Reach Out in Good Times and Bad

Sue BerginSue Bergin, President, S Bergin Communications

It’s no secret that clients like to hear from their advisors. In fact, failure to communicate is one of the top five reasons why clients become dissatisfied with their advisor. According to a Spectrum study, 40% of clients said they consider leaving when the advisor makes them do all the work (make all the calls).[1]

A recent study by Pershing, however, shows that advisors do make the calls—when they have bad news. Here are some of the key findings when it came to communication choices.

  • 58% of the advisors contacted clients during market downturns, yet only 39% reached out to discuss market gains.
  • 68% of advisors reached out to clients when personal investments declined, while only 53% initiated contact with the client in instances when personal investments increased in value.[2]

Bergin_Reach Out in Good Times and Bad_6.19.14How News is Delivered
The telephone is the most frequently used communication vehicle for both good and bad investment performance news. A quarter of the advisors surveyed used email and face-to-face meetings to communicate market losses, while 58% of the advisors picked up the phone. The only type of communication that happened more frequently in person than any other message was in the area of education. 52% of advisors said that they scheduled face-to-face meetings to educate clients while 48% did so over the telephone.

“No News is Good News” Applies Better to Weather than Client Relationships
Communication work is fundamentally about two things: trust and relationships. Good communication can strengthen relationships and deepen trust while poor communication can have the opposite effect. The “no news is good news” approach many advisors seem to take is problematic for a few reasons. It robs the advisor of the opportunity to score relationship-building points. It also increases the risk of clients feeling neglected. Finally, it makes it more difficult for the advisor to identify opportunities proactively because they become somewhat out-of-touch with what is happening in their clients’ lives.

[1] http://www.onwallstreet.com/gallery/ows/client-switching-advisor-top-five-reasons-2681390-1.html

[2] The Second Annual Study of Advisory Success: A New Age of Client Communications and Client Expectations, Pershing.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only.

Gain Access and Build Trust

Sue BerginSue Bergin

A training manual from a decade ago may have highlighted the importance of mapping your traits to one of three communication styles: aggressive, passive or assertive. Awareness of your own communication style helps you understand how others perceive your interactions, and allows you to adapt your approach with clients who have different styles.

While the advice is still relevant, there is another communication style to consider—mobile.

The mobile communicator believes in access. He or she should be accessible to clients 24/7, and vice versa.

Advisors with a more aggressive communication style should be able to alter their style when working with passive clients, but they must also demonstrate flexibility to move across the mobility spectrum.

Spectrem Group recently reported that 55% of high-net-worth clients use mobile devices to correspond with their advisors.[1]  Most mobile devices offer a variety of communication methods including telephone calls, text messages, e-mails, video chats, and social networking.  How do you know which is the best to use with which clients?

1.19.13_Bergin_GainAccess_BuildTrustThe answer is quite simple. Don’t make assumptions. Find out if the clients want their appointments confirmed via text, e-mail or a phone call. Do they want newsletters and routine correspondence delivered in their mailbox at home, or their inbox? Would they prefer Skype sessions in lieu of face-to-face meetings? Is the landline number you have on file in service, or are they exclusively mobile users?

Adjusting to your clients’ communication method of choice will win you favor in a highly valued category. According to a recent survey, clients are more forgiving of poor investment advice from their advisor than they are of poor communication skills.

25% of the survey respondents indicated inaccessibility and unresponsiveness as the top reasons for lack of trust in a financial advisor. Coming in a distant second, at 13%, was poor investment advice. The third most prevalent reason for losing trust in a financial advisor was the lack of a personalized approach.

As with behavioral nuance, you must learn to respect other styles and adjust accordingly. By using your clients’ preferred communication methods, you will gain efficiency and build trust.

Selling for the Non-Sales Professional

Beverly Flaxington, The Collaborative

Many times advisors don’t like to think of themselves as salespeople. But just think: Client referrals. Strategic alliances. New prospects coming in. Even peers sometimes need to be sold on an idea or a strategy. So advisors are faced with a conundrum – the need to sell is there, but the experience of selling can be a negative one.

The selling process, to those who have not been trained in it, has its own mystique. The scripts, the proper words at the proper time, and the ability to listen past an objection someone is presenting to you in order to find what they really need, are all skills that not many people possess naturally.

