tips for client segmentation

(Runtime: 19 min, 16 sec; size: 26.4 MB)

It’s hard to balance a big client roster with limited time in the business day. Client segmentation is an effective strategy to narrow in on where your client time is actually going and who your ideal client is. It’s a fail-proof way to prioritize time for the right clients.

In this episode: Amal Masri, Senior Business Development Manager at Sun Life, and Emile McLean, formerly the Director of Strategic Business Development at Sun Life, share their tips for doing client segmentation properly. They’ll discuss a simple 4-step strategy and share resources that you can use as well.
© Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada 2019

Text Transcript

Amal: You’re listening to Advisor Insights, brought to you by Sun Life. I’m a Amal Masri. I’m on the Strategic Business Development team and we coach advisors on how to run a profitable practice. Today’s podcast is about client segmentation. This show is for you if you regularly walk into your office with your head spinning, because you have a long list of calls to return and fires to put out. It’s for you if you’re grinding hard and still can’t find time to see your best clients, if you’re getting stuck in the trenches with small accounts, if your team has dropped the ball one too many times on important clients. If you’re listening to this, it sounds familiar, if you just have that feeling in your stomach of an, oh, “that’s me”. Then you have got to get crystal clear on the exact amount of value every client is bringing to your business. My guest Emile McLean helps Canada’s most successful advisors tighten up their books, so their top clients are thrilled with their service. So there’s less chaos in the office and their work days are shorter. Emile, thank you for joining us today.

Emile: Happy to be here. Thanks Amal.

Amal: I’m excited to pick your brain today because you’re what I think of as a triple threat in the business world. You served as a Director of Practice Management on the Strategic Business Development team. In this role you solve business problems for major advisors on a regular basis. And then you’re also an entrepreneur in your own right. You’ve built several profitable businesses, and on top of that you founded a non-profit start-up incubator. So, my first question for you is: why do you hate sleeping?

Emile: [laughs] I’m just really passionate about doing business and that’s why I like working with the advisors. The thing that I always joke about with people that I talked to and network with, is, that I like to cheat. And what I mean by that is I work my 9-to-5, and the salary that I generate, I take that as an investment and I invest in other entrepreneurial ventures. My goal is to retire by the time I’m 50, so in order to do that, I feel that I’m not going to be able to accomplish that by doing my 9-to-5. So that’s why I’ve created some other ventures to help me get to my goal. It actually bodes well for my relationships with advisors, because I really understand where they’re coming from. I understand the grind of owning a business, I own a couple, partnering with other individuals. And I use my learnings to really share with advisors on how they can improve their practice as well.

Amal: Yeah, I’ve seen that your experience building businesses gives you this extra layer of empathy of what advisors are going through. And as you travel the country consulting for some of the real heavy hitters, you’ve encountered some sticky problems that they’re grappling with. Specifically, because we’re talking about client management today, what do you see as the biggest issue that advisors have?

Emile: I think one of the biggest challenges that I see are advisors spending [too much] time to really dissect their book and the clients that they work with. And the challenge is nailing down that client segmentation, so really understanding your what your A, B and C client groups are. And creating a service model that helps you understand, not only yourself, but your team, everyone understands how you engage in segments and the amount of time you should spend on those Clients.

Amal: Let’s pretend that I’m a really cynical advisor. I’ve been there, I’ve done that [and] I’ve heard it all. Tired of young folks telling you what to do. How would you persuade me to segment my book?

Emile: There’s a few reasons why you need to do it. First of all, it creates a better client experience. So if you think about your “A” clients, the clients that you really love working with and should devote most of your time to, when you put that segmentation in place and you really understand who you should be working with and that service model, they just get a better experience overall. They understand what you bring to the table, they understand what their service levels are.  While your “C” clients, there are some clients that maybe we wish we didn’t have to spend as much time with. If we’re really regimented with our service model, again in understanding who they are, they’re still going to feel like they get serviced because your team understands how much to engage them, but you’re not giving them the same amount of time and quality of service that some of your “A” list clients should be getting. It actually helps you become more efficient with your time. So the more time that you create, or create by having that service model in place, the more time you have to building your business.

Amal: Yeah, it’s about a fair exchange of value and the thing with [that] energy [and value] is that it’s really reciprocal. You really enjoy working with someone, they probably really enjoy working with you. So it’s a better experience all around. And you need that. As an advisor, you got into the business not because at your core you love helping people. So if you don’t have that, if you don’t have a considerable amount of exposure to those clients that help you enjoy what you do, you’re going to run out of energy and passion for what you do and it’s just not sustainable.

