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What If Being Customer-Centric Was Actually About…the Customer?

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the terms “customer-centric,” “client-centric” or “customer-first,” just over the last few months, I’d probably have about eight bucks. Don’t get me wrong, I think these terms are important for every financial planner (and indeed, anyone who works in or owns any type of business) to understand and value. My beef is with how they are being used: “buy this product,” “purchase this data,” “take this course,” and you, too, can suddenly become more “client- or customer-centric.”

It seems to me that too many of these messages are about more—more data, more tools, more strategies, more insights. Personally, I think most of us (whether we are business owners, employed by a business or individual practitioners) need just the opposite. We have plenty of data; the issue is in finding ways to use it effectively on a consistent basis. We have tools at our disposal; if we’re not using them to the best of our ability now, are we likely to suddenly change our ways when we get new ones?

Understanding the Customer is About Learning How to Use Your Data (Not More Data)

I don’t think customer-centricity is something we can purchase, and more data for more data’s sake is only likely to further muddy the waters. To truly understand our customers, we must learn how to use the data we already have, simplify how we will use it moving forward and stick with our plans long enough to measure whether they are successful.

This is, of course, easier said than done, but I have an idea that I think is worth trying to help you get started, and it starts with one of my least favorite marketing terms: personas. Used effectively, personas can be an extremely valuable tool in enhancing customer understanding, but I’ve personally never been in an environment where they made a positive difference. It’s one thing I’ve seen fail more often than succeed in my time as a marketer.

When customer experience is the topic of conversation, the discussion inevitably turns to spending money on personas, and because the creation of personas is so enigmatic, mysterious and cool (i.e., so few people understand it), everyone gets excited about the initiative…until they receive them. Then, internal teams start changing them to fit their own biases, some are removed entirely while new ones are added and the hotly debated question of whether or not “Randy, age 55” actually does like to go to the movies ends up killing productivity for weeks. After that, they’re forgotten or relegated to the company shared drive, and everyone agrees that the agency really didn’t understand “us” well enough to get us what we needed.

HINT: If you think persona creation is about you, and not expressly about your ideal clients or customers, then your customer-centricity project was doomed to fail from the start.

Improving the Customer Experience by Starting Small

The idea is this: if there is truly an ideal customer, member and client out there for all of us, what would happen if we tried to create an exceptional customer experience using just one avatar (just so we don’t have to use “persona” again)? If we focused on crafting just a single avatar using the data we already have available, and committed to using it to test every interaction, we would find it simpler to make the improvements required to actually move the needle on customer/client experience. Further, the focus of this avatar is not on its creation, but on bringing it to life as part of our daily work.

I’m not saying that your avatar’s profile, interests, needs, wants, wishes and dreams should be arbitrary—far from it. I just want you to avoid getting bogged down in creating the “perfect” avatar, so that by the time you’ve achieved perfection, everyone involved resents what you’ve built. Creating the avatar should be fun, but it can be done relatively quickly as a group exercise. In addition to the standard profile items (age, gender, name, AUM, etc.), make sure to draw a picture or find one online, and to focus on the emotional and human side of your avatar, as these things will make him or her more real and tangible. Put a deadline on this part of the project, and when the group is done, you’re done (no adjusting—your avatar has been officially brought to life, warts and all).

Integrating Your Avatar: Meet the Newest Member of Your Team

Now comes the most important phase: deciding how you and your colleagues or team (if applicable) will use your avatar. This is so critical that you might even consider creating a social contract and having everyone sign to represent their commitment to seeing the process all the way through. I like to think of this part as inviting your avatar (let’s call her Perry for now) to join your team and to take part in every meeting, every discussion about programs and initiatives, and every company event…oh, and Perry is also copied on every email and participating on every inbound and outbound phone call.

You can take it as far as you want to, including leaving Perry a seat in the conference room for larger meetings, or having a specific place she sits and takes notes during client meetings. As you may not wish to weird out your clients, you can decide whether you want to let them know that Perry will be joining you in spirit, but you and she know that she’ll be there (and maybe just a little bit late, because that’s so Perry). You and your team will begin to see every touchpoint a client has through Perry’s lens, and begin to make decisions based on how she would perceive an idea or adjustment to the status quo. You can start with questions like:

  • “What would Perry think of this idea for a client event? Would she want to come and how would we make her feel comfortable enough to stay?”
  • “Would Perry approve of this prospecting email? How would it make her feel? How can we improve it so that it would make her happy and interested?”
  • “How would Perry have changed the environment or direction of the discussion in the last client meeting? How would she have felt afterward? What could we have done differently, and what should/could we do after the fact that would make her feel more comfortable and less fearful?”
  • “What would Perry think of the inflatable plastic pineapple in our conference room? Would she think it was odd, or should we add more things like that to make the environment more Perry-friendly?”

Common sense though it may be, customer- or client-centricity is about putting the customer or client first. That means making decisions with the customer or client at the forefront of your mind, and doing what they would want you to do, not what you want to do.