Let’s look at five tenets of successful sales that anyone can use to help them – at a minimum – get more comfortable:

  1. Define your goals. You wouldn’t create a financial plan for someone without knowing something about their goals, desired outcomes and current state. Selling is no different. Too many firms simply state “I want to grow,” “Our objective is growth,” or “Our strategy is to increase sales.” Instead, write quantitative and objective sales goals. Know who your ideal client is and target similar prospects, determine reasonable growth in assets and clients, and decide how much time you’ll devote to selling.
  2. Work from a plan. It’s not enough to set your goals; you have to define who, what, when and how in order to implement them effectively. The plan should outline marketing tactics (events, emails, PR, etc.), and the number and types of contacts (direct calls, client referrals). It should also include training or coaching you (and your manager) believe will most benefit you.
  3. Create relationships and deepen them whenever and wherever possible. While advisors talk about the importance of relationships and the depth of relationships they have with strategic alliances and clients, the truth is that there is always room for improvement. Find every opportunity to deepen a relationship by learning more about the person and what they care about, by holding events and providing education they could find useful, and by providing information they can use and share.
  4. Solve their problem in an effective way. When it comes right down to it, selling is not even selling. It’s solving someone’s problem by offering them a product, service or solution that meets their need and takes away their pain, or offers them the pleasure they are seeking. It’s critical to know your market and the problems you solve (Step 1). Focus on listening and questioning, meeting objections, and mirroring their pace and style to communicate most effectively.
  5. Qualify. Make sure they’re “real.” Here’s where many professional salespeople falter. A suspect, prospect or client can look like someone who offers an opportunity for a potential sale. As the hope-to-be seller, you may spend a lot of time providing information, following up with phone calls, keeping the person in your pipeline and assuming there are assets attached that will someday be yours. Check – and re-check – that the prospect meets your “ideal client” standards and ask questions that get at their current “pain.” Don’t waste time on non-serious or indifferent people!

If you think your sales process needs a change, consider one of these areas and choose to focus on it and see if it makes a difference.

Buzzwords

Sue BerginSue Bergin

Buzzwords, jargon, and clichés have gotten a bum rap.  They can actually be useful communication shortcuts. So why do they aggravate people so much?  If we can say, “If you have a guaranteed lifetime annuity, you can sleep well at night knowing that you will always have a paycheck,” why go any further?

The problem is that the clients have heard “you’ll sleep better at night” from every product ranging from home security systems, to baby monitors, to long-term care insurance.

Every cliché, jargony phrase or buzzword probably started out as fresh and compelling.  Overuse, however, has rendered them impotent. Your client might instantly know what you mean, but the terms fall flat and feel like a shallow promise.  These phrases don’t conjure up riveting insights or evoke any depth or emotion whatsoever, except maybe mistrust.

When an investor becomes accustomed to his or her advisor’s buzzwords, does the investor picture a worry-free future? Probably not.

It’s unlikely that offerings like, “a holistic approach to financial planning”,best-of-breed investment solutions” and “objective advice that give clients peace of mind,” give clients much confidence, yet countless advisors use such sentences.

Some people think that buzzwords exist for the sole purpose of allowing their users to hide.  They feel that buzzwords and clichés can confuse the audience or act as an enabling device for the communicator to avoid an issue.  Others feel that these phrases are mere fluff.  These sentiments are born out in AARP’s study of how Americans felt about financial services communications. 73% of survey respondents ranked financial professionals higher than car mechanics in their use of jargon; 52% said financial professionals use even more jargon than doctors.

  • 54% believe jargon is used instead of simpler terms to distract people from focusing on fees.
  • 63% say jargon is used to make products or services seem more impressive.
  • 49% believe jargon is used is to make consumers feel less confident that they can handle their own finances.[1]

Clichés are easy, and often come with a regulatory stamp of approval.  We’ve used them before on compliance-approved marketing materials, so we know we can use them again.  They’re safe.  We don’t have to put a lot of thought in them.  The problem is, clients don’t put a lot of weight in them either.

15 of the most over-used phrases by advisors.

  1. Sleep at night
  2. Peace of mind
  3. Holistic approach
  4. Full transparency
  5. Put clients’ interests first
  6. Objective advice
  7. Financial quarterback
  8. Best of breed (investment platform)
  9. Best-in-class
  10. Cutting edge technology
  11. Bleeding edge technology
  12. Thorough due diligence
  13. Client-focused
  14. Client-centric approach
  15. Bottom line oriented

Just for fun, run your web content through the BlaBla meter.  This gimmicky tool rates the amount of fluff that is contained in text.  A high score, such as the 76 that I got when I put a randomly selected advisor’s home page through the tool, generated the following feedback:

“This reeks (of BS). I bet you’re a PR-Expert, Politician, Consultant or Scientist.  If there is a message, it’s unlikely it will reach anyone.”

The tool is easily dismissed.  Its methodology isn’t spelled out anywhere, and it was not designed for specific use by the financial services industry.  It might be crass.  Then again, it might be on to something.


[1] AARP, April 17, 2008.