You know about the importance of a value proposition. It is how to describe the unique benefits of working with you. It is the first thing you say to someone to differentiate yourself from other financial advisors. It is the cornerstone of a financial advisor marketing plan.
But once clients sign up with you, what do you deliver to them that fulfills the promise that your value proposition makes? How easy is it for the client to relate one to the other? Once you have taken a client far into your process what will remind them of the original description you gave them of the outcome you deliver?
One of the most perplexing issues we ever uncovered in a client advisory board was for a financial firm that takes pride in the sophistication of its financial plans. They conducted a client survey that included the question “my financial plan is regularly updated” with the multiple-choice answers yes, no, and I don’t know. Strikingly, a significant portion of their top clients answered “I don’t know.”
Consider this is a firm that spends a lot of time on the phone with their clients. They are constantly looking at what is going on in the economy, with the tax laws, and taking all kinds of other things into account in considering how it would affect their clients. And so they are probably updating client plans internally as often as a couple times a year. How is it possible that a significant number of people did not know when their plan was updated? So we asked the client advisory board about it.
It turns out it was a simple matter of labeling. One of the planners had a habit of putting “plan update” at the top of the document in which he had adjusted the client’s projections for all of the variables they consider. And his clients had no question about when their plans were last updated.
As a result of that insight at the client advisory board meeting, they instituted a formal process for asking clients about anything that would affect their plan in preparation of a review meeting and send a formal follow-up document that updates clients on their status. All it took to confirm that they were delivering on their value proposition was providing the client a document with the right title.
Sam is an advisor with a CPA/PFS. Much of what makes him different is the depth of tax analysis he does. Based on that level of skill, he regularly recommends strategies other advisors would not know how to suggest. And by doing so he saves his clients thousands of dollars. But he had a challenge – despite all of his unique work, he wasn’t getting any referrals.
So we took apart his process. He was clear up front about describing his unique expertise. In his positioning statement he talked about how his clients benefit from his tax saving strategies. So far, so good. Then we looked at his deliverables. And guess what we found.
We found that Sam delivered the same basic documents that other advisors give their clients. In his case it was an eMoney plan and an IPS.
On the sample client files we reviewed, we asked about what special strategies he utilized to make the most out of tax opportunities. On some there were no big opportunities to do anything creative. Fair enough. Not everyone will have the right situation to leverage a creative solution. But there were three or four we reviewed where Sam executed a strategy that delivered a significant benefit. One of them involved a charitable trust. Another involved low basis stock. And so we asked what he delivered to the client to show them the benefit. “Oh, we use the same plan we always use. We just explained the strategy verbally and then helped them execute it.”
This is where Sam missed a big opportunity. Sure the client was excited about saving all that money, and probably told a few people about it at the time. But that was years ago. Now, they have no reminder of how Sam’s expertise saved them so much money. They have no memory hook they can refer back to. They have nothing they can describe to friends who may have a similar need except what they might remember of the specifics of their situation. If one of their friends has a different opportunity to leverage the tax code and save money, it doesn’t occur to the client to mention Sam because it is a little different than his own situation (even though they are both tax strategies) and so it does not occur to the client to refer Sam.
A lot of advisors miss opportunities similar to the way Sam is missing his. Many financial advisors we work with on their marketing plans have given a lot of thought to their value proposition and to the services that they provide but end up giving them the same deliverables many other advisors provide. They miss the opportunity to hand the client a document and say, in effect, “look! Here it is! Exactly what we told you we would do for you.”
There are several simple ways you can prove to your clients that you are delivering on your value proposition and give them easy ways to remember what to talk about when they refer you:
Put the right title on your client documents – like the firm I referred to above, all it might take to remind clients that you are fulfilling your promise is to name the document you deliver to them the same thing you said you would originally. In their case it was “plan update.” Yours might be tax analysis, legacy plan, retirement projection, or benefits analysis.
Show them a checklist – you know how many things you review when you analyze a client’s situation. You know how many different possibilities you consider and how many “what ifs” you evaluate. But the client has no idea how hard you worked on developing their strategy. One easy way to give them some insight into the depth of your process is to include a checklist in the plan you deliver. List off all of the standard situations you evaluate. All of the possibilities you consider. You might even give them a brief statement of the outcome of the different alternatives you tested. It may only be a couple words or a quick number and the purpose may only be to show them that the benefit is not large enough to pursue. What it proves is how much work you did for them.
Make your process graphic a template – I have written before about the value of having an easy to follow graphic to describe the process you take clients through. One easy application of this graphic is to convert it into a template that gets customized with each client’s information as they progress through the process. Our coaching process takes an advisor through seven steps that we illustrate with a mind map. When a new advisor signs up we customize the mind map for them and gradually complete the map with their information. They can compare their own mind map with the one we showed them initially and see that we have addressed each of the areas we promised we would.
Adopt a tool not utilized by most advisors – one advisor I worked with differentiated himself from other advisors by focusing on the dynamics of married couples and helping them work more effectively together as a team. One of the fundamental aspects of the work was to help couples understand each other and their perspectives on money. We found a tool, Financial DNA, that guides clients through a quiz and gives them a report on their money personality. He adopted this tool to help each individual in a couple discover and appreciate the perspective of their partner. It is a tool that is used by only a relatively small number of advisors and he is one of very few who use it in that particular way. And it puts something in the hands of clients that they will not get from most of the other advisors they meet.
Of course, you could design a custom plan or report that highlights each of the special areas your process addresses. And if you are ambitious it would certainly set you apart. However, you can accomplish plenty, and prove to clients you are delivering on your unique value proposition, without going through all the trouble (or compliance approvals) of developing an entirely customized document. Just review what you tell clients makes you different upfront and make sure that what you hand them at the end of the process illustrates it.