It goes without saying that successful client meetings are the life blood of any advice business. Here we share our recipe for ensuring clients leave your meetings feeling positive (even after addressing difficult topics) and that the time they’ve spent was productive. Better still, if you have capacity to take on new clients, they will gladly recommend your services to like-minded friends, family members or colleagues.
Let’s begin with a couple of insights I’ve learnt from some of the most successful financial advisers in our profession:
- It’s the little things that count. While I realise I’m stating the blindingly obvious, it’s true. A warm greeting from a member of your team, using the client’s name, along with their usual choice of beverage on arrival can go a long way toward making them feel welcome. An adiser I know even places a name card in the dedicated client parking space and publishes a welcome message (‘Welcome Abbie’) on a screen in the meeting room.
- Meeting structure is crucial. Studies have proven that if you are delivering difficult news, the meeting should be structured so that any sensitive matters are tackled in the middle, closely followed by positive news or actions. This is because our brains are wired to remember emotion or ‘how the meeting made us feel’. The most prominent memory is the feeling we had when we walked out the door, which is why it’s important to finish on a high note.
- Hold important meetings on a Friday afternoon. One adviser we work with hosts all prospect meetings on a Friday afternoon. Why? Because he knows his slick first meeting process will leave a real impact, making it highly likely that the prospect will talk about the experience with friends and family over the weekend. This often leads to client referrals of the same calibre.
Now onto the recipe; these four ingredients, when mixed together, will guarantee a successful meeting every time:
It’s best practice to set aside at least an hour for meeting preparation. This will ensure you capture the topics your client will want to address, prior to their visit. When you confirm the meeting, get into the habit of asking the client what they would like to cover in addition to your usual agenda. Reviewing your file notes from previous meetings will also ensure the discussion remains firmly focused on the client and their needs.
If you outsource to a discretionary fund manager (DFM), don’t fall into the trap of presenting a large wad of investment material, for example on the research process or markets, simply because you have the information to hand. You know your client better than anyone and in most instances, they will simply want to understand “Am I on track to meet my goals?” and if not, “What can we do to course correct?”.
Depending on the nature of the DFM/adviser partnership it is possible to have a representative from the discretionary manager attend client meetings. I’ve seen this work well when the DFM has been fully briefed and the client dictates the discussion. Conversely, the best way to guarantee a poor meeting outcome is to pull a DFM into your meeting, only to have them spout off the latest market commentary, pitched way above the client’s level of understanding – or interest.
2. Client focused agenda
Using a running agenda for annual review meetings helps to set and manage client expectations; it also creates a framework for to-do lists for your team and the client. Begin with the items you have confirmed the client would like to address, followed by the two or three items you believe are important, then finish with any positive news or follow-up actions.
When printing the agenda for the meeting, create large spaces between each line item so that you and your client can take notes. These ‘agenda notes’ can then be used as the basis for the meeting summary, ideally sent within 24 hours of the interaction.
3. The right questions
The most valuable tool I learnt during my stint in sales was ‘the golden silence’. This is where you ask the client a question, then pause and wait for their answer – no matter how difficult it is (it’s a well known fact that everyone hates an awkward silence and will try to fill it). Then, when the client responds, simply nod and encourage them to go on. I find when I do this two or three times I can get to the real heart of the issue, rather than what the client wants me to hear.
Using open-ended questions can also help. For example, asking a client when they want to retire will typically elicit a blunt response. By contrast, asking “What would your retirement look like if money was no concern?” will give greater insight into the client’s life and money philosophies. Those of you familiar with George Kinder’s three questions, will know how powerful this approach can be.
While relying on a uniform process for meeting preparation can create efficiencies, the meeting experience itself should feel special to each client. Understand the way your clients like to communicate and adopt that style. For example, an engineer or ex-fund manager may want to know every detail. Others – in my experience the vast majority – want to understand the bigger picture, to talk about their life and whether they are on track to meet their goals.
A mistake I often see advisers make when they outsource to a discretionary fund manager is the one I mentioned earlier: they pass the client a large stack of standard communications, giving the perception of laziness and the potential for information overload. Remember, just because you have it in your kit bag, doesn’t mean it will add value to your client relationship.
I’ve attended many adviser/client events in my time with representatives from DFM firms presenting. Unfortunately – and it happens more often than one would hope – they stand in front of a room full of clients, all with different communication styles and investment portfolios, and proceed to bamboozle them with overly technical content. This is usually accompanied by a myriad overtly detailed charts and slides, resulting in ‘death by PowerPoint’.
Clients have partnered with you to help them achieve their financial goals. They don’t need to understand the minutiae, but simply know that you ‘have their back’ and are overseeing the smooth running of the DFM’s investment mandate. The real value you deliver is in your advice, helping them to plan their best financial future and stay on track when times get difficult.
Doing it well.
Every DFM on our website adopts a different approach to the way they support advisers. Client facing materials vary in the level of detail, the way they are packaged and even their frequency.
Cornelian Asset Managers are a great example of a DFM that offers the ‘full kit bag’ of support. When they first launched their proposition to the adviser market, their vision was to deliver everything an adviser could possibly need for their client meetings in the one place and at any time – without the need to contact a member of the team.
Irrespective of the Cornelian investment service the adviser gains access to the full suite of supporting materials. From monthly reports that look like they are for a fully bespoke discretionary mandate, to market commentaries and detailed performance information including the ‘how and why’ of different holdings. Every time Cornelian make a trade, the adviser also receives an email alert informing them of the changes made. Cornelian’s regular, interactive Investment Webinars also make sure the adviser is fully aware of their most up-to-date investment outlook.
What this means is that even if an adviser is ‘outsourcing’ to Cornelian, they have information at their fingertips to support their client meetings, and at all times in between. They have the freedom to pick and pack the materials, remaining mindful of the client’s preferred communication style, and follow the guidance above to guarantee a perfect meeting every time.