ACP Annual Conference
This last week I had the joy of connecting with old friends and some of the best planners in the industry at the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners (ACP) annual conference. There were several panels providing time for experienced members to share their views on effective messaging and running an ensemble firm.
The Importance of Timing
Some of the advice is universal; regardless of solo, silo, or ensemble. If you deliver modular advice, consider stretching it out over two years, rather than one. This, of course, depends on the urgency of the particular aspect of planning for the particular client, but it allows for more new clients and a longer time to establish your relationship with your client.
Be sure to systemize your responses to inquiries. Quickly acknowledge receipt, then you can respond more in full later. Responding in some way quickly is crucial. And keep in mind the simple things that make life easier for your prospective clients and your clients. One example given was to use stamped envelopes for things that still have to be mailed in hard copy. This advice seems simple, but is an easy way for you to streamline correspondence.
Create the Expectation of Continued Service
You’ve heard me say it before, but it was confirmed by two different panel discussions that you will build the expectation of continued service if you schedule the next appointment while you are in the meeting.
One of the panelists uses a paid first appointment as a lead into full retainer relationships, with the cost of the first appointment credited to the annual fee. They ensure that the components of the retainer planning offering relate back to the review issues so that the connection is clear, that retainer is the best way to go. This way they are building revenue, but guiding clients into the relationships they prefer. Others took a hard line against single time engagements and only work with clients looking for an ongoing relationship.
Close the Deal
As you are working through your closing with a prospective client, be sure that when you near the close you look for nods of agreement, sitting back, the body language that implies they're sold. Don't “sell past the close." In that vein, when presenting your value proposition remember that convincing doesn’t work. It is critical that you show what you do and explain what you do. People get defensive when they are being sold or convinced, remember – show and explain.
As you have presented your price, you can give your clients time to discuss it by excusing yourself a moment. Some advisors were comfortable just saying, “I want to give you a few minutes to discuss this, can I get you some tea or anything?” Others felt more comfortable creating an excuse to leave the room for a bit. Either way gives your prospective clients time to decide, without the pressure of you being in the room.
Long- or Short-Term Client?
Panelists who do a paid first appointment discussed the art of giving away just the right amount of work. This can depend on whether or not you want them as a long-term client. If you want a long-term client, you give them information on all they have to do, but not how they will pull it off without you. If you don't want them, then you can make it easy to go away and execute the plan without you.
Get off on the Right Foot
Pay attention to the first question you ask your client. You have your agenda – but give the client a chance to share what keeps them up at night. For example, during a portfolio analysis review you may be utterly focused on the rebalancing needs you know must be addressed. If your client has a new baby, they may be distracted by the financial future fears new parents have. The real first question should be "what's on your mind?"
Pace Your Growth
A final bit of universal advice was to create new client appointments on your calendar to ensure you are pacing your growth appropriately.
Scale Your Business
On the road to an ensemble firm, attendees were encouraged to hire planners before administrative help (advice that dovetailed beautifully with Angie Herbers’ advice in an earlier session). Scale your technology first; there’s no point in hiring if you haven’t made the most of technology available to you.
As you add advisors, you must consciously address how you plan to assign clients to your advisor team. There are many ways, and no single correct way, but some considerations are the type of client or niche, who referred to client, i.e, were they referred to a specific member of your firm? You can use considerations of complexity, net worth, or advisor expertise. For those with a paid first appointment, the advisor on the first appointment is the lead advisor on any subsequent long-term relationship.
Considerations for Ensemble Firms
If you are part of an ensemble firm, always reflect that to clients so they understand that they are hiring the firm. As you add people, you have train clients to know the new advisor may be the lead.
For those growing an ensemble firm with a senior advisor and an associate advisor, make sure the senior advisor begins to take a back seat on some of the client meetings to facilitate the transition. This is especially important if the firm has been long held by a single planner. Creating the respect between clients and newer advisors must be intentional.
Adopt an Ensemble Mindset
As the owner of a growing ensemble firm, you must change your mindset from advisor to coach, mentor, and business owner. Your focus should be training advisors. Attendees were reminded to maintain consistency amongst multiple advisors so you aren't creating a siloed practice. You can keep style, but the content and advice are the same.
Think About Culture
The culture of your firm should address how to treat clients and how you treat each other. Set time aside for determining those standards. Be intentional about determining what your culture is and maintaining it as you grow.
Show Your Work
Some advisors recommend doing as much work in front of clients as possible. This gives them visual reminders of all you do and saves you time by not doing work outside of meetings any more than absolutely necessary. One panelist stated that he wants the appointment to be about the relationship. He is a coach and mentor for clients too, not just his team.
Leverage Your CRM
One advisor who had recently shifted from a long-term solo firm to an ensemble arrangement encouraged all in attendance to make the most of their CRMs. Her firm integrates Redtail with Jive, their office phone system, so that as a client calls in, they have all of the information close at hand. They diligently store records in their CRM so that at any time they can list prospects, and understand why those opportunities were either won or lost. They have ongoing awareness of their closing ratio, client demographics, renewals dates, etc. And of course, this is where their workflows reside. She was emphatic that you should contract with someone to set up your CRM at the very minimum, even if you are not yet hiring support staff.
There was a short discussion on hiring vs. 1099 vs. utilizing Strategic Partner. The consensus was to decide if the work is part of your core values. For example, one advisor stated that their estate planning is outsourced to an outside attorney, because one of their core values is related to accountability and facilitating that the planning gets done, not in the actual planning itself.
Several advisors recommend and annual staff retreat! (And I concur heartily!) Here you can work on your vision for the year and collaborate on plans for the firm. I loved that one team admitted that perfection was not in the cards at first, but the key was to actually start by doing it. You will get better. Help make your team to feel part of the vision/mission. Take time to check in with everyone to see how they are doing and their thoughts. Check in on your goals. Then pick the BIG THING for each year and quarter.
Keep in Mind Values
Also remember that the owner is the keeper of the values. Evaluate everything as it measures against the firm’s values.
Next Week: Learn how to develop your business continuity plan
Arlene gets a kick out of helping financial advisors get over being overwhelmed and take on their frustrations so their businesses soar. Arlene works to ensure XYPN members are able to help their clients prosper while creating a sustainable business model. Through XYPN Academy and one-on-one coaching, members get the support they need to grow their businesses and overcome the challenges that come their way.
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