Why Clients Should be on Your Lunch Menu (So to Speak)

Jan 12, 2017

client relationship

I have a unique perspective when it comes to working with financial advisors. By day, I get to share research, opinions and best practices with financial advisors around the country. The goal of course is to help advisors grow, differentiate and create efficiencies in their businesses. But at the same time, I am one of your clients. I’m 55, married, two kids, college education and retirement goals, some complicated tax issues and aging parents. (See what I mean? Sounds like the average of many of your clients, right?) When I spend time coaching advisors, I do my best to share best practices, but try to do it through the lens of what your clients sees. My goal is to give the client a voice in your business, so it was very interesting a few weeks ago when my own financial advisor called, inviting me to lunch.

Putting on my client hat

Like your clients, I have a good relationship with my advisor. He knows more about me and our family then anyone (there are certain things you don’t share with your siblings or parents). I trust and respect him and am confident in our plans, but I wouldn’t say we are “buddies.” His lunch invitation was nice and he promised there was nothing to sell (he is fee only, after all) and that he just wanted to catch up. I am a person who is always wary, but this time I figured:

  • Well, I have to eat anyway – and he is buying
  • It is nice to eat out of the office on occasion (and he promised sushi)
  • Lunch is easy, there is a definite end time, as we both have to go back to work

Let me tell you – we had a great lunch. We talked kids, vacations, golf and tennis. He asked me how I was doing, and I asked how he was doing. We discussed his business and I shared some of my successes and challenges. Start to finish, the lunch ended up taking 65 minutes and we were both back at our offices more focused because of the diversion. So why share this story? What is the big deal about my lunch this week? Because it was a great business-building idea – and he was testing it out on me.

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Putting on my practice management hat

As he drove me back to the office (I would have met him there, but he drives by the office AND I didn’t want to lose my great parking spot), I asked him why he invited me out. He said that he set his goal for 2017 to have lunch once a week with a client. He thought the lunch idea would accomplish a number of things (not in any particular order):

  • It would build stronger, more personal relationships
  • In the small talk about the business, he could share some highlights – but also convey the message that his firm was working on my behalf all the time, not just when we meet once a year
  • He was “collecting names.” He was listening to who I was playing paddle tennis with, who was over at our house during the holidays, plus how my wife’s start-up business was doing and who they were hiring – in short, who was important to us. Those names might come up down the road as a prospective client or center of influence. They could become future clients. And by the way, although he didn’t ask, I was thinking about referrals for him. I told him a few people that he should call.

He said he wanted to start with me (because of my “two hats”) and had mapped out who he would take to lunch each week. He set a goal of 35 lunches in 2017 – and he printed a scorecard and posted it in the break room in his office. The whole firm knew the goal and was going to encourage him.

Where are you eating today?

This was not a business lunch – it was social, but the interaction had business benefits. As I reflected on our conversation, it reminded me of a very successful firm that started in a CPA firm. The advisor started the business by individually inviting each CPA partner to lunch with him, a practice that he still does today. That firm is over $1B in AUM today; not a bad return on a few $7 sandwiches (or in my case, a few $6 sushi rolls). Making the effort to call and invite someone takes just a few minutes, but can add both social and economic value to your firm.

What are you doing for lunch today? Think about who you could be eating with… not your favorite client, but your entire client base. Maybe you could spend lunch reminding clients who you are and what you do – and more importantly, build a stronger relationship with them. Doesn’t that sound better than a quick salad at your desk? You have to eat anyway.

John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is the creator and lead author of Practically Speaking blog and Managing Director of Practice Management Solutions for the SEI Advisor Network.

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