Who Comes Up With the Best Ideas to Improve Your Practice?

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When it comes to figuring out how you will improve your services or what new things you can do for clients, there is a lively debate about where those ideas should come from.

Some say they should come from your clients. We know that asking for feedback drives client loyalty and acting on that feedback is even more powerful. People in this camp advocate client surveys and client advisory boards. If one of your primary goals is to thrill clients, who better to tell you what you can be doing better?

There are others who would point out that clients are in no position to understand enough about the financial advisory business to come up with the truly great ideas. A popular quote widely misattributed to Henry Ford goes something like "if I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me faster horses." I attended a presentation by Lou Harvey of Dalbar who put it more succinctly. After regaling us for 45 minutes with charts and graphs about innovation and client feedback, he said "you cannot get the best ideas by asking your clients because they do not know what's possible."

Because of this, there are many advisors who believe that they, the advisors, are in the best position to come up with what improvements they should make. They know their clients best, I am frequently told, and they have the experience and expertise in the advisory business to deduce what to add or improve in their practice.

But there are serious short comings to limiting yourself to the echo chamber of your own head. As Marc Freedman, President of Freedman Financial, told me in an interview "after a while we come to believe that we know best what needs to be improved and we forget to ask the people who will be impacted by our decisions."

So which is it? Who is the best source for the ideas we need to improve our practice? In fact, it's both.

Innovation is a process, and you and your clients each have a role. More than that, it is an iterative process. It involves cooperation between you and your clients, and creativity from both of you.

I believe strongly that the clients should be at the center of your strategic plan. The ultimate key to business development and attracting referrals is a constant focus on what the clients need and value. And so I believe it should start with them. Ask your client advisory board what is most valuable about what you do and what they would most like to see from you that you do not do now. And when you ask, understand that you will not get the final idea right there.

Beyond asking about products and services, ask about outcomes they would like to experience. Look for unarticulated problems in need of solutions. What keeps them up at night? What ways on their minds most heavily?

Take that feedback and do some brainstorming of your own. Develop some possibilities of what you could do that you are not doing now or how you can improve what you are doing. Bounce around a few ideas with your staff. Come up with a couple options.

Now go back to your client advisory board. Present the possibilities you designed. Ask "how about this?" Let them consider your idea, discuss it, and give their impressions and feedback. Maybe it is exactly what they were looking for without knowing it. Maybe they have no interest in it. Maybe there are certain aspects of it that are very attractive although the idea as a whole does not make them terribly excited.

Work back and forth with your clients until an improvement or a new service emerges.

Where did the best ideas for your practice come from? Where have the greatest improvements you have implemented come from? How much of it was you and how much of it came from clients? Or were there other sources you found for great ideas?


Stephen Wershing, CFP® is President of The Client Driven Practice. He coaches financial advisors to be more effective and successful, and attract more clients and referrals, by developing more client-connected and client-driven practices. 


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Practice management