Emile: I totally agree with that. And what I’ve seen with some of the most successful advisors that I work with is, whether they have 100 clients that they work with, or a hundred households to over 1000; the word is that the ones who are really confident about who they work with, and who they don’t work with, are the ones who have a segmentation model in place. They’re not the ones that you see or you have a conversation with, saying, I keep attracting this certain type of client. And I’d rather work with business owners then, let’s say, young families. But I keep attracting young families. That is usually a source of a few things. But one of the solutions to that is understanding who you want to work with, and who you should pay less attention to, based on your business.

Amal: What are some of the things you hear from advisors on why they don’t do this?

Emile: One of the biggest things that I hear is “I just don’t have time” or “I don’t know where to start”. And depending on the age of the practice, some of the advisors that have been in the business for, 15, 20 plus years, a lot of them are still paper based. So when you say “do you have the data” or “what data you have to work with to segment your clients”, they point to a room filled with files and folders that are from floor to ceiling high. So it is a challenge if you don’t have your client information in some type of technical solution like an Excel sheet or CRM. So the time factor and just not knowing where to start, which are the biggest hurdles. And some advisors just haven’t even thought about it. They’re comfortable with operating how they operate today, and they don’t realize that they could be more efficient. They could create more opportunities by segmenting your book and creating that engagement model.

Amal: Yeah, being completely overwhelmed or at capacity all the time has become their normal. So it’s hard to really step back and think, “you know there’s actually a different way of doing this”. Going back to those file rooms, we’ve both had experiences of stepping into those rooms. And I gotta be honest. They scare me. It seems so incredibly daunting to me and I actually have a lot of empathy for the staff that has to deal with managing those files.

Emile: For sure, it is a challenge. I’ll give an example of a practice that I went into where I asked, “how are you segmenting your clients?” The answer [was] “we’re not”. And I said “Okay, well, let’s look at how we can do that”, or “how many clients do you have?” And the advisor said, “I don’t know. 500? 600?” Okay, so how can we start mining that data? You look at the system and 300 of the clients are an Excel sheet, the other 300 are in a filing cabinet. So the place that I would start is just really understanding and getting as much data as you can in one place as possible. If it is all paper based then, okay, let’s go through the stacks of paper and start sifting through the people that you know, your clients and just start somewhere and start making those piles. A, B, C. Three tiers. Let’s start there.

Amal: Yeah, the method of organizing clients actually reminds me of people’s approach to having a calendar. Some people are really paper based. Some people like their outlook. Everyone has a different way of doing it. But as long as the method you are using works for you, then it’s valid.

Emile: There’s no magic way of doing it. I’m a tech geek, so I’m a big fan of CRM technology. It’s the most efficient way you could go about splitting up and understanding your client data. But like you said, if we prefer the paper based, we can do that too. The second step would be to identify what those tiers are. An easy place to start is Assets Under Management (AUM) or Assets Under Administration (AUA). Your client’s life stage. Are they young families? Are they business owners? Are they looking to retire? Another good factor to really segment your clients on is referable network. You have clients that are really engaged, they’re connected with the community. Maybe they get a high score because there’s a great possibility, the more relationships you build with those individuals more business you can garner through just naturally being referred. And then obviously share of wallet. Are you one of three advisors that are consulting with these clients? What does your professional network look like? Are you connected with their lawyers or accountants? That’s another referral network. So the more that you get involved in their world, you know, that might be a high score for you because the connections can lead to other connections.

Amal: One thing that I’ve seen is a lot of advisors will involve their whole team in the segmentation process. Because a lot of times it’s your staff that have a lot of insights into what it takes to service clients and what their characteristics are. So I’ve had some advisors take a spreadsheet, maybe it’s generated from your CRM. What some advisors will do is they’ll have their assistants actually go through and rank their clients and then it’s already pretty well organized and there is a relatively clear picture of the hierarchy. So when an advisor comes in, it’s just a matter of fine tuning it and adding their own detail to that spreadsheet or to that analysis. So in terms of an advisor, this can actually be a pretty light lift if your staff is plugged into your client service.

Emile: Definitely. The next step that I would recommend is really going through the exercise of – once you’ve once you’ve actually segmented – pick the attributes that you want to rank people by. You’ve now bucketed them. So you have a A, B, C. “A” is obviously your ideal client set. “C” are maybe people that you value but are not at the stage where you should probably be dedicating a lot of time to them. The next step would be to create that engagement model. So if you’re an advisor who has staff. Multiple advisors within your practice, associated advisors, it’s very important that you create an engagement model so everyone understands how to engage these clients. So, you know, if your “A” clients, they’re getting an in-person meeting for you twice a year. Your “C” clients, you know, maybe it’s a video conference meeting once a year just to check in. They’re not, probably, you know, at the point where it’s worthwhile you driving an hour at a time out of town to go see them in person. We were looking at, you know, holiday season, some of your clients may get a really personable or personal gift or gesture from you. Whereas, maybe some interesting clients get a card. Just understanding how to engage in the amount of time they spend with those clients that engagement model is important. As I mentioned before, it comes down to being efficient with your time, creating a good client experience. And if you have that engagement model in place and everyone on board, there’s consistency and everyone understands what gets an exchange for being a client of yours. And the team knows how to serve those services to clients appropriately and you get consistent service across the board.

