A Six-Step Plan to Track Prospects
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It is less expensive and time consuming to keep an existing client compared to acquiring a new one. Therefore, much information is offered regarding serving clients.
However, acquiring new clients is an important part of growing and maintaining a practice since clients pass away or move to a state where you may not want to pay an additional fee to become licensed.
Many advisors are terrific at securing new prospects, but I have found that most need guidance in keeping track of and staying in touch with those in their pipeline.
This article will walk through six steps you can take to ensure that transitioning prospects into clients is a successful venture. But, first, let’s confront a universal issue that confounds advisors when they work with prospects.
Persistence versus stalking
One question that advisors frequently ask me is, “How do I know where the line is between persistence and stalking?” The answer is that advisors feel they are approaching the stalking line much sooner than the prospects do.
This means advisors give up too soon.
Early on in my career, I took over a lead from another advisor who was not having success with the prospect. In the beginning, I discovered that the woman I was speaking with was the wife of the president of a locally based business with international clients. The husband travelled extensively. Over a number of months, the wife and I spoke 12 times
Yes, that’s 12 times.
Mind you, the 12 conversations happened over roughly a year. In the beginning, I contacted the wife every week or two and then lengthened the time between contacts to one to two months, sometimes longer. There isn’t an exact science to how often to reach out. You just have a feeling about it. The point is to stay in touch as is appropriate for the relationship you are developing.
We eventually pinned down her husband for a meeting. Because the wife and I had formed a fairly strong bond during our calls, we couldn’t wait to meet one another. Ultimately, this couple became terrific clients.
Even though every prospect will not become a client, you will increase your odds of success by following six steps and paying attention to the following reminders.
1. Use a systematic tracker for your prospects
No one minds persistence as long as it’s done in a gentle manner. If I had been pushy with the wife I mentioned above, I would not have had the opportunity to meet her and her husband. She would have lowered the gate, locked it and thrown away the key. Since her husband was the president of an international company, she had become a strong and successful gatekeeper, deflecting numerous sales calls each week. Because I was always courteous and inquisitive, and engaged her in conversation, we formed a bond over the telephone. When we did finally meet, we hugged each other. Her husband was surprised at how much his wife and I related to each other.
To remain top-of-mind with prospects, it is imperative to have an easy-to-use system and time on the calendar dedicated to managing the system and staying in touch with prospects. If it takes you 20 to 30 minutes just to determine who you should reach out to, the system is too cumbersome.
Here’s the tracker I used when I was working with prospects as an advisor. I use something similar today. Although this can all be done within a customer relationship management (CRM) system, I need to see everything at one time and I like to use color-coding to help keep organized. Also, I hear from many advisors that the CRMs they are using are too cumbersome to add and update information.
The color-coding on the tracker works as follows:
- Anything colored in pink lets me know that this is someone with whom I need to stay in touch. If you look at the notes section, you will see that I reach out to the prospect right away, and then put them on a regular, recurring schedule. This schedule relates to the time in my model week dedicated to reaching out to prospects and updating the tracker. I have found that Monday morning and Friday afternoon are not good times to reach prospects who work. My time slots were Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon.
- Anything colored in red means I don’t have contact information for that person. A client mentioned to me that they gave my name to someone and I should expect to hear from him or her. I don’t want to lose track of this potential client, so I keep a place holder on my tracker. If I don’t hear from the prospect within a certain amount of time, I circle back to my client to check in about the prospect. Without this place holder, I won’t remember to revisit this prospect with my client.
As a reminder to those of you who read my article on meeting prep, there is a bullet point on the before-meeting portion of the checklist to review the prospect list to see if there are any you need to discuss with your client. Those prospects noted in red are a good example of individuals you want to discuss with the client during their upcoming meeting.
- Part of our process was to send a small-denomination gift card with a handwritten note to any client, but not a center-of-influence (COI), who provided us with a referral. If the prospect became a client, we would reward the referral source with an additional gift. This second gift was often selected based on a hobby or interest of the client. These actions are noted on the tracker with a blue and purple highlight over the referral source’s name. You could take this one step further by specifically noting the gift given. Since your relationship with COIs is supposed to provide an exchange of referrals, a referral thank you gift is not necessary.
- Those names highlighted in yellow indicate to me that an initial meeting has been scheduled or held. If the prospect has verbally agreed to become a client, the initial meeting/status box is changed to green.
- Once a prospect has officially become a client, meaning they have signed documents with our firm, the whole line is changed to green and the status box is changed to client.
- If I have extensive notes either from the referral source or from a conversation with the prospect, they are put into the CRM system. The Excel spreadsheet is not the place to keep this level of detail. I do not put every prospect’s name into the CRM system. I only add those prospects who have scheduled an appointment or for whom I have extensive notes.
- If you regularly conduct workshops or other events to garner prospects, you will want to add a column to the tracker to help you remember from which event each prospect originated. Doing so will also help you gauge the success, or lack thereof, from certain workshops or events. Track the date, location and workshop topic for each prospect.
- “RFC” under referral source type stands for request for consultation. There was a time when I was able to purchase leads from the corporate office. By tracking results, I was able to illustrate that the cost in time and money for these leads was not a good investment. With this data it was easy to decide to terminate my involvement in this program.