If you like the idea, how you go about it is entirely up to you, and you can make myriad changes based on personal preference. The most important pieces are that you and your team/group agree on who your avatar is and feel a connection to it, and that you’ve committed to integrating the avatar as much as possible.

Remember, the Primary Goal is Getting to Truly Know Your Ideal Client

This concept won’t be for everyone, and that’s OK. For example, you may have more than one type of client you are attempting to attract, and this may not (and potentially should not) change your focus. It does, however, force you to choose a very specific ideal construct, based not exclusively on asset size or life stage, but on who you actually want to work with.

I do believe that simplification can often provide us with insights we may not have been able to see through all the noise we are forced to sift through every day. If you choose to go down a path like this, you can measure many different outcomes, but if, at the end of the experiment, you and your team feel closer to your current and prospective clients, and have a better understanding of your ideal customer, you have set yourself up to be of great value to a host of future Perrys.


Dan Martin is the Director of Marketing for the Financial Planning Association, the principal professional membership organization for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professionals, educators, financial services professionals and students who seek advancement in a growing, dynamic profession. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @DanW_Martin and on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/danmartinmarketing.

Disclaimer: The Financial Planning Association is independent of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (“CFP Board”), a 501(c)(3) organization that grants the CFP® certification to CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals in the United States. CFP Board owns the trademarks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™.”


How to Stand Out and Get Prospects Online: A Conversation with Barbara Kay and Matt Ledoux

Barbara Kay, FPA Coaches Corner coach, recently sat down with Matt Ledoux, digital marketing expert of Captains of Content, for a conversation on how financial planners can stand out and get prospects online.

What’s the reality advisers face these days in their marketing?

You are who Google says you are. Which is pretty scary.

What does that mean? 

It means that the only impression that prospects are going to have about an adviser is what Google presents. And honestly many advisers aren’t putting their best foot forward online. They either have a poorly crafted website or no social media presence. Or they just look like every other adviser, so they don’t stand out at all.

Yes! It’s very hard to stand out in a crowded field. What should they do about it?

They should create a compelling value prop. And dare to sound different and unique so they can stand out from all the noise.

“You are who Google says you are. Studies show that prospects are deciding if they want to work with you based on your online presence.”

How specifically can an adviser do that given the compliance restrictions?

You don’t need to overpromise or push the limits of compliance, you just need to think about how you’re unique. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It might be something that other advisers just aren’t talking about. Then, once you find that thing, exploit the hell out of it.

If they just have to find a little thing that’s different, why is it so hard?

They get confused about who they are or who they want to be. I get it, it can be difficult. But they need someone who can help pull out their distinguishing value.

Yes, it’s a conversation I have a lot with clients. We have to dive deep to get past the generic. What’s your experience? What’s one thing all advisers want to say in their marketing?

“I’m a really good listener.”

Well, actually that’s a very important part of what client’s value. So, is that a good message?

No. It’s not. It’s a great characteristic, but it’s not distinguishing enough and it’s not a value prop. 

Well, then what can advisers say to attract more clients?

They have to ask themselves, what’s their thing? I have some clients who were math or computer science majors, let’s dig into that. Because not many advisers can say that. Or some had a parent who was an adviser, let’s go with the family angle. Some who believe in an overall balance, so let’s go with a “health and wealth” angle. Every adviser needs to find their unique thing. Then say it louder than everyone else.

I know that the word “trust” is really important, and they like to say that they are trustworthy. Can they use the word “trust”?

It’s not a believable word. Because every used car salesmen also says it. So you have to be very careful how you frame it.

If you can’t say I’m a great listener and you can’t say my clients trust me, what can you say? How do you talk about it?

One way we’ve done it with advisers is to say: “Most of the clients who started with me are still with me. And many have even become friends.” That kind of messaging implies trust. Without using that overused and under-believed word.

Does the CFP® certification help an adviser standout?

Yes, it does. And it’s a difficult designation to get. It definitely should be something that you lead with. But you also have to be careful to explain what it means in a simple way. Because many people don’t know. So, at Captains, we explain what it means to the investor in a non-jargon way that they not only understand, but see the benefit in.

What other tips do you have about good marketing language?

You want the adviser to be relatable. Because so much of the decision to work with an adviser is based on the human element. So I like to show an adviser’s human side—even in their language. We want them to sound more conversational. Less stiff sounding with less financial-speak. That way the prospects looking at their marketing materials can feel a connection.

You’ve given some great tips. Tell us your most important tip. What’s the one thing advisers need to do to ramp-up their marketing?

This is difficult with compliance, but get on Instagram if you can. The baby boomer population is aging and advisers want to get in touch with a younger crowd. That crowd is on Instagram. And not a lot of advisers are on Instagram yet. Get your name and your value prop messaging out there in a channel where young people are. Of course other social media channels are a must as well.

Thanks for bringing up social media. How important is it for advisers to have a strong social media presence?

It’s incredibly important. A huge amount of people are going online to learn about you. Even if it’s a referral, studies have found that 72 percent of investors say that an adviser’s online information is extremely important. In fact, the study also showed that 45 percent of prospects have eliminated an adviser based on what they found online. So your digital presence is everything.

