No one ever meets the expectations of their customers. You can, however, exceed their expectations or your can fall short. The difference in falling short and exceeding is often the little things, which add up to make a big difference.
In today’s business world, you need to find ways to stand out and differentiate yourself from the rest of the crowd. Competition is healthy and keeps the top advisors on their toes. Walt Disney said it best: “Whatever you do, do it well. Do it so well that when people see you do it they will want to come back and see you do it again and they will want to bring others and show them how well you do what you do.”
Differentiation is about the little things. When you focus on the small things – not just the financial aspects – you can create wonders for your client relationships and make a big difference in your practice.
Successful financial planners are always searching for new ways to do things, finding efficient new ways to build their business and eschewing business models which severely limit who they can serve. They want what’s best for their clients and they strive to act as more than just investment managers or salespeople. They’re fiduciaries who have their clients’ best interests at heart and they want to actively work together as a team. The goal is to see the clients they serve reach their financial goals and successfully build real wealth under the guidance of their financial planning advice.
Take Anna Sergunina, principal at MainStreet Financial Planning, an advisory firm based in Odenton, MD. She recalls to Financial Advisor how a client relationship expanded beyond financial advice.
A few years ago, I took on a recently widowed client with a young child. Her husband had left her a trust and a family friend recommended she consult with us to deal with her financial planning and investment needs. The situation seemed relatively straightforward: My partner and I would provide basic financial advice and do all the tasks associated with financial planning. But the relationship ended up taking a turn I never would have predicted.
After a few meetings, the client and I developed a nice rapport. I’d ask about her child and she’d tell me about her struggles finding the right boarding school for him. She didn’t have many family members in the area, so she started to lean on me for a little more emotional support. Then one day, I had an idea; Since I was already helping her deal with the financial side of her life, why not offer support in other areas? At our next meeting, I proposed a new and somewhat unorthodox arrangement. If she had a request, I’d be willing to help out in any area of her life where I could potentially be of use, even if it didn’t strictly relate to finances. She agreed enthusiastically; it was almost as though she had been waiting for me to offer.
Over the next few months I helped her research boarding school options for her son. One choice was across the country. She asked me if I’d be willing to visit the school with her, since she was afraid of flying. I was able to make the time in my schedule, so I agreed. I think these extra forms of help have really deepened our relationship. Most services I provide to her are covered under our firm’s yearly “Continuous Service” program. For some projects (like the plane trip), my client and I agreed on a flat fee. She also covered my plane ticket cost, and we shared a hotel room.
If you don’t want to get as involved with clients like Sergunina, there are some tactics where the little things will definitely add up and 1+1 will equal 3.
The Lesson:“Finding the little errors and omissions in a client’s portfolio can often set a financial advisor apart from the competition,” Mark Kemp of Kemp Harvest Financial Group, Harleysville, PA, told Financial Advisor. “Looking for these things is a way to bring value to the table,” Kemp said. “It is the right thing to do for the client and it sets you apart from other advisors and can lead to referrals. I can find something wrong in every client’s portfolio which I look at.”
The Add-on Service: Another simple act, but one which is often not done for years, is to make sure beneficiaries on all investments and insurances are up to date. Having a beneficiary listed who predeceased the client can tie up an inheritance in court for months. “We make sure beneficiaries are up to date, and if minor children are involved, we set up a trust to take care of them,” Kemp says.
Pay it forward: Offer to do something nice, even if it means doing something for free. Paying it forward creates goodwill toward creating loyal future clients.
Add on a service: Like paying it forward, you can also create goodwill by providing more than your service. Many people hire specialists for their taxes, their legal needs, and their financial management. It can be tiring and difficult to coordinate communication and services between all of these advisors. Providing information to the CPA, helping to retitle accounts after their estate attorney has set up trusts for them, and helping fulfill annual gifting are just some ways to go “the extra mile”.
Expand your Reach:Business is about relationships. Building a “dream team” with other professionals is a great way to not only market your firm, build professional relationships, share costs, gain expertise, and reach more of your target market, but a chance to put your skills to work when others need help.
Stay in Touch:Send articles of interest to clients periodically. Use email as a source of interaction with clients to answer simple questions or invite clients to the occasional informative dinner seminar. Send handwritten “thank you” notes.
Introduce Yourself: How many prospects are in your “To Call” folders who have not heard from you? Contact three to five people each day and offer to be of service. Offer to review their current portfolio or show them how you can do more for them.
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