Reach for the top

By Jeff Thorsteinson | June 1, 2006 | Last updated on June 1, 2006
6 min read

(June 2006) How well do you know your top clients? Do you know their names, their centres of influence, or the members of their families? What about their net worth, the amount of revenue they brought into your practice last year or the number of referrals they have brought in?

Most importantly, do you know why they’re your top clients?

Over the course of the past several years that I’ve been working with top performers, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to talk about top clients. In the course of these conversations, it’s become clear that there’s no standard or consensus about what makes this client an "A" client, and that client a "B" or "C" or even "D" client. Revenue is part of the equation — obviously, the more revenue the client brings in, the better the client. But there’s more to it than that.

I find this lack of clarity a little troublesome. Without a clear-cut understanding of why Client X is one of your top clients, it’s that much more difficult to go out looking for the second Client X, or the third. Conversely, without knowing exactly why you don’t like working with Client Y, you may find yourself bringing more Client Ys into your practice unknowingly.

With that in mind, here’s a simple client ranking system that will help you classify and segment your clients a little more accurately. By applying a quantifiable score to each client, you’ll be able to:

  • Identify which of your existing clients deserve more of your time and attention
  • Assess the basic level of satisfaction among your clients from year to year as you perform this exercise annually
  • Filter new opportunities, and define exactly what you’re looking for when you take on additional clients.

All of these are very valuable tools that will help you attract and retain more top clients.

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The "Client Value" score The central idea behind this system is that all clients have a given value in your practice — let’s call this their "client value." That value can be calculated by ranking each client in seven important categories. Within each category, you will give the client a score of 1 to 10. If you have 5 categories to your segmentation, then the maximum score for each client would be 50.

I’ve listed some of the important categories below, along with questions that will help you determine a score for each of your clients.

Remuneration Obviously, clients who bring more money into the practice are more valuable than clients who bring little. That said, there might be a distinction to be made based on whether that revenue is dependable and steady, or sporadic and seasonal. What about the potential for future remuneration? Business owners would score higher here, as would a younger member of a wealthy family.

  • Does the client meet your standards for minimum profitability?
  • Does the client bring steady revenue into the practice? Or is it more sporadic, or perhaps seasonal (RRSP season)?
  • Does the client have the potential to bring more money into the practice sometime in the future?

"Hassle factor" It doesn’t matter how much money the client brings in, if dealing with their requests means tremendous hassle, then they are not profitable.

  • Does the client make extraordinary demands on you or your team?
  • Is the client known for unreasonable requests?
  • Does the client respect your time, or is he/she constantly late for meetings, phone calls, etc.?
  • Do you spend a lot of your time "babysitting" the client, or fixing the client’s financial mistakes?

Potential to refer If you want to build your business on referrals, this is a key consideration when scoring clients. The most valuable client of all is a client who willingly recommends your services to friends and family. Clients who send referrals when you ask score high; clients who send them without your asking score higher. Best of all is the client who is a "centre of influence" — a member of an influential professional group, or community association, for example — who passes your name on to colleagues and associates in that group.

  • How many quality referrals has the client sent your way in the past year?
  • Is the client responsive to your "calls for referrals?"
  • Does the client refer you without being asked?
  • Is the client a member of a larger group (a professional or business association, a charity, a community board) that could lead to larger referrals?

Professional challenge Looking back, chances are you are who you are because your clients have challenged you. On the flip side, it’s boring doing the same thing all of the time. Clients who require complex strategies or stretch the boundaries of your professional knowledge score higher than a client who asks for nothing more than the same thing year in, year out.

  • Do the client’s needs require you to broaden your knowledge of investment products or strategies?
  • Do you feel a sense of accomplishment when managing the client’s affairs?
  • Have you been able to take a solution from this client and replicate it with others in your book?

Partner or order-taker? Most professionals want to work with clients who are partners in the effort to build wealth. These clients recognize the value of professional advice, and consider themselves team members in the effort to develop a winning financial strategy. Clients who view you as an order-taker, simply asking you to execute their trades without input from you, are not as valuable.

  • Does the client respect your opinion and value your advice?
  • How much influence do you have over the client? Will the client follow your advice when asked?
  • Does the client freely offer personal or financial information that will help you do your job?

Long-term strategic fit When we’re just starting out in the business, it can be tempting to take on any client. Only after time does it become clear that the client doesn’t fit in with your long-term business objectives.

  • Does the client fit into your long-term business plan?
  • Does the client offer the potential for future business growth?
  • Is the client a candidate for services you’re looking to offer in the future?

Disposition/personality We all want to work with positive people. Clients whom we genuinely enjoy working with should be valued more than clients who bring a black cloud with them when they visit the practice.

  • Is the client generally upbeat and excited about the future?
  • Is the client enthusiastic about the work you’ve done for them?
  • How does the client treat other members of your team?
  • If you met the client in a non-professional setting, would you be inclined to stop and chat with him/her?

You can easily modify this system by adding additional categories. Perhaps, if insurance is a large part of your business, you’ll want to add a category that ranks clients based on their present and future need for insurance. Or maybe it’s important to you that the client share your personal values. You could easily add a category and score clients according to their "fit" with your values.

The beauty of this system is that it allows you to compare clients with very different backgrounds, and objectively judge their value to your practice. Just because Client X doesn’t have a high net worth today, for example, he may still be a very valuable client because of the quality referrals he passes your way regularly. Conversely, even though Client Y is very wealthy, and brings in a lot of revenue to your practice, he is only a "B" client, because he primarily sees you as an order-taker, and has yet to refer you to anybody.

This simple system will give you a quick, easy way to manage the "people" part of your business. Filter your clients through this scoring system, and determine which ones to "duplicate." Conversely, establish a bottom client value, below which the client is dropped or referred to a colleague who could find more value in the client. Either way, you’ll be in a better position to build the practice you’ve always wanted.

Jeff Thorsteinson is the creator of the YouFoundation, an organization that helps investment advisors advisors build world-class practices through innovative concepts, tools, and systems since 1993. With over 3,000 investment advisor marketing projects and business cases behind him, Jeff has become a well respected speaker in the industry and over the last 3 years, delivered his practice-building programs to thousands of financial advisors throughout Canada. Contact or 1 800-223-9332, ext. 1, for more information about YouFoundation, or visit the website at


Jeff Thorsteinson