Getting Clients to Buy Into Big Changes
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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Our firm is moving to a more planning-based approach when working with our clients. I am not opposed to doing this but our clients seem to be. In many cases they hired us for our investment expertise, not to talk to us about their future goals and desires. Recently I told one of our clients I wanted to run a full financial plan for her – her response was strongly negative telling me it was none of my business what she hoped to do in retirement.
I know the industry is moving this way, but what about our clients? If we are supposed to be focused on what they want from us, is it really the right thing to force a process they don’t want and maybe don’t need? I don’t want to buck the system here, but I also don’t like getting negative feedback from clients who I have known for a long time.
Do you really believe in this process? Language is so interesting – you say things like “buck the system,” which lead me to think you aren’t completely aligned with this change, and perhaps don’t personally approve of it.
Anytime we are trying to encourage or influence someone else, if we haven’t totally bought in ourselves, we will reveal this to the person in our tone, our delivery and our language. We are not convincing if we are trying to convince ourselves while we tell someone else what they ought to do.
Honor your resistance, or find ways to become a believer in the process. You want to deliver this message to clients with authenticity. If you don’t believe in it, you need to convey this. “My valued client, our firm is undergoing a significant change in the way we manage our clients in order to keep up with trends in our industry, and to serve our clients more effectively. To be honest, it’s new to me and I’m not sure whether I think it is the best thing or not. Do you want to collaborate together on the process and learn at the same time about how this could help you – or not? If you are open to trying it out, I’m open to learning along with you. One thing I can validate – our firm would not make this change unless we fully believed it was in the best interest of our clients.”
Wishy-washy? Evasive? Well, it is. You would be more authentic and your client will likely be more confident in going through this process. Don’t try to sell them something, but rather explore a new idea with them that the firm has committed to and has invested in.
If you are confident, but it just isn’t coming through in what you’ve written here, then try changing the conversation with the clients. You might be presenting this as too touchy-feely and intrusive for people who have hired you for your investment expertise. Explain to them that contributions from research have evolved the industry to where advisors and investment firms recognize the importance of understanding the whole picture in order to confirm that portfolios are adequately invested. You can explain it as a win/win for the client to have a fresh look at their existing portfolios, and the firm to learn more about their valued clients. You can also explain that the client doesn’t have to answer any questions they are uncomfortable with.
I’m going to guess that by changing your delivery of the message you might win clients over toward this process more readily.
We recently acquired an advisory firm, very small only about three people in total. The founder of the firm is contractually obligated to stay on for three years. The problem is the other two people. They don’t want to recognize they are owned by us now. They still do things exactly as they’ve always done them and if we ask for any changes, they say “Only if Bob tells us to do it.” Bob is the original founder. Bob isn’t really involved in the day-to-day anymore – he is around to work with clients and ensure a smooth transition, so suggesting they will only listen to him is their way of just putting us off. How do we get them to understand this is a new world and they have to live in it?
Could you please go back and read the last line of your note? “This is a new world and they have to live in it” seems like a good place to start to me. I’m a human behaviorist so I believe in understanding people, learning empathy, focusing on others, but I also run a business, and have run other businesses, and sometimes the reality is that if people want to keep a job, they have to do what’s required by the business cutting their paycheck.
Unless you are asking them to do something that is unethical, immoral or otherwise completely out of their experience they are working for your firm – they need to do what’s required by your firm! I think you can tell them you understand it is new and different, that you understand that change can be difficult, that you are sensitive to the fact that they are used to taking direction from Bob, but then you go on to tell them you would like to see them stay and succeed with your firm and in order for them to do that, they need to play by your rules and comply with what is asked of them. It isn’t an “either/or” scenario.
Sometimes just acknowledging that you understand the difficulty of the situation may be constructive, but….ultimately these employees still need to work within the system you have set out for them. It probably is hard, and scary, and sad for them to be in a new place with new rules. Acknowledge this and honor it, but then let them know that they still have to comply and eventually will be held accountable to your rules of behavior and not that of Bob.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. In 2008, she co-founded Advisors Trusted Advisor to offer dedicated practice management resources to advisors, planners and wealth managers. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate students Leadership & Social Responsibility. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.