The Art And Science Of Client Engagement

by: Institute for Innovation Development
Summary

Beyond the typical industry platitudes, there lies a serious art and science behind client engagement.

A recent industry conference focused on multiple dimensions of client engagement exploring the following pillars advisors need to build on: seminars, education, nurturing, training, and practice management.

Developing these client skills and strategies seem to be the answer to advisor challenges of achieving differentiated competitive advantage from other financial professionals and answering the perceived disruption from robo-advisors.

At a rather unique financial services industry conference I recently attended, I was stricken by the level of discussions and trainings going on around what it meant to truly engage and connect with your clients and prospects. Beyond the typical industry platitudes and internal perceptions of being “client-centered” or “client–focused”, there lies a serious art and science behind client engagement - a level of personal contact that is not left to chance or that relies on bouts of sparkling charm.

The truth was brought out that the very best customer engagement companies carefully think-out and journey map the customer’s experience with their firm or event. This includes isolating key touchpoints, specifically designing the experience and consistently orchestrating their client interactions across varied mediums. For financial advisors, developing these client skills and strategies seem to be the answer to their most pressing challenges of achieving differentiated competitive advantage from other financial professionals and answering the perceived disruption from robo-advisors and other pure technology solutions like chatbots and virtual assistants.

Such were the thoughts and feelings that overcame me at White Glove’s most recent annual conference called Host University in Naples, FL.

White Glove is a digital marketing company that has evolved into a business growth hub providing access to a carefully focused mix of tools and strategies for advisors across the United States and Canada. Their unique value proposition offers a 100% done-for-you, turn-key, triple guaranteed, logistical community engagement strategy through educational seminars.

White Glove co-founders – financial advisors Mike & Dean Thurman – successfully built their financial services firm by hosting educational seminars. Over time they perfected a strategy using digital marketing as a heat seeking tool to isolate and capture the financial interests of local qualified individuals at the point they are most interested in or needing financial advice – when they are actively searching for financial information on the internet and where you can be the most relevant to their needs. That’s a great example of the science of engagement. What they also developed, through continuous experimentation and trial and error, was how best to position yourself as an expert invested in the community’s wellbeing at that seminar and that, I feel, is truly at the level of an art form.

The bulk of Host University targeted the question: What truly is needed to professionally create and develop customer engagement? Besides the Thurmans’ experiences, many White Glove advisor clients also shared their most effective approaches and techniques in engaging seminar participants, as defined by, what worked most effectively in driving participants to book a follow-up appointment and eventually become clients. Rounding out and elevating those discussions were further techniques and strategies shared by seminar expert and author Frank Maselli on his extensive experience on how to convert seminar participants into lifelong customers.

Some key lessons discussed for an effective seminar strategy included:

  • Advisors need to focus in their mind that seminars are strategically about establishing connection, not selling.
  • Most effective skills to develop included using the power of stories, finding and developing your natural communication style and knowing when to use various presentation techniques and tips that can increase your emotional impact with participants.
  • The winning formula includes having an educator’s heart, being authentic in addressing your audience’s concerns and needs, and not discussing specific products.

To further expand their support for advisors and share their practical learning of an increasing number of ways to engage clients, White Glove announced at their Conference their new White Glove Social Connect™ , automated program that continues to market to attendees and no-shows after the seminar and their new Syndicate program - a more full service business development support platform that brings together other industry client engagement firms and industry leaders to help build out advisors’ engagement skill sets and leverage other resources that can heighten client connection.

It is particularly interesting how they built this alliance network and chose partner firms by breaking out dimensions of client engagement into the following pillars: seminars, education, nurturing, training, and practice management. The following is the premise behind each area being a key pillar and brief comments from the strategic partner chosen.

1. Seminars as a pillar – On the effectiveness of seminars as an engagement tool, Bill Good, at Host University, reinforced the power of a community seminar strategy: “In my experience there is no better, more effective and faster way - even coming from a ground start - of building your business, converting prospects to clients and raising assets.”

Mike Thurman, White Glove: “The White Glove mission is to partner with financial services professionals who share our passion for educating the public on important topics — such as retirement planning, maximizing social security, retirement tax strategies, healthcare decisions and real estate opportunities — to help people make significant improvements to their lives. “

2. Education as a pillar – Deep knowledge on topics of greatest concern for clients and prospects is the greatest differentiator and tipping point needed to truly connect with and convert qualified prospects. Advisors need to invest the time to thoroughly command the crucial topics and solutions needed. Investors going into retirement don’t want to be sold, they want their money protected.They want a plan to take them through retirement from someone they can trust to give them accurate, unbiased advice. Advisors need to be perceived as knowledgeable and accessible experts on key retirement issues. They will need to answer retirement savers’ most important questions and continually provide practical, applicable and easy-to-understand information on IRA, retirement, tax and financial planning topics.

