Sometimes you get the most profound insights when you are traveling, especially if you take the time to chat up the person sitting next to you on your flight. Consider an instance from earlier this year, where I met Ruth, a seasoned accountant with her own practice.
After takeoff, she leaned over and asked me if I was traveling for work or for pleasure. I said that I was off to speak at a technology conference in Boston. "Ah, technology," she replied. "I've been hearing that machines were coming after my best clients for decades."
"I bet," I responded. "How have services like TurboTax or H&R Block's online service impacted your client base?" She rolled her eyes and said, "They've looked pretty good to my clients who didn't value our relationship. You know, the ones who just want down-and-dirty tax filings. But for my best clients, I'm as relevant as ever. And I'm awash with referrals from them."
"What's your secret?" I asked. "Well, I made the decision a long time ago to not just be an accountant, who filled out forms and conducted filings," she replied. "I decided to be an essential part of people's lives. I became their best source of tax-related information. When they needed a solution to a non-tax issue, I referred them to someone in my network. But mostly, when they needed to talk to someone, I was their confidante. I never scolded them about spending or financial mistakes. And I don't limit conversations to money issues. They know they can call me about anything, and they do!"
In that moment, I realized that Ruth had figured out how to stay one step ahead of innovations by finding ways to add more value. She made the leap from being an accountant to becoming an essential partner to her clients. She leveraged her professional services as a platform to potentially change their lives.
Much like Ruth, you've probably been hearing that your business is going to be disrupted by technology advances. Robo-advisors, self-service offerings and digital currencies are the headliners in this (frightening) discussion about the future of financial planning. But just like she did, you can protect your client base by developing the following three personas that enable you to make the leap from optional to essential.
Fountain of Knowledge
You offer your clients the necessary insights they need to make sound investment and wealth planning decisions. After meeting with you, they are inspired, because they feel like they've learned something important to their future. You can do this, because you are committed to continual learning, reading books and relevant reports to stay on top of change. Unlike a 'firehose of information' you curate the most relevant need-to-know knowledge, both informing your clients and sparing them from overload. When they need mentorship on a new subject, such as alternative investments, you are there with crisp advice.
Action Items: Develop a reading and research plan that doubles your knowledge of market developments, investment insights and future trends. Prior to every client interaction, prepare one takeaway that builds on your high Return-On-Attention reputation with them.
Connector of Dots
You always have your 'referral radar' on during client conversations. Be it accounting, bookkeeping, legal services or even dog sitting services, you are on the ready to make a connection. You think about your clients' needs at a higher level than they often do. You think about their real needs like Mercedes-Benz thinks about their customers: They don't sell cars, they facilitate customers getting from one place to another conveniently and safely. Putting this into practice, when your client talks about managing their risk, don't just think about financial services; instead look for connected services such as insurance or identity theft protection to recommend.
Action Items: Invest one hour a week organizing your recommended partners network. Build it with your client base in mind, considering everything adjacent to financial services or relevant to their lifestyle or location. The more robust this network is, the more likely you are to connect the dots. Make at least one connection on behalf of your client every week. (For more networking tips, read my last article on this site.)
You listen deeply, provide encouragement and through the process, help clients discover their own solutions and release their frustrations. You are able to take their perspective, giving them a sense of community and a newfound self-respect for their feelings. Your listening skills also make you a great collaborator, helping your clients vet their ideas, talk through their challenges and unleash innovative thinking. You listen more than you talk during most meetings and focus the conversation on the client and not yourself. You are more likely to respond to a client's expression of anxiety or anger with "tell me more" than "you shouldn't feel that way."
Action Items: Develop a handful of provocative questions to use in client meetings. You likely will ask different ones at different stages of the relationship. For question-creating tips, read Ask More: The Power of Questions To Open Doors by Frank Senso.
While it takes a great deal of effort to become an essential partner to clients, the payoff is business continuity. When your clients know how much you care about them at all three of these levels, they'll never consider replacing you with faster-better-cheaper advances...no matter how shiny or new.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author, who is not affiliated with Hartford Funds. The information contained herein should not be construed as investment advice or a recommendation of any product or service nor should it be relied upon to, replace the advice of an investor's own professional legal, tax and financial advisors.
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