005: Predictably Growing Your Practice With Systems, Tools, and Referrals

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We’ve talked about creating an advice-centric practice, articulating the value of financial advice, pricing and structuring your services, and conducting your first client meeting. Now it’s time to think about how you can use systems, tools, and referrals to predictably grow your practice.

In the conclusion of my five-part series with John Page, Chairman and Chief Adjudicator of the PlanPlus Global Financial Planning Awards, we’ll be talking in-depth about the tools that you need to grow your practice. Listen in to hear John’s insights about how you can predictably grow your financial advisory practice.

Topics Discussed in This Episode:

  • How to track clients from prospect to engagement to first plan to review
  • What happens after the first meeting with a client
  • Why you should avoid making recommendations until you’ve established yourself as the client’s primary financial advisor
  • How advisors can generate referrals consistently
  • How an advisor can provide clients with an opportunity to make a referral
  • John’s preferred tools for his own practice
  • The importance of an action plan
  • John’s coaching program for advisors, including a new upcoming class

Links:

Email John Page at: JPage@mywea.net

John Page on LinkedIn

Quotes by John:

“I treat them as a client immediately, as soon as they declare that they are, by signing an engagement agreement, and then eventually they start acting like clients.”

“I know some advisors that get a steady stream of referrals and they never ask anyone, but it’s because of the process they’re using.”

“The reason they feel pretty good is because of the quality of the plan.”

John has talked a lot about process and systems throughout this series, and there’s no exception when it comes to predictably growing your practice. We’ll start today where we left off last episode: right after that first client meeting.

The initial assessment and evaluation

As we mentioned in Episode 4: Conducting Your First Client Meeting in a Way to Maximize Conversions, the next step after learning about a prospect’s values, goals, and financial situation is creating an initial assessment and evaluation. This gives the clients a long-term overview of where their current financial situation and habits will lead them.

People often aren’t too happy with what they see, so they’re motivated to engage you as their financial advisor to help them improve their situation.

Resisting the urge to make recommendations too early

Before you get into recommendations, however, you need to solicit commitment from the client. You want to make sure they’re engaging you as their primary financial advisor, which means they commit to talking to you before making any major decisions with financial implications.

Why do you need the commitment before getting started on recommendations?

John illustrates with an example: You have an initial meeting with a prospect, someone with a large portfolio. You do a great job of explaining how your services compare to the advising or portfolio management the prospect currently has, and based on the prospect’s excitement, you figure you can get started working on recommendations. The client seems interested, but then politely says those dreaded words: “I’d like to think this over.”

Has that ever happened to you?

If this happens a lot, you’re missing the hook: the commitment before you put all that work in. So how do you guarantee commitment from the client?

The one question you can ask to establish yourself as the client’s primary financial advisor

Hint: it’s not “Would you like to engage me as your primary financial advisor?”

That’s just not persuasive. Instead, you want to make sure you review everything you have done and can do for the client ‒ that’s why they’ll be committing to you. Remind them that you’ve worked to understand their objectives and that you will come up with a plan to help the client meet them.

John has the perfect wording that makes it easy for a prospect to commit to becoming your client. He suggests asking the following:

“Based on our conversation and some of the client work we’ve shown you, is there any reason you can think of that you wouldn’t want to engage us as your primary financial advisor?”

Brilliant, right?

Once they’ve committed, the magic happens. The client doesn’t have to move all their money over to you right away, but likely they’ll want to, especially by the end of the second meeting. As John puts it, “I treat them as a client immediately, as soon as they declare that they are, by signing an engagement agreement, and then eventually they start acting like clients.”

Generating consistent referrals

Once you’ve engaged your clients, they are your best bet for growing your business; nothing beats good word of mouth.

Unsurprisingly, John champions a systematic approach to referrals. He says, “I know some [advisors] that get a steady stream of referrals and they never ask anyone, but it’s because of the process they’re using.” In fact, John estimates that he’s gotten about one referral per client annually ‒ that’s the potential to double the business in a year!

The key is creating the opportunity for clients to refer you. You can do that through what John calls quality assurance.

Here are his steps:

  1. Laying the groundwork: Way back during your initial assessment meeting, before they even engage you, let the client know that you’ll do an initial assessment for anyone they refer to you. This already gets them thinking about people in their lives who may benefit from your services.
  2. Creating the questionnaire: Write a questionnaire that asks clients to rate how you’re doing on a scale or 1 to 5 or 1 to 10.

Essentially, you ask how the client feels about various aspects of your services so far, like response time and feeling listened to. Then, put the following two questions at the bottom:

  • Would you feel confident recommending our firm to a friend? More than likely, the client will say yes.
  • Would you feel comfortable serving as a reference for our service? This question may even be easier to say yes to as it’s just a matter of having their name and phone number on a list in case prospective clients want to speak to a reference.

3. Ask for a name: Later on, preferably during your first sit-down review with the client, bring up the questionnaire and ask whether they had someone specific in mind for a referral. The trick is not to push or make them feel guilty if they don’t have anyone in mind or don’t want to refer you just yet. They should want to refer you based on the merits of the work you’ve done for them and the relationship you’ve formed.

