Exploring Your Business Model: Are You Amazon or Sears?

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It’s early February, and the holidays are just behind us. If you’re like most people, you probably shopped online and had multiple packages delivered straight to your door—from Amazon, the United States Postal Service, UPS and a variety of other carriers. Maybe you even had your groceries delivered, or flowers or wine. It was convenient, wasn’t it? You got exactly what you wanted without ever having to leave your house or waste time looking for a parking spot at a crowded mall or store.

Your clients did the same thing, of course.

Which is why you need to think carefully about what’s really important to them. We live in a world where customers are increasingly dictating what they want, expect and will pay for, and the companies that prosper are the ones delivering on those needs.

You Know What Your Clients Want … Don’t You?

Ah, you’re thinking, but those are retail companies that deliver a product. It’s easy for them. What I deliver is an intangible service that can’t be measured the same way.

That would be true—if your clients agreed with you. Unfortunately, many of them probably expect the same things from you and your practice that they’ve come to expect from other businesses. How would you stack up in terms of convenience, choice, price and accessibility? Does your practice seem friendly, enjoyable, and easy to work with?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I consult with advisers on their business plans. One elite adviser is working far more hours than he’d like to, and his goal for 2020 is to take more time off to deal with some lingering health issues and to start accomplishing a few items on his bucket list. So, Bill (not his real name) went through the work of segmenting his client base and creating a carefully thought-out service matrix. All of this was good, until Bill discussed his planned deliverables with me.

Making Assumptions

As part of his offering for his top 50 clients, Bill planned to continue his customary quarterly meetings and reviews. Everyone else would be cut back to three meetings per year. And did I mention that these are all face-to-face meetings?

Bill thought he was delivering extraordinary value to his clients. To keep that schedule, he was holding 20–25 meetings a week. He and his staff were tired, overworked and frequently scrambling to get things done. It was a drain on everyone, with no end in sight.

It’s always easier to spot issues when you’re not directly involved. Clearly, this wasn’t working well for the practice, so I asked Bill a simple question: “What makes you think your clients want to meet with you that often?”

There was total silence for about a minute. And then Bill admitted he was gobsmacked—it had never occurred to him that clients wouldn’t value the experience he’s been at great pains to deliver. But think about it from your clients’ perspective. If they like and trust you, and they have a financial plan in place they’re working toward, why do they need to meet with you so often? Many of them might be stealing time in the middle of a busy workday or cutting short family time to sit down with you. Add in traffic and parking and coordinating with spouses, and it might be that your clients view keeping several appointments with you as a hassle. And all the while, you’ve thought they were thrilled by your platinum service level.

A New Discovery Process

When Bill actually asked his clients how often they would prefer to sit down and meet, most said annually, with a minority saying semiannually (only a few older clients wanted to keep their same schedule). As long as they could reach Bill when they had questions or when they had a life change, they were happy—eager—to meet less frequently. Between emails, market updates, events and social media posts, clients felt they were kept well informed with what was happening throughout the year.

As part of this discovery process, Bill also learned his clients were highly interested in using technology, such as videoconferencing, screensharing and texting, to stay in touch. He’d had that capability for years but never used it, assuming his clients didn’t want it. Now Bill is working on a new service model that begins with what his clients want and genuinely value from him, to the greater satisfaction of all.

Let’s go back to my earlier comments about retail shopping. Bill’s practice is now positioned as more responsive, convenient, technologically advanced and accessible simply because he is thinking about what clients really want and need—and then delivering it. As a result, Bill and his team will save hundreds of hours spent in meetings and meeting preparation—time they can now devote to being even more thoughtful and detailed when they do sit with a client. Bill is now planning to take his first two-week vacation in 20 years.

Amazon Vs. Sears

I’m not suggesting advisers unilaterally change their service models or cut back on client meetings. But if you don’t really know what clients want or expect from you, it’s high time you asked. Sears failed to recognize that its customers wanted something different from their shopping experience and kept offering the same things it always had. It’s currently in bankruptcy proceedings, while Amazon posted record revenues last year.

Which one are you?

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Kristine McManus is chief business development officer, practice management, at Commonwealth Financial Network®, member FINRA/SIPC, the nation’s largest privately held Registered Investment Adviser—independent broker/dealer. Since joining the firm in April 2014, she has been working with affiliated advisers to grow their top line through the introduction of various programs, tools and coaching. Kristine holds the Chartered Retirement Planning CounselorSM designation, a master’s degree from Pennsylvania State University, and a BFA from Adelphi University.

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