Our industry provides us with great sales training. We learn to sell products that our prospects can't see, smell or touch. We learn to survive by selling quickly and effectively. We are taught all sorts of sales techniques. We learn how to gather facts, how to ask probing questions, and how to engage and motivate the client.
And often that's where our sales training ends. Typically left out of the instruction are some of the most vital steps in the process of building a client base. In most companies, sales and service are considered separate and distinct areas. Yet superior customer service before and after the sale is vital if your business is to grow and prosper.
The following is a list of what I call Thomas' Truths, which each of us must address to succeed in building our client bases and financial value in our practices.
(1) Satisfied clients will leave you. In today's world, a client who is merely satisfied will leave you--and along with him future renewals, sales, and referrals. Sending occasional holiday cards or even calling clients on their birthdays won't do the trick. Like Coca Cola, Apple Computer and McDonalds, you need to constantly build brand loyalty and create a unique experience that keeps customers returning.
(2) Your competition is not your competition. If you believe that you're in competition with your fellow agents, you are not even half right. Your competition is banks, investment houses, the Internet, do-it-yourself financial magazines and financial broadcasters. Though you may contact your client once or twice a year, the media is subjecting them to a constant barrage of financial garbage.
Your prospects need your help even if they don't know it. They may choose your competition over you, maybe to their detriment, unless you can create a unique experience. To maintain client relationships after the sale, you must continually remind them that you are working on their behalf. Simple acts will separate you from the pack. Your goal in performing them is to establish yourself as a competent professional who is worthy of an ongoing relationship.
(3) Eighty percent of success is just showing up. After you schedule an appointment, be sure to show up--and on time. You must also schedule enough time to allow for meetings that will start later or last longer than anticipated, as well as for traffic tie-ups, bad weather and other surprises.
In our office, we see all of our clients and prospects at scheduled times. We even schedule appointments to speak with clients on the telephone at specific times. After each appointment is made, a note confirming the appointment is mailed. On the day before the appointment, our staff confirms the time and place by telephone.
Not only does this procedure result in our clients missing far fewer appointments, but it also sends a message that we value the client's time as well as our own. If you don't have a clerical worker to confirm appointments for you, take the time to confirm them yourself.
(4) The follow-through is as important as the swing. After every meeting, we send a brief note thanking the prospect for the appointment, summarizing what was discussed and detailing the next step in the process. When clients schedule an appointment, they are sent a confirmation letter.
Prospects also receive a checklist and a letter requesting them to bring the financial information necessary to make our meeting worthwhile. The day before the appointment, they receive a courtesy phone call reminding them of the meeting.
Every day, a staff member produces an attractive placard that has printed the names of the clients and prospects who are scheduled to arrive. New clients also receive welcoming letters.
When someone applies for life insurance, they receive calls from our office letting them know where they are in the process. When the policy is issued, we set up a meeting to go over its provisions and make sure it's issued correctly.
After the account or insurance is issued, clients receive an additional letter accompanied by one of our business cards, which has their account numbers and policy information on the reverse side.
A final "red carpet" letter is sent, requesting referrals to our client's family and friends. This simple request by letter brings us many referrals every year. Of course, after a referral is received, the person who made the referral receives a letter of appreciation for her confidence in us.
(5) Staying in touch--it's for life. It's important to learn as much as possible about your clients and their immediate circle of friends and relatives because they will provide most of your referrals. Also, the more personal information you have, the better you can relate to and identify with your client.
We learn about clients during the pleasant social give-and-take that is part of every meeting or phone conversation. We then enter notes regarding the conversation in an electronic client file. Whenever we speak with the client, we have the file available and have reviewed it in advance.
In addition to having the information in the office computer and my laptop, I also carry it on my phone and pocket computer. If I need to call a client from the car, I can quickly review the notes of our last conversation and chat with the client on a personal level before we get down to business.
We all feel flattered when someone asks about our pets and children by name. Recalling personal information of this nature helps to bond the client to you and distinguishes you from other advisors and sales people.
(6) Spectacular customer service will produce spectacular referrals. After every successful conversation with clients, I will remind them that we accept referrals. I simply say: "Don't keep us a secret. It's always a pleasure to help people like you who care about their families and their financial future."
I then hand them a couple of business cards. In addition, when our staff performs a service for a client, they also remind the client that it is our pleasure to help them and to be sure not to "keep us a secret."
