From the September 2007 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Clients or Customers?

It's great to be in the top tier of your profession, and it's certainly fun to read, and maybe even fantasize, about obtaining public recognition as a top advisor. Yet, most financial advisors do receive very significant recognition for their financial acumen and trustworthiness: This recognition is called having clients.

Having clients, obviously, is different from making sales. A sale is fleeting and ephemeral; the money feels good when it comes, but offers no assurance of enduring value. That only comes in the form of repeat business -- a relationship with someone who relies on and values your knowledge and service.

To truly gauge how well you're doing, you need only honestly assess what portion of your business comes from genuine clients and what portion are merely sales. I got a personal lesson in the difference between those concepts this summer when I moved to a new home. A friend told me it was essential to have a real estate broker assist me in a market where (believe it or not) nice properties were being snapped up very quickly. He recommended a young broker he knew socially and I began working with the guy.

Though I was anxious to buy the right home, and had a lot of confidence in my friend, little by little doubts led to disenchantment with the broker. First of all, I was quite put off by his marketing slogan: "I value every sale." It struck me as both offensive and unintelligent. I wanted knowledge and service; his compensation should only be a byproduct of the value I was looking for.

Secondly, he constantly and needlessly made ingratiating remarks about how he was watching my back and going to outmaneuver competitors with his knowledge of the local real estate market. But in contrast to his rhetoric, I found his actual knowledge and service to be quite poor.

I wrote the broker a very polite, but honest and constructive explanation as to why I would no longer be working with him. He never even acknowledged it. I guess that's because he valued every sale, and now he wasn't going to get his chance to ring me up.

Not so long afterward I bought a home I liked even better than the first; and the new broker I worked with was the opposite of the first guy: knowledgeable, industrious, service-oriented and completely transparent when it came to compensation. This guy genuinely cared about his clients, and he arranged his business affairs in such a way as to demonstrate that fact. (He only represents buyers to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.) It actually feels good to be a client. I don't plan on moving again any time soon, but I'll bet the referrals I've already given to friends and family are recognition enough.

Gil WeinreichEDITORgweinreich@researchmag.com

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