We all know that from a marketing perspective, financial services fall within the category of intangibles. According to Webster, an intangible is something that is “incapable of being touched.” That's only part of the story.
Everything a financial advisor brings to the table to help clients protect, expand and distribute their assets needs to be viewed as an intangible. That includes even the best-defined financial product, which is frequently labeled and presented as being tangible. It isn't. For it to be a tangible product, you must be able to:
- Allow clients to try out the product before they purchase it.
- Accurately predict the benefits clients will receive if they do purchase it.
This is an important distinction to ponder when determining what it really takes to become a go-to provider for the affluent. Affluent investors want someone they can trust. They are tired of making isolated investment decisions, tired of receiving conflicting advice from different financial advisors and tired of sales people attempting to advise them on their serious financial affairs.
This creates a dilemma for anyone wanting to attract, service and retain rich clients. The affluent want an advisor they can trust. The very unpredictable nature of the intangible services you provide makes proving your value and trustworthiness difficult. Theodore Levitt (author of “The Marketing Imagination”) put it this way: “The most important thing to know about intangible products is that the customer usually doesn't know what he's getting until he doesn't.” It's not what you deliver so much as the client's personal, subjective experience of those deliverables that uniquely defines what the client received. Their level of satisfaction and loyalty evolves out of that experience.
To compensate, many providers of intangible services focus on building relationships as a way of convincing prospective clients of their value. But even when a client has had some experience with the provider, a perception of high risk still exists because the quality of that service varies. The phone calls from frustrated clients when the market started to drop in 2001 is a prime example. That doesn't mean that how you relate with clients does not matter — it does. However, when dissatisfaction of that nature sets in, more is required. You didn't cause the market to tumble, and there's nothing you can do to alter that fact. Your relationship with a given client, as good as it may be, will not change anything. You've got to provide more.
The challenge lies in making the intangible tangible; the best way to do that is to focus on the process and not on the products. Then use the tangible qualities of that process to demonstrate your value as a wealth management consultant. Here's how it works. To start, you must:
Determine the prospective client's goals and priorities and show how your financial advisory process will specifically enable them to address those needs and desires.
Continually demonstrate your value as you convert that prospect into a client and continue working with them through the process.
To help you articulate your skills, you must design a short promotional piece that clearly communicates your financial advisory process and the benefits a wealthy investor will receive from working with your wealth management team. And you must have an organization that stores all the documentation relating to the development and implementation of your financial solutions.
The promotional piece becomes tangible evidence of the intangible services clients will receive. The financial organizer becomes more than simply a storage binder. During scheduled review meetings and when conditions change, it becomes the tangible point of reference a financial advisor can use to help clients make wise decisions.
Building a process-driven 21st century financial practice doesn't have to be as overwhelming as it sounds. Take it one step at a time, one client at a time and one new affluent prospect at a time.
Matt Oechsli is an author and president of the consulting firm Oechsli Institute.