This is Part 1 in our End-to-End Excellence Series. Sales, onboarding and continuous client service are three closely tied stepping stones in what we call “The Client Service Continuum” (we’ll go over client service in Part 2).
I hope you enjoyed watching the video – I had fun making it. (Didn’t catch it? You can still register online to get it.) More importantly though, I hope you learned why creating a strong sales and onboarding process is more important today than ever before. There are so many benefits to having one:
- Improve client retention
- Create the perception you’re easy to do business with (and hopefully, perception is reality)
- Differentiate yourself from the competition
- Reduce the chance for operational errors
- Free you to focus on revenue generation
Don’t start over; retool
Now I’m not telling you to go out and change your entire process. If you have been successful in the past, you may just want to review our materials to see if there is anything you missed.
But for those of you who want more of a focus on building long-term, loyal clients and advocates, I encourage you to review the 9 steps outlined in the video companion article and follow our implementation timeline.
Yes, it will take resources and some more planning on your part, but in the end you’re saying to your new clients, “We’re excited about the relationship and committed to your success.”
Don’t miss out – you can still register online and receive the video and its accompanying article and implementation timeline.
Now let’s get started with the Q&A!
Are you happy with your current sales & onboarding process? Would you change anything based on what you saw and read today?
When two people offer differing opinions, it can be good for everyone. In the case of referrals, it can be great. Any opportunity to get more prospective clients in the door is a win — so when Dan Richards, founder of ClientInsights, reached out to me to disagree with one of my posts, we both thought it would be a good exercise to share our opinions publicly with our readers and let you decide what works best for you.
Last week, I wrote an article called “Referrals (Or How I Got Someone’s Uncle Fired)”. The theme of the post was to show that referrals don’t come by the typical “Do you know anyone that can use my services?”, but more likely happen when a client identifies a need of a friend or family member and can articulate the benefits of working with you. Dan and I agreed on that point. The question is — how do you get a client to articulate those benefits?
I had suggested:
“The next time you have a meeting with one of your better clients, instead of the usual, “If you’re happy with my service, please refer me,” take five minutes at the end of the conversation and ask:
• Why did you select me as your financial advisor?
• If someone asked you to describe how I’ve helped you, what would you say?
• What was the trigger that made you decide to get financial advice and/or change advisors? Was there a problem you wanted to solve?”
Dan’s article disagreed with my approach:
“[The] problem with asking clients to articulate our value [is] the risk that it positions us as salespeople rather than professionals. We all want to be seen as professionals, equivalent to lawyers, accountants and private bankers. Well, if you want to be viewed like accountants and lawyers, you have to act like accountants and lawyers.”
“Can you imagine a partner in a Big Four accounting firm asking ‘Why did you hire me? What did you like about the job I did?’ Can you visualize a successful lawyer asking: ’How did I help you? What problem did I solve?’ Or can you see a private banker dealing with multi-million dollar investors saying, as one referral coach advises: ’Please don’t keep me a secret.’
“There’s a simple test for every conversation, whether with existing or prospective clients. That test: would a successful accountant, lawyer or private banker say this?”
Comparing apples to apples?
As I said, I actually think Dan and I are on the same page in the first part of his post — referrals don’t come when someone just asks for them. But we differ on the second part (what he called “the private banker’s rule”). Here’s why — when I go to a CPA or attorney:
• I am typically going for a transaction with a specific tangible outcome, such as getting my taxes done or writing a will. Both parties know why I’m there and what the results were. When the transaction is done, we move on.
• I’m (typically) not paying an ongoing retainer. With advisors, you can have years of advice with multiple changes and challenges along the way.
I don’t have an issue with asking people why they started with me and why they continue, as I think it can also help them (and me) have a better understanding of the value that is provided. And that can lead to an internal script that will reinforce your value down the road.
What do you think? Post a comment or send me a note email@example.com; I will share it with Dan. I think we can all agree that we’re all looking for the best methods that result in more prospects meeting with us.
If you are not familiar with Dan’s work, you owe it to yourself to view his site and sign up for his emails. Dan is one of the few authors that I read regularly and would encourage you do the same. Dan’s website is http://www.clientinsights.ca/.
Most advisors will tell you that they get a majority of new business from referrals. Most will also tell you that they do an extremely poor job of asking for them. The scenario goes something like this…
It’s time for your client review meeting:
• You execute the meeting flawlessly
• You then mumble some unrehearsed, unprepared remark about wanting to grow your business by referrals and asking them if they know anyone who can use your services.
