Forget high assets, focus on high-value relationships (includes bonus tools!)

By Joanne Ferguson | April 29, 2004 | Last updated on April 29, 2004
5 min read

(May 2004) Before you go chasing after elusive millionaire prospects, have you asked yourself if you’ve maximized your existing client relationships? There is definite potential for more within your own book — the key is focusing on richer relationships with your clients and their families.

Think about those relationships in your current client base that aren’t where you want them to be. And then think about your most valued “A” or “A+” clients. Ask yourself:

  • What are the characteristics of these high-value relationships?
  • What adjectives describe them?
  • How do these clients view you?
  • What makes each of these relationships work?
  • What happens when you are in an effective relationship with your clients?

High and low

In a transactional relationship, you pay most attention to the product or the deal that solves the client’s strategic or tactical problems. However, transactional relationships suffer from competitive pressures, low-value comparisons and a mindset that “you are only as good as your last deliverable.”

In high-value relationships, being partners with clients in success takes precedence over any individual deal. The focus is on the client and what is most important for them. You might offer special arrangements or make concessions on an individual situation if it will help the overall relationship.

In a transactional relationship, you “sell a product/trade.” In a high-value relationship, you “create value/engage.” As the facilitator of what is most important to the client, you navigate to deliver on the highest values, leading to mutually satisfying results — results that build greater trust, more referrals and stronger future relationships.

Make the most of meetings

Don’t make the decision for your client before you start a meeting. As you meet or speak with existing clients, try to eliminate your personal preoccupations. You must place your focus on your client and his issues, not your own.

During your meeting you want to:

  • Uncover or reveal your client’s real concerns;
  • Determine your client’s priorities;
  • Identify what it will take to provide mutually satisfying results;
  • Clarify your client’s overall mission and goals; and
  • Determine the gap between where client is now and his destination (and act as the compass to ensure that they get there).

Setting context

When you set context in a high-value relationship, you are clarifying that you are the facilitator of what is most important to the other person, in relation to the result you are both aligning to.

At the beginning of every contact with your client, establish context by:

  • Clarifying the purpose of your meeting and any request that needs to be made (e.g., time you need, kind of information you need, etc.);
  • Explaining the picture or desired outcome of the meeting (aligned with a mutual goal);
  • Clarifying the plan for the meeting (the words and phrases you use to present yourself and your team and how you frame the conversation — for example, permission to ask questions); and
  • Clarifying your (and your team’s) role and responsibilities and those of your client.

Concentrate on concern

The most important part of your client interaction is to reveal their concerns. You can do so by asking some simple questions:

  • What makes you think that?
  • When you say X, what do you mean?
  • What do you like about this?
  • What concerns you?
  • How does this affect you (or others) when it is X?

Revealing concerns is the process of getting to what is most important to the client. The use of powerful questions will uncover the hierarchy of what is most important to the other person (i.e., their highest values) — this will be in the form of feelings and opinions, not facts. Opinions are like the dust out of a volcano — they alert you to hotter, more important issues that may not be visible.

People make decisions not on their opinions but based on the meaning they give their opinions. How they order or prioritize the meaning gives advisors access to the motivational factors that will have highest influence in their clients’ buying process.

Establishing commitment

In a high-value relationship, both parties need to commit to each other. Ask your client to make a commitment to take action based on his role and responsibilities. Below are some examples of commitment requests.

Example of a commitment request to meet with a client:

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“Based on my understanding of what you are trying to achieve with your retirement goals, I believe we can work together to attain the results you are looking for. When can we meet?”

Example of a commitment request to a client to recommend a conversion to a fee-based product:

“Based on your evaluation of this proposal and the goals that the two of us are committed to, are you prepared to convert to this new platform to move forward with your plan without reservation?”

Example of a commitment request to prepare a proposal regarding a change for an existing client:

“If I can present to you a proposal that will demonstrate how you can work toward meeting your goals, will you and your partner be prepared to invest in this outcome?”

Getting started with your clients

Here are four steps to help you up the value quotient in your existing book of business:

1. Take time to review your current book. Identify those relationships that are not where you want them to be. Describe to a team member a situation with a particular client that shows how the relationship isn’t working. What are your desired outcomes of this relationship? How have you tried to build this relationship in the past?

2. Track your progress. Create a system (using a spreadsheet or word-processing program) to monitor those relationships you are looking to change and the growth in your existing client assets.

3. Set a review date. Discuss the results as a team — review activities monthly and review results quarterly.

4. Celebrate your successes. Evaluate the relationships and growth of your business after six months and one year.

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To improve the types of questions you ask your clients (therefore extracting more valuable information and priorities), click here for a Questioning Strategy Tipsheet.

To help you focus on the client and not the deal, click here for a High-Value Relationship Client Meeting Checklist.

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Tip: Are you and your team looking to take the above tools and concepts to the next level? One effective way is to simulate client situations using actors. Check out for more information.

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Joanne Ferguson is a partner with Ontario-based Advisor Pathways, a company that offers consulting and coaching help to advisors and their firms across Canada. Joanne can be reached at or through her company’s Web site at


Joanne Ferguson