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4 guaranteed ways to lose clients

Whilst many advisory firms benefit from very low levels of client attrition, others would acknowledge that hanging on to high value, profitable clients has, in these volatile market conditions, been more challenging than it should be, so I thought it might be useful to look at the key reasons clients leave. Research consistently suggests that the two principle causes of client dissatisfaction (and hence defection) are poor service and poor communication. Whilst losing certain clients (overly demanding, unprofitable, unappreciative, “difficult”) might be seen as a bit of a result, on the whole, client retention is a key driver of profitability.

So, what are the 4 most effective ways to lose clients;

Ignore them.

Whether that’s in person, by email or over the phone, if you don’t constantly and consistently acknowledge that they exist, they’ll walk… eventually. I read the other day that some retailers impose a “10 Foot Rule” that requires customers to be acknowledged by staff if they are within 10 feet. Find ways to keep in touch and make sure your phones are answered quickly and enthusiastically.

Make it difficult to do business with you.

Being difficult to get hold of, being unresponsive or taking too much time to get back to clients are guaranteed to undermine their trust in you. Such behaviour suggests (even if it’s not true) that you just don’t care. Particularly in todays culture of “immediate expectation”. Don’t make clients have to work hard when they interact with you. I recently tried to move a reasonable amount of cash to a new bank. Having completed the application, I had a couple of questions. Finding someone who could answer them was incredibly difficult and when I did they asked me to keep a note of the date I posted the application “in case it went astray!” The completed application went in the bin, not the post!

Break your promises.

Be reliable. Being reliable is the quickest way to build trust, so if you say you’ll do something, do it. And do it in the agreed timescale. All the time, every time, no excuses.

Don’t listen to them.

It’s commercial suicide not to listen to what your customers are telling you. Whether that’s listening to what they say they want/need, listening to what they have to say about your service or your business. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Be proactive. Find ways to engage with clients formally and informally and ask them for their feedback and ideas. They’ll be delighted you asked. Make sure however that you respond to what they say. Use the feedback to make changes to your proposition or the way you deliver your service.

What are your tips for avoiding client defections?

Quote of the week

Learned helplessness is the giving up reaction, the quitting response that follows from the belief that, whatever you do doesn’t matter.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

7 steps to a successful marketing plan

Marketing is the process of deliberately creating and maintaining relationships with clients and prospects. It’s about creating awareness that you exist, generating interest in what you have to offer – your proposition, creating demand for your proposition and encouraging prospective clients to take action – that is, purchase from you. Seems simple, doesn’t it? Why then do so many businesses fail to reach their full potential?

Many adviser businesses we come across are massively busy running flat out with an endless list of tasks from trying to keep on top of servicing clients to making fund recommendations, from managing their accounts to managing and developing staff, not to mention trying to grow their business and income – primarily by attracting new clients. Many though have no clear marketing strategy or plan. Much of their marketing activity is sporadic, ill thought through and poorly targeted. Marketing is very often an afterthought which is only given real focus when there is a need to generate revenue quickly.

Many advisers start “marketing” and don’t sustain the activity, either because other priorities come along or they feel their marketing isn’t working. Marketing is an ongoing methodical process and it takes time – you can’t expect instant results. It’s a bit like farming…you need to understand what fields will grow what crops, you need to then plough, sow and tend the fields before you can harvest the crops. Marketing isn’t a sporadic activity; marketing is core pillar of successful business – just like HR, finance and operations.

Marketing your business effectively can be the difference between success and failure. Looking at successful businesses across all industries marketing done well can separate the winners from the losers: those that survive over those that fail; businesses that are highly profitable from ones that are marginal. Marketing is about developing your business in a sustained and orderly fashion. It’s about having a vision for your business with clear objectives of what you would like to achieve and by when.

To successfully achieve your business vision you must follow the marketing planning process. The marketing plan helps overcome major stumbling blocks and forces the business to think about how and where it adds value.