• You lose eye contact and wait in uncomfortable silence until they say, “I can’t think of anyone right now, I’ll get back to you.”
According to research done by the Oechsli Institute, 83% of affluent investors had a negative reaction to being asked for a referral. So, if your clients hate it and you do a crappy job asking, why do it at all? The key is training your clients. Teach them what you do, how you do it and who you do it for, and they will find clients for you.
Case in point
About five years ago, I met with Rick, a partner in a P&C insurance brokerage and consulting firm. Rick did a great job walking me through his process; more importantly, he identified fairly large holes in my previous coverage. He pointed out areas of concern that no one else had ever discussed, educated me on my options, and listened to my concerns. I became a client.
Fast-forward to last month, when one of my colleagues was describing an issue regarding his insurance and asked a few of us our opinions. Without skipping a beat, I went into Rick’s process and consultative approach, and listed the benefits of working with him. Within five minutes, my colleague called Rick to schedule an appointment and in a few short weeks, he had transferred all his P&C business to Rick. It would have happened sooner, but my colleague had to find a way to tell his uncle (his previous insurance agent) that he was being replaced.
Don’t make clients do the work
When you sit back and think about it, it’s clear why many of us don’t do a great job with referrals. When we ask, “Do you know anyone?” we put all the pressure (and work) on our clients. We’re essentially asking them to:
• Search their brains for a name, without giving them any context
• Potentially put their friendships at risk, since they don’t know what we will do with those names
Actually, I think they want to help, but they just don’t know how or what to expect.
When I gave that referral to my colleague, I was able to clearly articulate the personal benefits of working with Rick’s firm. I was able to describe his process and why I made the decision to work with him. Can your clients do the same? Can they repeat the benefits of working with you? Can they describe your processes and why they continue to work with you?
Do your own research
The next time you have a meeting with one of your better clients, instead of the usual, “If you’re happy with my service, please refer me,” take five minutes at the end of the conversation and ask:
• Why did you select me as your financial advisor?
• If someone asked you to describe how I’ve helped you, what would you say?
• What was the trigger that made you decide to get financial advice and/or change advisors? Was there a problem you wanted to solve?
By getting clients to answer these questions, you are helping them script answers that they may use with friends and family — and maybe even help them identify others that are in similar situations. More importantly, you are hearing from them what they value in their relationship with you. And that’s better than hearing “I can’t think of anyone right now; I’ll get back to you.”
Just be careful — you may make a lot of uncles angry.
The t-ball season is about to come to an end for my youngest son and it can’t come fast enough for his coach (me). This year’s squad of five year olds is pursuing an undefeated season. Of course, since all kids in our league get to bat around in the inning and we don’t track outs or keep score, every team in undefeated so far this year. Each year, we coaches start the season with dreams of teaching the kids perfect throwing mechanics or the proper swing; in the end, we are satisfied if the kids don’t play in the dirt and run towards first base instead of third when they hit the ball.
One of the biggest challenges is keeping the kids focused on the big picture — the game – which is kind of like running an advisory practice.
One of the best things about being in this business is that we are independent business owners and no one can tell us what to do or how to run our business. One of the worst things about being in this business is that no one tells us what to do or how to run our businesses. We trade the demands of the company’s bottom line for flexibility in our schedules; we trade the scale and structure of a large company with following our own passions. I heard a quote last month that really hit home: “There are very different skill sets for being a great financial advisor and for running a great financial advisory firm.” For successful advisors, it is all about focus. For me, it gets down to the question, are you running a successful advisory practice or a successful advisory business? Too few of the advisors are running businesses. They:
• Get distracted by a hot new fund, product or piece of technology that they see at a FPA or BD conference
• Focus their businesses on the things that they cannot control (like the financial markets or the economy)
• Create headaches for themselves (and staff) by not creating or following workflows and checklists
• Don’t invest in their businesses by allocating enough of their revenue to marketing
• Give advice, but don’t follow it.
Lessons to take off the field
With our last two games approaching, our t-ball team is focusing on holding their positions when an opposing batter hits the ball. While it’s pretty funny to watch 5 year olds running into left field chasing a single ball, they are learning that if everyone is in left field, there is no one to get the batter out at first. They are learning the discipline they need to play the game the right way and to work as a team. They learn discipline by not chasing every ball in the air. Each player is learning that his/her position is important and that others are counting on them to perform. They are also learning the benefits of working with a coach who can help them maintain focus and be in the right positions to win.
