The common mantra in private client firms when the subject of client research comes up is usually “ah but we know what our clients want”. After all the reasoning goes, advisers are talking to them day in day out why would they not know what they want?
Well firstly most client conversations are quite focused on an immediate instruction, query or problem. Most advisers don’t have time to chew the fat with all their clients regularly unless they really do have a handful of very ultra high net worth clients.
Secondly it’s quite difficult to get a clear picture of your overall client base by aggregating the feedback of your front office.
This is crucial for two reasons – targeting your services and encouraging referrals.
TARGETING YOUR SERVICES
Financial advisers have had it drummed into them for the last few years that they need to segment their client bases and with the sun already beginning to set on trail commission, identifying a clear picture of which clients advisers should continue to serve and how, and those who need perhaps to be encouraged to seek guidance and more self-serve routes is becoming an urgent issue.
Some firms have found this easier than others but the clock ticking is almost audible. Other sorts of private client firms may be able to ignore that sound for the moment but all firms need a clear, costed picture of what they can offer, profitably, to whom and how in an increasingly competitive landscape with lower cost, digitally-enabled business models popping up every week, if they want to ensure their ongoing survival.
For most private client firms new clients primarily come through the clients you already have and the professional connections you have built and nurtured over the years. Encouraging referrals from private clients and professional connections requires a very different approach than merely shouting one's message as hard as possible at as many people as possible.
This isn’t to say that share of voice and consistent message delivery doesn’t have a part to play but current contacts and clients and introducers need clarity first – clarity on what you stand for as a firm, the sorts of clients you are looking for and the sorts of solutions you can help them with. Long lists of broad client categories and service lists that focus on service features not client benefits is not going to help.
The most common comment I hear when speaking to private clients about barriers to referring business is are that they are not sure what sort of client their banker/adviser wants, they worry that their peer group may be of insufficient interest to their current adviser, and, where they are vague about their adviser’s wider range of services, they are less confident in referring both their contacts and themselves for their own wider needs.
Firms that address these barriers will find their message more easily digested by their target audiences and more easily repeated on to others. Those who hide behind a generic target audience description of “private clients” and a list of services that is meaningful to them but jargon to their clients, cannot be surprised if their clients struggle to advocate on their behalf.
TALK TO YOUR CLIENTS AND CONNECTIONS
Try talking directly to key clients and introducers. Ask their opinion about your business. Get them round the table and talk to them about their needs and their insights. Learn what language they use when talking about you and what you do for them. Lay out case study examples for them and get their feedback on what resonates and what doesn’t. Talk about what sort of clients you think would benefit from what you do and what sort of service areas you are seeking to grow. Talk to them about what trigger moments might prompt a need of your services.
Introducing the tricky topic of broadening what you do for your clients and how clients and introducers can support referrals is easier and more natural for both sides as part of a wider conversation. This sort of relationship marketing requires a detailed understanding internally within your firm about what you stand for, precisely who it is that you want to work with and what it is you can do for them. But it will help generate more subtle and effective ideas than the blunt instruments of promotional marketing can.