Amal: I think consistency is a million-dollar word there. When it comes to client service, it’s all about consistency. You might be someone who does a birthday card every single year to every client. You might be an advisor who would never do that. You’d never go for that. But the idea is if you do it one year you’re going to do it the next year because your clients will know what to expect from you.

Emile: For sure. I totally agree with that.

Amal: And that’s the beauty of this client segmentation, is that so much of your business and your plan for year, I guess, clarify your client service model as you mentioned, is clarified, but also your marketing plan. It becomes pretty intuitive how you’re going to reach your “B” clients versus your C’s or your A’s after you see the segments.

Emile: For sure. And in fact, there is a tool that Sun Life has created that helps advisors getting started. So for people listening to this podcast today who are looking for some tools, a nice quick and dirty tool that we’ve created is an Excel sheet that helps you identify your clients and then pick the attributes on how you want to rank them. And the tool is really handy. It helps you get started. And the best way to access that is for advisors to contact your Sun Life wholesaler because they have access to it. It’s free. And you know advisors who use it today and it’s helped

Amal: You can also access that tool at and you’ll find that too, as well as a few others to get you started on your client segmentation and client service model.


Okay, so I’m sold. If I sit down and if I do this work, what benefits can I expect.

Emile: So the benefits that you gain from segmenting your book, establishing that engagement model with your clients, there’s a few things there. First one is the clients get to understand what they get in exchange for doing business with you. The client experience will be a lot better because they start to understand your cadence and understand what they get in return. The client experience is more consistent. And what that’s going to allow you to do is when your team has more sense of organization, how to treat clients and they’ll be more efficient. And by you being more efficient and managing clients based on where they fit in your segmentation, you’re naturally going to create more time. You’ll be more efficient, which creates more time and space and energy free to focus on other aspects in your business. And I would say time is money, like the cliche goes, and that time allows you to become more profitable.

So just to recap, clients get a better experience. They get to understand what they get in exchange for your services. It helps create ownership with your team. If you have a multi-advisor practice with admin staff, everyone across the board understands how to engage the clients and you become more efficient, which will result in profit because you’re going to be creating more time to work on.

Amal: Yeah, this isn’t just a client segmentation tool. It’s a recipe for scaling your business. What I also like about it is that it’s so empowering to your team. Once your team knows the value of every client, once you know what service model to assign to every client, they are then empowered to independently respond to their needs and are not always looking to you for direction. Which means that now you have more time to work on the business instead of working inside the business managing your team.

Emile: One of the biggest flaws I see with advisors who do use CRM is we’re just using it as a black book right now. So we’re just storing client phone numbers, email addresses, but we can get to a point, or we’re at a point now, where technology can be used to add a lot of additional benefits such as sending emails out to all of your clients who have been personalized. If your data is up to date then, you know, you’re just clicking a button and it’s going out to everyone and they’re getting the message that they should be getting based on the information you have versus you sending out you know letters or emails individually. If you’re backing up all of your notes into the CRM, it’s a great way for you to just quickly recall were you left off with your clients. So if you’re looking at that C-level client, you haven’t talked to that individual for unfortunately maybe one and a half to two years. If you have the CRM in place, it’s just quickly pulling it up on your phone, you can pick up where you left off. And I went back to that consistent experience you know, if you’re on point with your files, your data, from the client’s perspective you really have your stuff together. But, you know, really what you just did is pull up their information on the phone, but I believe there’s some other Sun life resources that can help as well.

Amal: Yeah. So we actually have our own clients segmentation tool that again, you can access at And this tool, as Emile mentioned, allows you to segment your clients. Not just on their objective attributes but also on the subjective attributes that really do make an impact on your business. If you’re interested in a client service model, maybe you’d like to really improve what you have, or you want some tips to get started. We also have a video tutorial on how to create a client service model that you can launch and a template that you can use to get started. So it’s very seamless. You can go from using that tool, to watching the tutorial, to creating a client service model and in the space of a few days, you can go from what I politely call organized chaos to being more of a finely tuned machine

If you’re interested in any of these resources you can find them in the description of the podcast, below. So they’re right there, just click on those links and get started. Thank you for listening and thank you Emile for joining us today.

Emile: Thanks for having me out Amal. Happy to talk about client segmentation and hopefully you’ve inspired the listeners to start segmenting your book.

Amal: That was the Emile McLean who served as Practice Management Director of the Strategic Business Development team at Sun Life. And me, your host them Amal Masri, who is also on the Strategic Business Development team. We really appreciate you listening. And again, check out the resources we mentioned either in the description box below or at