Every one of us understands the benefit of better client relationships. But what we need to know isn’t often taught in school. Our role isn’t just to report financial health but advise and guide clients so they can thrive financially.
Shannon Lee Simmons believes that to truly help clients, you first have to build great client relationships rooted in trust.
Shannon is a Certified Financial Planner, a chartered investment manager, a life coach and speaker, and author and founder of New School of Finance™. A Canadian financial planning trailblazer, Shannon was named one of Canada’s Top 30 Under 30. Her New School of Finance won the 2016 Wealth Professional Award for Digital Innovation. Countable’s Co-founder and CEO, Atin Gupta, sat down and recorded a webinar with Shannon. Here are the highlights.
Shannon takes an unconventional approach to client management. She often hires life coaches over trained professionals to round out her team. “Accountants and planners need to focus more on the emotional labor that comes with their job,” she says, “if they want to maintain better relationships with the client.” A former Bay Street denizen, Shannon grew dissatisfied with giving advice that carried an ulterior motive and quit ‘The Street’ in 2010. She hasn’t looked back.
For Shannon, earning trust with a client makes her a go-to person in their life. She touches base several times throughout the year and meets for a session whenever something big happens in their life. For these instances, she likes to use what she calls micro timelines.
The old model never cut it—that’s not how life works—so Shannon takes a micro approach, focusing on what she can help within the available blocks of time.
That’s where the life coaching piece really feeds into the trust loop. No longer are you compromising your available time and racing to find a solution. Start by listening to what’s going on in a client’s life and drilling down with powerful, open-ended questions.
Building a foundation of trust
Building a foundation of trust—easily the most important piece in a client relationship—is not as difficult to do at New School of Finance as it may be elsewhere. “When I was working on Bay Street, I really felt like I had to compensate for the advice I was giving,” explains Shannon. “I had to over-explain… I was almost sheepish when giving advice. That fundamental foundation of trust, I think, is the most important thing. When I think about clients and I think about the relationship that we’re starting, they have to trust you. So even if you’re selling products, I still feel like you can earn that trust through proper education, honest advice and transparency.” There are a few things that Shannon uses to simultaneously build trust and to ensure that new clients are going to be happy:
- Be authentic First off, Shannon says that both your website and social media need to accurately reflect who you are. If what you say doesn’t resonate with a prospect, they’re not going to reach out. Being authentic is key. There’s no point in casting a wide net because the by-catch will be ugly. When what you say resonates with a prospect it builds preference and trust, which prepares them to go to the next step.
- Be transparent Another thing that Shannon recommends for building trust is being transparent about fees. She says,’ Imagine a contractor coming in, and not really giving you a quote, just getting to work.”
Having your fee structure right on the website or being upfront with it builds trust and also filters out those who are not comfortable with your price range and fee structure, which is equally important.
- Be patient and don’t sell up front. “Obviously, we’re here to sell, but what I’ve learned over my 10-plus years is that sometimes it’s a slower burn that results in more meaningful relationships later. That means educating, answering questions right off the bat, and really explaining how the process works. Those three levels—brand beliefs, transparency and the education piece versus selling—results in clients who like what we do. And trust us before they meet us.”
- Gain new-client commitment “There’s one more thing that we’ve done in the last few years and it’s also made a huge difference,” Shannon notes. “ We have people book consultations online because we have a three-month waiting list, which is awesome. But to book a spot, people have to pay a small $40 deposit. And obviously it goes against the cost of the meeting. Anyone who’s not really sure if they’re ready to pay 40 bucks’ doesn’t book. As a result, the people that we come into contact with are really, truly serious. And then if it’s just not a great fit and they’ve come that far, then yes, it’s truly not a good fit. And you don’t want to force it, because then you’re just going to end up with someone who might be unsatisfied.”
Delivering on your value proposition
Building trust is essential, but to keep that trust through the client intake process and beyond, you need to consistently deliver on your value proposition. That can be a challenge. Doing so is a combination of having the right people and the right operations in place.
So if an advisor is bogged down in operational processes, being fully present for a meeting, empathizing with the client while delivering on your value proposition, is going to be difficult.” For Shannon, the ability to be entirely present for client consultation boils down to a combination of streamlining processes and leveraging time-saving technologies (like Countable), hiring the right people, and training them properly.
Maintaining relationships while scaling
When clients engage with a firm, they look for consistency. They want to make sure that their experience is similar throughout the organization, otherwise they’re going to play favourites and demand a certain individual. Building that culture of growing together starts with your brand and ends with your people.
- Brand for scale “When I started my firm it was just me. It was like ‘the Shannon show’,” says Shannon. “Eventually I had a months-long waiting list. I knew it was time to hire somebody else but I was so afraid of, ‘oh I just want Shannon’. So right away, from a branding perspective, if you have dreams of scaling, don’t put your name on the marquis. I made the switch to New School Finance early on, but I had to learn that lesson first.”
- Get the support you need “The second thing that I wish I had done sooner,” says Shannon, “was hiring support. I was so afraid to spend money to hire my first operational support person, to the point where I had a seven-month waiting list. Outrageous. I could only take so many meetings per week because I also was doing all the other stuff too, right? Had I just been a little bit braver in the beginning to hire someone and just be like, ‘I can actually do the billable work to fund that person and me as well’, I could have had an easier go and we could have scaled a lot faster.”
- Cross-pollinate constantly How do you get everyone representing the brand in the same way? Working together on a regular basis promotes consistency as well as learning, but it’s easier said than done. “This is something I’m currently trying to find a way to maintain,” laughs Shannon. “I make sure that new planners get to sit in on meetings for a really long time, like three or four weeks. Then we do regular random sit-ins, where I sit in with somebody else, and they sit in with me. It’s not like I’m grading their performance, but more seeing how they do it for consistency around the brand. Often it’s like, ‘wow, I never thought about saying it like that. That’s great.’ So there’s learning on all levels.”
Shannon finds that the same qualities that make a great advisor — empathy and humility—also serve to promote consistency around the brand. That’s because knowledge transfer between professionals needs to happen in a way in which no one is ‘the best’ and everyone is trying to share a common experience and ‘float all boats’. Including, or course, the client’s.
Building deeper client relationships is as fundamentally simple as it is tricky in practice. At its essence, it comes down to humility, empathy, process and a consistent effort to build the brand internally.
People running practices are often bogged down in operational processes. Being fully present for a meeting, empathizing with the client and truly becoming their trusted advisor tends to be a challenge. streamlining processes, leveraging time-saving tools (like Countable), and finding time to make those client relationships sticky is key to helping not only your clients but also your own practice.