By Elizabeth Jetton, CFP®
In response to the enduring financial downturn, financial planners are focused on delivering more value and creating positive momentum. We are seeking ways to differentiate our practices-not superficially, but significantly. This is good because we can never afford to be complacent. We must always question what matters to our clients and seek ways to enhance our clients' experience of value.
We are also looking for ways to improve the odds that our clients will implement our recommendations; that they will take the steps to make a difference. We need ways to leverage the meetings and calls we have with clients, strengthening the bridge between planning and action, action and success.
The Power of Client Meetings
As planners, we accomplish much of our work through client meetings. We attract and obtain new clients through our prospect or inquiry meetings. We learn about our clients through discovery meetings. We educate, recommend and set action plans in our planning meetings. And we monitor, adjust, review, re-inspire, reconnect and renew through our ongoing client meetings.
What happens after your client leaves your office following what you are certain was a dynamite meeting? As your client reaches her car, the rest of the world intrudes, crowding out the conversation, decisions and plans you accomplished over the last hour or two.
While we do this day after day for client after client, clients only have these conversations with us a few times a year at most. We've probably spent several hours preparing for this meeting, and we'll likely enter some notes in our CRM software as part of the permanent record. But what does the client get?
Goals of a Follow-Up Letter
We can leverage the impact and value of a client meeting with a meeting follow-up summary letter. The simple practice of sending a thorough follow-up letter can accomplish numerous goals:
- It helps solidify your client's commitment, since he or she is often re-ignited by seeing their goals, words and plans on paper.
- The summary letter gives you an opportunity to clarify and emphasize. Maybe you had a lengthy discussion, and the clients may have gotten confused. This is an opportunity to simplify the message and emphasize the key points. The letter can even help couples find alignment and communicate with each other.
- By reading the summary letter, the client may discover errors or new concerns. Let's face it; we don't always hear clients right. The letter can avoid unnecessary work or heading down the wrong trail.
- Personal communication deepens the relationship, and clients value the attention, time and importance you have dedicated to them.
- The letter is a concrete expression of value and one that clients can express to others when making referrals.
- Consider the letter your starting point in the next communication or meeting with the client.
Using Follow-Up Letters With Prospects
Planners often tell me about the difficulty of differentiating themselves and creating trust with potential clients, particularly in the post-Madoff era. A well-crafted follow-up letter to that first introductory meeting is an effective tool to accomplish these goals. You may already have a meeting follow-up template in place, but reconsider the tone of the letter and the importance of reflecting back to the clients the actual words they used in communicating what is important to them.
In your follow-up efforts to initial prospects, consider keeping the meeting follow-up letter separate from other information you may want to send, such as brochures or firm information. A possible outline for an initial prospect follow-up letter is:
- Prospect's agenda for the meeting
- Current situation
- Life and financial priorities
- Goals and objectives
- Criteria and expectations for selecting and working with an adviser (What would success look like?)
- Additional questions you might have, to show you are already thinking about solutions
- Next steps and timetables
Ready, Set, Write
Is this a lot of work? Yes, but it is time invested in the relationship and success of the client.
The ideal is to have two people in every client meeting, with one focused on taking notes. The note-taker should capture as much as possible during the meeting, including the client's actual words and language. If you are a sole practitioner, consider recording your meetings or finding a way to balance your listening and note-taking. I will simply ask a client, "Do you mind if we pause while I capture what we just discussed in my notes?"
A number of planners use Copytalk, a service where you dictate your notes over the phone, and within 24 hours you receive an e-mail with the transcription.
As you sit down to write the meeting follow-up letter, remember that the letter should not be a bullet-point list; it should be written in paragraph form, addressed to the client. This is not a formal letter. The tone should be warm, friendly and real, and should reflect your style and the style of your firm. At our firm, we do not ask for referrals in this letter; it should be about the client's meeting and their experience.
Planners have asked about putting confidential information, such as health issues, in writing. We ask the client for permission to include information in the notes if we have any questions or concerns. Regarding recommendations in the letter, if you are affiliated with a broker-dealer, have your letters cleared by compliance.
Timing of the Letter
Timeliness in the delivery of any follow-up letter is critical. The letter should go out within three days. In real life, this can be difficult, but we all know that if too much time has passed since the meeting, the value of the letter is diminished. If possible, schedule time on your weekly calendar directly after each meeting to capture the notes and write the letter. Be complete; be thorough; be friendly.
When the follow-up letter is well-written and delivered promptly, the client will be transported back to your office and the meeting. She will likely remember how much was accomplished and will relive the value you have provided. She will discover that you have continued to think about her and that you have added additional value in the letter. It's all about leveraging the meeting and those minutes spent with your client. Make them count.
Elizabeth Jetton, CFP®, is a former president and chair of FPA. She is affiliated with RTD Financial Advisors and provides consulting to financial planning firms and coaching to advisers. Contact her at email@example.com.
How to Structure a Follow-Up Letter
In our practice, we use a format originally from planner Marcee Yager. Another good source is Steve Walmsley and his book, Stop Selling and Do Something Valuable. We separate a brief cover letter from the summary notes. Other planners combine the two. Personal preference dictates. The key is to create a template for your summary letter that can be used for every meeting. Content will vary depending on the nature of the meeting, but the format and primary structure will remain constant.
Heading. The heading identifies the clients, planner and associates in attendance, the date and location of the meeting, and the nature of the meeting, such as, "Plan Discovery Meeting I" or "Annual Renewal Meeting."
Context paragraph. A short paragraph that helps clients understand what they are about to read and what you want them to pay attention to, such as omissions, key recommendations, data errors, etc. In our context paragraphs, we suggest that these notes are an actual part of the financial plan-journal entries that help the client and the planner track progress.
Recap client agenda. Tremendous value lies in repeating your clients' actual words and restating key points, questions and statements they make in a meeting. A brief recap of the client's agenda shows you are focused on what matters to them.
Recap client's life situation. Several paragraphs focusing on what is happening in the client's life may include whatever came up in the meeting, whether positive, challenging or difficult. This is not about the finances.
Key points from the discovery conversation. These may relate to life issues, goals, financial issues, planning issues, etc.
Summary of current financial and life goals.
Summary of accomplishments. This is particularly important if this is an annual renewal meeting.
Summary of meeting focus. Content will vary depending on the nature of the meeting. Recap key educational points, results from scenario planning, challenges and opportunities identified, decisions, recommendations and so on. For planning meetings and annual renewal meetings, we divide this section into topic areas, such as cash flow, savings, financial freedom scenarios and legacy planning, for example.
Summary of financial opportunities and challenges (if applicable).
Key decisions. Include any actions completed during the meeting.
Reflections. Here's where the planner can add any observations that may not have come up in the meeting. It's an opportunity to demonstrate that you do, in fact, reflect on meetings afterward.
Next steps. This may be in paragraph or spreadsheet format.
Follow-up. Include a sentence that you will follow up on the meeting notes to make sure everything is clear. If a next communication or meeting has been scheduled, include the date and time.