Recently, i had a discussion with a successful financial advisor who was looking for ways to get better results from the time he spent in client meetings. We came up with a list of 10 best practices that will improve the return on time invested in client meetings if applied consistently. In my March 2017 column, I outlined five of those best practices. Here are five more strategies that will make your meetings with clients more effective:
- ADDRESS TOUGH ISSUES
In many client/advisor relationships, clients are concerned about issues but are reluctant to raise them. Sometimes, these concerns are driven by something your clients have read in newspapers - for example, that U.S. market valuations are well above historical averages, which could lead to a significant correction. Other concerns may be causing your clients to hesitate to follow through on advice that you have given them in past meetings, such as diversifying portfolios to include exposure to emerging markets.
One approach is for you to put the subject on the table in a way that is comfortable for your clients. So, for example, you could say: "Some clients I've spoken to have told me they've read newspaper articles about the level of U.S. stock prices that is causing them some concern. Is this something you'd like to talk about during our meeting today?"
Along similar lines, if your clients are reluctant to follow through on the advice you offered in the previous meeting, you could address that issue by saying: "Some clients have told me that they are reluctant to invest in emerging markets because of the level of volatility. Is this something you'd like to add to the agenda for today's meeting?"
Clearly, you don't want to introduce concerns that don't exist. But if you have reason to believe that there may be an issue on your clients' minds, one response is to be proactive in raising it and seeing how clients respond.
- TAP INTO PEER INFLUENCE
In a world of greater transparency regarding fees and a growing number of lower-cost, automated advisory services, thoughtful advisors focus more effort on demonstrating the clear value they bring to their client relationships. Some advisors are developing financial plans to serve as road maps for clients. Other advisors concentrate on a wealth-management approach, providing advice regarding tax and estate planning and charitable giving.
Another approach is to help your clients address difficult issues related to family dynamics. Research suggests that two-thirds of affluent Americans in their 60s and 70s have never talked to their adult children about their finances and inheritance plans - and there is no reason to believe that the incidence of these conversations is any higher among affluent Canadians.
Even when people know they should be having these conversations with their adult children, they are reluctant to do so. Sometimes, these clients are concerned about losing control of their finances; other times, they are apprehensive about creating family tension; in still other times, your clients don't want to create expectations among their children. That's where you, as a trusted financial advisor, can help.
One approach is to use the power of peer influence in talking about the experience of other clients in similar circumstances. Peer influence is a formidable force that can be both positive and negative: it can lead to market bubbles and manias; but also can encourage your clients to take actions that will leave them better off. So, you could introduce this topic to clients by saying something like: "Recently, I've helped a couple of clients initiate conversations with their adult children regarding their inheritance plans and, afterward, got great feedback both from my clients and from their children. Is this something you'd like to talk about?"
- END MEETINGS ON A HIGH NOTE
Every meeting has three parts: preliminaries at the beginning that set the tone; the body of the meeting, in which the substance of the conversation occurs; and the wrap-up, which concludes the meeting. Although all three parts are important, research suggests that the way a meeting finishes can shape client perceptions and recollections of the meeting as a whole.
That's because of something called the "peak-end effect." In any experience, whether it be a holiday, a restaurant meal or a meeting, what shapes memories afterward are the "peaks" - the highs and the lows - and the end. You should think about how you choreograph client meetings so that they end on a high note.
For example, if you are inviting clients to an upcoming event, consider saving that invitation for the end of the meeting. If you are giving a small gift to a client who is about to retire - say, a copy of the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die - save that gift for the end of the meeting. Or you could do what one successful advisor does: at the end of a meeting, he walks with his client to the elevator, presses the button and takes the elevator down to the main floor with him or her. Then, he shakes his client's hand and says: "I just wanted to say again how grateful I am for your confidence and how much I enjoy having you as a client."
- FOLLOW UP WITH NEXT STEPS
When you combine the time spent preparing for a meeting and the meeting itself, the average face-to-face interaction involves a commitment of at least two hours. Given that investment, who among us wouldn't spend another five minutes to increase significantly the return on the time spent? Here's an easy way to do that:
After the meeting wraps up, go back to your desk and send that client a followup email (or, for older clients, a letter). In that email, thank your client for meeting you and summarize what you talked about, what you're going to do next, anything that the client needs to do subsequent to the meeting and, finally, what topics you agreed to cover at the next meeting.
This step achieves several key goals: it ensures that you have identified what you and your team need to do; it highlights the next steps for your team and prevents things from slipping through the cracks; and this note can go into the client file for compliance purposes. But, perhaps most important, this email reminds clients that the time they spent meeting with you was well spent, with concrete outcomes as a result of your conversation. That followup note also conveys a sense of professionalism and attention to detail that can be reassuring to your clients.
- CONDUCT A "POST-MORTEM"
The final best practice entails something that most people are terrible at: carving out time for reflection. We're all so busy, rushing from one commitment to the next, that pushing introspection off our priority list is easy to do. But taking time to think hard about the meeting that just happened can have a big payoff.
In my previous column on best practices for client meetings, I discussed the impact of setting written goals in advance of a meeting and identifying both the topics that will advance the client's agenda and at least one thing that could make you better off as a result of the meeting. After you have sent that followup email that documents the next steps discussed in the recent meeting, I suggest that you take a further three minutes to ask yourself a series of questions:
- What went well in the meeting?
- What could have been improved upon?
- How did I do in achieving the goals that I outlined going into the meeting?
- How will my next meeting with this client look different?
By taking a few minutes to reflect on the meeting, you will see the productivity of future meetings increase, both with the client you just met with and in other client meetings that are coming up.
Given the demands on our time, putting off matters such as addressing tough issues, choreographing meetings, sending followup emails documenting next steps and conducting an analysis after meetings is easy to do. But the small investment of time required will pay big dividends in making those meetings more productive.
This is the second part in a two-part series on best practices for client meetings. The first part appeared in our March issue.
Dan Richards is CEO of Clientinsights (www.clientinsights.ca) in Toronto. For more of Dan's columns and informative videos, visit www.investmentexecutive.com.
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