The first time to ask for a referral is immediately after the sale. So I congratulate clients on making the appropriate decisions and ask if they are pleased with their choices. I will also ask if they feel our time together was beneficial and if they believe that we had completely and thoroughly met their needs.
Assuming that all of the answers to the above questions were in the affirmative, I will then ask clients for referrals. I express that I have enjoyed working with them and that we are looking for people just like them who care about their family's financial future.
More often than not, they will not have anyone immediately in mind, but I am prepared with the same referral letter we send in our Red Carpet Campaign. I hand the letter to them, along with a postage-paid envelope addressed to me.
(7) "Find the money," and the money will find you. One of our chief methods of gathering information is through client surveys. Every year, we send out a "Find the Money Campaign," a survey that gathers vital client information that can be used to better serve the client, identify additional business and find potential referrals. Approximately 80% of our clients complete the yearly survey, which over the years has resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in new sales as well as scores of referrals.
You can prepare your own survey to reflect the nature of your practice. Take this one tip, however: It is important to use your survey to identify potential changes in the client's situation (e.g., selling a home, changing jobs or having a new grandchild). Changes often motivate clients to purchase additional insurance coverage or to make new investments.
(8) Comprehensive client contact is the best. It is our job to reassure clients they have made the correct financial choices. We meet this challenge, in part, by sending out letters at least 17 times a year, including cards marking significant dates (birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc.)
The remaining letters deal with the new concepts, products and services we offer. A postage-paid reply card is provided so the client can respond to the offer or request information in a different area of interest.
(9) If we don't talk to our clients, someone else may. Our database alerts us if a client has not received a personal phone call in 90 days. The call is a courtesy and gives us another opportunity to remind clients that we're tracking their accounts and that we appreciate them and any friends to whom they may wish to refer us.
The call is also an opportunity to identify changes occurring in the client's life and new sales opportunities. We also use the call to inquire about our clients' account needs.
(10) You should be the "financial organizer." We meet with all of our clients who would like to do so at least yearly. We discuss what has been going on in the client's life and career as well as their financial and tax situation.
During the first review, which generally occurs within 6 months of the initial purchase, we present the client with a "financial organizer." The organizer has tabs for, among other things, our mission statement and contact information, the client's estate planning documents and products purchased, plus "out-of-house" tabs for accounts and insurance they may own through banks, brokerage houses, or other insurers.
Our clients invariably place their account statements, letters and bills under the appropriate tabs. When they come in for a review, they bring their filled binders and we learn what is happening in their financial lives. We also highlight the work we are doing for our clients, compared with that of other professionals who may still be in their lives. And in the service competition, we usually come out on top.
The financial organizer models for our clients a whole approach to organizing their financial lives. In time, we are often asked if we can handle all of our client's investment and insurance needs. If the out-of-house tabs were not in the binder, it would be much more difficult to have a discussion about our clients' outside insurance and accounts.
(11) Celebrations create memories and cement relationships. Many of our clients love coming to client appreciation events we sponsor. They are encouraged to bring their friends and family and have fun. No business is conducted at these events; the gatherings simply offer a way to meet clients and their close circle in a friendly, no-pressure atmosphere.
In our area, we have a number of amateur and semi-professional sports teams. We purchase blocks of tickets, often at a discount. We offer groups of clients and their friends, children and grandchildren a variety of fun events throughout the year. Sports teams usually have catering services available to provide picnic foods at a modest cost. We sponsor other events that are more formal: fancy dinners, outings to the symphony or to the theater.
In the U.S., the free dinner seminar is a popular way to solicit new clients, and many professionals spend considerable money doing so with varying results. Before we invest a penny of our marketing money buying dinners for total strangers, we buy dinners for those who have made our business successful!
To sum up, I repeat: Spectacular service will produce spectacular sales. We have been using the methods we have outlined here for the last 10 years, and for 8 of those 10 years we have qualified for Top of The Table.
Our clients come from all walks of life. They are plumbers, teachers, pharmacists, engineers and mid-level executives. Their common denominator is a strong desire to help their families and improve their long-term economic situation. As John Savage was fond of saying, "If you serve the masses, you will eat with the classes."
More simply put: "Take care of your clients, and they will take care of you--for life!"