Prospect and Client Engagement Effectiveness
These are just a few of the quotes drawn from this Part IV of our four-part interview series on financial planning featuring the insights from our four industry experts, Joe Sicchitano, George Fernandez, Bill Newburn and Bradford Hutchins.While Part III was focused on what we see as the greatest challenge for firms seeking to deliver a goals-based planning experience – Advisor Adoption – in this final part, we seek to provide you with insight on a few of the more practical aspects around execution, addressing the following questions:
- How do I position planning with prospects and clients to maximize interest?
- How do I engage both prospects and clients in the planning process?
- How do I leverage that process to grow my business?
Our goal in delivering this series was to provide some insight that can we believe may be helpful as you discern how to best incorporate goals-based planning in your sales and client experience in the most efficient and scalable manner possible. To conclude this series, we thought it of value to provide for you our perspectives based on our experience in working with clients on the implementation of a goal-based planning experience, also leveraging the insights provided by our four front-line experts throughout this series. The document in the link below summarizes the common mistakes we routinely see firms making in the implementation of a financial planning strategy, followed by some key recommendations that can help to avoid those mistakes.
Whether you are a leader or front-line advisor, I hope these have provided you with some helpful information. Our sincere thanks to Joe, George, Bill and Brad for providing their insights!
Greene Consulting: How do you define “financial planning” and how do you suggest advisors position it with prospects and clients?
Joseph Sicchitano: When was the last time you went to a physician, described your symptoms and when the doctor announced next steps, they said, “I believe I understand what you are dealing with and what I recommend is that we do a MEDICAL PLAN”? Exactly - never. I try to never define financial planning as a thing. We believe that clients who are really committed to achieving what matters most and advisors who are partnering with them to do so should approach that outcome by simply doing the steps required to do it well - the steps in the Financial Planning Process. It is “the way” we approach advising clients and not “a thing”.
George Fernandez: The CFP Board’s definition of financial planning describes it as the following:
“It is a collaborative process that helps maximize a client’s potential for meeting life’s goals through financial advice that integrates relevant elements of personal and financial circumstances.”
For me, I simplify it like this (in first person): “It’s the process of managing my finances by putting me first”.
This is done by answering two fundamental questions:
- What’s the importance of money in my life?
- What’s most important to me?
In my experience, it’s the convergence of these two questions that real financial planning takes place.
Bill Newburn: The number one outcome I seek to achieve in the planning process is to have better conversations with my clients. My second goal is to demonstrate that I care about them. I know of no better way to demonstrate that we care than to understand our client’s goals and help them determine if they are on track to achieve them. [So, for me, planning] is any meaningful conversation that helps a client connect their priorities to their likely outcomes. Once we have a good understanding of our client’s priorities, our next step is to test them in to see if we can achieve them or need to make some changes. I position it this way from the very first prospect meeting.
Greene Consulting: Do you engage new PROSPECTS with planning? If so, how do you do so to give them a valuable/differentiated experience?
Bill Newburn: Yes, especially with prospects. My very first prospect meeting is simple. I come to the meeting with a blank notebook pad and thank them for coming. I tell them I have no agenda; I just want to get to know them better and understand what is important to them. [For every meeting], I hope to answer the following 5 questions positively:
- Did I demonstrate that I cared about them? (This is achieved by listening to them, being agnostic to solutions, asking good questions to understand what is important to them, staying in the moment and not jumping to pre-determined questions.)
- Did I learn what their priorities were? (Many times, I’ll repeat them back to them to make sure that I captured them down correctly. I focus on their priorities regardless if it generates revenue for me.)
- Did I position financial planning as a way to “test into” their goals and priorities? (From the opening meeting, my goal is to set that expectation. I have found the financial planning process aligns perfectly with my goal of demonstrating that I care about my client.)
- Did I position my team members as subject matter experts that are here to help them meet their goals?
- Is there a next step? (After every meeting, we develop next steps for the client/prospect and for us. Once we develop those nexts steps, it is critical that you follow up with them. Many times, the next steps are to get the financial planning software loaded so we can begin having better conversations.)
Bradford Hutchins: I have made it a point to utlize this process and approach with all new prospects. (More on how Brad does it below.)
George Fernandez: We encourage our advisors to engage everyone in planning, especially new prospects. The focus begins with a conversation about the importance of money in their life as well as what’s most important. With that understanding, we’d then show new prospective clients how we’ve helped clients like them. This is usually done through a dynamic demonstration of the experience using the financial planning software and a sample case. It’s kept very simple, but it allows them to fully experience the engagement.
