Thursday, September 20, 2007

Right Sizing Your Practice

This flies in the face of all we are told " GET MORE CLIENTS NOW!" but as usual with Pareto articles, it makes a lot of sense. All ye who are stressed out in your practice- read this..TD

The Case for Right Sizing

By Duncan MacPherson, Co-founder, Pareto Systems

I'€'ll never forget the first time the need for right sizing occurred to me. An advisor was referred to us, and was inquiring about our coaching process. Within 10 minutes, I learned that he had over 900 clients, that he was making a ton of money and that he had no life.

He was stressed-out, out of shape and had a whole host of issues going on in his personal life. Then the advisor said, €œI'€™ve heard good things about you. I'€™m thinking about hiring you to help me grow my business.

Wow. My reply to him was simple: "€œI think the best thing I can help you do is dismantle this thing."

We started to work on the Pareto System, and after some initial resistance, this advisor went from close to 900 clients down to about 200 clients.

In short order, his stress and overhead went down while his productivity increased. Liberation and order were restored to his business and personal life.

Shrink your Way to Success

Many elite advisors tell me that they feel they have hit a plateau and they are having difficulties taking their businesses to the next level. In my experience, they hit this plateau because they still subscribe to the alleged precept that you must continually €œgrow or perish.

To me, this precept is a fallacy. The maxim I suggest you live by is €œprofit and progress, or perish. Growth means bigger profits and progress means €œbetter.

Don't get me wrong, I want the assets you manage to grow year after year, but that does not mean that the number of relationships you manage must increase too. In fact, when it comes to relationships, the goal is not to see how big you can get, but rather how small you can stay. Right sizing is a critical step in moving to the next level; I can'€™t begin to tell you how many advisors we've seen that have taken a proverbial step back in order to take a quantum leap forward.

Minor Adjustments Can Lead to Major Improvements

Advisors who continually expand their client base eventually hit a point of diminishing returns. Once you exceed your service capacity, you can no longer effectively competitor proof clients, gain their complete financial empowerment or maintain a high degree of referability. As a result, you are likely to become stressed and frustrated, and to miss opportunities.

Furthermore, unless you hire and manage more staff (which takes time and money), you cannot effectively deploy your a service matrix. In time, you will become perceived as a transactional generalist, and you will end up with a business that is a mile wide and an inch deep.

The question you should ask yourself is this: if 20% of your clients generate 80% of your business, do you invest 80% of your time on those 20%? To generate the qualified referrals that will allow you to build a quality practice, you need to invest 80% of your time in those top 20% of your clients who generate 80% of your income. Right sizing your clientele will allow you to do just this.

Getting Started – Client Classification & An Ideal Client Profile

The first thing to do in right sizing your practice is to classify your clients. Through the process of classifying your current clients, you will create an ideal client profile which will allow you to identify the type of clients that you wish to work with.

Now, most advisors tell us that they have already classified their clients, but upon closer inspection, we realize that they have only done a partial job, because their only classification criterion was assets. We encourage you to engage in a more detailed client classification by using our Triple A approach.

The first A in this approach speaks to assets. What asset level and range of needs must your clients have for them to be considered a good fit for your areas of expertise? Most advisors stop at this stage of client classification, but it is only the first step if you want to successfully right size your practice.

The second A refers to attitude, which, over the lifetime of your working relationship, is actually more important than assets. What is their attitude towards you? Do they focus on what you cost or what you are worth? What is their attitude about empowerment? Do they treat you like a personal CFO, or do they insist on having investments with other advisors? Do they have an informed attitude about the way the markets work? Do they try to micromanage you? Are they disrespectful to your staff? Keep in mind, assets change but attitudes rarely do. Many times I have seen an advisor work with a client with great assets and a bad attitude; in the long run, this client winds up costing the advisor more than it earns him or her.

The third A stands for advocacy. Your top clients will frequently recommend your services. Ideal clients appreciate the merit of €œbuying into a relationship with a professional consultant rather than simply €œbuying things from a salesperson. They are extremely loyal and they feel they are doing a likeminded friend a disservice by not introducing them to you.

After completing this client classification process, you will be able to identify three types of clients: customers, clients and advocates. A customer is someone who has some business with you, but also has business placed with another advisor. A client is someone who empowers you fully who has placed all of their business with you -- but they never refer people to you. An advocate is someone who is an absolute joy to work with, and who recommends your services to anyone who will listen. The value of your business has virtually nothing to do with how many clients you have and everything to do with how many advocates you have. In fact, as my opening story shows, the ideal financial services practice consists of about 150 advocates, not a collection of 500 customers and clients.

Let Prospective Clients Convince you there is a Good Fit

Once you have created an ideal client profile, you need to commit to following it. When meeting with prospective clients, we suggest that you explain that you have an ideal client profile, and that you outline the three As. Include these topics on your meeting agenda, and explain why these features makes you unique. Here is a script you can use to introduce the topic:

I have made the commitment to be a specialist rather than a generalist, and as a result, I am very selective about the clients I work with. Unlike some advisors who are trying to build a big business, and who attempt to be all things to all people, I prefer to be all things to some people. I know my capacity, and if I go beyond that level, it will dilute the service I provide. I can'€™t allow that to happen. While some advisors are fixated on making a sale, I am concerned that there be a fit between us, because I believe that is the foundation of a successful long-term working relationship. It is for that reason I have an ideal client profile, and that I stick to it.

