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Three Important Business Tips in the Age of the Coronavirus

The coronavirus, COVID-19, has uncovered flaws in many financial planners’ disaster recovery plans, and even normal business plans (if they have them.) None of us could have predicted a worldwide pandemic however, here we are and it’s our responsibility to help our families, clients, associates and businesses get through these difficult times.

In the fall, I created a presentation titled “How to Grow in a Recession.” If you have been in the profession long enough, we all know it was just a matter of time before the market heights were going to take a fall. However, no one saw the economy coming to a standstill.

I cannot say I had a crystal ball, but I am glad I put together advice to help financial planners through a difficult time for their businesses. Unfortunately, all events are cancelled or postponed so I cannot present the advice when it is needed most, so I thought I would share these helpful tips in an article:

(1) Be Proactive

One thing that we have learned from past recessions is that the financial planners in front of a market crisis are the ones who have the best retention rates and actually can gain the most clients. Believe it or not, a period of market turmoil can be one of the best times to win new business. Yet, financial planners become so laser focused on their clients, their prospecting efforts get neglected.

In a time when we are supposed to be “social distancing,” go back to really working the phones. Video conference those who feel comfortable using this technology. Contact as many people as you can to be there for them and remind them you want to help others like them who might need help. With clients, this will reassure them, strengthen the relationship and prevent the competition from picking them away. For prospects, it will get your foot in the door, especially if they have an underwhelming adviser relationship. For those do-it-themselves investors, now is when they doubt their investing abilities the most.

The trouble with the one-on-one meeting approach is that it is very time consuming and difficult to do right now. For that reason, also use all forms of mass communication on a more frequent basis. Make sure to set up webinars, video meetings and maybe conference calls. All of these can be recorded and can be edited to use for replay purposes.

Most financial planners do not create enough videos. Now is the time to do so. Your target market can and will connect better with videos than they can with the written word.

Email and social media are obvious choices for any types of marketing and client service content that needs to be shared. Pay attention to engagement measures (like click-through rates for emails and likes on social networks) so with every communication you get a little smarter each time.

For prospects, create a giveaway related to this market crisis that they can only get by trading their contact information. Create a unique landing page that gets virtual leads and makes them real leads. Once you have a good lead funnel set up, promote it like crazy and track that it is delivering a positive ROI.

(2) Be Personable

Soon robo threats to financial planners will be able to share market communications in a much better way than they are now. Their communications will be timely and even personalized. The way to differentiate, now and in the future, is to be a person, not a robot. What does that mean? Humanize each communication.

Besides one-on-one meetings, the best way to do this is to use personalized video emails. This is not a video uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo that goes to the masses. This is a message just intended for a unique recipient. Technology now allows this to take place.

To call each client in a 150-household client base can take weeks. However, sending a sort two-minute personalized video to each family can be done in one day. These messages do not replace in-person communications, but they definitely complement them, as the recipient feels almost like they are sitting across a table from their financial planner.

These personalized videos should be part of every client service model. This could not be truer than now when the human race is having fewer in-person interactions than any other period in our lifetimes.

Check out a partnership we created to help financial planners use this new marketing tool.

(3) Be Empathetic

Never forget you are talking to humans. Many in the industry are numbers people. We are planners. Most certainly, we are problem solvers. Clients need help in all those areas. However, in today’s scary, isolated world, they just might need to be heard.

Make sure to provide emotional support—now more than ever. Truly listen. Practice active listening best practices. If you find yourself inserting your two cents before the clients are done talking, you most likely need to work on your listening skills.

Because financial planners are paid to give their advice, and are not officially therapists, it often seems counterintuitive to not speak. But, if you can use video conferencing, an empathetic facial expression or nod of the head might be all they want. With verbal communications, a reinforcing word or two can do the trick. In these volatile markets, we might feel pressed for time, but do your best not to rush discussions.

Remember, sometimes the client just needs a friend to walk along side of them during difficult times. We are all going to be on this emotional roller coaster for what could be months. Try to put yourself in clients’ shoes and help them the best that you can.

As part of the Coaches Corner, Byrnes Consulting is a partner with the Financial Planning Association. As a member benefit, set up a free Business Growth Strategies consultation. If you are an active member of the FPA, we would be glad to help.

Want more tips? Visit the FPA Coaches Corner Business Growth Strategies page for insightful advice.