There are a few keys to building and executing a successful marketing plan:

  1. Set your business vision – be clear on your objectives and when you want to deliver. Without a clear business vision and objectives you will meander aimlessly, achieving nothing outstanding and certainly punching below your weight.
  2. You need to be clear of what it is you have to offer – your proposition; recognising that your business exists solely for the purpose of making a positive difference to the lives of your clients, not just to make money for you.
  3. A core part of any marketing plan is defining and understanding your target audience – your clients or prospective clients. In our last article we covered niche marketing: one size doesn’t fit all and with the best will in the world you will never be able to service all clients profitably. As you are aiming to run a profitable business you must segment your clients and deliver an outstanding, valuable proposition to the profitable niche that you’re targeting.
  4. You must communicate your proposition – what is the positive difference you will make to clients lives? Communicate in a clear and compelling way. Develop key messages that can be consistently woven through all your communications – or marketing – that builds a picture in clients’ minds of what value you can add to them and their families.
  5. Build a runway of activity. Remember, inconsistent effort doesn’t usually deliver anything like the rewards of consistent effort. Think about what you are going to say – your content – and when you will deliver that content. Your marketing efforts need to be drip fed out consistently and in a timely way to keep you at the front of your clients’ (or potential client’s) minds.
  6. Execute your plan with precision. You must think about the marketing channels you will use to take your message to market. Whatever they are, your marketing must be well presented, relevant and interesting to your audience – otherwise you’ll lose them, you’ll waste time and money and leave clients’ less than impressed.
  7. Measure. Understand what works and doesn’t work. Learn all the time and refine your marketing next time round. Nothing is ever perfect; there is always room to be better. Only through measurement will you know what you could change to improve next time.

Above all, once you have clients in front of you deliver what you have promised to deliver. You don’t need the utopia proposition but you must meet and exceed client expectations at every stage of their journey with you.

Quote of the week

I never looked at the consequences of missing a big shot… when you think about the consequences, you always think of a negative result.

Michael Jordan

Top 4 brand building strategies

An effective brand building strategy will help you improve your reputation, increase your “relevance” and increase your visibility to your target clients.

Here are the top five strategies for effectively increasing the strength of your brand.

1. Content Marketing

Content marketing involves providing a steady stream of useful information to potential clients or influencers. Think educational rather than promotional. It addresses relevance, reputation and visibility.

2. Build your profile as an expert

Many firms have experts, but few of them go on to become well known and influential among their target client group. By deliberately developing one or more high-profile experts, a firm can dramatically increase the power of its brand.

3. Cultivate prestigious partners

Partnering with prominent organizations to take on important projects is another proven strategy for building your brand.

By partnering, we are not talking about sponsoring events. While sponsorships are frequently thought of as a brand building strategy, they can be more costly and less effective than a project partnership.

4. Seek high profile clients and case studies

For example, some advisory firms have developed an enviable reputation with sports personalities, actors or celebrity clients. But if you systematically seek out high profile clients and invest in producing dramatic results that can be widely shared, that’s a great brand building strategy.

Of course, everyone wants prestigious clients and great results. But surprisingly few firms do the planning and investment to turn that desire into reality.

Build your brand and you will build your business. But remember, no strategy is effective unless it’s implemented.

Quote of the week

It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, “Always do what you are afraid to do”.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

5 Keys to a successful brand

A successful brand will deliver the kind of results you would expect from a market leader, such as…

  • High frequency of referred clients
  • High level of self-initiated contacts from potential clients
  • A high closing percentage
  • Few competitive bid situations
  • Premium fees

There are, of course, other ways a strong brand impacts an advisory firm. For example, recruiting new employees is easier, publicity comes readily and third-party recommendations are plentiful.

All of these factors make it more likely that firms with strong brands will succeed and prosper. Let’s now turn to what drives that brand success.

What Makes a Brand Successful?
There are five key factors that drive brand success.

