By Dan Allison
Prospecting for new clients has long been a challenge for even the most successful advisers. When it comes to referrals, advisers often have two choices. They can be proactive and ask for referrals, or they can be reactive and wait for them. The problem is, being proactive and asking can make an adviser look desperate and risk offending key relationships, while waiting is frustrating and unpredictable.
Why don't your top clients and professional relationships refer you more quality business? This is not a topic addressed very easily. Simply asking a client, accountant or attorney why he or she doesn't send you more referrals will not result in anything desirable. Instead, consider using a focus group-an alternative approach that can not only help with referrals but also uncover service issues you may have, helping you create a more referable business.
Focus groups have traditionally been reserved for Fortune 500 companies, but using focus groups is actually very feasible for financial advisers; they can help generate solutions to the business challenges advisers face.
A focus group is generally eight to 10 similarly situated people who gather together to help solve a challenge or provide feedback. Participants are chosen because they fit certain criteria that make them qualified and their feedback important. They will typically gather for about an hour and hear a brief presentation on a relevant topic followed by a discussion. The topics are as varied as the companies themselves. Advisers can use focus groups to accomplish a variety of objectives in a professional, honest and ethical fashion perfect for the kind of market we find ourselves in.
Advisers can use focus groups to accomplish four key things, all of which can result in more quality referrals.
Explain Your Business Model and Ideal Client
Many advisers admit they are not sure that many of their top clients and referral relationships really understand their business model or all of the services they provide.
Before top clients and referral sources can give quality feedback in a focus group, they need to understand your business model and your motivation for developing the process you have. If your referral sources are unaware of all the value your firm provides, this obviously poses a problem for them referring new clients. If they are not clear about all of the services available, they cannot identify who would be a good referral. Focus groups allow you to clarify this for these relationships.
It's also important to clearly articulate your ideal client. Many clients report not knowing exactly who their advisers would like to meet. If your referral sources don't know who you want to grow the business with, they are unable to refer them.
These two simple things often cause the majority of referral challenges. Focus groups allow you to spend the first part of the get-together clarifying your business model and your target market for your top clients and referral relationships in a very low key and non-threatening environment.
Learn From Your Relationships
After spending about 20 minutes giving an overview of your business model, you should have several questions prepared to ask your focus group. Remember, they are there because they were selected as a valued relationship and their feedback is respected. Don't fear that they won't answer questions honestly. If they can tell that you genuinely want quality feedback, they will give it to you.
This discussion portion will typically last about 25 to 30 minutes. Consider asking questions such as:
- After hearing the presentation of our business model, what areas do you feel our current relationships are unaware of?
- What do you feel is the most valuable aspect of the business model we have developed?
- If you were in our position and wanted to grow the business with the specific market we described, how would you go about growing the business?
- How do you feel we could approach our current relationships in a way that is non-threatening but results in meeting new clients?
The options are limitless. Focus groups allow you to ask all the questions you have while your key clients and professional relationships brainstorm and problem-solve the answers.
Some advisers worry that asking these questions may make them look as though they don't have all of the answers, potentially lowering their status with their top relationships. It is quite the opposite. These people will be flattered that they were chosen as a key relationship and trusted enough to be asked these questions. And because you are asking for honest feedback that will help you become more effective, they are glad to help.
Increase Retention and Improve Your Relationships
Focus groups also help you identify any service issues you may have. There are times when you may get so busy with the details of your business that you fail to notice small issues that may become big issues. When you conduct focus groups with your key relationships, you are able to uncover these issues so that you can solve the challenges as they arise and insure that your retention never suffers because of little issues.
In today's advising climate, clients and other referral sources are looking for transparency in investments, fees and relationships. This kind of open discussion will draw all of your important relationships closer to you. They will be reminded of why they did business with you in the first place and be happy that you asked for their input.
Gain Valuable Insight on New Concepts and Strategies
Advisers often change their business model because they feel it will improve their client experience and make them more referable. Another benefit of conducting focus groups is the feedback and insight you can gain about the future of your business. Focus groups are the ideal setting to introduce new ideas, concepts or investment platforms you are considering implementing. Why not find out from the people who matter most whether or not the business changes you're considering will truly accomplish the objectives you set out to accomplish?
By using a focus group in this way, the group is similar to having an advisory board, but a lot more flexible. With an advisory board, you're limited to how many people you can get in front of and receive feedback. Focus groups allow you limitless opportunity to get in front of trusted relationships and gain valuable insight.
Some advisers spend a lot of time and resources on client appreciation events that often prove expensive and frustrating. If you want to show referral sources how much you appreciate them, save some money and include them in your business. Ask them to help problem-solve your challenges and get the feedback that only they can give you.
Consultants make a lot of money teaching advisers how clients and referral sources think. There is only one way to know for sure ... just ask! Your clients and your business will be glad you did.
Dan Allison (www.focusedadvisor.com) consults advisers nationwide on conducting focus groups with clients and prospect markets as a method of growing and improving business models. He also frequently speaks at FPA chapter events around the country.
For live education sessions on building better relationships with allied professionals and using focus groups to learn what your clients really think, head to FPA Business Solutions 2010, March 1-3 in Dallas.
Jonathan A. Mintz, J.D., will be speaking on "Growing Your Business Through Collaboration with Allied Professionals," and Julie Littlechild will moderate a panel discussion with Greg Friedman, CFP®, and Stacy Reinhart on "From the Outside Looking In: What Your Clients Can Teach You About Running Your Business."
Learn more about these and the many other practice management education opportunities at FPA Business Solutions 2010 at www.FPASolutions.org.