This leads to a very natural next step of gathering their information to see what their plan looks like.
Greene Consulting: In that process with prospects, what are the key features or tools in the software you most leverage with them to deliver a valuable/differentiated sales experience?
George Fernandez: There are two key features that I look for when using financial planning software with prospects. First, the ability to memorialize their goals, priorities and concerns through a collaborative experience. This is important especially when you have one spouse that dominates the discussion. With this type of feature, it requires both spouses to individually share their innermost thougths about their money and what’s important to them. Being able to capture this live and in front of them creates a sense of empowerment for all parties (and some very interesting conversation, too!).
Second, the ability to create alternate scenarios in real-time and in front of them. I’ve personally been using this approach with clients since 2001. At that time, I built the initial plan and then built alternate scenaries in front of them while projecting it onto a screen. Now, financial planning software has finally reached the point that I can do all of this more seemlessly.
Bill Newburn: The family section is very important because it lists the people they care about. I believe it is important to tie legacy goals with assets. This creates a more customized feel and helps the client to connect their passions to their plan. Another section that I use often is the scenario section. This allows me to compare their base plan with secondary goals or fears they have. These scenarios have led to wonderful client conversations. It is so rewarding for my clients to say,”What if we did this?” They begin to own the plan and we are viewed as the “keeper” of the plan. This creates trust and loyalty that helps differentiate us from market returns and loan rates.
Bradford Hutchins: The features and tools that I utilize the most for new prospects is the “what if” scenarios; what if you worked longer, what if you retired early, what if you saved more, etc., allowing us to demonstrate the power of small changes that can effect the overall results.
ENGAGING EXISTING CLIENTS
Greene Consulting: When and how do you engage existing clients that do not already have a plan?
Bill Newburn: My goal is to incorporate financial planning into every relationship. I have found that when you position planning with an existing client, they are very receptive. There are 6 principles that drive client loyalty that I learned about many years ago:
- Anticipate our clients’ future opportunities and risks,
- Understand our clients’ needs and financial priorities,
- Add value as a partner,
- Proactively recommend solutions,
- Provide prompt follow-up on requests and communicate effectively, and
- Always bring in the right experts to address our clients’ needs.
I use these loyalty drivers to position planning with existing and prospective clients. If I have an existing client, I’ll say, “Ms. Smith, we have conducted many surveys with our clients over the years to try and understand what drives their loyalty. Time after time, we hear that they are looking for advisors who understand their financial priorities and can anticipate opportunities and risks they may face in the future. Because of that, I’d like to spend some time with you today making sure that we understand what is most important to you today. Once we have a good understanding of your priorities, our next step will be to test into those to see if you are on track to achieve them.”
Bradford Hutchins: I look at planning as non-negotiable. I am passionate about planning. I truly believe [and communicate to my clients] that a plan is the foundation of success for my clients’ financial priorities and frames how we develop our strategy for each individual client and their specific needs.
George Fernandez: First, my feeling is that a client who doesn’t have a plan has likely never been asked if they’d like to know if they are on track. It’s been my experience that clients want to know. As their advocate, we need to be prepared to ask them the tough questions they’ve never been asked before. Doing so will lead to more planning engagements.
Keep in mind that planning can also be delivered into smaller enagements to keep clients from being overwhelmed. For some clients, baby steps are the most effective way to engage them.
LEVERAGING PLANNING TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS
Greene Consulting: Planning does not naturally translate to consolidation of assets as the recommendations are to save more, spend less, extend the timeframe, etc. How do you leverage the planning approach to consolidate assets held away?
Bill Newburn: During the planning process, we load all the assets that a client has [onto the platform], including those that are held away. This process allows a client to see how all their assets relate to each other. This leads to great conversations about their investment process, how they avoid duplicating strategies, and investment costs.
Bradford Hutchins: I believe that this is a true differentiator in our process. I have found that because most advisors are not taking the time to complete the planning process [to more fully understand their client and provide a clear path for success], it has been easy to obtain assets held away.
George Fernandez: I actually do believe planning can translate to the consolidaton of assets because when you’re enaged at such a personal level, clients will naturally want you to manage most, if not all, of their assets. The reason is that you’re looking out for so much more than the assets themselves and they realize that if you’re going to deliver on taking care of their family, it’s much easier when it’s all in one place. Moreover, it provides them peace of mind that if something happens to them, their family is taken care of.