Do you have a preservation strategy?

By Robyn Levin, President, R. Levin Marketing Group

While I was attending the FPA conference in Sydney, Australia a few years ago, my traveling companion, who is a financial advisor, ran into this problem: One of her client’s died and she got the dreaded disturbing phone call and e-mail that not only had her client passed away, but that the son who was the executor wanted to transfer the account in full to his existing broker. The obvious problem was that he didn’t know her or anything about his father’s financial relationship with her firm. She said she was going to wait until after her trip to respond to his concerns and asked my advice.

I encouraged her to respond to him immediately, acknowledge his concerns and schedule an appointment as soon as she returns to the U.S. We crafted a short and effective e-mail to soothe his frustrations and give him some relief. Of course, the fact the she was attending an industry leading FPA conference in Australia gave her some immediate credibility. Had she had a preservation strategy in effect, however, she could have avoided this situation.
If you want to strengthen client relationships and gain important insight, you first should code all of your accounts by A, B, and C, similar to what you probably already do for your prospects. For example, an “A” client may be a $5 million-plus client, depending on what types of clients you are targeting for your business. This is a good time to get clear about your ideal client – if you haven’t already. If you are not using this system for your leads, I highly recommend trying it, as it helps you follow up faster with relevant marketing messaging. This is an easy way to identify the best clients to contact first and it helps prioritize your accounts. You may classify them according to account size, future value and/or the potential to gain more business from them. Perhaps you sell multiple products and/or services. If so, this could add value to their ranking.

By far, one of the easiest ways to gain business is to sell more to existing clients and keep nurturing that relationship through a steady flow of communication. According to a Harvard Business study, it costs 5-7 times more to gain a client than to retain one. Knowing this, where would you rather put your marketing efforts? I also use the ranking system to identify the best prospects to check up on after trade shows, conferences, sales calls and networking. Once you have this system in place, it’s easy to craft relevant e-mails specifically addressing the A, B and C groups. And, you can incorporate this into whatever system you are using for your customer database.

Now that you have your priority list, start to call your clients and explain that you’d like to meet the family members who will be involved in their financial affairs. Arrange a brief meeting or lunch and introduce yourself, your firm and important considerations they should be aware of. If they are in need of a financial advisor, you may be the perfect solution. Be subtle when you ask them that question, as you want to focus on the real reason for the meeting. Advise them of the importance of the beneficiary designation and the role of the executor, if that is relevant to them. I was tossed into this situation unexpectedly when my mother suddenly passed away and I was the executor. It can be overwhelming for your clients, especially given the emotional state they may be in. It’s better if everyone is prepared in advance than for someone to be caught off guard and totally unaware. Plus, they will value your expertise and relationship with their family.

The second and very effective technique is to compose a brief online survey to send to your existing clients and prospects. This is a great way to get feedback and take their pulse, so to speak. I use to create branded online surveys. They provide a simple template where you can create questions and compile and analyze the results – instantly. You track the responses as they come in. I would limit the questions to 5-7 at the most, as most people are typically unwilling to spend too much time on surveys. To increase your response rate, you may also offer clients an incentive to complete the survey, like a free report or gift card.

Meanwhile, many clients aren’t aware of all the services you offer, so this would be a good time to ask them if they are aware of the newest, high-yielding instruments that provide secure, steady income – way above CD rates or something to that effect. Ask them if they’d be interested in attending an event on a particular subject and which date they prefer. One of the best and most simple surveys that was ever done was by Avis Car Rental. They simply polled their customers to see if they would recommend them to their friends and family. Your industry or company may have regulations that prevent you from using testimonials. Surveys for research purposes, however, should be OK.

Your survey link can be posted on your Web site with a call-to-action, such as: “We value your feedback! Please take our brief five question survey.”

You could also provide clients with a drop-down list of their most important concerns right now, whether it’s the fear of outliving their money, trying to increase their monthly income, reducing taxes and/or how to best transfer their wealth upon their demise. Think strategically when you compose these brief questions and allow them space to elaborate or provide suggestions. Also ask them who – aside from you, their attorneys and CPAs – are the most important people in their lives concerning their estate and financial matters.

I gathered valuable feedback from my recent online survey on behalf of my client. Surprisingly, the clients took time to write actual essays and answer important questions we asked. Based upon their feedback, we will now host a free quarterly webinar on the subjects they suggested. You will find that clients sometimes become your best strategic advisors, so listen carefully to them.

Once you have met with your clients’ family members, it’s important to stay in touch with them on a yearly basis or more frequently if they are receptive to your information. Don’t just make this a one time effort. The key to building relationships and easily attracting clients is to provide a consistent flow of communication over time with important relevant information.

An easy way to accomplish this is to write articles that will be of interest to them by age or generation. Baby boomers have very different concerns than aging seniors, so your articles should be tailored to their most pressing needs. A good length for an article is 750-1,000 words. Post your articles on your blog or Web site and include them in your online newsletters. You could also offer your articles to other Web sites that share your target audience but offer non-competing products and services. Don’t forget to include a forward-to-a-friend link at the bottom. Viral marketing is hugely effective and helps spread the word without costing you anything. You can even offer your articles to your local business publications for free publicity.

Now that you have a preservation strategy for your business, and some new ways to gain quality clients and prevent family conflicts in the future, everyone will be better off.