As we continue our series considering how to convert suspects into prospects, prospects into clients and clients into advocates, we’re going to look at creating great first impressions.

    We’ll focus on your office and the physical client experience, and how getting it right breeds confidence in prospective clients.

    When I first started out as an ‘adviser’ way back in 1995 this wasn’t a problem.

    We spent most of our time in the car, A-Z maps to hand, as we made our way from one client’s house to another.

    A client visiting us in the office was almost unheard of and caused extreme suspicion; that’s what mystery shoppers do, right?

    Fast forward 25 years and things have changed.

    Obvious exceptions aside, it’s now unusual for financial planners to meet with clients in their own home.

    There are obvious benefits to this, not least in terms of efficiency. However, it does mean you’ve got to make the right impression.

    Making life easy

    Both existing and potential clients should arrive at your office feeling relaxed and in the right frame of mind for the meeting.

    Prospective clients probably won’t have visited your office before, so you need to make their life easy. That means:

    • Asking how they will travel to your office and sending appropriate (and accurate!) directions
    • If they are driving, making it clear where they should park
    • If you have dedicated parking, label it clearly. You could even put out personalised welcome signs. I know several firms who do that and it’s a nice touch

    As we’ve said a few times in this series, the small things matter.

    Think about where your staff are parking. I know one firm where the managing director insisted on parking in a visitors space because it was the spot closest to the office door.

    On another occasion, I remember arriving to meet a ‘leading industry figure’ at his offices, only to see his car (the private plate gave it away) parked in a disabled spot. Neither instance is likely to make a great first impression.

    A great reception 

    As we said last time, the prospect will probably spend some time in your reception area.

    Naturally you’re not going to keep them waiting long, but nevertheless, it’s an ideal opportunity to reassure them that they’re in the right place.

    That means having testimonials and case studies available rather than that day’s newspapers or, even worse, copies of our trade press.

    Why would you offer your prospects the opportunity to hear good things about other firms, or negative stories about the profession? You shouldn’t.

    After a short wait in reception, they will then be shown through to the room where you'll meet with them.

    I’m no expert in non-verbal communication, I leave that to experts such as Brian Hill.

    But I do know you’ve got to get this room right - after all, it’s where the magic happens!

    It should go without saying that the space must be private.

    I've seen a handful of planners meet with clients in rooms occupied by support staff, which is hardly conducive to private conversations.

    With privacy established, I’d suggest you then think about the type of conversation you’re going to have, and set the room up accordingly.

    Different types of meetings will need different furniture.

    At times conversations like the first meeting will be informal, and might be more relaxed with easy chairs or sofas.

    Other meetings will be more formal, for example where you are completing paperwork or looking at reports. These might require a table.

    Consequently, you might need two meeting rooms, or else a single room with two distinct areas, which is how my financial planner does it.

    When deciding on furniture, think about the age of your clients and how they might prefer to sit for potentially lengthy meetings.

    What works for you might not be suitable for someone 20, 30 or even 40 years older.

    Think too about décor.

    I’m no interior designer either, but you do need to think about what’s on your walls.

    I’ve seen a variety of things; the Timeline poster that illustrates risk and return over time is a perennial favourite, as are Carl Richard’s sketches.

    Both are thought-provoking and will re-enforce points you’re bound to make in the meeting.

    However, I can’t help feeling that many firms are missing a trick by not showcasing their work in their office.

    If you’ve got testimonials, case studies and videos on your website, why not take it a step further to show these off in your office too?

    Get your tech right

    We can then turn to more practical things.

    At some point, you’re probably going to be asked for your Wi-Fi code.

    Very little looks more unprofessional or breaks the flow of a meeting than you, and other members of your team, hunting high and low for the scruffy post-it note upon which the password is written.

    Instead have it to hand, perhaps putting the details in a small frame on the table.

    Again, the small things make a difference.

    This leads us to a wider point; make sure your tech works:

    • If you know the Wi-Fi is dodgy in part of the office, fix it
    • If you’re going to use a screen at some point, make sure everyone can see it
    • If you’re accessing websites which are password-protected, make sure they’re easily accessible.

    Don’t forget the smallest room

    It isn’t just your meeting rooms and reception area which clients will see. Lengthy meetings and your excellent refreshments mean they may be forced to take a trip to your bathroom.

    Walk in their shoes:

    • What do they see on the journey to and from the meeting room?
    • What’s the experience like when they go to the bathroom?

    I’ve seen some bathrooms which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a West End hotel, others though are awful.

    I recall one which doubled as the cleaner’s cupboard. Another (I wish I could remember where it was) had a chart informing me graphically whether or not I was dehydrated. That’s taking looking after my wellbeing to a whole other level!

    Overall, I’ve sat in the offices of hundreds of planners. Some are great and thoughtfully put together. Others are awful, nothing works, and it’s a poor experience for me, let alone a client.

    The best offices are effortless, where everything just seems to work:

    • The office is easy to find, and parking isn’t a problem
    • The reception area is calm, private and thoughtfully put together with appropriate reading material
    • Refreshments are delivered efficiently and accurately, with multiple options to cater for all tastes and intolerances
    • The meeting rooms are aligned to the type of meeting taking place
    • The technology works, the Wi-Fi code and passwords are to hand. It’s slick, in the best sense of the word.

    Remember, long after the meeting has finished it’s the experience and how you made prospective clients feel that they will remember.

    Getting it right breeds confidence, increases conversion rates and ultimately improves advocacy.

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