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Differentiating Your Business Isn't Magic (But Your Clients Don't Have to Know That), Part One

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In a piece from August 2013 (Are Financial Planners Experiencing A Crisis Of Differentiation?), Michael Kitces asks, in regards to stiffer competition within the industry, "what's the solution in a world where financial planners and their services are increasingly similar to each other?" While the thrust of his article is that advisors need to find a niche in order to best serve the needs of their ideal clientele, he also posits that "providing a genuinely unique client experience could be a differentiator".

My focus in this series of pieces will be on how you can use Redtail to set yourself apart from the crowd, i.e., on what tools Redtail puts at your disposal that will allow you to differentiate yourself in the eyes of both your current clients and your prospects through the client experience that you provide for them. While the tools we'll discuss overlap in terms of the differentiation challenges they can be used to address, the specific challenges I'll focus upon are:

  • achieving a client-centric approach
  • SLAs and client expectations
  • summary letters and other client touches
  • keeping clients on track
  • keeping your team on track
  • timely giving of information
  • consistent messaging and service

In this first part of the series, I'll talk about using Redtail to help your office achieve a client-centric approach. I'll address the remaining items above in subsequent parts of the series to come soon.

Let's dive in:

Achieving a Client-Centric Approach

From your initial point of contact with prospects, it's important that you keep the focus on them. Magicians use a tactic called misdirection to direct their audience's attention to one area, while the mechanics of their illusion are being performed elsewhere. One of the most important things you can do to differentiate your business is quite similar to what the magician does, but can be more accurately described as redirection. Your aim with redirection (as opposed to misdirection) is not to hide anything, but instead to keep everyone's focus upon what is really important in your prospect and client interactions, which is them and their needs.

 It should go without saying that your qualifications should be easily accessible, whether via your website, marketing materials or questions posed directly to you. In other words, your legitimacy as someone qualified to assist clients should be apparent and/or addressed when appropriate, but each and every interaction your office has with them should be client-focused. Particularly in the early stages, you should be working on developing your personal relationships with clients, as it is the personal details you gather, and the rapport you are building, that will allow you to cultivate your professional relationships.

Now, let's walk through some steps you can take using Redtail from the very beginning with your prospects in order to achieve that personalized service that is a hallmark of the client-centric approach.

  • New Prospect Workflow

    Regardless of how a prospect comes to your attention, you should have the pieces already in place to facilitate a streamlined on-boarding process that makes them feel welcomed and in competent hands, while also reminding you to thank the referrer (when applicable). To that end, we recommend that you create a Workflow specifically for this process. An example of what this might look like is below:


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    Let's break this Workflow down by its steps:
    1. Welcome Letter - This shouldn't be anything very formal, just a polite acknowledgement thanking them for agreeing to meet with you and expressing that you look forward to meeting them (or seeing them again). Handwritten is certainly best, as it is more personal (and uncommon these days). You can store a template for this letter within Redtail to draw from, though you can certainly deviate from that script where appropriate. Note: you can store the template as a Mail Merge Template, even if you don't intend to actually use it for merge purposes.
    2. Referrer Thank You Letter - If the prospect is a referral, send the referrer a handwritten letter as well to thank them. By doing so you are acknowledging their role in your ongoing success and also encouraging future referrals. Again, a template to draw from can be stored within Redtail.
    3. Meeting Details Packet - You've already set the tone with your Welcome Letter. With the Meeting Details Packet, you have an opportunity to blow them away with your thoroughness. All materials should be professionally prepared and you might include office directions (and any other details relevant to parking or entering your facility), all of your relevant contact info., a list of items they should bring and your latest marketing materials and staff bios. Let them know you are accessible and fully prepared for your upcoming meeting with them.
    4. Research prospect via Social Channels - This may sound a bit like cyber-stalking, but it's really just doing your homework. After all, your first meeting is in effect a job interview, and if you don't go to a job interview prepared with all of the information readily accessible, you aren't as likely to land the job. You'll learn about the prospect's financial life during your meeting, but checking out what they have to say in social channels gives you an opportunity to see those personal details or beliefs that they want to project to the world. Not only can this provide you with opportunities for relationship building through small talk during your meetings, but it can also give you details to fill in about the prospect within Redtail that may lead to giving opportunities later in the relationship.

