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Advisor Survey Shows Best Ways to Business Growth

September 8, 2009

by Michael Slemmer, CFA

4. COI Strategy and Implementation

While only 19% say that COI referrals are the best way their firm has found to bring in new business (a distant second to “clients” at 68%), virtually all respondents have either formal or informal relationships with COIs for this purpose. CPAs nose out lawyers 40% to 38% as the #1 COI source. The best way advisors have found to get new business from COIs is simply to ask them. We then asked “Do you generate the expected referrals from COIs or strategic alliances?” a whopping 65% said “no.” This is not surprising, as the top chosen answer to “What is the biggest obstacle to bringing in new business through COI relationships?” was “Haven't determined a way to work with them!”

5. Gaining client referrals

No surprise here – most new business comes from client referrals (68%), followed by trusted advisors/COIs (19%). We asked what were the biggest obstacles to gaining prospect referrals (from any source). At 40%, “not asking for them – lack of tools or process” was first, followed by “Not asking for them – think it's ‘unseemly.’” Third was “Clients simply don't refer.”

6. Effective – and assertive – public relations

We were somewhat surprised to see how few firms use PR as a primary means of business building. Only 33% said they used PR for that purpose. When asked “How would you rate your relationships with the media in your area or in your targeted market?” only 26% said “excellent” or “good” while 47% said “satisfactory” and 28% said “bad.” Advisors who said they received positive PR were most likely to cite “Quoted in the news” (27%), “Sponsoring events” (16%) and “Writing articles in local/regional newspapers” (15%) as examples of their successes.

Does PR work as a business-building tool? The most successful advisors, as defined above, believe so – 54% use PR for this purpose while only 22% of the least successful group do. The successful group gave a 35% excellent/good rating to their relations with the media while just 19% of the least successful group did.  Conversely, 12% of the successful group rated media relations “bad” while 35% of the least successful group did. 

7. Client communication

Asked to comment on their clients preferred mode of communication, phone calls and in-person meetings were cited by the largest number of advisors. The next three most-cited methods cited were newsletters, email blasts and seminars/workshops.

People have different communication, and therefore learning, styles, which is why we counsel advisors to offer multiple forms of communication and not assume that “one size fits all.” Unfortunately, many comments indicated that advisors don’t know what clients prefer and haven’t asked.

Our experience shows that one of the most effective ways to communicate with clients is to survey them – and the more interactive, the better. Over 64% of advisors survey their clients, with 23% of all respondents using mailed surveys and 18% asking for feedback in meetings. We have found that clients are more open with an objective third-party, but only 4% of all advisors are using outside resources (via focus groups and phone) to interview them.


We were heartened to see that most firms are setting firm-wide goals and defining their missions, and that they believe they know their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (Step 1). Advisors are doing reasonably well in client communication (Step 7). Unfortunately, the results in Steps 2 through 6 mirror what we encounter with most advisors and wealth managers – that business development and marketing acumen are usually the worst-performing aspects of a firm’s operation. The data clearly show that the firms that develop their business most successfully are those that rigorously plan their sales and marketing efforts, set goals, diversify their “selling attack” by not depending on firm owners/founders, use technology to monitor efforts and stay visible in the marketplace.

A more detailed version of this report, including interpretation and recommendations for addressing the issues raised by survey respondents, will be available soon. Please go here for information on the research report and Advisors Trusted Advisor’s 7 Steps to Effective Business Building for Financial Advisors Program.