You reinforce exactly what I say to clients, as well. They have to look good online.

Yes, it’s just part of your brand these days. The problem is, many advisers don’t know how to maximize their presence online. They don’t have a voice on social media. Or if they do, it sounds just like all the other advisers. It’s not unique.

Yes, many are too bland, but sometimes you see things that are frankly surprising. What is one of the craziest stories you’ve ever encountered when working with an adviser?

One that comes to mind is an adviser who had a picture of his dog for his LinkedIn profile. He’s a dog fan, I am too—I get that. But it’s not professional enough. In fact, a study done by Wisdom Tree had 7,000 high net-worth investors look at adviser profiles on LinkedIn. Using eye-tracking devices, they discovered that investors look at an adviser’s LinkedIn profile for an average of just 11 seconds. And of those 11 seconds guess how many they’re looking at your photo for?

Eight seconds. So a prospect is looking at your face and determining if they can relate to you or would want to work with you. The takeaway? Get a professional photo taken because a lot of decisions are being made based on that.

If you had one tip on LinkedIn profiles before we wrap up what would it be?

I have three tips: first, use a professional photo and smile big. That was another outcome of the eye-tracking study. Investors prefer it when advisers smile big. Also, on your LinkedIn profile, speak in first person, not third person. Lastly, don’t talk about yourself the whole time, talk about what you can do for your prospect.

Editor’s note: A version of this interview appeared in the July issue of the Journal of Financial Planning. Also, discuss this article with other FPA members in our Knowledge Circles.  


Barbara Kay, business psychology and productivity coach, helps advisers and firms maximize potential. As a member of the FPA Coaches Corner, Barbara offers a free consultation to all FPA members. Visit: www.barbarakaycoaching.com.

Matt Ledoux

Matt Ledoux of Captains of Content helps advisers and RIAs create powerful branding that helps engage prospects. FPA members get $50 off at www.captainsofcontent.com/fpa.



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5 Tips to Up Your Marketing Game

You’re a financial planning expert. Marketing might not be your thing. But here are some relatively easy goals you could potentially achieve before 2019 is over.

1.) Get out in your community.

Among the top marketing tips on Business.com is to get involved in the community. Donate prizes to local competitions and contests. Connect with people. Attend local events, volunteer, network, and create awareness about your business.

“Participating with community members this way can help you make stronger connections that you otherwise wouldn’t have through the normal business events,” Ally Scott writes in the Pulse Marketing Agency article, “Why Community Involvement Is Good for Your Brand.”

Then, when somebody needs a financial planner, they’ll remember that one planner (you) they met at that one event, or who donated that prize for that one local contest or silent auction.

Another way to get involved in your community is to serve on community boards. Gloria Zamora and M.L. Hanson (of the Colorado-based Boardbound by Women’s Leadership Foundation) noted in a recent FPA Latino Knowledge Circle call that non-profit and corporate boards alike are always looking for professionals with financial expertise to serve. Catch a replay of their call here.

2.) Hire a good writer.

The buzz around content marketing and personalized content for email campaigns has been growing for years now. But you hate writing. Or maybe you love writing but you have no time. Investing in a freelance writer to interview you on key topics and write your blog posts and email copy might be helpful, said Robert Sofia in the Financial Planning article, “How Advisors Can Up Their Digital Game.”

3.) Keep it consistent.

Whether you hire a writer or write it yourself, make sure if you are producing content, you are consistent with posting it. In the Forbes article, “Why Content Consistency Is Key to Your Marketing Strategy,” Jon Simpson writes it’s crucial to adhere to a schedule to build credibility and better customer experience. You might remember author Claudio Pannunzio noted in a recent blog post that an excellent client experience is better than any other marketing tactic.

4.) Talk to the media or write for professional publications.

If you see a financial planner being quoted in the news—and they happen to be an FPA member—chances are they’ve gone through FPA’s media training. (Virtual media training comes with your FPA membership. Not a member? Become one today.) After going through the training, members receive inquiries from the press and respond to the ones they want to answer.

Dennis Nolte, CFP® professional, told TheStreet.com that talking to media outlets was one of his methods for marketing on a budget.

Another way to market yourself is to establish yourself as a leader by writing for the profession’s trade and professional publications. Go to their websites, find their writing guidelines and pitch and write relevant content. If you want to learn more about how to write for this blog, or the Journal of Financial Planning, join me this Thursday at 2 p.m. EDT for an FPA Latino Knowledge Circle call on that topic. Journal Editor Carly Schulaka will also be on the call to answer any questions you might have. (Also, in case you missed it, you can now register for Knowledge Circle calls).

5.) Get help. If you have no clue what you’re doing, get help. In the July issue of the Journal,columnist Evan T. Beach writes about how there is no silver bullet to marketing success. Hire somebody who is an expert in marketing of all types—whether it’s a full-time staffer or a marketing firm. There is no shortage of financial planning marketers out there.

Ana TL Headshot_Cropped

Ana Trujillo Limón is senior editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org, or connect with her on LinkedIn