Today’s article is going to be really fun. I’ve been itching to write this one since the very first blog, but I felt the timing wasn’t right. Before we covered this one, I wanted to talk more about the various factors that made an article such as this necessary. Both the three major shifts in the financial advisor landscape, and the fourth upcoming shift of millennials. Likewise, I needed to talk about the value of processes for financial advisors, be they financial planners, insurance advisors, wealth managers, or otherwise. If you go back to our article on process, you’ll remember that this was the first time I pushed forward that there must exist best practices in the industry that will help financial advisors grow their books of business. That is, there must be certain repeatable tasks that are more likely to help you build strong relationships with clients.
Now, if you recall this article (and if not, you should read it), the majority of advisors (77%, to be precise) did not have any processes in place for dealing with their clients. But the 23% who did use processes in their businesses were far more successful, making up 58% of the top quartile of most successful advisors. Another way of looking at this was that there were 17 advisors in my sample who had processes in place. Of those 17, 11 were in the top quartile (out of a total of 19 advisors total in that quartile). Another four were in the third quartile. That is, process-driven advisors were really punching above their weight in terms of career success.
Okay, so processes really matter. Due to this, I decided to dig a little deeper in follow-up conversations with these top dog, process-driven individuals. I wanted to know what exactly we could learn from them on how to grow a successful book. Specifically, which best practices did they believe helped them produce the best business outcomes. I ended up talking to eight of these advisors. I also interviewed both our CEO, Aly Dhalla, and CFO, Donald Chu, at Finaeo. Both have built large, successful books in financial advisory services, including financial planning, life insurance, and group benefits, so I figured they were good candidates to chat with as well.
My questions to all ten interviewees were fairly broad – what do your processes look like? What are the most important things you do? What do you believe is the most effective piece of the puzzle? Now, for those of you who remember statistics, you’ll know that a sample size this small (10 people in total) cannot give truly statistically significant results. As such, I avoided quantitative survey answers and focused on much more qualitative interactions. I was looking for themes around processes and the best practices they led to. I was on the hunt for practical tips that could be implemented by any advisor. I wanted pragmatic things that you could start doing tomorrow to help you grow your business.
There were two major themes that my conversations seemed to revolve around. The first was being prepared before the meeting and the second was staying organized after the meeting. Unfortunately, this blog ran far too long to include both. Instead, I split this into two parts. Today, we will focus on the theme of coming to meetings prepared. I will focus on the five best practices I picked up through these conversations. The purpose of this piece is very practical. By the time you finish reading it, I want you to start implementing these best practices into your own processes so that, by tomorrow, you can start impressing your clients (even more, that is!).
Being Prepared for Every Meeting is the Difference Between a Good and Great Advisor
So, Bob, our intrepid financial advisor, has a meeting with Steven in five minutes and you’ve quickly glanced through your previous notes on him. They were sort of a mess, but you think you remember when you last talked six months ago. He had just had his first child with his wife – uh, Melissa? Margot? Maude? Her name definitely started with an M, right? – and you wanted to talk to him about an RESP today. Bob walks through the door and you greet him. How’s the kid, you ask, putting your hand out. He looks at you blankly and you realize you’ve mistaken Bob for another client. You spend the next five minutes in recovery mode. Hopefully Bob doesn’t think you too inept by the end of the meeting. If you had just kept your mouth shut, it would have been better, right?
Well, probably not. Or, rather, in the case of making a mistake about something as fundamentally important as whether your client has a child – yeah, it would have been much better to have said nothing. But, in general, knowing these details about your client is the absolute most important thing you can do as a financial advisor. Whether you are offering insurance, group benefits, financial planning, or what have you, relationships are key to growing a successful business. If you recall the previous article I wrote (Why the Future is Bright for Financial Advisors), it went into detail about how rapport insulates advisors from client churn. It protected them both from clients leaving for other advisors and for robo-advisor services. So, what does that mean? Well, if your job is to build strong relationships, it’s damn near impossible to do so if you focus on just talking about the weather. You need to be able to talk about your client’s kid – you just better hope that you don’t mistake one client for the other.
