Why the difference between your ideal client characteristics and acceptance criteria is important


Does this sound familiar? “We’re looking for successful corporate executives who are delegators and appreciate the value of advice and have at least $500,000 to invest.” If you’re ideal client description sounds like that you are missing referrals you could be receiving.

One of the big reasons clients don’t refer more often is that they are not sure who you’re looking for. The clearer they are on who to send your way, the more often they will recognize the opportunity. So your ideal client description is most effective when it helps clients identify the right people to introduce and brings you to mind when they hear it.

There are two ways you can improve the description of their target client that will help boost referrals. First, add more detail about the situations or problems you address. Second, leave out everything else.

The most powerful thing you can include in your ideal client description is a problem you have an unique solution for. Think of how the expression “there is an app for that” went viral. Sure, it was cute and made for a great parody of the proliferation of ways to use software. And there was something more. People responded to it because it held the promise that there was an easier way to do something they needed to do. Discovering a convenient way out of a struggle generates interest. That’s the basis of your niche experience. As we are fond of saying – a niche is a need.

Describing your target market’s situation will help clients understand who to refer. Women going through divorce, families with college-bound children, owners of businesses with 401(k)s, doctors in private practice all described groups your clients and centers of influence can easily recognize.

Many advisors make the mistake of stressing characteristics that are important to them rather than being important to the person making a referral or the person being referred. This category includes investable assets. You may think of your target as people of a certain group who have $1 million or more to invest but that’s not a characteristic that’s your acceptance criteria. You don’t want a million-dollar client because you can do so much better a planning job for them than you could for someone who only has half $1 million, you want them because they’re profitable. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It just doesn’t belong in your ideal client description.

You may only accept new clients who have a threshold amount to invest and there are good arguments for that. It’s just not part of your target market description. More important, it does not help your clients understand who to refer. In our culture, wealth and income are not considered polite conversation. In some of our advisory boards I have spoken with clients who indicated they hesitated to recommend some of their friends because they were not sure those friends were wealthy enough to work with their advisor. Wouldn’t you like to make that decision rather than having your client decide for you before making a referral?

The other common mistake is including psychographic attributes like trusting, delegating, and placing a value on advice. Those are not characteristics they are outcomes. People trust (and therefore delegate) as a result of information and experience. As the old expression goes, you have to earn that trust.

Have you ever had the experience of a client expecting less and less information at review meetings over time? In the first couple years of the relationship, you took them through detailed portfolio reviews. After some time, the client expressed a preference for less detail. Maybe just a summary and then a discussion of your recommendations would do. That’s because you earned their trust. They did not come in being the relationship you ultimately wanted to have; your competent advice and good service laid the foundation for it.

You can increase referrals by being specific about the people you want to attract as clients. When putting that description together, include those attributes and characteristics that will help your clients and centers of influence recognize who to refer. Help them recognize situations where introducing you will solve a problem. And leave out the attributes that only have value to you.

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