As John puts it, by this point you should have made the client feel great about your services. And of course, “The reason they feel pretty good is because of the quality of the plan.”

Tip: Have your first review meeting relatively early in the process so you can address any hiccups before they become real problems. John recommends having one 90-100 days after engaging the client.

4. Don’t stop with the name: Instead, create a standard letter that you can plug your client’s name into and send to the prospect.

Tip: Before mailing the letter to the referral, first send it to your client and ask them to handwrite a quick note on the bottom. It can be just a few words ‒ something like “John’s a great guy. Hope you’ll like working with him!” This makes the referral that much more personal.

Of course, it’s important to reiterate that you don’t want to push your client and risk damaging the trusting relationship you’re working so hard to develop and maintain. When it comes to referrals, your work should speak for itself, and they should genuinely want to share your great services with their friends and family.

What if I don’t want their referral?

Sometimes your client will provide you with what John calls a “down referral” ‒ a referral to someone who may not be profitable for you to work with. In fact, you may often come across couples wanting to refer you to their child who doesn’t have a lot of money. Should you still help them out?

Definitely. If you have the chance to make a relationship with the whole family, take the opportunity. Later in the children’s lives, you’ll want them to feel comfortable working with you and trust that you’re someone they can call and ask for advice anytime.

That’s not to say that you need to offer your full gamut of services to a client’s child just because they asked. If you feel an associate could take their case or you can refer a robo-advisor, that’s usually plenty.

The two tools you can’t live without

Now that you know how to grow your business through consistent referrals, let’s talk a bit about some of the tools that will make everything run smoothly. Strangely, a lot of advisors go without the two most important ones, but we want to show you why you should consider using them.

  • CRM: A dedicated tool for client relationship management is crucial to help you track the lifecycle of your clients and collect their information. You can see prospects all the way through the engagement process, and then keep track of where they’re at in terms of reaching their goals.

Just as important is the fact that a good CRM keeps you on top of recommendations and follow-ups by sending automatic reminders when you need them.

It can be as simple or as complex as you like; these tools are starting to get really impressive. John’s actually testing a product right now that can search information from clients’ public social media profiles and pull it directly into their files! It’s called FullContact, and you can find out more about it here.

Tip: You need to know when to contact clients, but they should be in the know, too. In the initial plan, include a calendar that indicates when you’ll be checking in with them over the course of the year so they can expect to hear from you (or your associate).

  • Financial planning software: Many advisors just use Excel as their financial planning software. This can work, but the problem is that it’s very easy to make a mistake when building a spreadsheet rife with complicated formulas.

Factor in things like changing tax laws, and you can see why trying to create your own software can be a nightmare. Most commercial programs will let you make tax updates with the touch of a button, or do this automatically for you.

Some of the best-known ones out there include FPS 2000 from CCH, Naviplan, VisionWorks, and of course, Snap Projections. Some, like Plan Plus, are very comprehensive but harder to work with, while others like RazorPlan are a lot less sophisticated but simpler to use.

The bottom line here is that there’s an entire industry dedicated to creating the best financial planning software, so don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Do your research to find a software you like using, but leave the software engineering to the pros and save your valuable time for helping your clients meet their financial goals.

Focusing your effort where it matters: The action plan

Some planners seem to think that their work is just plugging numbers into a financial plan, printing a report, and considering the work done. However, that’s just the easy part, and it’s often best left to an associate.

In fact, when John trains advisors through the Wealth Enhancement Academy, he prefers to work with advisors who have associates to help with data input, so the advisor has time to focus on client relationships.

If you have an associate, your work comes in on the action plan. This includes:

  • What you’re going to do for the client
  • When you’ll do it
  • Why it’s important
  • Who will do it (you or an associate)

This action plan would cover a year, and your client should be able to look at it anytime and feel comfortable knowing there’s a plan in place. The specific actions will be anything you need to do to help your client meet their goals; two big ones include repositioning their portfolio and transferring risk to an insurance company.

Of course, you need to rerun the plan annually to account for factors like new objectives, changes in risk tolerance, additional children, and divorce.

Tip: Show clients a comparison of the plan from the year before to demonstrate the progress they’re making. They need to see that your services are worth it!

Interested in learning more from John?

You can probably tell by now that John knows what he’s talking about and is passionate about helping financial advisors improve their practices. If you’ve found his insights valuable and are interested in learning more, we recommend you check out Wealth Enhancement Academy.

John works with advisors who would consider themselves successful ‒ advisors who are smart enough to know they have flaws in their business and who see the value in being coached.

To learn more about Wealth Enhancement Academy and how John can help you develop your practice, you can email him or find him on LinkedIn.

We hope you enjoyed this last episode of our five-part series with John Page. You won’t want to miss any of the other great guests we have in our upcoming episodes, so make sure you subscribe to the show on iTunes and sign up below to get an email every time a new episode airs.

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