Is your business focussed on clients’ needs and wants? Peter Bowman explains why it’s important that it is.

“Marketing orientation” can be defined as the extent to which clients’ needs and wants drive the outcomes that a business delivers. These outcomes include value for clients, staff, the business itself, as well as its stakeholders/shareholders. Financial planning, if done correctly, really lends itself to a high marketing orientation. Very few industries have such a close relationship with their clients’ personal and financial affairs; and the outcomes – both advice and service – can be highly customised to the clients’ needs, in order to deliver value.

Why improve your marketing orientation?

Your business is going well, clients seem happy (although you’ve never asked them) and you’ve kept doing what you’ve been doing because it still seems to be working for you. Your business certainly isn’t going backwards, and you’re earning an income. So why change – it’s all good, right? There are a number of reasons why the owner of a financial planning business would want to improve their marketing orientation.

1. Give yourself business certainty and longevity

Last time you went to a restaurant, during the course of the meal, did someone ask you how everything was? The reason they do this is so they can fix anything they need to. It also shows that the restaurant cares about the experience they provide you with – they care about customer service. If they didn’t ask, and the clients had a bad experience and never returned, the restaurant owner would never know why, and would not have had the opportunity to fix it. Sound client relationships lead to business certainty and longevity.

2. Reduce your compliance risk

If you deliver the right client outcomes, compliance takes care of itself. Clients are less likely to complain if you’ve considered their needs appropriately, set expectations, and delivered sound financial advice. Logic says you’re more likely to get a referral than a complaint from a satisfied client.

3. Real cli ent satisfaction has little to do with price

I’m not saying we’re all so rich we can spend like there is no tomorrow. I am saying that price is not the only criterion that we will use to make a purchase decision. But we’ve been conned by industry superannuation funds’ advertising if we believe that clients don’t want to pay for advice, that commissions are evil and, by implication, that you don’t need education or advice on money matters. This last point is really the most dangerous. It keeps people ill informed, which leads to bad decisions. We’re devaluing ourselves as an industry if we think financial advice and education don’t have an important role to play in modern life. There’s much more to your financial life than super. Good advice can provide a more certain life experience. Setting goals and achieving them (regardless of the form those goals take) is a rewarding experience.

4. Sell a business, not a database

When it comes time for your own retirement from work, what is it that you are really selling? Over the next five to 10 years, with a sizeable number of advisers retiring, we can expect to see more advice businesses come onto the market. But what is it that is really on offer? As with selling a house, most business owners (or their agents) will do a bit of window dressing to present the business in the best light possible. But it’s only after you get the building inspection done that you really know what you’re buying. So make sure you do your homework.

Some good questions to ask include: What is your client value proposition? Tell me about the types of clients within the business; and are they all serviced in the same way? How often is the business in contact with the clients? If the agent or seller can’t give you reasonably substantial answers to these questions, then you’re probably just buying a database – not a business. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It may present a wonderful opportunity to do something better – a “renovator’s dream”. The point is that a business with a stronger marketing orientation will be more valuable at the time of sale than one without it. And if you’re selling a business, that’s got to be important to you.

Where to start

There are a number of marketing strategies that could be utilised to increase your business’s marketing orientation – that is, developing a stronger client focus. These three suggestions are a starting point.

1. Always start with a good fact-find. The more you know about the client – their financial goals, lifestyle goals and aspirations – the better the Statement of Advice will be in meeting the client’s needs, both now and into the future.

2. Be clear about your service offer with your client. This is sometimes called a value proposition. Not all clients need to be serviced in the same way; some will have higher service needs than others. Make sure you set expectations with the client about the service offer and how they can change it, should they want to.

3. Increased marketing orientation starts and ends with the needs of your client. So talk to them about it. Surveys can be great tools to help you uncover what your clients think about what you’re doing for them. Don’t be afraid to make changes to your business. As one of my work colleagues reminds me, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

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