From a client’s perspective, the relationship we have with our financial adviser is one of the most important relationships we’ll have in our lives. It can facilitate freedom, offer peace of mind and, at the risk of sounding like Walt Disney, turn dreams into reality.

    And from an adviser or planner’s perspective, working with a great client - where you can add lots of value, where you’re doing the kind of work you love, where the client is happy to pay your fees - often means that you get lots of good referrals from their peer group, so everyone wins.

    Therefore, I believe it’s worth investing your time up front and focusing on the ingredients that make for great client relationships. However, I noticed that a number of my clients were spending a long time over a discovery meeting for it to go… nowhere. 

    Or else they were doing a lot of upfront work for very little money. 

    And sometimes they were getting frustrated by clients whose style and approach to life didn’t match theirs.

    I’ve been working with a range of firms to help put processes in place so that they gain clarity over who are ideal and not so ideal and where they draw the line. And then skilling up the team so that more of the staff can hold these initial calls confidently and effectively.

    Here’s a glimpse into what we discuss…

    Who should handle this initial call?

    For some firms it’s the advisers or planners. This makes sense if the lead has come in via referral. But if they are busy and looking to build the skills and capacities in others – then it may be better handled by paraplanners or administrators.

    What’s really important is that whoever is talking to the prospect has a good handle on what the firm’s ideal clients look and sound like, can ask good questions and listen and probe. But also represent your firm and its values competently and confidently.

    Have a clear picture of your ideal clients

    You can only effectively screen if you know what an ideal client looks like. Here are some considerations:

    •     Their objectives (type of work/time horizons/level of complexity – interesting enough for you or too complex to make much money on?)
    •     Assets (are they in the right wealth bracket?)
    •     Characteristics (clear vision/solid plan?)
    •     Their background/position (might you share this?)
    •     Motivation (why wouldn’t they do it themselves?)
    •     Relationship with you (how much contact do they want/how much control do they want?)
    •     Temperament (can they hold nerve? Do they seem pleasant?

    It’s very rare that a client will be referred who meets precisely all your criteria. So what are your must-haves and what can you be more relaxed about? If they don’t have the assets but have a clear vision, would you take a punt?

    Or if they have the assets but seem overbearing, should you take them on? There no doubt will be some clients who you took a punt on and it worked out. And you’ll make some exceptions – perhaps family members of particularly good clients.

    Arranging the call 

    Managing expectations from the start is key. You don’t want to go into lengthy technical explanations or get drawn into asking their questions around annuities or drawdowns at this stage. Specifying a duration of around 20 minutes and its purpose being about determining fit are key elements.

    Here’s how it might sound:

    “Thanks for getting in touch. Do you have any availability during Tuesday afternoon for a 20-minute video call with xxx (adviser/planner)? 

    We’d love to know more about you and what you’re hoping to achieve with your money. It’s a top line conversation, so you don’t need to have detailed financial information to hand at this stage.

    Unfortunately, we can’t always help everyone and we find a brief conversation can help us both determine if we’re a good fit.”

    An initial call structure 

    Conversations don’t often go in straight lines, but it can be helpful to have a loose structure in mind such as:

    •     Introductions  
    •     Politely probe
    •     Listen for red and green flags
    •     Paraphrase
    •     Answer their questions
    •     Your set pieces
    •     Conclusions: next steps or not

    Next step

    If you’d like to progress, it may sound like this:

    “I’ve enjoyed our conversation. It sounds like there could be opportunities to help each other.  So if you like what you’ve heard, then I’d suggest we meet up and go into more detail.”

    But if you don’t want to proceed it may sound like this:

    “Thanks for your time. I’m afraid I don’t think there’s a good fit between your needs and our expertise. However, there are other firms who are well placed to help you and whose fee structure would be more appropriate. We have produced a checklist so you can ask the right questions which I can send you if that would be helpful.”

    In summary, putting the effort in at the start of a relationship, pays great dividends. As the Irish proverb says: A good beginning is half the work.

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