A few years ago, I met with an advisor who, in an attempt to forge closer relationships and share his professional knowledge with his clients, distributed a monthly newsletter. The content was well-written and insightful, replete with economic analysis and useful financial planning tips. He and his staff spent many hours each month for two years researching, writing, editing and packaging this newsletter as part of his business development activities. But there was one problem: The overwhelming majority of his clients were uninterested.
The advisor was shocked when, after deciding to discontinue all of his newsletter efforts after circulating the material to his clients like clockwork each month for two years, not a single client asked why the newsletter had simply stopped. Even when the advisor asked clients what they had thought about the newsletter and his decision to halt it, in most cases he received nothing more than a proverbial shrug of the shoulders. “Ho-hum,” was their collective response to all his hard work.
Unfortunately, being greeted with an underwhelming response to client communications is a far from uncommon experience for many advisors. The central problem is that too many advisors place too much emphasis on the purely professional aspects of their client relationships and on trying to showcase their skills as advisors. Ask yourself a simple question: How have I won some of my most enduring client relationships? Chances are they were forged on the basis of a strong personal connection – which was then backstopped by professional credentials and service.
Put simply, professional knowledge – which exists broadly – is far from the sole deciding factor for many clients when they choose their financial advisor, or in determining their satisfaction level with the advisor relationship. More often than not, personal likability and trustworthiness rate much higher than professional knowledge alone.
Being aware of this dynamic is the key to building deeper client relationships. When clients feel that an advisor has taken an active interest in the details of their personal lives, the relationship frequently goes to a whole new level. Such clients not only become loyal customers, but they are also very likely to emerge as active referral sources, eager to suggest your services to family, professional contacts and members of their social circle.
The following are the four key steps that advisors can take towards building out a communications platform that is both personal as well as scalable – which will allow advisors to create the deepest possible relationships with their clients:
1. Gather as many personal details about your clients as possible, to embark upon a “business social” relationship – This is the key to building an enduring “business-social” relationship, and it begins at the outset of the engagement, during the very first client meeting. Take an active interest in their lives. And this means much more than just inquiring about birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions. Get to know their hobbies, their top outside interests and the issues and topics they are personally passionate about. Do they enjoy golf or, perhaps, are they foodies? Are they committed environmentalists or conservationists? Whatever the case, no level of detail is too small. Not only will such information allow you to make a much stronger personal connection, but you can incorporate everything that you learn into their financial plan, since money is invariably a means to a broader end. Helping clients reach their financial goals could allow them to take that golf vacation in Arizona or go to the south of France to spend a week at a world-renowned winery, or enable them to leave behind a financial legacy to a social cause for which they are passionate.
As an example, an advisor team once told me that after any new client comes to visit, the team discusses “What book they are.” Their goal is to learn enough about the new clients’ personal interests to send them a book about something they would find interesting: travel, wine, golf, sports. This not only shows the advisor was listening, but also demonstrates that he or she cares about the clients’ personal interests and passions in a creative way.
2. Invest in a CRM or marketing platform that facilitates the capture of personal information and provides the ability to leverage it in a scalable communications format – Some recently introduced tools allow advisors to break down their clients into micro-segments based on a range of personal information and other data. Leveraging marketing automation, advisors can trigger custom communications to these segments that are highly personalized, serving to deepen relationships with high-touch, very personal interactions. This, in turn, makes clients feel that their advisor is always thinking about them, even when the process is completely automated. These tools can make communicating on personal niche topics easy and turnkey.
3. Develop content and client communications that are truly personal – Monthly newsletters oriented purely around professional topics, no matter how well-written or insightful, are cold and impersonal to many clients. What’s more, this information can be found almost anywhere. Instead, focus on making connections in unexpected, more personal ways. For example, while most advisors already send out holiday and birthday cards, they forget about other important days. I recently worked with an advisor team that one year sent their BBQ-enthusiast clients a high-end barbeque sauce in advance of the July 4 holiday weekend. Another advisor reached out on Arbor Day to clients who enjoyed the outdoors and nature, giving them seeds to plant a tree. In each case, the response was overwhelming, because the gestures were thoughtful, heartfelt and unexpected.
4. Actively track levels of client engagement vis-à-vis your communications efforts – Establishing a communications platform and developing a strategy for reaching out to clients is one thing. Putting it in proper perspective and having quantitative metrics that allow you to properly evaluate how effective they are is another. The best CRM systems should actively track the response and open rates of your clients to such communications, providing teams with real-time feedback that will enable them to quickly gauge which behaviors and strategies work best and which ones should be modified or even shelved entirely.
It’s noteworthy that the advisor who found producing a professional newsletter to be ineffective in building deeper relationships with clients ultimately took on an entirely new communications approach, including sharing favorite culinary recipes on a regular basis with a segment of high-earning clients who happened to be foodies. The result? The advisor was soon receiving very heartfelt replies to each recipe, along with invitations to come over to clients’ homes for dinner.
Establishing deeper relationships with existing clients and winning new business is not about highlighting your professional biography, how much you know about the markets or even your financial planning expertise. It’s far more personal than that.
Indeed, the most effective marketing campaigns in the financial services space convey the right message at the right time, while delivering the unexpected in ways that cement and bring new personal life to professional relationships.
Susan Theder is Chief Marketing Officer at Cetera Financial Group (www.cetera.com), a network of independent broker-dealers supporting financial advisors in the U.S.