      Note: Redtail CRM has an area for tracking social profile addresses, allowing you to easily access them prior to meetings. Make sure that whoever handles this Workflow Step enters the social profile addresses at the time of discovery, so they are readily accessible to staff when needed.
    5. Telephone Call - Confirm Details of Meeting - This can be handled by the advisor or an assistant, but should be performed by a staff member well-versed in what is included in the Meeting Details Packet. The point of the call is not only to confirm the meeting, but also to make sure that the prospect received the packet and inquire whether they have any questions they need answered prior to your meeting.

    None of these steps takes long. You'll have templates set up for the first two and the Meeting Details Packet should be preassembled, except for the Cover Sheet which you can merge from Redtail to personalize. But, as little effort as they require on the part of your office, they can go a long way toward creating a comfortable beginning for your prospects.

  • First Meeting Checklist

    I won't create a sample Checklist here, as there is much more likelihood to be a great deal of variance in the actions that different offices take to make prospects feel like guests in their "home." Bear in mind though that this Checklist is all about the "experience" your prospect has while in your office rather than about the actual sit-down itself. Some general thoughts on Steps you might want to include in this Checklist:
    1. Prospects need to be greeted warmly upon entry. Everyone who may come into contact with them prior to their sit-down with the advisor should be aware they will be in the office and able to greet them by a salutation and their last name.

      It may help to think of the situation in a different manner. Imagine you're having a guest into your actual home and your teenage son has unfortunately reached that sullen stage common with many adolescents. While your guest is likely to overlook the indifference emanating from Junior and it may still be a perfectly enjoyable evening, think of the different impression that having a teenager who politely engages with your guest throughout the evening would make. They aren't visiting to see your son, but his actions nonetheless can contribute to the overall impression with which your visitor is left.

      I don't have any magical advice about rearing your children to be polite or on how to escape the trials of dealing with teenagers, but you should certainly expect your staff to be welcoming in every regard. While you shouldn't need to put "be nice" as a Task within your Checklist, you might want to create a Task for your receptionist to look over the prospect's record the day prior to the meeting and send an email to all staff members that will possibly interact with the prospect detailing their name, who they will be seeing and any other relevant details.

    2. Keep your kitchen stocked. There hasn't been a time in human history when individual eating patterns, dietary restrictions, etc., have been more varied than they are today. Make sure you have beverage and snack choices to cover as many bases as you can.

      Referring back to #4 in the New Prospect Workflow above, you might even be able to ascertain what a specific prospect likes prior to their arrival. It's certainly not uncommon for people to talk about what they eat on social channels. That said, you don't want to be too specific, i.e., you don't want to offer them Blood Orange Chobani Cookies with a burst of greek yogurt because you saw them mention those on Facebook last night — you're giving away your research there — but you might present cookies as an option, as they apparently enjoy them.

    3. Make sure to carve out a few minutes for the prospect to meet your assistant (if this doesn't occur during the greeting mentioned above). It's likely that the prospect will spend a considerable amount of time interacting with your assistant as well, and they should be made to feel comfortable with them from the beginning.
  • Take thorough notes

    This suggestion may seem to you somewhat out of place in a piece about differentiating your business. After all, this should be something you are already doing, both as a tool for reviewing actions you've taken with your clients and a refresher on their stated goals, as well as for compliance purposes. But, Notes alone aren't really a differentiator in and of themselves. It's the detailed level of the Notes you take, the off-the-cuff remarks you retain for posterity, that will allow you to exhibit the level of attention that you are granting your clients.
    Here are but a few examples of the types of information you might want to take note of, regardless of the fact that they have absolutely nothing to do with the actual services that you offer clients:

    1. Prospect A mentions during your initial meeting, after accepting your offer of coffee, that they typically use Soy Milk rather than Half 'n' Half, but that just sugar will be fine.
    2. Client B voices enthusiasm about the latest batch of commits to a nearby college football program.
    3. Client C complements the family photograph on your wall, stating that they will be using a different photographer for their next one.

