Marketing to Private Clients (6) – Marketing to Existing Clients (Part II)
There are 8 ways to keep in touch with clients . . .
1. Create, use and display literature
This has two elements to it:
- Display literature on your premises
- Circulate literature to past clients
I was recently invited to spend a day with a firm advising each of their departments, including their private client unit on marketing. I spent 10 minutes staring at three blank walls in reception and five minutes browsing through a pile of three-year-old gardening, boat building and football magazines. Oh, and also eight-year-old copies of the Law Society Gazette that were lying around as well!
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Your reception offers an excellent opportunity to disseminate your information, so don’t miss it. Create and place your promotional materials in front so that they are visible, can be picked up, read and taken away by clients or visitors.
It is astonishing that so many firms fail to do this or do it badly.
Don’t be put off by the cost. One private client partner speaking of his firm’s brochure explained to me, “They were so expensive, I told everyone not to give them out.” He wasn’t joking. Hundreds were piled up on his office floor! Produce something to a budget that you can afford to give away without hesitation.
2. Circulate your general services literature
For this exercise, put your clients into four separate client groups:
- Group 1 – Your department’s existing clients
- Group 2 – Your department’s dormant clients
- Group 3 – Other department’s existing clients
- Group 4 – Other department’s dormant clients
An existing client is one for whom you are or will be handling a matter now, or for whom you act on an ongoing basis.
A dormant client is one for whom you have acted in the past, but from whom you have not heard in the last 12 months. Circulate your literature systematically to these various groupings with an appropriate covering letter to show you regard them as a client of the firm and that you anticipate a future relationship with them.
Do not expect an immediate response. This is a general piece of corporate information about the firm or your department. In many cases, it will do no more than re-establish contact with clients who have not heard from you for a while. Essentially, you assert ownership over them as a client.
3. Package your department as a special unit
Tailor your literature around your department being a specialist private client unit within the firm. It does not involve any internal departmental structural changes, as it is purely a presentation and drafting device.
4. Create and use a will review system
This is one of the most important, underestimated, yet potentially successful, ways of keeping in touch with past clients and generating more business. Virtually every private client practitioner I meet recognises this point, and yet only about 30 per cent. of firms have a structured system of will reviews.
This is the process of making contact with past clients for whom you prepared a will and inviting them back for a no-cost discussion to review their circumstances. I have come across a number of firms who have tried this, achieved poor results and simply given up on the grounds that the concept does not work. However, when done well, it works every time.
I have seen response rates go up to 60 per cent. The critical factors are the quality of the letter or approach suggesting a review and the influencing and interpersonal skills of the practitioner when the client comes in. Let me offer some practical tips.
- Be assertive
Firms often write will review letters to their clients with too many “ifs”, “buts” and “maybes”. Write an assertive and professional letter without being pushy. Be specific and personal and tell the client that now is an appropriate time for a review and that such a discussion is important.
- Be service oriented
Any will review letter that goes out to past clients should emphasize that the discussion with them about possible changes will be free and is simply part of the overall service of the firm.
- Be specific about the next step they need to take
Simply ending a letter, “If you think you might need such assistance at some stage, please do not hesitate to contact us,” is non-specific, and does not command any immediate action on the part of the client. Instead, tell them what they need to do, who they need to contact and when. The easier you make it for them to respond, the more positive feedback you will get.
- Don’t circulate too many
Do not send out more than 20 review letters a month and then gradually build this up. There are two main reasons for this. First, if the system is very successful, then you need to ensure you can see people within a reasonable time after they request an appointment. Second, if you find the scheme is not working as well as you hoped, you may want to refine and change the content of your letter.
- Don’t give up if you do not have a computerised database
Many practitioners have told me, “We can’t operate this initiative and distribute letters inviting people to come in for a review because we don’t have a computerised database.” Manual storage may take you longer, but it is worth the effort. I recently worked with a firm who showed me a small chest of drawers with index cards. I had them go through these to gather the information for the will review letters. As a result, approximately 25 per cent of the dormant clients to whom they wrote made appointments, and approximately 40 per cent of those who came required further assistance.
- Don’t fear making mistakes
Several practitioners are deterred from sending out will review letters because they worry that they may have the wrong addresses or that the clients may have died. While I don’t trivialise such fears, I do suggest that you accept your own mistakes and be prepared to apologise when the occasion requires. You will do your department, firm and client base more good through taking this initiative rather than failing to do so because of issues that may never even happen.
- Consider telephoning instead of writing
I have only encountered a couple of firms who had the courage to do this. Instead of sending out a standard letter, a member of staff with good telephone skills called past clients to politely explain that it would be to their advantage to arrange a free will review meeting. Even I have been surprised by the positive results. Firms have reported between 75-90 per cent. success at getting these clients to come in for the will review meeting. Furthermore, clients were genuinely grateful that they had been called. The overriding reaction was, “I had been thinking about this for a while but had just not done something about it.” The call prompted a good reaction and broke the pattern of inertia.
