The benefits of hosting a client appreciation event can be enormous. Executed properly, advisors will set up streams of qualified referrals from an incredibly loyal client base. Not only will a financial institution’s credibility jump, but the increased awareness of the investment program will pay dividends for years to come. A key factor in the success of client appreciation events, however, is execution. Doing it, and doing it well. It is not rocket science, and not nearly as difficult as getting your teenager to ignore their cell phone, but it takes proper planning and organization along with a creative mind and a supportive financial institution. For those of you who are about to stop reading because you think your financial institution won’t buy in to the financial commitment required, please read on because there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Why Have Client Events
Clients really do like to feel appreciated. You may be able to hang on to clients for years without doing anything other than a periodic phone call. But a client who feels appreciated is far more likely to stick with you through a down market, continue to consolidate accounts with you and is more likely to give you referrals! If you think that sending an impersonal birthday card is all you have to do, think again. Even my auto insurance agent sends my wife and me birthday cards, and he has never even met my wife. She laughs when she gets that one as she tosses it in the trash. But, the card has served its purpose!
A goal of any client appreciation activity is client retention. We also desire a greater share of their “wallet.” An equally important objective is referrals. Retention and wallet share will come from providing great service and developing a strong relationship. Your client appreciation event can provide a good opportunity to strengthen your relationship especially if the number of attendees allows you to spend quality time with the guests. In order to get referrals, you need to make it very easy for people to talk about you. The most successful client event is one where the next several times your clients talk with their friends afterwards, they start the conversation with something such as, “We went to an event that our financial advisor put on and it was amazing! It was so much fun that I can’t wait for the next one.”
You also don’t want to invite everyone. You want the guests to feel special, and if they are among a crowd of one hundred or more, they will not. If your book includes more than 20 “A level” clients, you may want to divide them into multiple groups and host different events depending on their personalities and interests. We recommend a target attendance of about twenty to thirty people, comprised of approximately 15 clients and 15 of their friends. This will allow you to have plenty of face time with each guest. It may also keep your costs down.
Buy-in from executives: The first challenge you can anticipate will be getting buy-in from your financial institution. They may have concerns about just recognizing one segment of their customer base when they truly appreciate all of their customers. It is also likely that money has not been budgeted to support such an event. Client appreciation, plain and simple, should be a part of every successful advisor’s marketing budget. Of course, while you truly want to express your sincere thanks to your best customers, these events are really golden marketing opportunities.
Budget approval: If you are considering your first client appreciation event, you will need to build a case for a reasonable budget and support for the event. On the financial side, fortunate (and persuasive) advisors may be able to get an investment product provider to help with costs. If so, be sure to get the okay from your compliance department! For investment programs that need to look internally to cover costs, you might start building your case for funding by estimating a return on investment, or determine what amount of new money invested it will take to cover the cost of your event. Keep in mind that the most successful client appreciation events should require that attendees bring guests. Successful events should result in multiple new appointments with new prospects. How much money would need to be placed in new investments to cover the cost of the event? How many new relationships will it take? What other assets do your clients have that you may be able to bring under your management?
Successful Event Types
I say events because you may have better results if you have several smaller events rather than one HUGE event. Regardless, here are some ideas shared by successful advisors:
- Wine, champagne or beer tastings
- Gourmet cooking class, murder mystery dinner, gourmet dessert bar
- Ceramics class with potter’s wheel, painting class, ballroom dance lessons
- Trick golf shot demo, day at the races, sporting event with skybox
- Event with celebrity or local politician, movie premier
- Document shredding event
- Magician (who teaches easy tricks: picture clients showing friends, telling where they learned)
Use your imagination and come up with ideas that will get your client base talking about you! And don’t forget to get word out to the local media afterwards! Do not be disappointed if your first event attendance is light. Once the word gets out about how fun it was, you won’t have that problem the second time you host an event.
Client Appreciation Beyond Events
For those advisors who are unable to get the buy-in needed to host a big event, there are other ways you can show your clients that you appreciate their business and provide an easy way to talk about you and your services!
Planning ahead for client appreciation should begin with the client profiling process. Consider adding questions to the process that identify what they like to drink, their favorite fruit, their favorite cookie, or restaurant. They may ask, “Why do you need this stuff for a financial profile?” You answer: “A big part of my business comes from referrals from satisfied clients. When I get referrals I like to properly thank my clients because this allows me to focus on managing their assets rather than prospecting for new business all of the time.”
Remember, you don’t always have to host an event to show clients that they are really appreciated. You can use the following approach with all of your clients, not just the top tier that would qualify to attend an event.
A very successful advisor I know has his assistant prep for appointments by having a treat ready for the client. They keep tubs of cookie dough in their office refrigerator. Before the client meeting, the assistant bakes the cookie dough in a toaster oven. Imagine walking in to the meeting and seeing and smelling your favorite warm cookies and milk on the table. This simple system results in a lot of referrals, and the cookies are always mentioned as something that got them interested. Little things like this give clients something fun and easy to talk about with their friends and co-workers.
Short Answer: Client Appreciation Works
Client appreciation, whether full events or small daily efforts, absolutely pays off. Clients are more loyal, more likely to consolidate multiple accounts with you, and more likely to give referrals. Happy clients mean a stronger, easier business for the advisor, and greater awareness for the investment program. So show those clients how much they mean to you and reap the benefits.
Rick Dahl is Executive Vice President at CUSO Financial Services and Sorrento Pacific Financial and Chief Compliance Officer at Sorrento Pacific Financial