    You've got two options as to what you can do with these types of items. One, you can file them away as small talk and forget them. Or, two, you can treat them as opportunities to differentiate your office when the correct moment arises. How do you do that for each of the above?

    1. With Prospect A, you can use a User Defined Field to track their beverage preference. This would then show up on the Prospect's Overview page, in the User Defined Fields widget:

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      Whoever handles keeping your kitchen / refreshments area stocked should also be responsible for looking at your Redtail Calendar on a weekly or biweekly basis to see who is coming into the office and making sure that you're able to provide them with those items that they've indicated as a preference. It's a small detail, but it will set you apart by further making them feel at home (and by making them feel listened to).

    2. With Client B you can also use a User Defined Field (UDF) to track their College Football Team:

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      Now, if college football is an interest of yours as well, this gives you a natural topic of conversation in future meetings. But, even if it's not, that doesn't mean you can't make great use of this information, should some tickets for an upcoming game come unexpectedly into your possession. Who might you want to pass those along to? Just run a UDF search within your database for those contacts that have one of the teams involved listed as their College Football Team (or MLB team, or NFL team, etc.). By passing those tickets along, not only are you displaying (again) that you listen, but you are also demonstrating a giving spirit.

    3. With Client C you could of course give them the name of your family photographer there on the spot, but you should also track that interest as a future referral opportunity. Again, I'd probably use a UDF for this particular type of information:

      mlapho.png

      Having tracked this information, when you get an email from your photographer advertising special rates or packages, you can then search your database for those who expressed this interest and then let them know about the deal being offered. If they then proceed to have their family portrait made using your photographer, you've accomplished at least three things: 1) you've let them know you're thinking of them outside the services you offer, 2) you've referred outward (which can often lead to referrals back to your business) and 3) you've created the opportunity to enter your client's mind, at least subconsciously, whenever they see the smiling faces of their family above the hearth.
    With each of the above examples, I used UDFs as a means of tracking this non-business related information about the prospect or client. Depending upon the type of information, you might instead utilize Keywords or Personal Interests to track the data. Regardless of which of these you use, they are all searchable within Redtail CRM, allowing you to quickly access relevant clients and then contact them, either individually or in bulk.

    TIP_red.png If you are doubtful as to whether or not you will have time to make sure that you track all of these types of items that aren't directly related to your business relationships with your clients, you might consider using a voice dictation service such as Mobile Assistant, CopyTalk or VOICE2insight to enter Notes into Redtail. If taking this approach, you might even dictate two separate Notes about each meeting or interaction with your clients. The first could cover all business-related items and you or your assistant could simply use one click to add the dictation as a Note to the client's record once it shows up on your Dashboard. The second dictated Note could cover all of these other types of information that you mentally noted or jotted down during your meeting. Your assistant could then read these over and enter the data into appropriate UDFs, Keywords, Personal Interests or elsewhere within Redtail, with or without actually saving the Note after entering the data appropriately.


  • To sum up on Notes, you never know when a piece of information that may seem trivial at the time might present you with an opportunity at a later date to provide one of those personal touches that are so trust building and, yes, magical.

I hope the above gave you some ideas about areas where you can do more to place the focus upon your clients and prospects. In upcoming parts to this series, I'll take a look at how you can use Redtail to achieve differentiation in regard to:

  • SLAs and client expectations
  • summary letters and other client touches
  • keeping clients on track
  • keeping your team on track
  • timely giving of information
  • consistent messaging and service

 Part Two | Part Three

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