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Connect with clients by being real

How one advisory firm communicated with its audience and the profound effect it had on the people involved

Aug 22, 2014 @ 11:26 am

By John Furey

For many advisory firms, summer is a fantastic time to work on business strategy. Client engagement tends to slow, which provides opportunity to work “on the business” not “in the business.” Last month, I witnessed some very powerful displays of independent advisory firm owners connecting with employees and clients. What struck a chord was how the advisory firm communicated with its audience and the profound effect it had on the people involved.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of working with independent financial advisers is helping top advisory firms deal with long-term opportunities and challenges.

SERVING A COMMUNITY FOR 20 YEARS

One of our clients is led by a husband-and-wife team that has made the transformation from “practice” to “business” over the span of 20 years. They have a great track record of growth, but certainly there is something more going on that lead to this level of success.

Our consulting engagement with this client coincided with their 20-year anniversary as a firm. To celebrate the occasion, they decided to invite clients “that were with us from the beginning” to an event at their office, which is in the middle of a downtown revitalization that one of the owners is helping to spearhead with a committee of community leaders. The firm invested considerable capital revitalizing a historic building to show their commitment and delivered “skin in the game” to back up the point that it has a long-term relationship with clients and the community.

The event started as one of your “typical” thank-you events that many advisers have annually or periodically. Food and drink were being served, the company's staff was networking with clients and the owners were enjoying the event. At about the halfway point, the owners invited the party into the firm's conference room. Most of the audience was expecting the normal market update or an update on a planning topic, but what they heard was something quite different.

The firm's owners began presenting the company's history, but not through the lens of asset growth, market growth or greater wealth management capabilities. They instead told the history of the company through the eyes of clients — a projector displayed multiple pictures of the audience, with amusing pictures of the owners bringing levity to the presentation. Personal pictures of employee families were included, as were fun facts about the community. The company owners shared stories of how they sought to build something unique with the help of clients and employees.

Prior to the event, one of the owners commented to me that he felt the presentation was a little risky and was unsure of how the presentation would go. My response was to “go for it” and just be true to the passion about the community and the work he does for clients. I encouraged him to be himself, be confident and show a little vulnerability.

The presentation was beyond appropriate for a 20-year anniversary and the presentation was incredibility authentic. The owners were emotional and many of their longtime clients were shedding tears.

It became very obvious to me how this firm has been able to deliver an average of 15% compound annual revenue growth annually. Of course, they are able to deliver the goods, but beyond that, they make an emotional connection with clients and employees that make them want to be a part of their firm. The owners of this firm noted they do no marketing and all their growth is from word of mouth and direct introductions from clients.

Sure, there are plenty of techniques advisers can use to build their businesses. Compelling strategic plans with sophisticated forecasts bring structure and fancy “center of influence” programs may be all the rage in the world of “practice management.” But as a good friend of mine in the industry once told me, “people hire us not only because we can help them, but because we strike an emotional chord that pulls them to us.” This is something we all should keep in mind when we interact with our clients — the relationship usually trumps any technical capability we may possess.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

1. The best business leaders find ways to get clients to buy into their vision.

2. Imagery and linking of personal stories to your business can be just as powerful or more powerful than facts.

3. Clients and employees will rally behind leaders who are thoughtful, intelligent and great communicators but who also show personal vulnerability.

4. Clients tend to hire professionals because of an emotional connection beyond technical capability.

John Furey is the principal and founder of Advisor Growth Strategies and the managing member of The Alliance for RIAs, a boutique industry association comprising six elite RIA firms that collectively manage more than $20 billion in client assets. He can be reached at jfurey@advisorgrowthllc.com.

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