5. Create information guides on specific private client services
Create a range of information guides on specific topics of expertise within your private client department that can be sent, given to clients or displayed in reception as a simple way of keeping clients informed.
It is not necessary to produce all of these simultaneously – the ones you create will vary according to the individual strengths and resources of your practice.
Good topics to cover:
- Why you should make a will;
- Lasting powers of attorney;
- Guide for personal representatives;
- Long term care planning;
- Tax and estate planning; and
- Welfare benefits
Good tips for drafting information guides:
- Avoid legal jargon, and keep them short. They are written for clients and should be simple and practical.
- Don’t worry about covering every detail. Information is key, not promotion and persuasion.
- Avoid advertising style description about the firm. Focus on potential problems that will trigger a reaction, showing you have the solutions.
- Use “Have you considered?” questions as a starting point for information sheets. These can be very effective. For example:
- Have you considered what would happen if you died without making a will?
- Have you considered what would happen to you or a parent if some form of residential care was needed?
- Have you considered what would happen if, for any reason, you became incapable of managing your own affairs?
6. Create client alerts
These are information materials on topical issues or important changes about some aspect of private client work that may be of benefit to clients.
The most effective way of making use of a client alert at the current time is via email. You should be harvesting your client’s email addresses. When you take instructions from new clients, you should ensure you have their email address and their permission to send them relevant information from time to time.
In respect of dormant clients for whom you have no email addresses, you should take steps to try and get them. Write, or have somebody call them to ask for it. This exercise can be presented as a service in its own right.
Armed with email addresses of private clients and subject to current codes of practice and legislation about the use of emails, it is a positive initiative to keep them updated on various topical issues.
Practical tips on producing client alerts:
- Make them very short. If you begin with “Did you know that …” you won’t go far wrong
- Advise them about steps they should take in light of the issue
- Tell them who they should contact for help and guidance and provide the relevant details
7. Use your website to market to existing clients
Most practices regard their website as a giant promotional tool and hope that it will attract large numbers of brand new clients. A major objective of your website, however, should also be as a tool for keeping in touch with existing clients.
Consider creating a “client only” area on your website as an added value service. Have your website designer add a button marked “Client’s Area” that leads to a log-in page for existing clients, who are given a password, to get into that area. This, by the way, is in itself another service related way of keeping in touch with your client when you write or email them. You can provide them with the password and information about this special area of your website.
In the “Client Area”, you can include a “putting your affairs in order” checklist; a range of articles; a live question and answer section; financial and tax information and interesting links to other sites.
8. Running seminars for existing clients
This is a marketing initiative traditionally found in large commercial firms. It is a fact, however, that small and medium-sized practices can and do run such events very successfully on private client issues.
A five-partner provincial high street firm I know holds private client seminars for existing clients twice a year and attracts 30 to 40 people to each one. Commenting on the results, their partner said, “We get specific business after each one, sometimes immediately and sometimes months later. They are always worth doing and a great way of putting our name in front of clients.”
You really can’t lose. If people come to your seminar, you win. If they give you business, you really win, but even if they don’t attend, the mere act of inviting them to your event shows that your regard them as a client of the firm. Thus, you achieve the two objectives already discussed earlier: asserting client ownership and keeping in touch with them.
Tips on putting on a seminar for existing clients:
- Build it around something timely. If there is a deadline before which certain action may have to be taken, use it as a reason to hold an event. Thus, inheritance tax planning issues may fall into this category.
- Send out as many invitations as possible. To maximise your possible response, include all the four client groupings mentioned earlier in your mailings. Again, this initiative prompts the need for an appropriate client database.
- Make it free. This needs to be positioned as a hospitality and service gesture to your clients, so do not even consider a charge. Factor an attendance drop-out figure into your final numbers as some of those who said they would attend may not turn up.
- Keep the invitation simple and personal. Don’t bother with silver-edged, high quality invitation cards. Present your invitation on your normal A4 notepaper personalised to them and kept to one sheet only.
- Present in brief what they can expect to get out of the event. Include the key information such as place, time, etc.
- Have a reply coupon with only positive options. At the bottom of the invitation, have a cut out coupon for their response. Offer them three possible options:
o I would like to attend the seminar
o I am unable to attend but would like to arrange a no-cost appointment to discuss the issue personally
o I am unable to attend but would like further information
- Get the right person to speak. Get someone who can speak well and do justice to your marketing objectives. If not, forget it altogether. Ensure that the talk is kept short, not too technical and has plenty of practical stories and examples to which your clients can relate.
- Ask clients to bring a friend. An excellent way of encouraging clients to come is to invite them to bring a relative or a friend. Not only will this foster a better response, but it will also introduce you to their “contact circle”.
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