From Socrates to Yogi Berra: Identifying Your Ideal Client
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Socrates said it well: “Know thyself.”
But Yogi Berra said it better: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.”
For RIAs, self-knowledge – which includes an understanding of the firm’s ideal client persona (the people you need to be spending your time with for maximum profitability) – is the first and most necessary step on the road to success and scalability.
Don’t accept this premise based on my intuitive logic; the numbers bear it out. In its most recently completed benchmarking study for RIAs, Schwab Advisor Services polled over 1,200 firms of various sizes, representing an aggregate of $1.8 trillion in AUM. Results showed that organic growth (increases in the client base through referrals, new client recruitment, marketing, and other outreach, excluding market gains or losses) reached a five-year high. Firms with written marketing plans, ideal client personas, and client value propositions attracted 42% more clients and 45% more assets from existing clients than firms lacking these three key positioning documents.
Firms that know themselves and have a solid (read: written) concept of where they’re going achieve greater success than other firms. Let’s look at a few reasons why this is the case.
The ideal client and marketing
You’ve got to give at least grudging admiration to street preachers. Rain or shine, they’re proclaiming their message to all passersby. They may be models of commitment and determination, but have you ever seen a street preacher who franchised? In other words, though their efforts may be admirable, they aren’t scalable.
Admittedly, religious communication and building a successful RIA are different undertakings, but most RIAs are indeed looking for a way to influence more clients to entrust their assets to them so that the firm can become more profitable, serve more clients, and be sustainable. In terms of marketing strategy, this means tailoring your message to those most likely to need and benefit from your services. Unlike the street preacher, who is announcing the “product” to anyone in an earshot, you want to be laser focused in your messaging so that it influences the decisions of exactly those you want to attract to your firm.
All this begs the question: Who do you want to attract? Until you’ve made that foundational decision, how are you going to decide how to attract their attention, or even what you’re going to say to them?
The ideal client and tech
The same holds true for the technology solutions you employ as an RIA. Everything from your custodial solutions to your CRM should be predicated on exactly who it is you’re serving. If your ideal client is the entrepreneur approaching retirement with eight figures or more in investable assets, they’ll have one level of expectation for the type of service and guidance you should provide. Your technology infrastructure needs to support those expectations. To build your business around successful small business owners, you may not require the same level of capability. It all depends on knowing your ideal client’s expectations and needs and meeting them appropriately.
The ideal client and value
What does your ideal client want? What do they value most? Whatever it is, you’ve got to deliver that, every day and with every client interaction. One of the guiding principles of the Schwab survey mentioned above is, “Value is defined through your client’s eyes.” Delivering value – as defined by the client – is the key to building a thriving RIA.
Understanding your ideal client is essential for learning what is most important to them, i.e., how they define value. Once you’ve done that, you can build your practice around doing what most satisfies your most valuable clients. But until you’ve identified who those clients are, how can you position your value proposition effectively?
The ideal client
Now that we’ve established several ways in which understanding your ideal client persona should drive the important decisions about your RIA firm, it’s time to ask: “How do I figure out my ideal client persona?”
There are many ways to develop an ideal client persona for your firm, and all of them start with the most basic requirement in our profession: Know your client (if Socrates had been a financial advisor, he would have said this). It’s likely that you already possess several valuable clues about your ideal client persona in your existing book of business. When you think of clients you enjoy working with the most, certain faces pop into your mind. Think about those faces: What do they have in common? What is it that you appreciate most about them? If they have expressed appreciation toward you or your team, what does that tell you about what they value? As you consider these questions and look for larger patterns, you’re beginning to assemble a composite image of your ideal client.
As you further develop your ideal client profile, consider additional questions like these:
- What does this client read?
- How do they use the internet?
- What are their most important goals?
- What worries them most?
- How do they prefer to do business, both with this firm and elsewhere?
- Do they have kids? Grandkids?
- Is there a common theme to their careers?
- Where do they live?
- How old are they?
- What are their hobbies?
- What’s their investment style? Risk profile?
- What specific value does this firm offer them?
Is the picture getting clearer? When you’ve got it well in focus, write a short description of your ideal client – call them “Cal client” or “Cathy client” – that incorporates most or all of your identifying factors. Share it with your team and get their input. Refine the description until the person seems as familiar as someone you see every day. Because, after all … that’s what you hope to do, right? Engage your ideal client every day.
Once more, for emphasis: Firms with detailed, written ideal client personas attract more clients and bring in more assets from existing clients. They do this because through knowing themselves thoroughly, they’ve identified where they’re going – i.e., whom they’re serving – accurately and strategically.
Gretchen Halpin is the co-founder of Beyond AUM, which provides growth, client experience, and advisor experience support to financial advisors to drive business success. Over the course of her 25-year career, Gretchen has founded more than five businesses in addition to serving as the chief strategy officer for one of the financial services industry's leading wealth management firms. She has been featured in Advisor Perspectives, Financial Advisor Magazine, and Forbes for her insights and has served as a speaker at numerous industry conferences, including NAPFA, Financial Planning, and Invest in Women. She also serves as a facilitator in Financial Planning Association's Women and Finance Knowledge Circle community.
Do you need help figuring out your ideal client persona? And if you’re interested in improving your firm’s marketing strategy, Contact our team today to start the conversation.