Are you struggling to make the breakthrough with accountants?

Many financial planning firms today are seeking to build long-term, valuable relationships with SME business owners. A problem you may face is accessing these people, and one route that offers great potential when carried out successfully is by building links with accountants.

However building these relationships is often a tough nut to crack! So here are a few thoughts on how you can build profitable accountant relationships, with accountants referring clients to you regularly.


Treat accountants themselves as a specific target market

You may have done all of the work developing your client value proposition (CVP), but this is aimed at your end clients – there’s no point simply sending this on to accountants in the hope that they will see the value in it. You now need to be able to communicate the value experienced by accountants in dealing with you. Your CVP starts with understanding your clients and in a similar vein, your accountant proposition starts with understanding accountants; their challenges, the partnerships that they value, where you can provide services that they will truly value etc. If you can help them to solve the problems that they face every day, well then they will place enormous value on your services! So first of all, really understand their business, identify the areas within it where you can add value, and then show them how the way that you propose working with their clients will seriously enhance their own client relationships.


This is not a once-off exercise

You then need to get in front of the accountancy partners time and time again to remind them of the value that you can add, and to ensure you get regular client referrals. There are many ways you can do this; here are a few examples,

  • Add the partners to your own communication programme: Connect with the partners on LinkedIn and also get their permission to be added to your newsletter subscriber list. Let them see the expertise and thought leadership that you have to offer.
  • Develop bespoke presentations: These are for the initial meeting with the partners throughout the practice and should focus very much on the role of the accountant and how you can assist them in their own role. Personalise each presentation to the role of the particular partner’s area of specialism – for example the presentation to the tax partner should focus on pension reliefs, tax efficient protection products and other tax angles that you can bring to the table. This shows knowledge, understanding and willingness to engage in their areas of challenge with their clients.
  • Case Studies: Prepare a number of case studies of innovative solutions that you’ve implemented and know are relevant to challenges that are typically faced by the accountant. Don’t leave them guessing as to how you can help, join the dots for them!
  • Briefings for partners: Keep the accountants briefed on issues within the life and pensions industry that they need to be aware of, but may not be that knowledgeable. This can be through email contacts, lunchtime meetings or other such channels.


Develop joint marketing activities

And then you need to also promote the accountancy firm and help their bottom line! First of all, refer clients to them whenever possible. If you give them new clients, they are certainly going to try harder to reciprocate. Then offer the accountant the opportunity to include guest posts in your newsletter. This gives the accountant welcome exposure to your clients. You can then look at hosting joint events to which you both bring clients, take a speaking slot to impress the guests, all of this with a view to both you and the accountant meeting the other’s clients and building new relationships.


Prove your value with clients

Of course the biggest barrier to accountants referring clients to you is fear. Fear that you will somehow mess up and as a result cause difficulties for the accountant with their client. So when they do take the leap and finally refer a client to you, it’s imperative that you do a good job (as you do!) and then make sure the accountant is aware of it. How do you do this? You might seek a testimonial from the client, which you then share with the accountant. Alternatively you can email the client a few weeks after the end of your work with a short client satisfaction survey – again you will share the results with the accountant.


These are just a few thoughts on building profitable relationships with accountants. Build their trust, remove their fears, align yourself to their proposition and demonstrate your value time and time again. And then you will be well on the way to breaking the back of that search for new clients!

“I know someone who’ll charge me less”

You’ve all been there… the fight over price. You know you’re right for the client, you can add a lot of value, but you can see there is an immediate issue niggling away. You probe the client and they say something along the lines of, “Let’s cut to the chase, what do you charge as I’m talking to another adviser who will manage my assets for 0.25% p.a.”?

Assuming you charge 0.5%, 0.75% or even 1% p.a., what do you do?


1. Now’s not the time for negotiation

The fatal mistake is to start negotiating your price now. After all, the client has absolutely no idea what they are paying for at this stage, and the value that they will get from working with you. Obviously you can’t ignore the question, but the answer needs to be along the lines of, “I can hear that our price is a key consideration for you. Let me set out what we do first, as there are a range of different options available to you”.

