When do you involve your clients in a decision (and get the most referrals)?


Engaging clients in your decisions will boost referrals. When can you get them involved for maximum impact?

I was talking with one advisor about the agenda for their upcoming client advisory board meeting and he remarked that they would soon be undertaking a redesign of their website. The site would not be ready to launch until the fall and so maybe we should hold off and show them the drafts of it at that point. In fact, right now, I told him, is the best time to start talking about the idea.

Most of the time, the biggest opportunity to get useful feedback is early on when an initiative or a campaign is still just an idea. You might be considering a new website, a new service, an updated newsletter, or even a new brand, merger, or succession plan. Before you get invested in any particular strategy, graphic design, campaign, or merger partner, you can explore some of the concepts, reasons, or benefits of the idea. It might take you in a whole new direction.

That’s take the website as an example. I have worked with many firms who have brought the draft of a new site to their advisory board before implementing it. It gives the clients an opportunity to give you their impressions and feedback before you commit to it publicly. (It is also great opportunity to promote the new site to a select group of your best clients. That “sneak preview” can help get them excited and potentially spread the word about it.) But the bigger opportunity is to get their help and what kinds of messages and images will connect with them and connect with people like them that you want to attract his clients. Rarely have I done that exercise without the clients suggesting a change that makes a significant, positive difference.

In the case of the advisor I mentioned above, I recommended we start by deconstructing their current website. What do you like the most? What do you connect with? How well does this reflect what you think is unique about us? Bring that feedback to the web designer and let it inform some of their ideas. Sometimes we bring the web designer into an advisory board meeting to get direct feedback from the target audience the site will be designed to attract.

Another firm considered developing a service to help families select, apply to, and prepare for the right college for their children. We gathered together a group of clients who were in the target market and brought them the idea when it was still just a description of a piece of paper. We discovered two things:

  1. 1.       They absolutely loved the idea and had lots of inspiration for additional elements we could add to the service to make it more valuable, and
  2. 2.       That absolutely none of them was willing to pay even close to what it would cost to offer the service.

That insight save the advisor tens of thousands of dollars in developing a service that would likely have fallen far short of its revenue goals.

Even succession planning is best discussed well ahead of time. If you are over 50, your clients are wondering what your long term plan is and what’s going to happen to them when you retire. One advisor I work with had been at an insurance company broker-dealer for many years. He realized that to best provide for his clients and maximize the equity value of the firm, he would be better off with an independent firm that had more advisors. He also came to realize that there was not enough time and too much risk to develop an internal succession plan. His client advisory board helped him draft a description of what the ideal merger partner would look like. The board offered valuable guidance on how to communicate about the merger when the time came to implement it. With their help the advisor could anticipate the questions and concerns clients would have and, based on that, could plan how a transition should go. That advisor subsequently identified a potential partner, put together an agreement, and successfully merged. Of course, there are regulatory limitations on what you can say when considering changing firms. But the guidance we received from clients was invaluable in orchestrating the smooth move. I have been involved in a few advisory board meetings that discussed the succession plans of the principals. And I find that when you demonstrate to clients that you want to make sure they are taken care of, discussions like this strengthen the relationship.

So when is the right time to bring clients in to get their input into important decisions? As early as possible. When the campaign, project, or strategy is still just an idea. When the stakes are low. When you have the maximum amount of flexibility.

That’s being client driven. And it’s one of the best ways to build trust and engagement.

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