Involving your clients in your process leads to more referrals.
One of the findings in the referral study I did with Julie Littlechild last year published in this SEI white paper was that advisors who asked clients what they want to discuss in advance of client review meetings get more referrals than ones who did not. This can be one simple way to make your service more meaningful to clients and remind them to refer more frequently.
Julie’s prior studies demonstrate that all the referrals you received come from clients who are engaged. Getting clients into that engaged status involves many things (frequency of communication, soliciting client feedback, etc.). And one easy way to approach it is to solicit participation in your ongoing relationship.
By participation I mean giving them opportunities to take an active role in your work together. I am not referring to attendance at client appreciation events, for example, although that’s positive, too. Rather, I mean finding opportunities for clients to actively participate in the process of stewarding their financial well being. See if this describes the process of conducting review meetings for long-term clients: your office reaches out to a client to schedule a review, the client comes to your office, you present the current status of their portfolio, you may give them an update on what has been happening in the markets, you ask if they have any questions or changes in their situation, and they leave. I refer to this as what you “do for them.” How can you create more value together?
Consider whether you have fallen into the rut that many advisors inadvertently find themselves in. When a relationship is new and you are working through the financial planning process, you and the client both are working to design and implement a strategy. The client needs to think through their goals, gather documents, make decisions. They may need to consult with other professionals (ideally with your help) to put things in place like wills and update their insurance. The client is actively involved. You work together as a team. Then, over time, the plan requires less attention. Review meetings become more about the portfolio because that’s where the change is happening. The client becomes less involved. Gradually, the client forgets the breadth of the guidance you provided and its value. Rather than working together, it feels to the client more like you are working for them rather than working with them.
One of your primary marketing challenges is communicating the value you deliver when the client is not sitting in front of you. Involving them in the process of designing the review meeting engages the client in the weeks leading up to the appointment itself and offers the opportunity to create more value as an outcome. Here’s how that process might look.
- Four weeks ahead of meeting – a staff member contacts the client to schedule the appointment
- Two weeks ahead of meeting – a staff member sends a draft agenda with a request for topics or issues the client wants to discuss
- One week ahead of meeting – a staff member calls the client to follow up the request and (assuming you have not heard back from the client already) ask one more time if there is anything in particular the client would like to discuss
By seeking input and prompting the client to think about what is going on in their lives and what implications that might have on their financial plan, you are engaging the client. Prompting the client to think about planning issues can to make for a more robust conversation when you meet. It can help uncover opportunities for you to provide guidance. More important, soliciting input gives the client some ownership over part of the process. You are now working together to help them get where they want to go. Working on planning issues may help remind them of friends who have similar needs (who they can refer).
Finding ways to have clients participate throughout your relationship keeps them in a state of working together to accomplish their goals. The work is what you do with them rather than do for them. And maintaining the feeling of engagement creates more opportunities for them to make referrals.