Client Relationships: Start With the Future in Mind | Lord Abbett

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Practice Management

Many advisors spend too much time going after new business and not nearly enough time working with clients they already have. That may be a huge mistake. 

This Practice Management article is intended for financial advisors only (registered representatives of broker/dealers or associated persons of Registered Investment Advisors).

How would you prefer to spend the bulk of your time: seeking out new business, or providing such great service that clients tell everyone they know about you?

When you consider the stress, effort and high cost of acquiring new clients, I think you would agree that the second option is the way to go.

And yet, too many advisors spend a great deal of time going after new business and not nearly enough time working with clients after they come aboard. That may be a huge mistake. 

The Fragile First 100 Days
The service you provide during the first 100 days after a prospect becomes a client is a major determinant of your future success. So says Joey Coleman, who as the “chief experience composer” of Design Symphony has helped scores of companies deliver amazing service to their customers.

Consider his findings:

  • Across all industries, businesses lose 20% to 60% of new customers within the first 100 days.
  • For the banking industry, the “defection rate” is 32% within the first year—with half of that occurring within the first 100 days.
  • For a subscription-model business, such as software as a service, the dropout rate is 20% within the first 100 days. 

While Coleman doesn’t specifically track attrition rates for financial advisors, research by my firm, CEG Worldwide, found that 97.5% of investors with more than $2 million in investible assets have two or more advisors. So while you might be able to say that you haven’t lost a single client in the last decade, ask yourself if your clients are really with you—or if just a part of them is.

Then consider that 30% of your new business comes from client referrals. What are you doing in the first 100 days to help ensure great introductions?

Why do so many clients defect in short order, or why do they entrust you with only a portion of their wealth?

When we decide to do business with someone, we go through a series of different emotions identified by Coleman. The first is “activation,” in which we hand over our money and feel hope and relief that we’ve found the solution to our problems.

But soon, we start to ask questions like, “Is this really the right financial advisor for me? Am I paying too much? Will he/she be there for my family after I’m gone?” and so on. Fear, uncertainty and doubt set in, as we experience classic buyer’s remorse. These reservations occur most strongly soon after the purchase or engagement.

Unfortunately, most firms don’t address those doubts when they’re at their peak. There’s usually little to no contact during this time when new clients are busy second-guessing their decision to work with you. So what’s the solution? How do you keep clients engaged, happy and loyal? If the likelihood of defection is strongest within the first 100 days, then securing their loyalties early on can win you a customer for life.

The 45-day Solution
At CEG Worldwide, we teach advisors to conduct a 45-day follow-up meeting with new clients. This should be part of a formal process used to attract, serve and retain clients over time. You should plan the 45-day new client meeting to accomplish the following:

1. Greet the client. Let the client know that you continue to be excited about how everything is progressing and reinforce that he or she made a good decision by hiring you. And be sure to reference something personally important to the client—something not related to investing.

2. Respond to questions. First, ask if the client has questions and make sure you’ve received all of them before responding to any of them.

3. Ask about the client’s life. To stay on top of big changes, like a new job or a recent death in the family, that can require adjustments to the wealth management plan, find out if anything important has occurred since you last met.

4. Give the client an organizer. Present him or her with a tabbed notebook that includes sections for various documents: the wealth management plan, brokerage statements and regular progress reports. Place all the documents in the appropriate sections and explain what each is for, showing the client how to read the various documents. Clients will frequently remark on the volume of paperwork they are receiving. Invite them to bring it, along with the notebook, to future meetings, so that you can continue to help them remain organized.

5. Place short-term progress in a long-term perspective. If the market did well in those first 45 days, you will look like a genius. If the market is down, the negative returns will make the client wonder why he or she is paying you. Turn either situation into a learning opportunity by explaining that what has happened in the last 45 days has little to do with achieving the client’s long-term goals. In the short term, no one can know with any accuracy which way the market will move, but making prudent decisions over the long term can maximize the probability of success.

Here are a few other actions, based on Coleman’s suggestions, that can really wow your new clients as soon as they begin doing business with your firm:

  • Send each new client a short personalized video message thanking him or her for signing on with your firm.
  • Follow up with a small personal gift that you know he or she will appreciate. That type of unexpected proactive move makes a big impression. 
  • Contact the client using Skype. This is a more intimate form of communication that most of us use with family and friends. Using it to contact the client sends the message that he or she is very important to you.
  • Mail a handwritten note thanking the client once again for working with you and encouraging him to reach out with any questions or concerns.

Retaining Clients for Years

Of course, when the first 100 days are over, you must have the systems in place to continue to impress your clients on an ongoing basis. One good way to maintain your relationships is to take full advantage of quarterly and annual portfolio reviews.

All the while, keep asking yourself how you are doing relative to the other financial advisors out there gunning for your clients’ assets. Are you doing all you can to learn more about your clients and understand their lives more deeply? Do your communications with them reflect that understanding? Do you surprise them occasionally with unexpected touches that make them want to tell the world how great you are?

Do these things and 100 days will extend to 10,000 days, as you transform new clients into lifelong advocates who send a steady stream of new business your way. 

—John J. Bowen Jr.

John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide, a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors in San Martin, Calif.



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