There is a perception in the financial planning world that the process of acquiring a new client begins at the first meeting - the so-called "approach talk" - and therefore any firm that does a good job at converting prospects into new clients in those early meetings must have an effective business development process. Firms that want to grow more/better/faster are encouraged to refine their process, materials, and techniques used in the approach talk to improve the rate at which prospects convert into clients. Yet the reality is that from the client's perspective, the process actually starts much earlier; and because the "pre-meeting" parts of the process are so ignored by most planners, the reality is that many (or even most!?) potential clients may be lost before you ever have a chance to meet them!

The inspiration for today's blog post comes from some follow-up discussion I have been having with several planners regarding last week's blog post "Are We Being Too Forward With Our Clients" where I explored the idea that perhaps we as planners get too personal, too quickly with new clients, who are unwilling (or at least very uncomfortable) talking about money and their money problems in an initial client meeting. The response I received from most planners was "Well, MY clients seem happy with my process and most of them turn into clients, so this isn't a problem for me." Which in my opinion misses part of the point. It's not just about the clients who show up at the meeting, don't like the process, and fail to sign up; it's also about all the clients you lose before they even walk through the door because they're already uncomfortable, just anticipating the process!

In reflecting on the process further, I realized that there are at least half a dozen different ways that many planners probably lose prospective clients, before there's ever a chance to even have a first meeting. Which of these might apply to you?

1) Not discoverable. Most prospective clients reach out to a financial planner because they're looking for a solution to a problem at hand; and rarely is that problem as simple as "I need a financial planner." But what if it is? If you're in Boise, Idaho, and a prospective client types "Boise financial planner" into Google, do you come up? Perhaps more important, if an accountant you know tells one of his clients that talk to you and the client tries to look you up, can they find you in a search engine? Sadly, I've seen situations where I was trying to find out information about a planner, and even typing in their name, or the name or their firm, didn't come up with a website! If clients can't find you even when they want to, how many clients are you not getting?

2) Not referrable. Most planners generate the majority of their new clients via referrals from existing clients. But how "referrable" are you, really? Do your clients know how to describe what you do? Do they even know the niche kinds of clients you're looking for and that you work with, so that they could make a referral if they did meet the right person? Do you give your clients a reason to be proud to refer you by making yourself more referrable? Or do your clients simply refer you by saying "Yeah, you should work with my guy/gal, he/she is great..." which does virtually nothing to actually motivate a prospective client to action?

3) Not Professional. It's pretty standard in today's day and age that you don't do business with someone until you check them out on the internet, which at the least means typing their name into Google and seeing what comes up. If you and your website actually do come up, what does the client see? Do they get the impression of a finely polished and professional firm, or a website that looks like it was built in 1999? If your website is from 1999, does that mean your advice is going to be similarly outdated? What client wants to entrust their life savings to a business that can't even make a professional, high quality first impression? 

4) Not relevant. If your prospective clients actually do make it to your website, what do they see? Do they see marketing information about you and why you're so great? Or do they see information about them and things that are relevant to them? Clients don't want to know YOU are an expert; they want to know you have the expertise to solve THEIR problems. They don't want to know YOU are a fiduciary; they want to know you are something THEY can trust. Is your website (and other marketing material) relevant to you, or relevant to your clients?

5) Not Actionable. If a client actually can find your website, checks it out, and reads content that is relevant, is there a clear action step for the client to take to actually move the process forward? Is there a prompt for them to contact you through the website, send you an email, or call in to a telephone number, to schedule an appointment? Do you communicate up front what that appointment is about, and what the prospect can expect to get out of it?

6) Not Welcoming. If a client has actually made it through all of the preceding hurdles and is still willing to move forward, how welcoming is your process to make them comfortable in approaching you? If you're invited to email the firm to schedule an appointment, do you contact - which feels like an empty virtual automaton - or, a human being who will try to meet your needs? Does your prospect feel welcome to show up and express their problems to understand the solutions that you offer, or are you giving them a bunch of homework to do in advance (read: data collection) just to have the "privilege" of meeting with you? Does the prospect feel up front that they will be entering a safe and comfortable space, or are they so fearful that they will show up and be judged for all of their money problems that they decide not to schedule an appointment after all?

Have you ever pretended that you are a prospect, tried to find yourself/your firm on the web, and looked objectively at what you saw? Were you discoverable or referrable? Was your website professional? Was the content relevant and actionable? Was the entire experience truly welcoming of a client in mental and emotional discomfort about money problems who is seeking a solution?

So what do you think? Is it possible that you are losing many or even most of your potential new clients before they ever get to the point of scheduling a first meeting with you? 

  • Bill Winterberg

    Thank you, Michael, for spelling out significant factors that lead to poor client attraction.

    I’d add that it’s important for planners to embrace the tools that their potential clients use on a daily basis. Many potential clients read email and news on their iPads and text with family and friends. If planners have the tools to communicate with clients on the platforms they already use, it gives planners a serious competitive advantage.

  • Anonymous

    I keep coming back to this article as sort of the how-to on qualifying and quantifying my website and referral marketing strategy. It’s the best I’ve seen that is written by and for our profession. Actionable and concise, professionally written, excellently delivered. Thanks Michael!

  • Pingback: 6 Ways A Planner Loses New Clients Before Ever Meeting Them! | The 401k Study Group()

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Michael E. Kitces

I write about financial planning strategies and practice management ideas, and have created several businesses to help people implement them.

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