It’s tough to create a winning marketing and sales strategy if you don’t know how you’re perceived by your audience.

We know most firms understand their target audience, as they already have many of them as clients. They know what makes them tick, their common challenges and so on. All in all, you understand them well enough to really connect with them and add value to their lives.

But what about the ones that got away? Those ideal clients that for some reason go elsewhere; you often know very little about why they didn’t choose you. Perhaps until now.

What kind of feedback do you get from your existing clients? Plenty, I’m sure. Most of it probably relates to the delivery of your proposition, the difference you make to their lives and your fantastic service.

This is great and you should keep doing it.

The only thing is while this will tell you about your client experience (a key component of any marketing strategy), questions like these might not tell you much about your marketing overall.

To improve, you need to know what conceptual ‘walls’ your prospects encounter that prevent them from signing up with your firm.

So who are the best people to ask about these walls? The people who were deterred from your firm in the first place, right?

Not really…

The problem with asking people who decided not to buy is they’re an incredibly mixed bunch. Some of them would have been wrong for your firm in the first place. For instance, you might have had leads who wanted to get advice but your firm caters to a very wealthy client base so, to them, your fees may have seemed alarmingly high.

If you ask them for feedback about your marketing and sales, they will likely complain about price. Answers from people like this will skew your data. You want answers from genuine, qualified prospects. The kind of people who are right for your firm are your current clients.

The killer question

So what is the million dollar question to ask your existing clients?

It’s “what nearly stopped you from becoming a client of ours?”

This will tell you about all your major points of friction, the sticking points in your client journey where you’ll have lost ideal clients and - if you don’t do anything about them - will lose more.

Recent clients know what they’re talking about. They have had a lot of experience with your firm and have gone through your entire marketing and sales process - from being referred and finding out about your firm, to the initial meeting and signing up as a client.

Prospects you’ve lost, on the other hand, are far less likely to have an accurate perspective of your firm.

Even though your clients have overcome these friction points, they won’t have been oblivious to them. For every friction point a client identifies, there will have been others who will have been lost here. Asking this question will give you a deep insight into your firm’s sales process.

What answers can you expect?

Of course, the answers you receive will depend on your firm and how it operates. That said, there are a few common obstacles clients find when signing up. Here are some of the more frequent:

I didn’t know how much you charged

Most advisers don’t state their fees on their website and for some prospects this can be an important consideration. Disclosing fees is a challenge as rarely can they be compared on a like-for-like basis.

A lack of transparency over fees can mean your prospects are unclear about the value you deliver to clients. Normally, the fee discussion happens at the introductory meeting which may be too late for some prospects.

If this is a common answer to the question, it might be worth having a page on your website where your prices are shown or at least explain more about how you charge.

Your firm was smaller (or larger) than I expected

Some prospects feel more comfortable with larger, more corporate feeling firms than small advisory businesses. This is because - rightly or wrongly - some feel larger firms would be more accountable for the advice they give. They like the feeling that there is an overarching structure to the business.

That said, many prospects prefer firms with a more intimate, personal atmosphere. Having clients who like your firm’s atmosphere means they’ll most likely be a better fit for your firm. Prospects deciding to sign up with another firm because they prefer the atmosphere might suit that firm better than yours.

I initially found it difficult to speak to who I wanted

When prospects call an advice firm, very often the receptionist will answer and reply that the adviser they want to speak to is in a meeting and will call them back later. This is fine, providing the adviser responds in a timely manner. Any unnecessary delay will influence that prospect’s perception of your service.

I didn’t know if I was the right type of client

This isn't uncommon and is usually related to the client’s perception after visiting your website. If your clients are telling you this, work needs to be done on your online presence to ensure you align with your target audience.

Taking action

Whatever the response, the answers will provide you with opportunities to win more clients.

To fine-tune your marketing and sales strategy, you need detailed and accurate feedback as to how your business is perceived. Unless you know this, it’s difficult to improve.

Asking “what nearly stopped you from signing up with our firm?” means you’ll know exactly where these barriers lie. To rephrase the famous saying: if you don’t know what’s broke, you can’t fix it. Doing your utmost to get inside your clients’ experience is the right place to start.

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