Don’t let yourself get dragged into a price war at this stage!


2. Go through your normal initial meeting process

This is where you take control of the meeting again. Rewind the meeting to understanding the client’s objectives (through careful, open questioning) and then presenting how and what you do. This is where you set out your advice process, your annual review meeting process and the ongoing service packages that you offer. Assuming you offer differentiated service levels for different segments of clients, your client will now see what you have to offer at different price points. If the client wants rock bottom pricing, well then he / she will see that they won’t be getting a premium service at that price level.

In order for your competitor to offer such a low price, they are probably not promising anything! So the other advantage of taking the client through your approach is that it will demonstrate the significant advantage of working with you as opposed to your competitor.


3. Be firm and brave!

Stand by your pricing as a premium advice provider. Acknowledge that you are more expensive; your client will actually respect you for this. Yes you can have lower cost packages, but within these the client should be left in no doubt about what is included and more importantly what is not.

What if the client looks for your premium service package for a lower cost? Well then you’ve a choice to make! Yes, you can be flexible, but I suggest only if there is a good reason… maybe the client is an important access point to an attractive target market, maybe you see broader opportunities with them. Don’t just agree without a reason, or otherwise you will simply start dropping your price at the first hint of a push-back from anyone. Sometimes it’s better to walk away, rather than agreeing to a price that doesn’t make economical sense to you.


4. Make sure you can deliver… and prove it

If you want to charge higher prices than your competitor, you have to able to deliver more. So it is very important that you can actually deliver what you promise. The last place you want to end up in is the dreaded “over-promising and under-delivering” experience for clients. This is the certain road to losing clients.

Of course your prospective client won’t have experienced your service at this stage of your relationship. So this is where you need to be able to call upon the experiences of other satisfied clients to add validity to your promises. This is where those client testimonials, LinkedIn recommendations and case studies of previous work come to the fore. They paint the clear picture of what your prospective client can expect.
5. Add value beyond the sale

Finally look to add value beyond the sale. Are there services that you can offer to your client that sit outside of your service packages? Maybe you can provide a willing 2nd opinion on any broader issues they might have in relation to financial planning? Maybe you can give them access to a broad network of business professionals that can help them in running their business? Or maybe you can refer some of your contacts to them as potential clients?


At the end of the day, you’ve a choice to make. Is your competitive advantage based on offering your services at the lowest price, which ultimately will be a race to the bottom? Or can you offer superior value and build your business around delivering this value, at a higher price? The choice is yours!


What is a Client Value Proposition?

OK, let’s start by stating that there’s no science behind the answer to this question, there’s no right or wrong answer. What I’m going to set out is my view of what an effective Client Value Proposition is and what it should contain. So let’s start at the beginning.

What is a Client Value Proposition (CVP)?

The best answer I’ve seen to this question is a definition that I found online which states that “A client value proposition is a clear, concise and compelling articulation of how the factors that are important to the client are satisfied by the company.” The key words in this are “important to the client” because this is where the CVP begins and ends. If you don’t place the client at the very core of your thinking, unfortunately you’re going to miss the mark. Yes, what you do, and in particular what you do well are important. But unless these activities are going to positively impact the client experience, they don’t belong in your CVP.

I’m also a strong believer that a CVP is not a glossy document. Instead I see it strictly as an internal document and not for client eyes at all. If developed fully and successfully however, it is the single document that will guide everything that you do with your clients – how you speak to them, how you write to them, the content you write for your client presentation, website, brochure and newsletters and the services that you provide to clients. It can certainly be classed as one of the most, if not the most important documents that you develop for your business.

This document then becomes the guidebook for you, your staff and your future staff. If a team member cannot or is not willing to deliver this proposition to clients, you need to seriously consider their place on your team…

What should your Client Value Proposition contain?

