From the October 1, 2012 issue of Life Insurance Selling

A lesson in client appreciation

As the holiday season approaches, here are some important points to consider when planning a special event for your best customers.

Image courtesy of Matt Banks / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Matt Banks / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In today’s economy, marketing life insurance products is challenging. Consumers are trimming budgets and spending less and so are many insurance producers. In the quest to generate more revenue with less marketing budget, don’t overlook your existing client base.

If you take a moment to analyze your income sources, you might discover as much as 40% of your revenue is generated by your elite “A” clients. It’s worth your time to retain these people not only for the income they generate, but also for the referrals they can bring. Elite clients can introduce you to elite prospects.

One great way to retain your best clients and gain introductions to their friends is through client appreciation events. However, there are a few important secrets to creating client appreciation experiences that hit the intended mark.

Client appreciation events and activities should achieve three goals:

1. A tighter bond between you and your clients

2. The opportunity for more referrals

3. Return on investment

Steve Vasgaard, president of Wealth and Retirement Strategies Inc. in Knoxville, Tenn., has many years of experience with client appreciation events. Last year, Steve hosted a large dinner for 135 clients, featuring a well-known speaker who was a YouTube sensation. The event went off without a hitch — great entertainment, delicious food and a happy crowd. But in Steve’s experience, this was not the most successful client appreciation event. Why? Everyone was focused on the speaker, so it was difficult to interact and make personal connections. While guests had a great time, Steve didn’t really get to know his clients better or meet their friends.

 “The best events are small — with fewer than 20 people,” Steve says. “I pick a hobby that I enjoy and then invite clients with similar interests to share in the fun. Dove hunting is a great example. There’s very little money involved but a great deal of camaraderie. I meet my clients’ friends and inevitably receive referrals and new business opportunities.”

Plan a great event

When planning an event, look for popular venues in your city and then find ways to use them for your client appreciation. For example, if a chocolatier is popular in your town, host a truffle-making party. If a restaurant is known for a unique dish or cocktail, arrange for table-side preparation and a culinary lesson. Watch the entertainment section of your local newspaper for featured restaurants and venues. Guests love to go to “hot spots” they can tell their friends about.

Most people also love a good cause. Green and cause-related marketing is on the rise, particularly for companies whose clients include the under-40 set. Think fun runs, pet parades or charity golf tournaments to support an important cause in your community, all while spending time with clients.

Whatever you do, remember client appreciation is the art of making others feel special, cared for and appreciated. This is not the time for a sales pitch — although some articles will tell you that it is.

“I never ever bring up financial planning or life insurance during an event,” Steve says. “I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable or sold. I know the topic will come up eventually — it always does — sometimes during the event and sometimes later. But I let the client initiate the conversation. During the event, my only goal is to build rapport, relationships and trust.”

Think beyond events

In addition to client appreciation events, there are many gestures that make others feel valued.

Small unexpected gifts with creative messages generate large amounts of customer goodwill. Again, it’s best to focus on frequency and personalization rather than high price.

Ideas to consider: a symbolic plant such as a bonsai, a backscratcher, an iPad cover, personalized stationery, or a mobile cell phone charger. If you work with an accountant, send him a refreshing treat on tax day. If an important client has a birthday or is opening a new business, hire a high school marching band or a barbershop quartet to give an unexpected and highly memorable performance.

When selecting gifts, choose items your clients will really use. Only imprint a logo if you can do so tastefully without undermining the value of the gift for the client. Remember, this is about the client, not about you. If you think she might not care for your logo printed in neon, don’t do it! In reality, the client will think of you every time she uses the item regardless of whether it has your logo. Also, try to choose items that will enjoy a long shelf life in the client’s office or home and items that might spark conversation and future referrals. The bonsai plant is a great example.

Beyond taking great care of your “A” list, remember to occasionally reach out to groups who are often overlooked, such as administrative assistants and centers of influence. For example, one highly successful broker sends gatekeepers bottomless candy dishes with candy refills every month. If your clients are families, create an event for kids or pets. Parents remember those who treat their kids well.

Another important group is your employees. Happy, engaged employees cultivate happy, engaged customers. In fact, Gallup’s Q12 Meta-Analysis, shows engaged organizations have 3.9 times the earnings per share growth rate compared to organizations with lower engagement in their same industry. Remember to appreciate your employees at least once a quarter. For example, one insurance carrier hosted an employee appreciation day that featured a barista serving made-to-order lattes and mochas and free chair massages.

Finally, insurance professionals should never underestimate the value of keeping in touch. Reaching out to clients with a monthly e-newsletter or a quarterly magazine (with private-label branding through a service like TailorMadeMag.com) is a great way to maintain top-of-mind awareness and nurture relationships throughout the year. You don’t have to wait for December to celebrate the holidays. Stand out from the crowd with a Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July or Thanksgiving card (or maybe all three). The key is to avoid self-promotion and let your actions speak for themselves.

Like all relationship building, client appreciation is a process, not a one-time event. If you want to show customers you care, you don’t have to invest a lot of money, but you do need to invest a lot of thought. Just as you wouldn’t give every friend and family member the same birthday gift, you shouldn’t try to make one event or communication work for all clients. You’ll get far more return from small, personalized interactions than you will from big razzle-dazzle.

For more sales and marketing ideas, see:

How to be a better prospector

Refresh your cold calling routine

4 guidelines for building a winning team

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