1. A well-defined target audience
While it’s tempting to think of your firm’s visibility as universally important, it’s not the primary factor. It’s far more important to have a clearly defined and well-understood target market. To be meaningful, a brand must be “for someone.” No brand can try to be everything for everyone and hope to be successful.

2. An excellent reputation
A lot of firms have very good reputations. That’s a great starting place. But to be a really successful brand, the reputation must not be simply good, it must be great. Everyone must view the firm in a favorable light.

3. Relevance to the success of the target audience
Your firm must also be seen as being relevant to the success of your client. It’s not enough to be nice people or even knowledgeable and helpful. Those fall into the “nice-to-have” category. The real driver of a successful brand is your ability to make your clients successful. You aren’t just a bystander; you are a contributor to your clients’ success.

4. High visibility
Are you widely known to your target audience? Are they aware that you not only exist but that you are also relevant to your clients’ success? Are they also aware of your reputation?
This is particularly a problem when you have too many target audiences. It’s hard to reach everyone in multiple target audiences at the same time — and with sufficient visibility to make you successful.

5. A premium position
You can have all of the criteria mentioned above and still fall short of your potential. To be truly successful, a brand must have something of a premium position. Without a premium brand perception, your firm will not be in a position to command premium fees. While you can achieve a lot of success as an average priced firm, there are limits. If you don’t charge a premium, people may start asking questions. What’s wrong with your firm? If you really are that good, you should command a premium. After all, that’s what the most successful brands do.

How successful is your brand?

How does your firm stack up against these 5 keys to success?

Quote of the week

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

Anne Frank

The importance of “brand” for advisers

After many years working with advisory firms, we’ve come to the conclusion that the best definition of your “brand” is the simplest.

Your brand is partly your reputation. It’s what people say about you when you’re not around. It’s how they feel about your firm and what they expect from working with you. But reputation alone doesn’t capture the full scope of a brand.

You must also add in the dimension of visibility. How well known is your firm in your target market? The better the reputation and the greater the visibility, the stronger the brand will be.

A well-known, well-respected firm has an easier time attracting new clients. New recruits want to join that firm. Potential partners want to be associated with it. You can charge higher rates and are likely to be more profitable.

When viewed in this light, it is easy to see the value of a strong brand. This definition also helps you understand how to shape and build your brand.

Building your brand

Some activities are consistent with your brand and will help build and reinforce it. Other activities might run counter to your brand (hurt your desired reputation) and should be avoided.

Similarly, increasing your visibility within your target audience will build your brand (assuming the activity communicates your reputation correctly). However, if that visibility doesn’t help communicate your reputation you will fall short.

That’s why advertising is so often a questionable strategy for a professional services firm. Visibility, absent the ability to communicate reputation, is of limited value.

To build your brand, you also have to deliver on your brand promise. You have to be who you say you are and live up to the expectations created by your brand. If you don’t, your reputation will soon reflect it.

For example, saying that you have exceptional people will fall flat unless they truly are exceptional. Unfulfilled promises will catch up with you.

Two Brands

When you understand that your brand is the way people perceive your firm, it’s easy to see that different people can have different views of your firm’s reputation and visibility.

Of particular note is the difference between how the outside world sees your firm and how the folks that work there perceive it. You might think of these as your external brand and your internal brand.

If these two perceptions are out of sync, you can easily make mistakes. You might assume that your target clients understand your firm’s reputation, when in fact they do not. Similarly, you may assume that potential clients appreciate a difference in expertise when it is not even on their radar.

On the other hand, if you understand your brand and communicate it clearly, good things happen. You start attracting clients who are looking for a firm just like yours. Ditto for employees and business partners.

Your Biggest Asset

A strong brand can bring you desirable new clients, great employees and premium rates. It’s an asset that has value, even if you move offices, change clients or replace staff. Your brand endures.

It’s hard to imagine another asset that contributes so much to growth and profitability. It’s certainly worth the time to understand and nurture it.

Quote of the week

For myself, I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use being anything else.

Winston Churchill