When it comes to how advisors market themselves, they shouldn’t neglect an obvious yet somewhat overlooked first step. “People size you up within 10 or 12 seconds of meeting you,” notes Christopher P. Jordan, president & CEO of LEXCO Wealth Management, Inc. in Tarrytown, New York. “That’s just the world we live in. Why not tip all the odds in your favor?” What Jordan means is improving your chances of projecting a positive first impression via your personal external appearance and that of your workplace. These externals, such as how you and your staff dress, the size of your conference table, and what literature may be on that table will all influence how a client views you and your practice. Take a step back. Look around your office space. Look at what your co-workers are wearing. Think about how you’re greeted each morning by the receptionist. Are you satisfied with what you see and hear? If so, your clients may be just as content.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” warns Chris Holman, executive coach at ClientWISE in Tarrytown, New York. Furthermore, even if your first impression is satisfactory, Holman suggests going further, and making sure there’s something unique about a client’s visit as well. “Advisors have a lot of flexibility and leeway in what they can do,” Holman says, and suggests presenting a very personal image to visiting clients and prospects that they will remember.
Get the Space Right
Independent advisors are first and foremost selling themselves, so clients and especially prospects are continually judging you.To begin, get the office location right. “Office environment is more important than you’re conscious of,” notes Matthew Keeling, a financial planner at Keeling Financial Strategies, in Mashpee, Massachusetts. Since Keeling moved his office about two years ago, he has seen a major jump in client satisfaction, which has also positively affected business. “The old office space was nice, but the building had little maintenance over the years, and things like the elevator and parking became poor,” he recalls. “Upon moving to the new location, we found that our closing ratio went up. I don’t know if it was because we acted more professional in our new building or if it was the better vibe that our clients felt in the new space, but there was a noticeable rise in closing ratios,” he says. Mitch Kramer, principal of Fluent Financial in Dallas, stresses the importance of accessibility. “We’re very easy to get to,” he notes. “We’re near two major highways.” Kramer also mentions the importance of the covered parking his building provides for visitors. “We need the special parking because of our area–we have harsh winters and very hot summers.”
Beyond the physical space, what about personal grooming of advisors and staff? “Yes, we have an enforced dress code,” says Kramer. At Fluent Financial, men are required to wear a coat and tie Monday through Thursday, and women are required to have on dress slacks or a business dress. “When people dress more formally, it helps enforce professionalism,” Kramer explains. Jordan agrees. “I tend to be traditional,” he says.
In fact, Jordan says that almost each day, he says he dresses the way he would if he were meeting his best client ever. Jordan also recently addressed colleagues about this issue, putting into effect a new dress code. “I don’t think men, in general, do corporate casual very well,” he notes. “What I didn’t like was people relaxing the dress code, so I implemented a dress code that does not permit jeans and that encourages, but does not require, everyone to have a sport coat in the office at all times.”
Jordan believes that there must be consistency for the client, and although a co-worker may not be seeing a client on a particular day, another colleague probably is. “If there’s no default, people do what they want to do–yet everyone must look client-ready,” he adds. Jordan is also quick to warn that an advisor should not overdo it with flashy cufflinks and monogrammed shirts. “I went with a colleague to see a potential client, and the advisor wore a chunky gold Rolex,” he recalls. “The client, who was very wealthy himself, pointed out the watch and made a comment about how high our fees must be–the man was anything but impressed.”
When meeting clients on their turf, it’s even more important to understand their expectations. Ray Sclafani, president and founder of ClientWISE, recalls driving out to a farm in Texas with another advisor to meet that advisor’s client–a farmer who was in the middle of plowing his field. “I was in a suit and tie and was dressed way too far above this farmer,” he notes. “The farmer asked me to take off my tie.” In the end, it comes down to making the client feel comfortable. “Advisors tend to attract and do business with other people who think and look like them,” argues Holman. “Many successful advisors have a niche–CEOs or physicians, or blue-collar workers. Dress code should be a function of whatever that niche may be.” For example, Keeling dresses more casually than most. “Our location has a more vacation-like feel, so I’ll usually wear a button down shirt and a sport coat with no tie, and in the summer, khakis with a polo shirt,” he says.