Recently, I met with an advisor who decided that he needed help with his focus. He created an advisory board made up of key stakeholders in his business. The board consisted of his largest COI referral source, a very experienced wholesaler from his platform provider, his admin, his OSJ, and a representative from his broker-dealer. The board meets every quarter (in person and via video conferencing) to discuss major and minor changes in the advisor’s business. Branding, marketing, scheduling and even the financials are discussed. This team of professionals forces the advisor to be prepared — to think and act like a business — as well as make sure he maintains focus on the big picture.
Are you as focused as you should be? Or are you chasing every ball? Think about creating a board or hiring a coach.
And the best part? Just like t-ball there can be snacks at the end!
The following is a guest blog post by Paul Kingsman, a professional motivational speaker and executive coach for the financial industry.
Even seasoned advisors struggle with asking for referrals. You know you’re good at what you do and offer value, you know your clients like you, you know more people need your help. So why is asking for actionable lead information from your clients so threatening? The problem isn’t in getting the information, it’s in how we have been trained to ask. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do this, and a lot of people are telling advisors to do it the wrong way.
No one likes being put on the spot or asked to give out private information about their friends or family without their permission. If it’s a question I would not like to be asked, it’s not a question I want to ask of someone else. I don’t appreciate it when a sales person asks me to specifically tell him how I would describe how he helped me to a friend and then wants to know who I will tell about him, or asks me to write down the names and phone numbers of three of my friends who could use her services – especially when these questions come out of the blue, like a hurdle I have to get over before I can get out the door. But these are both questions I’ve recently seen recommended to advisors to ask at the end of client meetings.
My advice to you is that unless you’re holding a focus-group session with several clients to learn how to improve your practice, don’t ask questions like that!
There is another, easy way to ask for referrals that’s non-threatening, and from my personal experience and the feedback I get from the advisors I coach, it works!
Your clients may think you’re great and may be happy to recommend you, if they ever think about it. But when they are finished talking to you, typically they get back to all the demands of their everyday lives, and they aren’t thinking about you – not because they don’t like you, just because they have other things on their mind. Help them make the connection between how you help and conversations they have with their friends and family.
A better way
Assuming that your client is happy and you have had a good meeting with them, as you approach the close of your meeting and the time to cross into the “referral-ask zone” comes, try a more informal approach:
You: “Right now I’m meeting a lot of people with financial questions. They’re wondering what’s going on in the markets and which way to head, what it’ll take to retire (and stay retired!) or how to plan for college costs…stuff like that.”
Why say this: You’re presenting actual words from real conversations that they may have heard their friends or family say in their discussions over dinner, at family gatherings, in the gym, etc.
You: “If you have friends or family who need to have some stuff explained or questions answered, or just want to know what’s going on, have them give me a call.”
Why say this: It’s casual, and you’ve set the picture with words that your client is likely to actually hear from friends and family.
You: “I’d be happy to answer their questions over the phone and help, if I can.”
Why say this: You’re clarifying expectations: you’re not going to have an hour of face-to-face time chewed up by potentially irrelevant banter about where the markets are heading, etc., but you’re happy to connect with new prospects.
You: “I’ll just put out one caveat: I don’t guarantee I’ll take them on as a client; they’ve got to be a perfect fit for what we’ve got happening here.”
Why say this: You just provided yourself with a backdoor should your client’s auntie want to write naked calls on-line all day and just want your time for a second opinion on where Google’s heading.
Most importantly, however, subconsciously you just reiterated to your client that you are a perfect fit for them and they for you. It clarifies to them that you have a good thing going with each other and you value that. It makes them feel they are a part of something top-notch and exclusive. (Even if you are at a stage in your business where you’ll pretty much take anyone who fogs a mirror, you don’t have to tell your existing clients that!)
You: “But if you think I can help them, please give them my details.”
There – not too difficult and nothing awkward about it. You don’t put your client on the spot, you give them a connection to bring you top-of-mind once they leave your office, and you allow them to be in control of the referral process.
You can use this verbiage or some slight variations of it over and over again.
Prepare yourself to ask for referrals in a better way:
1. Determine some set wording you feel comfortable with.
2. Practice saying it (in the shower, to your spouse, to your dog – it doesn’t matter, but do it out loud) before you say it to a client.
3. Use it at the next appropriate and opportune time.
So, I’ve been meeting a lot of advisors lately who are wondering about different ways to grow their business, needing fresh ideas, and want help staying focused. If you have any questions like this or know of other advisors who might be looking for some help, give me a call. I don’t promise I’ll take you on as a client – it’s got to be a good fit for both me and you – but I’d be happy to talk.