It certainly is not a wishy-washy statement of how good a financial planner you are. Remember it’s all about the value as experienced by the client. I think an effective CVP contains the following – if you can articulate all of these points, you will have a very powerful document to guide you.

Why you’re a financial adviser / planner: This is really important as it articulates your values and whether your set of values are important to a client or not. If a client recognises that they share the same values as you, this is a really compelling magnet to pull them in your direction.
Who your target markets are: These are important, as your clients need to know whether you have the required expertise and experience to meet their specific needs,
What makes you different: This is where you identify the points that you believe make you different to other financial advisers & planners, and how these points of difference translate into an enhanced experience for your clients.
The outcomes and benefits that a client will experience: Clients want to understand what the end results will look like when dealing with your business. It’s important to think about both the emotional benefits that a client will experience from having you as their financial planner, along with the rational / tangible outcomes they will experience from being a client of yours.
What you don’t do: Some clients may come to you with pre-conceived and unrealistic or indeed incorrect expectations of what you do. As far as you can, it’s very useful to set out for clients what you don’t do in order to manage those expectations.
How you work with clients: This sets out how you actually deliver your advice to clients, what the actual steps that you go through with clients, the reason for each step and how it will positively impact your clients. This is a really important piece as this is the nub of how you work with clients and allows you to demonstrate what they can expect and how it will help them to achieve their desired outcomes. Get this piece right and it offers you a further opportunity to really stand apart from your competitors.
The ongoing services that clients can expect: The previous point will most likely focus on the initial engagements with people as they become a client of your business. This section then sets out what a client can expect from you year after year, the importance of your ongoing service proposition and how it will help them on their financial journey.
Your review meeting process: As this is the most important ongoing interaction you’ll have with your clients, you need to spend time thinking through how you add value to clients at these important junctures each year. Mapping out these important meetings is a crucial step.
What it all costs: You can argue whether this belongs in your CVP or not, but from experience this piece becomes far more straightforward after all of the above is done. If the CVP is strong enough, clients will see the value and will then want and expect clarity of what it’s going to cost them. You can also now communicate your pricing transparently and with confidence.

Developing your CVP is not easy. It requires time out of the business, deep internal reflection, time and concentration. However if done well, it will be the single most valuable piece of work you do in developing long-term relationships with your clients.

Don’t be ashamed of selling!

I was with an adviser some time ago who ticked me off on a couple of occasions when I mentioned the word selling. He contended that he is an adviser and not a salesman. I say that you need to be both…


There’s nothing wrong with selling!

For some people, selling is a dirty word. Particularly so when you are dealing with financial services. That’s understandable I believe when it comes to mis-selling, however this is an experience being suffered thankfully by fewer and fewer clients today. Financial advisers have really raised their game, industry standards have increased, and compliance oversight has increased too – all of these factors resulting in fewer incidents of mis-selling. Yes, there have been a few high profile cases unfortunately in recent years that again undermine trust, but these are not representative of the market in the main.

In fact these cases increase the need for selling! Not of financial products though, instead there’s a need to get out and sell the value of doing business with you!


Selling is exchanging

The Wikipedia definition of selling is; “Selling is offering to exchange an item of value for a different item”. A key part of your job is to convince your clients to exchange your item (advice, guidance, expertise) for their item (commission, fee). So selling is not passé. The financial advisory business model still needs selling.

The old days of “the insurance man” out selling products are thankfully long gone. This was where the seller was very transactional focused, having access to a very narrow range of (poor) products and their role was to convince people to buy these products, whether they really needed / wanted them or not.

The difference today of course is that the process starts and ends with the client. The transaction (if needed at all) is only a means to an end, a mechanism which helps clients to meet their own specific financial objectives. The value that the client gains is the advice, leading to better financial and life outcomes for them, rather than the product itself. Of course nothing stays the same as well, so advisers also need to sell the benefits of ongoing monitoring to ensure their plans stay on track to achieve their objectives.


