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.
According to Michael Kay, CFP®, founder and CEO of Financial Focus, (www.financial-focus.net) an RIA firm headquartered in New Jersey, the aftermath of the recession created an inflow of new clients that have something in common: They are tired of being scammed, taken advantage of and being talked down to.
“Fortunately, what they find when they come through our doors is a focus on something entirely (and unfortunately) unfamiliar to them. We listen. No high-tech touch screen on the conference room wall, no Power Point slide show showing them images of long walks on the beach. We simply ask questions and then sit back and listen.”
Sounds simple, right? It is if you have the intent to listen and actually hear what is being said, and practice it enough to make it who you are.
The process of building a great client relationship depends on several key factors:
1. Demonstrating interest. “Sitting at the head of the conference table, nodding your head like a bobble head in the back of a 67 Pontiac Grand Prix is not a suitable demonstration,” says Kay. “Showing your client that you get it is a collection of small steps, such as your body language and your understanding of theirs, your ability to understand their learning style and incorporate it, your ability to communicate clearly by asking great questions and leaving your ego at the door.”
2. Acknowledging the good stuff. Clients want their problems solved, but the over arching focus on the challenges can dismiss all the successes along the way. “Acknowledging the good stuff reminds clients that they have not only the capacity but a track record of success,” Kay says. Beginning with the positives creates the right framework for working with the challenges.
3. Articulating the priorities. Often, clients have a long list of "to do's" and wants. “Our job is to pare the list to the most important things,” Kay says. “Too many items create confusion and distractions. With clarity comes focus.” Helping clients focus on what's most important to their values is key to creating successful client relationships.
4. Creating clear and simple action steps. “Change can be overwhelming. If you know your client well enough to dole out just the right amount of work, it will create a great flow and, more important, a comfortable feeling,” Kay says. Heaping on too much is like asking someone to walk across the country … when walking across the street is enough.”
5. Providing timely follow up. A large part of creating great communications with your client involves following up on a timely basis. “Clients experience your hands-on involvement with their success. What creates greater trust than showing your clients that you are actively engaged?” Kay says.
6. Being consistent. Nothing creates greater mistrust and discomfort than inconsistency. “The experience you provide your clients must be consistent, from the phone call to the meeting experience to the follow up,” Kay says. “Clients need to know that you are reliable, that what you say and what you do are connected.”
TODAY’S MORE CAUTIOUS INVESTOR
Kay says that clients are really no different today than they were before the great recession, but there are subtle differences. “At first, new prospects are more wary and less trusting--looking for "Madoff" behind every bush,” he says. “The combination of Ponzi schemes and major institutions like Lehman Brothers going bust have created a more cautious investor. Newer clients need to be brought along more slowly. Once they become accustomed to our holistic life planning approach, they are more comfortable and able to focus on their true values.”
THE INTELLIGENT, INTUATIVE ADVISOR
Kay’s process and system kept his existing clients “in their seats” during the worst of the recession. He and his team are more focused on face-to-face meetings or phone conversations than using electronic communications. “Emails and technology are great for making appointments or answering quick questions, but not a good substitute for building and maintaining excellent client relationships,” Kay says.
At the end of the day, clients want to feel heard and understood. “They want to know that we ‘get’ them and that we craft their financial plans to resonate with who they are and what they care most about,” Kay says. “We are constantly seeking ways of connecting with our clients more effectively. Sometimes, we employ the use of a therapist to help make sure that (1) we are hearing our clients correctly and (2) they are understanding us better. The therapist serves as second set of eyes and ears.”
THE MOST IMPORTANT SKILL
The most important skill is a financial advisor needs going forward, according to Kay, is to the ability to check his or her ego at the door and be fully present to the client and their needs – to listen better, talk less and provide the client with the gift of directness. “Advisors need to constantly seek to improve their skills, knowledge, awareness of the market and of the world. The Advisor of the future must be a constant learner and a student of history,” Kay concludes.
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.