(May 2008) The most common question I get from financial advisors is “how should I grow my business?”

This is a vital consideration since businesses that aren’t growing are likely losing ground. Future growth is a challenge because many of the traditional techniques advisors know about are less effective today.

More Shawn OBrien columns:

  • Why buy a cow?
  • Watch your language
  • Understanding clients and helping clients understand
  • Walk in the shoes of your best clients
  • Do you have a brand?
  • The Puf Principle
  • How do you earn trust?
  • Do your clients know the "new" you?
  • Before we determine the best use of your marketing money and effort, it pays to examine the current mindset of your prospective clients. What do they want? What do they need? The answers to these questions are essential. The key to effective marketing is understanding your prospects’ stressors. You can’t remove this stress unless you first understand it.

    Surveys I have conducted over the past two years show a number of wants or desires clients have in common.

    Expertise: Clients want to feel that you, their advisor, can provide the expertise needed to meet their current and evolving circumstances.

    Personal touch: Many clients today feel as though they are only one among many. You probably know the feeling yourself. They don’t expect to feel as though they are your only client, but to attract clients over other advisors, you need to proactively maintain a standard of personal contact.

    Understanding: Clients want to be listened to and understood. They want the opportunity to speak and ask questions. Clients often complain that their advisors were born with two mouths and no ears.

    Language: Language can alienate clients. It is essential that you speak to them in a language they understand.

    Objectivity: Advisors often confuse objectivity and independence. Clients want a sense that your recommendations are based on what is best for them.

    Based on this, a number of client needs can be derived from their list of stated desires:

    Predictability: Comfort comes with consistency and familiarity. To foster trust, your clients need your service to be reliable and predictable.

    Coordination: They want you to be an expert, but clients don’t expect you to be an expert in all disciplines. They need a financial advisor who simplifies their overall plan but who augments their expertise with the expertise of other professionals. In fact they prefer if their advisor is not a “jack of all trades.”

    Intellectual framework: I have never heard a client say, “I love it when my advisor continually changes his mind.” They don’t always say it, but there is no question they want to know how and why you do what you do.

    Discipline: Clients need you to manage their money with discipline. It is quite common that clients want you to change your mind (especially in volatile markets), but inherently they know the relationship should be managed with a governing philosophy.

    Upon examination of these determined client needs and wants, what approach do you feel is best for the future of your business? Should you work on your internal processes with like-minded prospects or market externally for strangers?

    Unless you haven’t built critical mass — a sufficient base of clients and assets — the answer seems obvious. Why spend money and effort on strangers when you can expedite success by leveraging the goodwill you have already established with existing clients?

    Next: Target marketing is dead!