The following is a guest blog post by Julie Littlechild, President of Advisor Impact – a firm devoted to helping financial advisors evaluate and improve client profitability by delivering an outstanding client experience.
Client feedback can improve client profitability. It’s really that simple.
Too often we put client feedback in the category of ‘nice but not critical.’ The reality is that gathering feedback not only tells you if clients are satisfied, but uncovers detailed information on what they need, want and expect – and that links directly to revenue and referral opportunities.
The logic is simple but the process, of course, can be slightly more complex. Specifically, what are the best questions to ask and how can you use that information to grow client relationships and increase referrals? The good news is that a relatively simple client survey, one that takes less than ten minutes for your clients to complete, can help you build more engaged and profitable relationships.
Building Deeper Relationships
Simply asking for feedback can be tied to more engaged relationships because it offers clients the opportunity for ‘ownership’ in the relationship – a say in what happens and a greater sense of control. Tactically, asking questions about how you are performing, what is important to clients and what they expect and value can help you define (or refine) your service offering. A more meaningful offer leads to greater client engagement.
Growing your Business
You can also use feedback to tie into client profitability. By asking questions on client interests in a range of service opportunities, share of wallet, or comfort in referring, you’ll end up with a clear action plan to drive organic growth.
But here are a few ways advisors are using feedback that you may not have considered.
Buying or selling a business
Some advisors are now using client feedback as a key input into the due diligence process for either the buyer (to assess risk and opportunity) or the seller (to bolster price).
Structuring an effective team
Some advisors are using feedback as an input into the team compensation plan by focusing on satisfaction with individual team members or teams
Refining your brand message
Some advisors see client feedback as a key input into their marketing plans, providing input on what clients truly value and helping them to refine their brand and messaging.
The reality is that in a client-centric business, gathering client feedback just makes sense. The real trick is how you use that information to engage clients, grow your business, or meet a range of other business objectives. Good advisors ask for feedback. Great advisors use that feedback.
SEI has partnered with Advisor Impact to give clients access to Advisor Impact’s Client Audit program, a cost-effective method to outsource the client feedback process, at a reduced rate. For more information, please call 866.722.4708 or visit this website for more information.
A few weeks back I was fortunate to co-host a webcast with Julie Littlechild, President of Advisor Impact called “Turbo-Charge Your Referral Process.” In it, we discussed four ways to boost client referrals and, even more importantly, introductions.
These tips are based on research from Advisor Impact and our experience working with thousands of advisors over the years.
1. Engage Your Clients.
Research shows that engaged clients are an advisor’s greatest advocate. They believe in what advisors do, are committed to their success and, with a bit of coaching, can provide a steady stream of qualified prospects. Advisors can improve client engagement by:
- Working with the right clients whose needs match your strengths
- Developing a deeper connection through frequent, quality contact and ongoing conversations
- Asking the right questions by encouraging client input and putting that feedback into practice.
2. Follow the Three W’s.
Successful referral-only practices always have the three W’s – Who, What and When – on their mind. These advisors develop and follow client profiles, knowing who they want to attract in terms of demographics, occupation, lifestyle and personality. They have a clear value proposition detailing what about their practice distinguishes them from other advisors, enabling them to pinpoint a target audience and play to the practice’s strengths. And, they know when to ask for a referral, an often overlooked step to success.
3. Leverage Technology.
Social networking tools are an advisor’s best friend. On LinkedIn, the “People You May Know” widget (top right corner of your profile page), helps you discover and vet potential prospects through your connections to a client. Best practices suggest that you ask clients for permission before sending requests to their connections.
Successful advisors periodically update their online profile and practice “drip marketing,” to connect with prospects over a period of time, rather than bombarding them with a constant stream of communication.
4. Do Your Homework.
When approaching a client for a referral, it’s important to be prepared. And in fact, you may want to consider going beyond simply asking for a referral and instead ask for an introduction.
You might find it’s easier to work from a script – if you do that, be sure to practice ahead of time.
Be prepared for your clients to be unprepared. Often, clients can’t immediately think of anyone. But you can skirt this problem by having one or two prospective names in mind that your client may already know to ask for an introduction.
Remember that clients are more likely to refer if it’s an easy process. Define your “Five-Star Client” and provide that description to their clients. That way, clients will better understand what you are looking for and will be more engaged in the process.
If you’d like more tips – or would like to watch a replay of the webinar – please visit our site. And if you have other tips and strategies that work for you, please feel free to share in the comments below, or email me.