May 13, 2010

Time for a Transition (IX): How to Build Client Loyalty, Part I

Part I on easy and effective ways to stay in front of your clients, prospects and strategic partners.

Having worked for over 20 years with advisors and financial services firms throughout the country, I've seen firsthand the differences between how successful and not-so-successful advisors communicate with clients.

The most successful advisors make it a priority to stay in front of their clients consistently throughout the year. And when the markets tumbled, these advisors beefed up their communication and contact to clients even more.

Extensive involvement and communication with clients is the secret to success for John M. Egan, CFP, president of J.M. Egan Wealth Advisors, LLC and a registered representative with independent broker/dealer Securities America. John has a thriving practice in Madison, New Jersey.

John and Certified Financial Planner Janet Sherry, who partners with John to provide holistic financial planning and wealth management services, meet with their clients on average 12 times a year, even attending their clients' meetings with accountants, estate planning attorneys, bank and trust officers and other professionals.

Most financial advisors don't have the time or inclination to meet this often -- or the clientele that would permit meeting so frequently. But the payoff for John and Janet is a 99.9% retention rate - even during the downturn in the economy.

What if you're not able to meet with clients so frequently? How can you create the same client loyalty with fewer meetings?

The answer is effective and consistent communication. Good communication begins with identifying the particular wants and needs of the majority of your clients and then satisfying those needs with material that targets their interests.

Not sure what interests your clients? Try quizzing them during every telephone call or face-to-face meeting. Or use a client feedback system such as ClientAudit or ClienTalk.

You could also host a small client luncheon and solicit feedback over coffee and desert, in essence, creating a one-time or recurring client advisory board.

MAKE COMMUNICATIONS SEEM PERSONAL

The best thing about mass communication is that you don't even need to be a proficient writer as there are numerous pieces already written that you can send out to your clients.

To start, try sending a mass communication, such as a newsletter or an article of interest to all of your clients on a monthly basis.

Be sure to e-mail using the bcc field, because if someone replies, you don't want your entire clientele to receive the message - and you certainly don't want people to see who else has been copied.

Some CRM and email applications such as Outlook allow you to do a "mail merge"; you merge your mailing list into the content you've created--or are repurposing from a content supplier--so that the client sees their name (or company name, city, state, child's name, etc.) at the top of the communication (or anywhere else you'd like).

Cloud-based electronic newsletter applications are another good way to streamline the process of sending out electronic communications. They also provide a few extra bells and whistles such as html code to place on your website that invites people to sign up for your newsletter and periodic other communications.

E-newsletter systems include: Constant Contact , I Make News, iContact, and AWeber.

Think of these systems as much more than a fancy e-newsletter solution; they allow you to easily create and monitor all kinds of email communications and marketing campaigns, including sequenced / multiple touch communications.

Electronic communication is also a good tool for generating referrals. If a client likes your content they're likely to forward it to their friends or post it to their social networking site - thus marketing your name and services.

Speaking of social networking sites, many advisors are now using a blog service such as WordPress or Blogger.

Andy Millard, CFP, started a blog in March 2010 after participating in the Web 2. 0 and Social Media Boot Camp hosted by FPA at its annual Business Solutions Conference in Dallas.

He now posts "business casual" commentary once a week and is gathering an online following. He even gained recognition in an article written by Helen Kearney for Reuters Newswire service called "To Blog or Not to Blog."

Having a blog gives him reasons to reach out to prospects, clients and strategic partners. He's even included an audio welcome and a video interview so that people can get a sense of his character before ever meeting him.

Check out Andy's blog .

Sometimes, though, nothing will do the job as well as a good old-fashioned letter (personalized and sealed in a business envelope), a formal invitation or thank you note (handwritten envelope and note, if possible) or post card (personalized, if possible).

Automated systems include AmazingMail , Send Out Cards and an array of various other services that can help you create direct mail campaigns thanks to alliance partnerships with the US Postal Service .

Next month, I'll provide tips on finding free and/or inexpensive solutions to creating or purchasing ready-to-customize content for your marketing and client communications campaigns.

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Marie Swift is president and CEO of Impact Communications, Inc., a full-service marketing communications and public relations firm that works exclusively with independent financial advisors, IBD registered representatives and the institutions that serve them. Follow her online or read her Best Practices in the Financial Services Industry blog .

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