Historically speaking, the structure of client/advisor communications hasn’t changed much. For a great deal of time, the two primary components that went into building and maintaining this relationship were face-to-face meetings and phone calls. Some forward-thinking advisors wrote, printed, and mailed newsletters but this process was often clunky, time-consuming, and had little measurable ROI. Other advisors have dabbled in annual get-togethers or luncheons with clients. But for the most part, advisor/client relationships were maintained primarily through formal, annual face-to-face meetings.
However, in recent years many of the foundational tactics used by advisors to build and maintain client relationships have changed. In today’s world, annual reviews with infrequent phone check-ins are not enough to win and retain clients. Advisors are beginning to notice this change and starting to follow suit by adapting their communication style to modern preferences.
Several factors have lead to an increasingly urgent need for advisors to rethink their strategy around client communications. Some of those factors include:
The financial services industry is increasingly competitive. Advisors who fail to differentiate themselves in their client communications lose an opportunity reinforce their value proposition with clients.
Advisors without a personal, consistent approach to client communications often struggle to form strong relationships with their clients’ spouses and adult-age children.
In the face of increased low-cost investment options and tech-charged competitors, advisors must use a proactive client communications strategy as a key competitive advantage.
When markets are volatile, a track record of consistent, proactive client communications becomes invaluable for driving client confidence.
Communication strategies and preference have evolved over time. People nowadays are used to (and expect) more open, flexible communication channels. The phone calls and face-to-face meetings that were once sufficient do not meet the demands of today’s consumer.
Ultimately, a strategic approach to client communications is essential for client satisfaction, retention, and referrals.
Throughout the rest of this guide we’ll help you unpack how to construct an effective client communications strategy. You’ll learn:
How to pick the right goals for your communications strategy
The different types of communication channels you can use in your strategy
Which communication channels and what communication frequency are best for building strong relationships with clients
How to build a client communications plan
Tips on implementing your new communications strategy
Setting Goals for Your Communication Strategy
Before you delve into creating and documenting a communications strategy, it’s important to take a step back and first consider what are your goals for the strategy. For some advisors this might be to simply strengthen the already solid relationships they have with clients. For others, it may be to set clear expectations around the frequency and level of communications their clients will have access to throughout the duration of the client–advisor relationship. And for others, their goal might be to build client loyalty, bolster their reputation, and collect more referrals. Some ideas for goals include:
Strengthen relationships with current clients
Increase your firm’s brand reputation & awareness
Set clear expectations with clients
Attract new clients
Aim to hone in on one or two central goals for your communications strategy. These goals may evolve and change over time; early focus on one or two goals will help you be able to more easily drive results.
Picking Your Communication Channels
There are more potential channels you can use to connect with clients now than ever before.The good news is all of these channels boil down to two different types: one-to-one or one-to-many. One-to-one communications are personal touchpoints with clients. One-to-many communications are communications made at scale. Consider using a medley of one-to-one and one-to-many tactics in your communications approach to best achieve your goals.
Some one-to-one communication channels to consider when building your strategy:
Formal in-person meetings (one-to-one)
Informal in-person meetings (one-to-one)
Emails (one-to-one personal email)
Video meeting (one-to-one)
Snail mail (one-to-one personal note)
Some one-to-many communication channels to consider when building your strategy:
Event marketing (one-to-many)
Email marketing like email newsletters, promotions, etc. (one-to-many)
Social media (one-to-many)
Snail mail (one-to-many generic note)
Emails (one-to-many mass email)
Studies show that no one channel is necessarily superior to others, but it’s important to remember that each age demographic has unique communication preferences. Baby Boomers prefer formal in-person meetings while Gen Y is more fond of informal meetings just to catch up. Also important to keep in mind that different channels have different compliance requirements. There are a number of great technologies you can use to make this easy to manage.
Also in terms of what types of communication are most effective, one study shows that different communication channels and types help advisors accomplish distinctive goals. For example, investment-related educational communications were found to be most effective for retaining clients. While non-investment related educational communications were most effective for getting referrals.
A study conducted by Winthrop University found that clients were more satisfied with their advisor when they received more frequent communications. The types of communications included financial educational materials, greeting cards, personal notes, and both in-person and digital meetings. It is worth spending time reviewing the types of communications included in your strategy, and the frequency of these respective types. Overuse of any one type, in particular communications around interests and hobbies, can have diminishing or negative returns at a certain point.
An additional study showed that the sheer number of different communication channels greatly increased a client’s satisfaction with their advisor. This study showed the optimal number of communication channels to be five, with diminishing returns beyond this point.
Communication Tactics to Consider
After you decide on your desired channels and communication frequency, you can pinpoint which tactics you’ll use within those channels. Here are some communication tactic ideas:
Quarterly webinar or conference call
Weekly blog post (can be distributed via email too)
Annual outlook sessions: annual meetings aimed to discuss the outlook for the coming year
Monthly lunches: gather high-value clients once a month to connect and answer any questions
Quarterly market letter
Daily social media updates
When it comes to developing your communication touch-points, don’t be afraid to get creative. One such example is an advisor team that sends every new client a book they hand-pick just for them. During the first client meeting the advisor tries to learn a little about the client’s interests, if they like travel, wine, golf, sports, etc. They then hand-pick a relevant book and mail it to the client. This tactic has proven so thoughtful the firm has received a huge amount of positive feedback since launching the initiative. In the end, don’t be afraid to try something new or different in your client communications plan that will set your firm apart!
Build and Communicating a Client Communication Plan
After considering your overall communication strategy, you should build and implement your system of client touchpoints. You should consider, on an annual basis, how many touchpoints you’d like to have with clients. Most firms with a robust communication strategy will calibrate this frequency after first segmenting their client base on size of the relationship, age of the client, amount of service provided, or some other relevant identifier. For most advisors, an annual review is the central focus of their communications strategy. However, think about how you can supplement more frequent communication to strengthen your relationship with clients.
Some sample client touchpoint structures:
Annual in-person review with the advisor supplemented with additional quarterly reviews done with associates via phone or video meeting.
Annually: two face-to-face reviews supplemented with monthly calls following a consistent, structured format to ensure productive conversations.
Annual in-person review supplemented with quarterly check-ins via email.
Setting clear expectations with clients around communications sets the client-advisor relationship up for success. You position yourself early on as having thorough structure and process around keeping them informed around the work you are paid to do. It also protects you from having to overextend yourself and spend too much time on any particular client, as you’ve clearly outlined what their relationship includes as a level of service.
Tips for Implementing Your Communication Strategy
Have a clear and concise communications strategy document. Ensure the plan is shared with your entire staff.
Build a system of client touchpoints, document it, and distribute it to all new clients, so the communications schedule and expectations are clear in advance.
Establish a system to track your communications strategies and prove ROI over time. A CRM or basic marketing platform will provide the tracking and reporting functionality you need to determine which of your communication tactics are most effective and garner the best engagement.
In an increasingly competitive marketplace, differentiating your firm has never been more important. Clients will invest in your firm because of the level and depth of service you provide. Building strong client relationships begins with establishing a genuine connection with clients, and is driven forward by a strategic client communications plan. Ultimately, your knowledge and expertise are an essential part of the value proposition for your firm; a thoughtful communication strategy will help you deliver on this with efficiency and efficacy.