Selling is necessary

Independent financial advisers provide a really valuable service to their clients. However prospective clients who haven’t experienced your service and seen the value being gained, may still be living in a world of mistrust of all financial advisers. So you’ve got to convince them otherwise and sell them the value that they will derive from having an expert on their side of the table, guiding them through the complexities of the world of personal financial planning.

To do this, you need to have developed a very robust proposition for your clients and then be able to communicate this in a very engaging way. If you can’t do this, they won’t see the value that they are getting and of course there is no way that they are going to part with their hard earned cash to buy your services.


Don’t be ashamed of selling, it’s a very noble pursuit when carried out with the right intentions! You can be very proud of the product (advice) that you provide and of the value that clients get from exchanging value with you. So get out and shout it from the rooftops!

Get set for a strong finish

Most advisers that I talk to are having a good year in 2017. Most are somewhere on the journey to building a business around your advice proposition, and this in turn is driving higher levels of assets under management and more protection product sales. But most also recognise the need to not take the foot off the gas in terms of new client acquisition.

So here are a few ideas that you can work on over the next 4 months that will set you up for an ever better year in 2018.


Set activity targets

Activities drive sales, so set yourself clear activity targets. Set monthly or even weekly targets for the activities that work best for you. These might include;

  • Prospect / potential client calls made
  • Sales emails / newsletters to prospects sent
  • LinkedIn connections made
  • Networking events attended
  • Client meetings arranged
  • Client reviews carried out etc etc.

And then track these targets carefully and measure your progress against them. We all know that “what gets measured, gets done”…


Get to work on your pipeline

credible pipeline is a really important asset of your business. It’s no use if this is just a list of names of people that you’ve spoken to over the last few years. So it is well worth spending a few hours going through your pipeline from top to bottom. Here are some suggestions as to how you might improve the quality of your pipeline

  • Remove the dead wood – get rid of all those old prospects that you know in your heart are going nowhere. Don’t waste any more time on them.
  • Review recent additions to the pipeline that you added in 2017. Are there people here that may have simply been delaying action until later in the year? Are they now worth a call?
  • Qualify your pipeline prospects. Prioritise them by their likelihood to become clients or transact business with you.
  • Understand and capture the stage you are at with each prospect, exactly where they are within your sales funnel. This will help you to ensure your next activity / approach is the right one.

Review your marketing supports

I know this one regularly raises its ugly head… But it really is so important, as old (even worse if it is actually out of date) marketing collateral can be pretty damaging. It can show you as out of touch, or even worse, not caring about your business. The main supports to review and update include,

  • Your client value proposition – have you updated this, your process, your service supports and your remuneration structures in line with your changing business model?
  • Your website – does this really reflect your proposition? Also make sure you read through every page and remove / amend any time sensitive information.
  • Your LinkedIn profile – is it fully up to date in relation to your skills. Remember that when someone Googles your name, your LinkedIn profile is often the first search result that they will click on.
  • Your sales presentation and reports – many advisers use templated reports. These make a lot of sense, but need to be reviewed regularly. Make sure that the information in these is bang up to date.


Get updated testimonials & LinkedIn recommendations

Research has shown that approx. 80% of people trust peer recommendations, while only about 14% trust advertisements. So talk to your satisfied clients about providing you with a testimonial that you can show on your website and in sales presentations. The key here is getting their permission to use their full names to make the testimonials fully credible. Better still, if your client is a connection on LinkedIn, ask them to make the recommendation through LinkedIn, with you also displaying it on your website. That way it gets even more visibility.


Work hard on referrals

All advisers know the value of referrals, however some don’t have a clear process for getting them. Develop a process, make it a part of every review meeting with clients and use the likes of LinkedIn to help you identify the people that you want your clients to refer you to.


Put extra effort into networking

Some advisers really struggle with networking; they really don’t enjoy it at all! However it is a very necessary marketing activity – the old adage springs to mind that if you want to get knocked down, you must stand out in the traffic! Identify relevant networking groups and then set yourself clear objectives – these might simply be the number of meetings you attend and the number of people you make the effort to meet at these events. Again you’ll get out of them what you put into them!


