May 31, 2011
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Many advisors are puzzled and frustrated by just how hard it is to get clients to show up when they organize events for them. Achieving great turnout isn’t easy, but it can be done - I recently spoke to an advisor who made a couple of simple changes to his annual event and doubled attendance as a result.
At the other end of the spectrum, earlier this year I talked to an advisor who had a troubling experience. He invited clients to a catered lunch in his boardroom to meet with a money manager from a well-known firm. Initially he targeted only his top clients – as the date drew nearer and few responded, he opened this up to all his clients. The day before he was on the phone pleading with clients to come out so he wouldn’t be embarrassed.
A big part of the problem is that advisors underestimate how busy their clients are and the extent to which they have access to other sources of information. Sometimes advisors don’t provide sufficient notice or fail to effectively sell the benefits of attending. And in large cities, other factors such as traffic and parking can be significant hurdles.
The key to overcoming these obstacles is to get all the elements that motivate clients working so that you end up with a compelling event – and then tell the story in a convincing fashion.
Stopping the downward spiral
Let’s go back to the advisor who doubled attendance. Based in Toronto, he has hosted a mid-January evening event since the mid-nineties.
The evening is designed to provide a recap of the economy and stock market in the previous year as well as an outlook for the year ahead. It starts at 7:30 and normally consists of three 20-minute presentations, with 10 minutes for questions after each talk:
- An economist from his firm or a local university starts by providing a big picture summary.
- Next is a partner from one of the major accounting or law firms with tax or estate planning tips, focusing on new ideas that can save clients money.
- The advisor closes with a summary of market performance in the past year and his views for the period ahead.
Historically, this event was held at a downtown hotel, with coffee and dessert from 7 to 7:30 as well as after the presentations. The advisor pointed to three reasons for the January timing.
First, it’s just before clients receive their year-end statements, so after difficult years he’s able to pre-empt concerns about performance and also communicates that he is facing bad news head-on. Next, he gets face time with smaller clients who he won’t be able to see until March or April. Finally, in his experience, except for retirees who are south for the winter, January is the one time of the year that clients are most likely to have their evenings free – provided of course that the weather cooperates (and so far he’s been lucky in this regard).
Despite this, turnout has been steadily declining. The first year he did this – 15 years ago – over 300 people showed up and latecomers ended up standing at the back of the room. (Remember, there was a huge novelty factor at work and this was also before the days of the internet, when information was much harder to come by.)
He’s never matched that initial success. In fact, the past few years he’s struggled to get 100 clients out and last fall considered cancelling the event – until one of his larger clients remarked over lunch that he looks forward to that January evening each year.
As a result, he decided to go ahead for one more year – but resolved to rethink every aspect of the evening. He also set a goal of 150 clients to justify continuing and made two changes to try to make that happen.
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