At that point, you would actually write out three A'€™s and then explain each one. You will find that prospective clients will actually try to convince you that they meet your profile, rather than you having to convince them that they should do business with you.

With existing clients, I suggest that you decide who among them meets your profile, or at least has the ability to meet it within a reasonable period of time. Once you have established that list work hard to competitor proof them, and to convert them to advocate status.

The Moment of Truth

After you have established your ideal client profile, you have an important choice to make about your current clients who don'€™t meet your profile. This stage is where many advisors make a serious error in judgment. Some advisors simply can'€™t bring themselves to let go. They tell me things like, "€œsome of these people have been with me since day one" or €œ"some of these people are like family to me;" or "€œI can'€™t just give this revenue away." The bottom line is this: you live by the rules you set. Ultimately, you can make exceptions but be practical and realistic and try to step beyond emotion and sentiment.

This brings us to the other mistake advisors often make. Often advisors tell me that they really need to fire some clients. The last thing this industry needs is advisors firing clients. If you have too many clients, you are doing them a disservice by keeping them. For the clients with whom you have poor chemistry or for those that have a high hassle factor, be a pro and bow out gracefully.

You'€™re Not Firing them, You Are Disassociating Respectfully

The next step in the right sizing process is to call to the clients on your list. (Of course, if your list is sizeable you can launch this by a letter. If you are selling a large portion of your business, you can modify this approach accordingly.) When speaking to each client, it is essential that you the high road with a forthright and rational approach like this one:

Up until recently, I have been trying to be all things to all people, and over time, I found myself becoming a generalist. As a result we'€™ve been bursting at the seams, and I'€™ve started to see things fall through the cracks. Going forward, I've decided to become a specialist who strives to be all things to some people. I know my capacity, and in order to offer superior service, I have to make some changes to my practice. Part of that includes using an ideal client profile that reflects the type of client who is a good fit for my team and I. (Outline AAA). Based on this profile and our history together, I feel that going forward there probably isn'€™t a good fit. However as a value added service, I have identified an advisor who I feel would be a better fit for you.

You'€™ll be amazed at what this exchange will reveal. Either the client will agree and move on effortlessly, or they will become defensive and ultimately fight to stay on board with you. They'€™ll say things like: "€œIt never occurred to me that I should empower you fully. I can move everything to you" or "€œI didn'€™t know you were accepting new clients but I can start referring people to you."

In cases like this, you can decide to conditionally keep the client on board, if they agree to respect the rules of engagement. Given this opportunity, many clients will develop from being simply customers into being true advocates. They do so because you clearly explain why it matters and how they will benefit. However, when your instincts tell you that the client is not really going to respond, maintain your integrity. Many of these clients will try to convince you that they can change, but when you sense that they are simply paying lip service, be professional, but firm:

Advisor: €œI just don'€™t think there is a good fit going forward.€? Client: €œBut I can change, I didn't mean to be a pain to your people. Advisor: €œI just don't think there is a good fit, but I'€™ll introduce you to the other advisor.? Client: €œBut I don'€™t want to work with anyone else.€? Advisor: €œI appreciate that but based on the direction I'€™m taking my practice I just don'€™t think there is a good fit here.

The point of right sizing is to build a clientele made up exclusively of people you want to work with, because these are the clients who will turn into raving fans and sing your praises to their friends, family and associates. These clients are the key to building a successful, profitable practice that leaves you with enough time to enjoy the things that matter to you. Remember, it’s more important to reach people who count, than to count the people you reach.

1 comment:

Todd V said...


All of this is so, so true... If you can manage to only "hire" those clients that are "A" clients, your practice will be easier to run, will generate more referrals, will (ultimately) generate more income, and will be worth more (in terms of an asset that you might be able to sell at some point in the future).

Imagine being able to tell a prospective buyer of your practice that you haven't had a client transfer their assets out in 2, 3 or 4 years... How much more do you think that would be worth over a practice where the majority of the income comes from activity-based transactions??

If that isn't enough of an incentive, imagine saying to a prospect that wants to know why they should choose you over the "other guy" that you haven't lost a client in 4 years... Every client that you've signed up is still with you (or something to that effect).

As a side note, one of the best lines that I've heard in a long time (that I will soon be using in my practice) is "Fewer clients... Better Service"... If you play your cards right, you can absolutely have a very rewarding career by treating a fairly small number of clients like kings/queens while making a very nice living at the same time!

By the way, I wish I had invented the saying "Fewer Clients... Better Service"... I didn't. I heard it most recently in the "Rollover Coach" training that is being sold on this website. I purchased the materials and there are lots of great tips there that can help you do better in the 401K rollover market... However, if you're looking for a slick, shrink-wrapped, highly stylized set of materials, this won't be for you. This stuff is, as Joe Friday said, "The facts, ma'am. Just the facts"...

One caveat... Building a practice this way or converting an existing practice to this state is definately NOT easy... I chose to build my practice this way since I came into the industry and while that choice has caused my income to lag my effort, I know for a 100% certainty that by this time next year, I will never have to prospect for a new client... EVER!

From that point on, the choice is mine... Continue doing seminars, etc or just focus on existing clients...

Anyone can do this (especially if you pay close attention to the info provided by the Pareto folks...)

Nice article, TD...

Keep up the good work!