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Kick-start your business growth with client appreciation events

By Rosemary McCracken | November 01 2013 04:56PM

Client appreciation events are a great way to nurture and to kick-start your business. They can include purely social events, as well as seminars and workshops that focus on different aspects of financial planning.Marketing consultants currently contend that small social events, tailored to clients’ interests and strictly social, are the tickets to retain clients and find new ones. “Financial advisors are in a relationship-based business so you need to deepen those relationships and become clients’ trusted advisors,” said Sara Gilbert, founder of Strategist, a Montreal-based financial services consultancy. “That will result in referrals. A referral is a transfer of trust.

“Client events are definitely not about selling products,” she added. “If you recruit clients based on returns, they’ll leave you based on returns.”

“If you’ve built trust with your clients, no matter what happens with the financial markets, you’ll be in it together,” added Joanne Ferguson, president of Advisor Pathways Inc., a Toronto-based financial services consultancy.

Small, intimate events are best, Gilbert said, with a ceiling of 12 people. “People want to feel they’re special, that this is an exclusive group. And you want to be able to talk to everyone. With a group of 50 people, you won’t be able to do that.”

Mail invitations that give a brief outline of the agenda, and request an RSVP. “Print them on good-quality paper, Ferguson said. “Think of your team’s brand. The invitations should tell your guests that you put time and thought into this event.”

Restaurant dinners, wine-tastings, golf clinics and art appreciation events are good ways to nurture existing relationships, Gilbert said. “Find out what your clients like, and bring a small group together on those topics.”

Concerts, theatre and film events provide less opportunity to interact with all your guests. “To get the best bang for your buck at these events, you’ll need to hold a reception before or after the show so you can spend some time with each person,” said Peter Bent, Investors Group’s Vancouver-based director of area marketing for British Columbia and Alberta.

Ferguson emphasized the importance of drawing the best speakers for your client events. “Who you put out in front of clients and prospects says a lot about your business. If you haven’t heard a person speak, sit down with him or her. Ask exactly what will be covered and the approach that will be taken.”

Client events also provide opportunities to expand your business. Ask clients to invite a friend or a relative to a small social event. There are subtle strategies to ensure that the guests will be a good fit for you, Bent said. “A gardening event with a speaker who can talk about garden design and plants will appeal to homeowners and people with discretionary income. You can tell clients who live in affluent areas that this event might appeal to one of their neighbours.”

The social nature of these prospecting events will allow you to get an idea of who your clients’ guests are and whether you’d like to work with them. “And they’ll get a sense of who you are as a person,” Bent said. “They already know what business you are in, and they may find meeting you in a social context less intimidating.”

Prospecting events

There is a place for large client events, Ferguson added. “Summer barbecues and winter skating parties are good ways to meet clients’ family members and pave the way for succession planning. And they are excellent opportunities for strengthening your team. Have team members circulate, and chat with different clients and their guests.”

Gilbert said business-development events should include your centres of influence – lawyers, accountants, real estate agents and other professionals who can provide specialized services for your clients, and who in return may refer their clients to you. “Add them to your newsletter so that they can keep in touch with what you do.”

The current emphasis on social events shouldn’t preclude financial topics. Many clients and prospects are eager to learn about different aspects of financial planning, but financial information seminars should never pitch financial products. And, again, the topics should be tailored to clients’ interests and needs. “Snowbird clients may be considering buying vacation properties in the U.S. sunbelt,” Gilbert said. “Arrange a seminar or a dinner with presentations from a real estate agent with a knowledge of the Florida housing market, a financial advisor on the financial implications of buying U.S. real estate, and a lawyer on cross-border issues.”

Cottage succession planning may interest some clients. Certain aspects of estate planning, such as how to choose an executor, may interest others. “We recently held a seminar in Calgary for snowbird clients,” Bent said. “If you work with small business owners, hold presentations on topics of interest to them. And tell them that their small-business colleagues may want to attend as well.”

He also suggested designing presentations around life events – retirement, being downsized from a job, the birth of a child and sending children off to university – and assembling a group of clients who are going through these life events. “The issues will resonate with them at this time in their lives.”

Presentations can effectively blend financial and lifestyle topics, Ferguson said. “Bring in a travel agent to talk to clients who like to travel about great places they can visit. And a financial planner to discuss how to make travel, perhaps even taking a year off to travel, happen financially. Another seminar can focus on physical and financial fitness, with presentations from a personal fitness coach, a nutritionist and a financial planner.”

Gilbert said that hosting an event every quarter is the most many advisors can handle. “Events have to be planned properly and followed up. Plan for two events to deepen existing relationships every year and two to expand your business. You’ll reach your top 24 clients, and 24 prospects and centres of influence. The first few will events be full-time jobs to arrange, but you’ll get the hang of it. Delegate duties to your team.”

Budget

Client events are just one arm of your marketing strategy, and the funds for them will come out of your marketing budget. “We suggest spending 10% of your commissions on marketing,” Gilbert said, “and client events will be part of this.”

For larger practices, Ferguson suggested putting a team member in charge of client events. “Determine what you’ll spend on marketing for the entire year, and what part of that will go towards client events. That way your team member won’t have to get approval for every step along the way.

“And consider cross-marketing by teaming up with another business,” she added. “This will cut costs and bring in new business. Approach the manager of the new café in your building about holding a client event there. The café will provide tea and coffee, and you’ll introduce your clients to that business. They’ll visit it whenever they have appointments with you.”

Follow-up

Following up a client event is all-important. A hand-written note should be mailed within the next week to everyone who was invited, whether or not the person attended, Gilbert said. It should include a summary of what was covered at the event.

“Follow this up with a telephone call to clients, their guests and your centres of influence,” she added. “Prospects take six to eight months to become clients. And invite your COIs to a follow-up lunch to talk about the added value you can bring to their businesses.”

But understand how comfortable you are about asking for business, Ferguson said. “If you step out of your comfort zone, it will come across in your tone of voice.”

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