to set up a regular meeting or checks in with you about his current asset allocation. You know you’re delivering a great experience if you’re being sought out instead of having to chase everyone down for meetings and calls.

To go deeper with clients at this stage, consider sending out client satisfaction surveys to gather data that you can use to strengthen your experience. This is also when client appreciation dinners and niche-focused experiences (like taking clients to a big event and getting VIP access) are extremely valuable.

ADVOCACY

This is the holy grail moment, where clients become your zealous advocates and start bringing their colleagues to you. Your marketing efforts become so easy because of so many warm — even hot — leads from existing clients (who, in essence, become an extension of your marketing team). This is when growth can become stratospheric.

The upshot: Pay attention to creating great experiences at each stage of the client life cycle during the first 100 days, and you will find yourself with clients who are well on their way to becoming your raving fans — and marketing machines for your practice.

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John J. Bowen Jr.

John J. Bowen Jr.

John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide, a global coaching, training, research and consulting firm for advisers in San Martin, California. Follow him on Twitter at @CEGAdvisorCoach.