2. Assign ownership of the tracker
It is imperative that you, or someone on your team, take ownership of keeping the tracker up to date, reviewing it regularly and reaching out to everyone with whom you need to remain in contact. Switch up your contact method periodically. If you have only sent emails, try leaving a message. If you have gathered a bit of information from the referral source or the prospect himself or herself, send something, an article perhaps, the prospect might find interesting.
This brings me to another question that is often asked, “Should I, the advisor, manage the prospect list or can someone on my team manage it?” The answer is it depends. If you have someone on the team who has both the capacity and capability to qualify prospects and deliver the message regarding your value proposition, then by all means, delegate this to a team member. On the other hand, if you don’t have someone to whom you feel comfortable delegating this activity, take it on yourself and train someone to eventually take it over.
Here’s an article I wrote that relates to this topic.
3. Bow out gracefully
Not every prospect will become a client. If you feel you are getting close to the stalking line or feel like you should back off of the prospect, give them an opportunity to gracefully remove themselves from your follow-up list. If I ever felt that a prospect wanted to say “no,” but was afraid of hurting my feelings, I would leave the following message: “If you are no longer interested in hearing from me, just let me know. I just know that the work I do on behalf of my clients has helped them tremendously and I would love to help you as well. Please send an email or leave a message on my voice mail after hours and I will remove your name from my follow-up list.” More often than not, this message got the prospect to reach out to me to schedule a meeting.
4. When the prospect is on the fence
Not every meeting with a prospect will turn into a new client engagement. If the prospect is someone with whom you would like to work, but the prospect would like to take some time to consider the idea of working with you, schedule a follow-up call. By doing so, you can encourage the prospect to make a decision.
I always say, “Yes is great, no is okay, but maybe drives me nuts.” Having this follow-up call on the calendar can accomplish several things. It allows you to answer any additional questions that might have come up for the prospect. It gives you the opportunity to schedule the next meeting if the prospect has decided to work with you, and it gives the prospect a deadline to make his or her decision.
5. Analyze the data in your tracking system
The prospect tracker can be used as a tool for analysis. Year by year, you can keep track of how many total referrals you receive, from where those referrals originate, how well you qualified prospects, from where unqualified prospects originate, and your success rate of turning qualified prospects into clients. You can analyze how your success relates to your ideal client.
Each of these data points deserves its own analysis.
If you are unhappy with the number of referrals you receive, or the number is lessening over the years, this may indicate a service issue. Asking other advisors what their service model looks like and asking trusted clients for their evaluation of your existing service model may shine a light on service gaps.
If you are unhappy with the number of referrals you receive from your COIs, it may be time for a serious conversation with those who are not referring to you. But first, ask yourself if you are an advocate for each of your COIs. If not, consider why that is.
If you are unhappy with the number of unqualified referrals you are receiving, determine where they originate. It may be that one or two of your clients are unaware of your target market or ideal client attributes. Educating him or her may be all that is needed to lessen the number of unqualified referrals you receive.
If you find yourself meeting with too many unqualified prospects, consider how you are currently weeding out those prospects whom are not a good fit. If you have delegated this task to a team member, help that person better understand how to determine the right fit and how to graciously let a prospect know that another advisor may be a better fit.
Now, if you find yourself dissatisfied with the ratio of qualified prospects with whom you meet to those who agree to sign on with you, it is time to have a trusted advisor, COI or client evaluate your current process and dialog in the initial meeting. You may be using too much industry jargon. You may be coming across as too much of a salesperson and less as a trusted advisor. You may be acting indifferent instead of passionate about the service you provide. If you have been in the industry for more than fifteen years, this last one may be true for you.
I have played the role of prospect with many of my coaching clients (who are advisors) and have found that the actions I have noted above are commonplace. Using industry jargon is the biggest culprit. Here’s an example:
An advisor was conducting a workshop. He did a great job of presenting some of the basic actions to take to improve a person’s overall financial circumstances. He received thunderous applause at the end of his presentation. During the question and answer portion, one attendee said, “This is terrific information. Very helpful. I have one question. What does the term ‘cash flow’ mean?”
For those of us who have been in the business for more than 10 minutes we know what cash flow means and we assume that the clients and prospects we are speaking with understand it as well. The truth is many don’t. The question from the audience member was a good reminder to the advisor to learn to remove industry jargon from his presentations or define it more clearly for the audience.
In order to keep the tracker from becoming overwhelming, at the end of each year I do a ”save as” to copy the existing tracker, naming the new one “2017 Prospect Tracker,” deleting any prospects who have become clients and any prospects who I will not continue prospecting to. This way, I maintain records for previous years and stay focused on the prospects with whom I want to continue staying in touch.
6. Don’t fear rejection
Even with the best tools and trackers in the world, you must take action consistently in order to have success transitioning prospects to clients.
We could have a whole conversation about the fear of rejection and how that fear may stop you from reaching out to prospects. But avoiding rejection isn’t productive. After all, rejection won’t kill you – right?
Here’s what I say on the subject, “If you don’t put yourself in a position to hear no, you are not putting yourself in a position to hear yes!”
As always, if you have any questions or would like an editable copy of the prospect tracker, don’t hesitate to reach out to me at Teresa@SimplyOrganized.com.
For the past 20 years, Teresa Riccobuono has been a professional organizer, business consultant and practice-management specialist to the financial services industry, helping advisors bridge the gap between their existing and their ideal financial planning practice. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area but works with advisors across the country. She is a member of the board of directors of the East Bay Chapter of the Financial Planning Association and is currently the co-chair of the public relations committee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.