Mark Pruitt knows about relationships. After spending 18 years as a minister, he made the switch to financial services with the desire to counsel people in much the same way he always had. This means keeping that first meeting as client-centric as possible.
“My approach to planning is to first allow the client to ask me questions in the very first meeting,” he says. “The meeting is for them and they are there for a reason. I need to know what those reasons are, and to find that out I must listen first in order to deal with their hot buttons and concerns. You don’t fix a lifetime of issues in a single meeting or with a single product. We build the overall plan with future meetings. It’s like building a house, and you don’t do that in a meeting or two.”
Fourteen years after entering the industry, Pruitt’s very loyal client base numbers about 800. Read on for his methods to meeting clients’ needs in a truly meaningful way.
1. Anticipate your clients’ needs.
From the start, Pruitt wasn’t looking to simply provide financial advice; he wanted to offer a wide range of resources to his clients. How wide ranging? Well, Pruitt’s clients can get tax consultations, estate planning expertise, nursing home reviews and even help repairing their credit rating. And what happens if a client’s computer malfunctions? “I have a guy that can go to our clients all over the nation and repair their computer,” he says.
Seniors, in particular, do not have those kinds of resources in one place, Pruitt says. “Everybody’s compartmentalized, an attorney’s just an attorney, CPAs just do CPA work, brokers just do broker work, insurance agents just do insurance work,” he says. “We’ve taken a lot of those things and put them in one service where we can refer people out. These are people that I refer, so we don’t get paid on most of these services. They’re just people that we’ve used personally with our own families.”
2. Be transparent.
Those referrals may not bring in extra revenue, but they do build trust between his firm and his clients. Trust is an important cornerstone of his practice given the “major breaches of trust” between the public and financial institutions like banks in recent years, Pruitt says.
“Just because you have one bad person in a field does not make all of us bad,” he says. “We have to earn [our clients’] trust and do that every single day. And we do that by doing what we say we’re going to do.”
3. Take initiative.
Another sign that you’re one of the good guys? Being there when a client has an emergency. Many agents fail to follow through and don’t continually communicate with their clients, Pruitt says. “We gain a lot of clients that way because they say, ‘I can’t get my agent to call me back. They never check on us.’ Basically what that means is the agent sold them a product and after that, they never talked to them again. We don’t do that.”
4. Offer support.
“My oldest client is 103,” Pruitt says. “Being there for my clients through death, accidents, retirement celebrations that we host, new grandbabies, etc., or simply just saying, ‘Hey, I was thinking about you and thought I would call to see how you’re doing’ means more than anything to clients 60 and over.”
5. Become a product guru.
Pruitt’s investment philosophy is not one that can be summed up in a couple of lines — and his clients prefer it that way. “There are no cookie-cutter solutions and my selection of products proves that daily for each individual client,” he says. “I have never understood how agents write one product for most of their clients. I want what is best for their needs, and products change yearly. I have to do my best to stay on top of what is out in the market. Clients’ needs change and so do the products.”
For sales & marketing tips from other top advisors, see SMA’s 2012 Advisor of the Year Finalists.