So what was Bob’s first mistake? He didn’t come into the meeting truly prepared. This, according to all ten advisors, was the cardinal sin that good financial advisors did not commit. Now, coming prepared seems like a fairly obvious piece of advice. One of those, “well, duh” pieces of advice. Yet, there is a quantum difference between how great advisors prepare and how mediocre ones do. If you have ever mistook one client for another (like poor Bob and the tale of the missing child above), forgotten an important piece of information, or were blindsided by a big piece of information you should have known from a client, you have dropped the ball. The key differentiator, as far as I can tell, is that great advisors do not make these sorts of mistakes. And it all boils down to preparation. Aly, our CEO, gave me a great example on how he built an enormous book of business:
“I had two administrative assistants. Forget the second one for now, let’s talk about the first one first – when it came to her, her entire job was to make sure I was prepared for my daily meetings. That was it. If I went to each meeting with the right set of information, feeling confident that I knew my client, she had done her job. If I went into a meeting feeling underprepared, she had not. I never went into meetings underprepared though, because she would have been quickly replaced if I had.”
In fact, many of the advisors I talked to had assistants who would help them prepare. Yet, their assistants were not doing anything that they hadn’t done on their own before they could afford the help. The underlying reality, then, was that being prepared for a meeting was key. You do not want to be like Bob.
Okay, so with that out of the way, what does being prepared for a meeting mean and entail? What actions can you take tomorrow to blow your clients and prospects out of the water? Ultimately, there were five pragmatic tips that a number of the advisors I interviewed offered up.
Process #1: Prep for the Week Ahead
The frequency of which I heard this from the top-tier interviewed advisors was astounding. Every single one of them told me that they prep for the week, every week. Some of them did it Monday morning, one did it Friday afternoon, but the majority spent a few hours on Sunday evening making sure they were prepared for their meetings in the following weeks. It was that important.
So what can you do to prepare for your meeting? First off, go through your client notes on all the clients you are going to meet with. This has two purposes. For one, it helps jog your memory on who you’re going to be speaking with and what you’ve already talked about previously. This should be brief – you don’t need to go into detail on each client. This isn’t supposed to replace doing more intense diligence and research prior to the meeting, it’s just going to be a nice refresher course. It will also help highlight pieces of information that may be missing. I would highly recommend putting small notes on any knowledge gaps you may have about so you can return to them later and fill them out. That way, you never find yourself struggling to remember if the client’s spouse’s name is Melissa, Margot or Maude right before the meeting.
Process #2: Do Heavy Diligence
This ties directly in with the prep you did for the upcoming week. The day before the meeting, you want to spend time digging in deeper. This means going through your notes in detail and really understanding the situation of your client. This is real work and can be time-intensive, but by the end, you’ll know the most important pieces of information about your client.
So what information matters? Well, interviewed advisors all discussed taking a good amount of time looking into their business histories with the client. That is, they wanted to know what past work the two had done in detail. What products or services did the client buy from them? Were there products or services that were offered to the client but not purchased? These pieces of business information were seen as integral to being prepared for the meeting. Likewise, advisors kept track of their last touchpoint. Where and when it was, what the purpose of the meeting was, and what follow-ups and tasks were undertaken on the client’s behalf.
Interestingly, a good number of advisors argued that the business details were actually less important than remembering personal details about their clients (they must have read my blog on the power of rapport years before I even published it). Which personal details mattered ran a bit of the gamut, but there were a few clear winners that many advisors cared about. First, job title and biography was seen as incredibly important. If your client spends half his or her life at work, you better know what exactly he or she is doing there. But, outside of work, advisors seemed to really care about more intimate pieces of information. What was the client’s hobbies? What trips had he or she gone to recently? What sports did he or she watch, follow, or play? Great advisors were constantly searching for a way to humanize their clients and find strong relationships.
Relationships were also seen as incredibly important. This included information on the client’s spouse and kids. One advisor gave me a great anecdote about how he bumped into a client in public. He tried engaging with her but she was being standoffish and a bit cold. He suspected that she was having a lousy day. Still, he remembered her daughter’s name and that she was in the second grade from a previous interaction. He dropped that tidbit of information and the client’s entire demeanor changed. The tone of the conversation was transformed into a far more positive one. What could have been a poor interaction was saved by being able to create a personal touch. A few advisors independently pointed out that knowing kid names and dates of birth was very important. Plus, by keeping track of the dates of birth of his clients’ kids, an advisor is well positioned to begin discussing RESPs at opportune moments. Another worthwhile piece of relationship information was mutual connections. This was both remembering who referred you to the client, as well as being on the lookout for any mutual friends or acquaintances the two of you have.