Mike Byrnes Headshot

Mike Byrnes is a national speaker and owner of Byrnes Consulting, LLC. His firm provides consulting services to help advisers become even more successful. Need help with business planning, marketing strategy, business development, client service and management effectiveness? Read more at ByrnesConsulting.com and follow @ByrnesConsultin.

 


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Building Trust in an Increasingly Skeptical World

A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that 43 percent of Americans age 65 years or older agreed with the statement, “Most people can’t be trusted.”

When the same statement was presented to Americans aged 18-29, approximately 60 percent agreed. The survey also found that 71 percent of Americans think people are less confident in each other now than they were 20 years ago.

While this skepticism can be attributed to many sources―the 24-hour news cycle, political divisiveness, social media and generational differences, to name a few―most would agree that we are unlikely to see changes for the better in the foreseeable future. Therefore, the ability to build and maintain high levels of trust in client relationships will be an even more important skill for financial planners over the next decade and beyond.

We believe that clients’ perception of trustworthiness is dependent on three specific factors: credibility, reliability and motivation. Let’s look at each one and identify specific actions you can take.

Credibility

The first factor is credibility. It answers the question: “Does this person know what he or she is talking about?” Clients want to know that you have sufficient knowledge and expertise to competently deliver financial information and advice. They are likely to look to your educational background, degrees and certifications as evidence of that knowledge and expertise.

Credibility also relates to one’s experience and perspective―your ability to apply that knowledge and expertise. Experience is what makes the difference between book-smarts and wisdom, which is why CFP Board requires that candidates complete specific experience requirements before granting their certification. Experience and perspective are often communicated in your confidence and conviction.

Here are two specific actions you can take to improve your credibility:

  • Create and implement an ongoing education plan. Your plan can include coursework, certification programs, books and journals, interviews and online research.
  • Develop stories and case studies that demonstrate your expertise in solving complicated client planning concerns.

Reliability

Reliability is the second factor that influences trustworthiness. It can be defined as the repeated fulfillment of expectations, either directly experienced or inferred from the experience of others.

Obviously, the more you do something, the more others will trust you to do it again.

However, it’s not just repetition, but the matching of expectations to fulfillment that characterizes reliability. Trustworthy advisers and planners are careful to confirm, establish, manage and fulfill their clients’ expectations time after time, even in situations where clients may have uncertain or unstated expectations.

Here are two specific actions you can take to enhance your reliability.

  • During every client interaction, take the time to clarify next steps by reviewing who will do what and by when.
  • Develop the habit of diligently recording every commitment on your to-do list or app, following up, and ultimately communicating back to your clients upon completion.

Motivation

The third factor is motivation. The expression, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” speaks to one’s motivation. Stated simply, motivation answers the question: “Why?”

Clients want a financial adviser or planner who is genuinely committed to putting their clients’ interests above their own, because it’s the right thing to do, not because they are required to do so.

Here are two ways to show clients and prospective clients that their success is your first priority:

  • Ask thoughtful questions. Open-ended questions that begin with “how” or “what” or “tell me…” encourage expansive answers and demonstrate curiosity and concern.
  • Listen intently. According to University of Minnesota researcher Dr. Ralph Nichols, “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” Active listening includes establishing eye contact, providing non-verbal feedback, clarifying answers and restating responses to demonstrate your understanding.

The Path to Connection

Finally, keep in mind that as you are willing to share your own experiences, hopes, failures and dreams, you provide a path to connection. Establishing trust requires a willingness to be open and honest. Someone has to make the first move, and that someone is you.

While trust levels in general may continue to fall over the next ten years, by diligently working to enhance your credibility, improve your reliability and clarify your motivation, you can build strong, trust-based relationships with your clients.

Adam Kornegay

Adam Kornegay is a co-founder of Pathfinder Strategic Solutions. He has a background in marketing and business analytics. Coupled with his experience as a financial adviser, he helps a broad array of clients, from relatively new advisers to experienced planners, and consults with various financial services firms. He is a coach in the Messaging and Marketing Strategies FPA Coaches Corner

 

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Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared in the FPA Coaches Corner whitepaper, “Action 2020: Create Business Success for Today and Tomorrow.” Download your copy of the whitepaper here.  


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Exploring Your Business Model: Are You Amazon or Sears?

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?

Kristine_McManus_2_lg

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.