by Kirk J. Hulett
Trend-spotters are talking up the emergence of simplicity as an important "want" for the buying public. And marketers are taking notice. A recent study by Innova Market Insights shows that 987 new products used the terms "simple," "simplest" or "simplicity" in 2009 compared to 467 new products launched with those terms in 2008. Perhaps financial planners can add "simple" to their repertoire of services.
Consumers are choosing products or solutions that make their lives easier and less complex. In a survey recently conducted by consumer marketing firm, Mintel, more than 65 percent of respondents said they have taken steps to simplify their lives in the last six months. How? They've returned to well-known brands because those brands elicit a sense of trust and comfort-common elements of the "simple" movement.
Consumers are becoming wary of feature-rich products, such as complicated smart phones, in favor of easy-to-use, elegant solutions (iPhones, Flip video cameras, etc.). Farmers markets and community-supported agriculture programs have seen tremendous growth because consumers can easily see where their food comes from. And people are using trusted advisers to help them make purchasing decisions because it is simply an easier way of doing things.
What does this mean for you? Here are some ideas on keeping it simple.
Set clear expectations for clients of what the service experience is going to be like.
- Send clients a map to your office; point out where to park.Set expectations for how long the meeting will take.Send an agenda in advance.
- Place a reminder call to them the day before the appointment; include a reminder of any items you want them to bring to the meeting.
- Know your clients' preferences for communication.If they like e-mail, use e-mail.If they prefer phone, use the phone.Ask clients their preferences and record them in your CRM system so that everyone in the office has access.
- Send a follow-up e-mail or letter after the meeting, indicating any follow up that they need to do or that you are going to do.
Have a visual representation of your planning process with five or fewer steps. Use this as a communication and education tool to help clients understand your process. Reference the process repeatedly so clients know just where they are relative to the steps.
Examine client-facing processes. Highlight the things you ask clients to do that you and your team could do for them. Alternatively, provide clients additional guidance, making it easier for them to do.
- Do you ask them to fill in the same info repeatedly on forms?
- Use "sign here"or "read this" stickers.
- Attach a checklist or instructions so clients know exactly what they need to do.Field test the instructions before using them to make sure you have captured all the steps and are using language the client will understand.
- Use a technology system such as eMoney to safely store client documents so the client doesn't need to remember to bring paper copies of a will, tax forms, etc.
Use analogies and illustrations when explaining complex planning concepts, investment management concepts or products. Just because you find these things interesting and easy to understand, doesn't mean your clients will, so find an engaging way to present them.
- Be hyper aware of body language-deer-in-headlights look,no eye contact,nodding regardless of what you say; these could all be indicators that you have lost the client.
- Clearly lay out decisions for the client, and then make the decision process easy by organizing the information.For example, "You have three directions you can go.Let's do a quick t-chart of the pros and cons of each decision."
- Include an executive summary on your financial plan that summarizes the major recommendations in the plan.
Invest in branding. Your brand elements (logo, tag line, look and feel) should be simple, clean, up-to-date and functional. Use the words simple and simplicity in your marketing, and then back it up by delivering.
By applying the principles of voluntary simplicity to your client interactions, you may find that you've got more resources to deploy in other ways-like bringing in more business.
Kirk J. Hulett is senior vice president of strategy and practice management for Securities America Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC, an independent broker-dealer based in Omaha, Neb. He hosts a bi-weekly practice management podcast on www.advisorpod.com.
Tools to Use
For a free Branded Planning Process, go to www.securitiesamerica.com/simplicity.html.