Process #3: Fill in the Gaps
Also tied to prepping for the week ahead was discovering gaps in your knowledge. The day before the meeting, turn some of your attention to filling in the details. These gaps could be a myriad of things. Perhaps you’ve lost track of what your client does. Or you forgot to uncover her husband’s name during your last meeting it. Or maybe you did uncover it but your notes from that meeting are as readable as a doctor’s script.
Whatever the reason for these gaps, the day before meeting with the client is a perfect time to do some discovery. So what are your best tools? Well, the Internet of course. Advisors we talked to (or their assistants) regularly used the web to find information about their clients. Adding clients to Facebook was generally seen as a good move. Not all clients accepted a friend request from their advisor, but plenty did. And the ones that did offered an often unparalleled snapshot of their personal lives. Advisors could quickly get updated on their clients’ recent vacations, hobbies, or family occasions. All of these serve as great opportunities to develop stronger relationships. LinkedIn serves a similar function in the workplace, helping you stay on top of changes in your client’s job function or place of employment. Plus, you can use both to mine for mutual relationships.
Another tip that I recently heard was setting Google Alerts for clients. As an advisor told me (paraphrased), “if one of my clients makes it into the paper for donating to a charity, I want to know.” For those who haven’t used Google Alerts before, they let you monitor the web for interesting pieces of news about specific topics. Note that if your client has a common name, you may find yourself getting a lot of false positives. However, the day you send Jane Doe a congratulatory note for winning a local volleyball tournament will be the day you create a lifelong relationship.
For new prospects, the same tools were used. LinkedIn was useful for workplace information and mutual contacts. Google was beloved for its ability to generate interesting topics of conversation. Advisors told me about finding stories of their prospects golfing in charity tournaments, writing editorials on topics of interest, and being involved in various community events. All of these provided them with excellent conversational kickstarters when they met the prospect that very first time.
Process #4: Preparing the Morning of the Meeting
Another common process that top-tier advisors told me about was the morning of the meeting (or the night before). The morning of, three key things were regularly done. First thing in the morning, many advisors sent out an agenda and an email. Then, closer to the meeting, they would go over their client notes as a refresher.
Let’s turn first to sending out the meeting agenda. While some advisors went into meetings without this, quite a few believed it was integral. Summing up their opinions, an agenda did a few things. First, it kept everything during the meeting organized – you’re much less likely to forget an important topic of discussion if it’s front and center on the agenda. It also makes sure you time the different topics appropriately. A good agenda keeps you on track. You don’t find yourself needing to discuss four more topics with only three minutes left on the clock. Finally, agendas demonstrate to clients that you are on top of your game. This can pay dividends – clients will believe that this level of attention to detail will transfer to their matters as well.
As for confirmation emails, advisors liked them for two primary reasons. First, they thought it was just a polite gesture. If your client was having a busy day, a prompt reminder would keep you top of mind. It also made it less likely for clients to forget about the meeting or cancel last minute. They forgot meetings less often and, if they did cancel, they gave enough heads up so that the advisor was not wasting time enroute when notice came.
Finally, fifteen minutes before your client meeting, go over whatever you’ve learned about the client. That way, you’re locked, loaded, and ready to go when the meeting starts. Just be careful not to do it in the same place you’re meeting the client – you don’t want to be interrupted if he arrives early.
Process #5: Be on Time. In Fact, Arrive Five Minutes Early.
Forget being on time, always aim to be five minutes early.
Because your client might be!
This blog has ran long, even for me. Next week, I’ll turn towards smart processes after the meeting. However, for today’s Challenger, let’s keep it simple. If you aren’t already, it is time to start incorporating these five practices into your weekly and daily routines. Try to add better prep to your work-life and tell us how it goes in the comments. Beyond that, please subscribe to our blog below!