Work out what your introducers need

Introducers are also identified as a very rich source of potential clients. However the days of ringing a local accountant, agreeing to split commission and then sitting back and waiting for the clients to roll in are long gone… Introducers today need to be crystal clear themselves about what you do and the value that you offer, both to them and to their clients. So spend time developing your proposition for introducers and then develop marketing activities to stay top of mind with them.

Working your way through this list will help you to achieve a strong finish and will set you up nicely for 2018.

How can you secure your ongoing future income stream

Many of the advisers that I talk to regularly speak of the dual challenges of earning enough revenue today from new business to pay the bills (while hopefully having a bit left over), and also moving their business model towards building up a growing, recurring revenue stream. Most are somewhere along the journey of shifting to a model where clients are paying for the advice they receive, rather than the products sold. So what are the key factors to consider in building your income stream?

The products sold still play a role for most advisers

Product sales still play a role for many advisers. First of all, when it comes to protection products, the providers have helped advisers in this regard by introducing commission models in recent years that offer attractive spread commission options without the dreaded commission claw back in the event of policy lapses. This allows advisers to build up their ongoing revenue stream. Once the client continues to require (and can afford) the cover, and the adviser ensures that the cover in place continues to be the best available, the adviser stands every chance of this revenue continuing.

The situation in relation to pensions and investment is a bit more complex. Most advisers have moved away from large upfront commission payments on both regular and single premium business, towards lower upfront payments (by commission or fee) and a share of the ongoing annual management charge (AMC) by a trail commission.

While building up revenue through trail is challenging in the early years while asset amounts are lower, this basis is obviously more attractive in the long run as the adviser’s funds under management grow. Trail also removes the dependence on future premiums for future remuneration. Trail is also easy to explain to a client.

Of course many of you also charge fees for your advice, so fees and commission make up your ongoing income. But how do you justify this ongoing income?


The brightest future is in lifetime financial planning

The future is in financial planning, because this is where you can add the most value. Helping your client to understand their lifestyle objectives and to set financial goals, examining their current situation, and then devising and implementing a plan to close that gap. And then by working with that client year in and year out towards the achievement of their goals, you can build and easily justify your ongoing income.

You need a clear ongoing advice proposition

To show your ongoing value to clients, you need to have a clear ongoing value proposition for your clients. Ongoing work needs to be a core part of your proposition, not a “by the way” 10-second conversation at the end of the initial product implementation. Clients do not want to feel “sold to”. This is exactly how they will feel if you don’t have a strong ongoing advice proposition to offer them. Delivering this is a natural move for those advisers who are shifting their focus from a product sale approach to an advice based offering.

Apart from obviously reviewing a client’s financial plan and product portfolio to ensure they are still on track to achieve their objectives, a structured and well thought out review approach offers you a great opportunity to remind your clients where you’ve added value to them over the year. This is where you can remind them of the growth they’ve achieved in their investment portfolio that you put together for them, the tax they saved as a result of the retirement plan you designed for them, the money they saved by you restructuring their protection portfolio and health insurance etc. Indeed one of the great benefits for those advisers who provide future cash flow modelling for their clients is it creates a natural and very valuable engagement with the client every year.

The benefits for you are huge

You as an adviser also benefit, as a structured and well thought out review will surface any cross-selling opportunities that may exist. However the critical benefit to you is the strengthening of your relationship with your client, increasing your chances of retaining the client as their assets under management, and in turn your trail commission, increase. Surely this is a better approach than just hoping the client won’t be tempted away by another adviser who simply undercuts your trail commission amount?

And of course one of the main aims of many advisers is to build up value in your business. This is best achieved by being able to demonstrate a strong, stable revenue stream. Now is the time to develop your ongoing advice proposition to help you build up this valuable revenue stream.

What do you believe are the critical factors to help you build up your ongoing revenue stream? All your comments are very welcome below.