Two presentations at the FPA Business Solutions 2011 conference in Boston tied together nicely to show advisors how giving clients a bigger voice results in gaining more new clients.
Data Show Why Research Is Important
Julie Littlechild, president of Advisor Impact, showed a breakdown of the average clients on a scale of satisfaction and loyalty:
She also noted that in her survey data, she saw that 100% of engaged clients gave a referral. Of the other distinguishing traits, Littlechild said, "Engaged clients give more input. When they gave feedback, it made a difference. The advisor listened and it improved the service."
Littlechild suggested advisors who make research a core part of their business in a structured way will have more luck creating engaged clients. She suggested advisors use an advisory board, written survey and relationship reviews to help better listen to their clients.
Stephen Wershing, president of The Client Driven Practice, said of conducting client advisory boards, "You will get referrals, but you can't force it."
He suggested advisors think of building a client advisory board as assembling a mall. "Get the anchor stores first. In other words, have big clients, people that are influential in the circle, in the community," he said.
He also advised, "Bring in a curmudgeon, but not just a complainer. Have at least one client that brings up concerns." Firms can benefit from hearing criticisms, especially if it is true, so advisors do not want to have a board of all people that will just give positive feedback.
Use A Facilitator
"It is a skill. Bring someone in. Advisors don't want to lead the answers. They want to listen," Wershing said. The facilitator is important because he or she will help "get things clients are not satisfied with on the table. That is harder to do if the advisor runs the group," he added. He cautioned advisors about just getting warm and fuzzy information. "You never learn anything by just hearing how great you are. People do not want to say things that are going to hurt your feelings."
Wershing stressed, "You need to go in with an open mind, with no preset conditions." Advisors need to share that they are open to the feedback and acknowledge it is being heard. Once you have gotten feedback on the table, you can learn more about clients' thoughts, and in some cases they will even give solutions to issues they have.
Other Client Advisory Board Tips
Rotate the board. A rotation cycle helps keep clients from being insulted from not being on the board, it allows for fresh input and it is a mechanism to remove a board member that an advisor does not want anymore. "You need to set up term limits right up front," Wershing said.
Meet regularly. Wershing suggested meeting twice a year. If meetings are quarterly, it makes sense to have three business meetings and a recognition event, with a gift for those leaving and a welcome for new board members.
Invite the right number. Include between nine and 12 people with few client-facing staff members.
Set the table. Boards often meet over a meal, as the meetings typically are two to three hours. They can be at a restaurant or country club with an abbreviated menu. Order first and then work through the meal.
Get the right mix. The board doesn't need to be just the best clients, but include them if that's the kind of client you are trying to attract. "You can load the board with A clients. Some advisors want to know A clients better to figure out how to replicate them," Wershing said. If an advisor regularly meets with a couple, it is ok to invite them both.
Capture the moment. Take a group picture of the board (with their permission).
Skip paying them. "No compensation is needed for the board. They are thrilled to be able to participate," he says.
Meet in person. Advisors want to judge body language and facial expressions. For this reason, it is OK to have different boards for each geographic cluster, especially if each region has its own advisor leadership.
Pick a time. Scheduling depends on the clients. Most are in the evening, but retirees might like lunch meetings, Wershing said.
Use it as a selling point. When meeting with prospects, promote the existence of the board and that client feedback is heard. Provide them an example of how you changed something because of feedback from the board.
Is The Board Worth The Time And Money?
"Asking for feedback and listening leads to loyalty. To pay for the board, you need more new clients or more share of wallet," Wershing says. He believes if the objective of a firm is to drive business, a client advisory board can help. Humans naturally want to reciprocate, thus clients want to help advisors for the services they receive.
Marc Freedman, president of Freedman Financial in Peabody, Mass., spoke on the value of client advisory boards, as he has one of the longest running boards in the country. He stressed that it is not all about getting referrals, noting that his practice is better in many ways because of the years of input he has received.
Mike Byrnes founded Byrnes Consulting to provide consulting services to help advisors become even more successful. His expertise is in business planning, marketing strategy, business development, client service and management effectiveness, along with several other areas. Read more at www.byrnesconsulting.com.