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Planning and partnering strengthen client relationships

By Kate McCaffery | August 12 2010 03:34PM

Following two key strategies will help advisors build and strengthen their relationships with clients, explained three successful advisors who shared their insight at a recent professional development event held by Qualified Financial Services in Toronto.

The lessons shared were two-fold. First, that some of the most successful practices are built by having a plan and regular steps to follow consciously, almost religiously, during the process of building each client relationship. Second, that one person can't possibly be all things to all people. Successful businesses are built by partnering, not only with other professionals but with other financial advisors as well.

Such professional arrangements and relationships are certainly not built overnight. And, they don't come into being without a conscious plan to stop trying to be all things to all people.

Seven years ago, Brian Gribben, senior partner with Wealth Strategies Group, decided he'd had enough of trying to run, manage and grow his business in the "jack of all trades but master of none" role he'd been using.

"I was working night and day and my time wasn't my own. Realistically I wasn't going to grow the business unless I found a different way to do it," he says. "My income had kind of maxed - there's the law of diminishing returns. You can keep working longer and harder but it doesn't produce more results."

Focus your business
Instead of expanding to grow, he in fact pulled back and became very focused on a certain type of client and strategy, so much so that other advisors began coming to him for help with their own clients (he shares these cases). In turn, he sought other advisors to partner with who could provide expertise in the areas he wasn't as intently focused on. Ten years ago he partnered with an investment specialist, he added an employee benefits and group insurance partner five years ago and finally, in 2009, chose a long term real estate investment specialist to work with.

For investments and group benefits, he has split business arrangements in place. The real estate investment piece is provided using a referral arrangement.

"I became very aware that my clients were looking for more but I didn't want to expand my personal offerings because I didn't want to go back to being very fragmented," he says. "The best way to meet my client's needs was to find really top notch people. Ideally, when I put my clients' in front of one of these people, they say ‘wow, where did you find this guy?' They're really top notch people."

Similarly, Dave Hagerman, president of Can Wealth Financial Services is liberal with his referrals in the same way. Although he doesn't partner with other life agents, he does have a roster of lawyers, accountants, even local car dealers to whom he can refer clients. On top of this, he maintains an active business relationship with a property and casualty broker, even including this fact in his client marketing material.

"I always tell the client that I can get information for them. It doesn't cost them anything unless they're going to go to that professional because they've got a real problem. It takes a lot of pressure off - they don't need to go chasing somebody else to put the puzzle together. That's why I say I use the strength of others," says Mr. Hagerman. "I always use the strength of others to build my own rapport."

Like Mr. Gribben, Mr. Hagerman developed these professional referral arrangements over the course of many years, in his case through active community involvement - local hockey participation and sponsorship, sponsorship of other community events, and by arranging seminars in partnership with his favourite wholesaler. Most of his partners, right down to the nurse who handles paramedical exams for his practice, ultimately become his clients as well.

Although when referring clients in Mr. Hagerman's case there are no joint business arrangements, he says working with just a handful of professionals allows him to comfortably refer his own clients and accept referrals in return.

Benefits of teamwork
Having these arrangements in place allows each advisor to do different things but both have benefited tremendously from the exercise in relationship building. Mr. Hagerman works consistently to build a corral around clients so they're not tempted to go to another advisor and Mr. Gribben's business continues to grow even though he now only works roughly 180 days out of the year.

For Mr. Gribben, attending the first two meetings with clients and the advisor he's referring them to, provides insight he can in turn bring to the next client conversation about the same matter.

As well, in terms of learning, by not trying to focus on everything he can pick and choose which continuing education events he attends. "There's a definite focus," he says. "Targeting not only affects who you're seeing in the marketplace, it also affects what information you're allowing to take up space in your head. You can get selective with that."

Which brings us to lesson number two of the day: Whether they consistently target the same clients or consistently follow the same meeting format (or both), constant adherence to the steps of a plan not only makes business activities more productive, it makes them easier to accomplish too.

Mr. Hagerman's plan of action can be broken down into the same five steps he uses with every client. This plan, coupled with a "financial focus" document he uses to collect client information, allows him to set just about any client on a track, whether that client is in late retirement or just starting out.

Mr. Gribben, meanwhile, is highly specific and consistent about who he accepts as clients.

Although the focus is different for each, the end result is the same - clients are more confident that their advisor knows what they're talking about. "Client meetings all become very similar," Mr. Gribben told the group of advisors gathered at the QFS event. "The client doesn't know your meeting with them was the same as the last ten."

Charin Torch, insurance advisor with Qualified Financial Services, says having a plan and taking consistent steps is the key to developing each client relationship.

"If it works to send a letter and a thank you card and to follow up once a year, don't change it. You can add new things, but don't take away what's been working. If you keep on doing this, not only does it get better, it gets easier as well," she says. "It's just like baking a cake. You follow the steps. Without one ingredient, it may work, but not as well."

Not only does this consistency become part of day to day life, all three advisors say it's an important way to avoid becoming complacent, whether this is about keeping up with the small touches, like greeting cards, or complacent about the business altogether once higher income begins to make life more comfortable.

Perhaps most importantly, all three say it helps to keep meetings focused and on track. "It really instills a lot of confidence," says Mr. Gribben. "You will know that I know what I'm talking about and that I'm taking you in a definite direction. We're not sort of meandering around, hoping along the way we find something to connect about."

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