Ryan Fortese, Ed Slott and Company: “The first thing advisors can do to truly engage clients is to help them face their fears and solve their concerns with retirement and tax planning. The average advisor has all these disclaimers, “We don’t do tax or legal planning;” you’ve got to get rid of that mentality! If you touch an IRA or Roth IRA, if you’re doing a rollover from a 401(K) to an IRA, if you’re talking about Roth conversions - you’re doing tax planning! This is why it is crucial advisors learn advanced tax planning strategies to help clients better protect their money. As the advisor, it’s your job to help implement a distribution strategy that limits unnecessary taxes and penalties and helps navigate your clients away from all of the costly traps. Advisors who master and stay at the forefront of this knowledge have a significant advantage in deepening their value and engagement with clients and prospects. These are the high-value services where clients can actually quantify the value you bring to the table - and I believe that is how you engage clients today.”

3. Nurturing as a pillar - Staying top of mind with clients and prospects through various social media channels and print outreach programs like ReminderMedia's flagship engagement tool of American Lifestyle magazine - an advisor branded, 48-page publication that features advisor's information and valuable general interest articles that can be instrumental in building strong ongoing connection with clients.

Luke Acree, ReminderMedia: “When you’re a service-based sales professional, the key to long term success lies in building relationships with your clients. This means you need to create an exceptional customer experience, offer incredible value, and connect consistently. At the end of the day, your business will thrive or fall apart, based on your ability to engage your clients on a human level. For salespeople who feel that client interactions should focus only on business, there’s a lesson to be learned here - clients won’t remember your sales pitch, but they will remember how you made them feel. When you make an emotional connection with someone and then leverage that connection into a relationship, you’ll be rewarded with repeat business and referrals for years to come.”

4. Practice Management as a pillar – Since client engagement can’t be left to chance and whim, it deserves to be built into a strategic choice of how you chose to run and grow your business. It becomes a conscious and deliberate practice management decision.

Bill Good, Bill Good Marketing: “We define “practice management“ as the people, roles and processes necessary to enable the financial advisor to delegate most non-sales, non-advice functions. We are helping advisors re-engineer for greater growth. We have developed a CRM-based system, an organized way to manage your practice and ensure that you consistently and efficiently are engaging your prospects and clients. Engagement means “to connect with.” But to do that, you have to have the time. And that’s what practice management provides.“

5. Training as a pillar – To reach that deeper level of engagement requires honing more effective communication skills and artful implementation. To reach and maintain these expert levels, there needs to be a commitment to continuous professional development and training.

Frank Maselli,The Maselli Group: "My role on the White Glove team is to help our advisors do the best possible seminars they can, and by doing so to drive more business! A seminar, no matter how well attended, is a waste of time and money if you’re not setting appointments. That’s my expertise. I train and coach advisors to help make them deeply engage their seminar participants. I help advisors turn those attendees into life-long clients.”

Jeremiah Desmarais, Advisorist: “The science of client prospecting for financial advisors has truly evolved and matured over the last 10 years. Artificial intelligence has helped to improve the ability to reach out at scale. Whereas in the past, financial advisors were limited to one to one outreach. This is where the science of prospecting has become so intriguing. There are now tools that we use on a regular basis and teach our advisors to use that allow them to reach out at scale while still maintaining that personalized touch, which doesn't make it feel like a mass communication. That's where the art comes in. Copyrighting has really taken an important note in the art of prospecting. Finding the right word play using short sentences that get to the point and creative subject lines are all tools that are now available and that we teach. Putting the art and science together by combining elements like targeted connections, thoughtful messaging and consistent follow up is one of the reasons why Advisorist is the fastest growing on-demand training and services platform for financial and insurance advisors.”

6. Content & websites as a pillar - Find new prospects, retain and grow business with existing clients and increase referrals through a carefully built strategy of targeted engagement through unique marketing collateral content and custom-built websites.

Brian Smith, Broadridge Advisor Solutions: “To engage new prospects and enrich existing relationships today you need a professional website that reflects your brand and a content strategy that speaks to them. Having the largest offering of marketing and content products, we can help you select and translate holistic marketing, communication, and data offerings into streamlined solutions to tell your unique story. We act as a true partner, assisting with every step of the marketing process and providing concierge level support, allowing advisors to focus their time on their clients.”

Host University revealed the importance of client engagement as a central goal and strategy for advisors that should be carefully thought-out and purposely designed into their firms and practice management. It also positioned the most important skill sets for financial planners in the future where those feelings of connectedness will become vital. As Michael Kitces mentioned in a Nerd’s Eye blog post, despite the onward march of technology and computing power, the key transition for advisors is from being “knowledge workers” to “relationship workers”. This needs to be powered by both art and science through a company’s culture, capabilities and the creation of new experiences that help clients in ways that enrich their lives.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: Please use this disclosure - I wrote this article myself and I am not receiving compensation to write this article but I do have a business relationship with White Glove who is an Institute member. The Institute is a business innovation platform of over 100 innovative firms that are openly sharing their unique perspectives and activities to build awareness and stimulate new approaches/thinking for a financial services operating environment of accelerating change.