From the August 2008 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Keep Your Focus

If you're looking to articulate your message to attract the best kind of clients, consultant Susan Hirshman suggests you start with your current clients. You can use your client advisory board, if you have one, but says one of the best ways to tap into the insight that your current clients have is to run a focus group of "no more than five to 10" clients. Get a third party to facilitate the discussion. It could be a marketing person on your staff or a professional recommended by your custodian, broker/dealer, or wholesaler. "You have to have a good relationship with the wholesaler," she points out, but such a person could be very good at running the group since, she says "It's profiling. What wholesaler do you know that's good at profiling you, and is good at listening?

Make sure the clients get along with each other, and "make it a comfortable environment--coffee and cake." A good focus group need take no longer than an hour.

What questions do you ask? "Very open-ended" ones, Hirshman says. "Tell me why you do business" with the advisory firm, and "When I say the name "XYZ" [the name of the firm]--what comes to mind?" Your clients will understand why you invited them, Hirshman says, but for reciprocity's sake you may want to donate some sum in their name to their favorite charity for taking the time to help you.

The answers to these open-ended questions will clarify why clients come to you, and stay. It will help you find the commonalities in your clients. It will highlight the messages--intended and unintended--that you already send to prospects and clients. You can then use that information to shape or shift your message, to define your ideal client, and to focus all your marketing efforts on finding more of those same kinds of ideal clients.

You might be surprised at the information you'll gather. Hirshman notes that prior to one focus group she facilitated, the advisory firm was proud of its high-touch approach to clients. In talking to members of the focus group, however, an anomaly arose. While clients said they liked the high-touch approach, they also were put off when they first entered the firm's office: because there was no receptionist, they had to ring a bell to summon staff when they arrived for a meeting.

"That drove the clients crazy," she reports. "So all that hard work can be negated by something as simple as a bell."

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