Journal of Financial Planning; April 2014
The most rewarding dynamic of a financial advisory practice is often the relationships with your clients. While client interaction is at the top of their fulfillment list, advisers often devote the lion’s share of their resources to captivate the “new” client.
The work to build awareness, create interest, attract new people, cultivate relationships, and convert a prospect into a client is serious, resource-intense work. Yet, too often, advisers— newbies and seasoned professionals alike—do not dedicate the time and energy to reach out to clients and, in the worst case, may even take clients for granted. How often has the relationship marketing you diligently follow to transition a prospect into a client disappeared soon after the initial plan was complete or the first meetings wrapped up?
To move beyond simply retaining clients, you must inspire client loyalty that solidifies life-long engagements. Through your efforts, you can create a deeply connected bond that transcends temporary market performance or specific advice.
Relationship marketing—the critical strategy that addresses an individual’s stage of interaction with you and makes them feel wanted—cannot stop once prospects become clients. In fact, this powerful discipline becomes even more important once they do.
Advisers record the “last contact” with a client in their CRM or make note through a manual method; this is reactive and not a strategy. It is compliance. To build loyalty you must drive the relationship, proactively create a series of individual communication touches that ensure consistent and personal attention.
- When you regularly communicate with your clients with a defined strategy, you:
- Demonstrate early on your value and role
- Build trust through your consistency
- Maintain contact and deepen relationships
- Increase engagement, attracting more business either from them or their referrals
- Run a more efficient practice (and feel less stress)
Create a System
If you have ever had the nagging feeling that you need to reach out to a client because it’s been too long, or you find yourself recreating the same email over and over to check in with clients or remind them of an action, then you will appreciate the value of a defined client communications system.
A well-designed system will streamline your business resources to save you time, money, energy, and your sanity. With an established system you will feel more confident you have not overlooked anyone, and you will know when, who, how, and about what to contact, all while using your repetitive work to your advantage.
Here’s how to systematize your communications, whether or not you use technology to help you. Through this process you will align communications with key client milestones, proactively defining the experience you want each client to have.
Step 1: Outline the Client’s First Year
To understand what types of communications you should include in your client communications system, consider the first-year experience. Get clear on the following components:
Meetings. How many meetings do you hold in the first 12 months of your relationship? What are the meetings?
Interactions. For each meeting, capture when the meeting occurs, its objective, and what you need the client to do to prepare for that meeting. Outline the full process that is possible, even if some clients do not engage in all meetings. If you have more than one possible experience, map out the process for each unique service experience.
Communications. Now, take an inventory of all of the individual communication touch points you already have in your client experience. For example, if you send an email confirming the client’s intake session, or you have an assistant call to confirm, that is a communication. Do you send a summary following a meeting? Who is responsible for writing it? Sending it? In what mode is that delivered? How soon after the meeting do you send it? Detail the existing communications, the timing, and their mode of delivery.
Key trigger points. As the first year progresses, the success of your client engagement often resides in the client’s ability to take action outside of your meetings. Without specific triggers, either you or your client can disengage from the process, making it harder to rejuvenate the relationship. Outline these trigger points ahead of time and you can pre-empt the attrition.
- When do you need specific action from a client to be able to deliver your service(s) in a timely manner?
- Where do you find drop-off from client participation in the first year?
- Where do you get stuck in follow-up with clients in this first year?
Step 2: Structure Your System
Now it’s time to design your system. Lay out the exact sequence of communications you want your system to deliver to your individual clients based on where they are in their relationship with you. Your system may be more manual (reminders on a notepad or from an assistant) or automated (delivered from your CRM) depending on how you use technology in your practice.
You can leverage what you already have in place and then add in touch points (emails, texts, or phone calls) to target the areas where you need client action, you see drop-off, or you often get stuck.
Remember, this step focuses on where the individual is in his or her relationship with you. These communications do not include the “cultivate” touch points, such as newsletters or educational articles that go to all clients (and prospects) regardless of the stage of your relationship.
Using your answers from step 1, list all the client meetings from their first year in the first column of a spreadsheet. Drop in all of the communications you already have with a client leading up to and following each meeting. Note the key message, mode of the touch, such as email, phone call, or text, and the specific call to action and key copy points for that interaction.
Next, identify the timing of actions required from the key trigger points you identified in step 1. What communications can you put in your system to prevent drop-off?
Carry out the process for subsequent years as well, knowing they will likely be less communication-intensive.
STEP 3: Launch and Leverage Your System
Draft the template for each communication you send. These do not have to be lengthy communications. Your goal is to touch base. Have a few introductory lines, ask a question or two, and instruct on any action the recipient should take.
Make your templates easy to access. If you use Outlook, you can set up folders to hold each template. You can also use your CRM or email management system, or keep the templates in a Dropbox folder or Google documents folder.
Enter clients’ birthdays (and perhaps anniversaries) into your calendar and set a reminder for the prior day. If you can, have a team member or support person do this communication for you. Simply pull out the template, personalize it with first name, and send. If this client is one you would call or send a card or gift to, note it in the calendar. An easy way to leverage this is, once a month, pull the names of all clients who have birthdays in the next month. Have your assistant address cards, preorder gifts, or set up emails en masse and wait to send when the day comes. Match the system to the type of acknowledgement you want to give the person.
Dedicate time each week for sending communications, or assign a team member the responsibility of sending the email or making the call. Set up your CRM to remind you (or to send the email automatically), and track your client communications on a simple spreadsheet that you update each time that person’s next communication sends. First-year clients require more time, but veteran clients will take only a few minutes a week. Address 10 people at a time. Don’t worry if you don’t hit the exact timing of the system. Your dates are a guideline to ensure timeliness and consistency, not 100 percent accuracy.
Review the system after 60 days. How you are progressing? Have you hit the communication targets you set for yourself? What’s working well? What has to change? What would you like to automate? Where can your CRM or email management system help you?
Creating an effective client communication system often requires trial and error to find the right fit for you and your team. When you identify the system that works for you, you’ll experience the relief that comes when you know you are communicating with your clients individually on a regular basis. You’ll also experience the fulfillment of cultivating a loyal group of clients.
Kristin C. Harad, CFP®, is a marketing coach for entrepreneurial financial advisers and offers free marketing training at www.kristinharad.com. She is the co-founder of The Mercato (www.themercato.net), an online marketplace featuring do-it-yourself tools, templates, and training for advisers.