Use expertise to build stronger client relationships

It’s a competitive world out there. New clients are very thin on the ground and holding on to existing clients is a big challenge with other advisers and banks nipping at your heels. So how do you stay one step ahead of the competition?

Well obviously your client proposition has to be very strong, this is a given. Today, not only to remain compliant but also to remain competitive, the quality of your advice has to be first-rate. You have to fully understand your clients’ needs and recommend the right solutions for them. This is critical, but to my mind not the complete answer, as there are many other excellent independent advisers who can also do this.

In a previous lifetime, the way to gain access to clients was to beg, bug or buy your way in, to constantly hit people over the head with sales messages. However people today are becoming immune to these messages, they expect more from businesses than just being sold to all of the time. They expect more than a simple, transactional relationship with you and they expect you to add more value to them. How do you do this? It’s not easy for financial advisers to stand out, but one way you can significantly add additional value to your audience is through engaging them with your views and useful observations in all matters relating to financial services. The opportunity is there to successfully position yourself as a thought leader in the eyes of your clients, both prospective and existing and to create influence among your audience.

The plus side of this is that the days of having a limited set of tools available to you and having to spend vast sums of money through expensive advertising or direct mail campaigns to get in front of clients are over. However on the flip side of the coin, while potentially not costing a red cent, this engagement of your customers will eat into an entirely different scarce resource; your time. Know this before you start down the road of creating influence or you will almost definitely fail and as a result, you may even damage yourself in the eyes of your clients.

So what are the keys to building a successful engagement campaign with your prospective and existing clients by sharing your views and observations with them?

First of all, develop a structured content schedule. Avoid the headache of every month trying to dream up content ideas by instead investing some time up front in developing out a list of potential topics. I promise you that once you develop an initial schedule of content, your schedule will constantly grow and the days of last minute brain freezes will be over!

Then think about where you’re going to host your content. Are you going to post the content to your website each time? Or are you going to complete a blog or email newsletter? Maybe you’re going to post your content in a few places? Develop your strategy and then put time in your diary each month to both write and post the content.

I’m often asked how long a blog post or newsletter article should be. The optimal length is probably between 750 and 1,000 words, so it’s not particularly taxing.

The next area is to identify your channels through which you are going to actively share your content. It’s not enough to just post content to your website and hope that your audience will pay a visit to read it… Are you going to email your content too? Are you using social media? As some of you will have picked up from previous articles, I’m a big fan of the power of LinkedIn (in particular) and Twitter for financial advisers. They offer great opportunities to engage a wide network of both potential and existing clients.

When you then start to share your content, it’s really important to measure the success or otherwise of it. The beauty of online communication is that unlike the “snail mail” communications of old, there are so many metrics available to you. Spend some time thinking about the most relevant measures for you and then set some targets for yourself. Will you measure website hits, newsletter open / click rates, new subscribers to your content or the amount of “likes” and “shares” that your content attracts?

Finally, be committed to your engagement efforts. You won’t see immediate benefits, but if you stick with it and really try hard to produce content that’s interesting to your audience, your efforts will be rewarded.

What will the benefits be? Well first of all, influence helps you to build credibility among your audience. It also helps you to build trust through the constancy of your presence in front of your audience. Your audience want to have favoured leaders – this is your chance to become one of them! If done well, you can also expect that this engagement with clients will reawaken some relationships that may have been dormant. The end game is that your audience will start to seek out your views, not only in relation to general financial services topics, but also in relation hopefully to the advice that you can offer them in relation to their own financial affairs.

What are the biggest challenges for you in creating influence? Is it knowing what to write about or finding the time? All comments are welcome!

What Sales Reports do you use?

One of the biggest challenges I have found in running an SME business is managing the balance between the actual delivery of my services and developing my sales pipeline. This is often mirrored in the financial advice firms that I meet as advisers struggle to find time for the structured development of a stream of new clients, as they spend a disproportionate amount of their time servicing existing clients. The latter is obviously very important but time must be found to develop new clients.

Now this is where all the Account Managers in life assurance companies will curse me because I know their collective dislike of sales reports! But one of the main reasons why I was struggling with getting this balance right was because no-one was looking for sales reports from me any more! I didn’t have a sales manager! It was too easy to let my sales activities drift as if they didn’t happen; there were no consequences for me. That is, apart from my income drying up down the road….

So what am I suggesting that advisers in a similar situation do? Well over the next few months, I suggest you develop structured sales reports and implement them from the start of 2013 with a real commitment to religiously complete them. What should be in your reports? Well, it’s all the information you need to maximise your sales opportunities. The reports then need to be consistently tracked on an on-going basis. If you are comfortable using Excel, you can capture this information quite easily and graph the results each month so that you can quickly see the trends in each of your key areas that you need to concentrate on. It’s obviously very important that completing these reports doesn’t become an industry in itself or you’ll quickly get sick of doing them!

Identify your areas of potential weakness and start tracking your performance methodically. Your reports might include the following measures;

  • Prospects: have you got a list of people that you potentially can contact with a view to them hopefully becoming clients eventually? If you do, how many people are on this list?  Obviously if this list is declining in numbers, you need to allocate more time to building up your prospect list.
  • Contacts made: how many of your prospects did you actually contact last month? This will give you a sense of whether you’re making enough sales contacts each month.
  • Contact presentations: how many clients did you actually get to present to last month? Having a poor rate here might point to a need to sharpen up your sales messages. How good is your elevator pitch? Are clients quickly recognising how they will gain value from having that initial meeting with you?
  • Closing rate / new clients: this is obviously a key metric as this will be influenced by the actual quality of your prospects, the strength of your proposition and how good you are at presenting this proposition at your initial meeting with prospective clients. If you are getting enough meetings but have a poor closing rate, you may well need to take a close look at your client proposition to ensure that clients are crystal clear of the value that you are adding.
  • Value of new clients: this will most likely be measured in terms of your income each month. I suggest for the purpose of this exercise that you exclude any renewal income and also new business from existing clients. You’re looking to identify here how much income / % of your income comes from new clients. If this figure is very low, it probably is pointing to a need to work harder on gaining new clients as opposed to just farming your existing client base.

Once you start building up a series of reports and can start looking at trends in your business, you’ll now have solid data to guide you, instead of just gut feel. You may even then start getting an appetite to measure other factors that can further enhance your decision making such as;

  • Measuring the effectiveness of your marketing activities.
  • Capturing the source of your leads.
  • Capturing structured client feedback on reasons they buy (or don’t buy) from you.

If you do all of this, you’ll now have a much more robust picture of what needs to be done to ensure you don’t see your income dropping away.

And finally another tip; make completing these reports a firm part of your routine or instead get yourself a “sales manager” whose job it is to simply check that you complete these reports every month. My sales manager is my wife…… I’ll let you know at the end of 2013 if I’m looking for a new job!

Are there any reports that you use that you find particularly helpful?  All comments are much appreciated.