“Communication and Trust are two main ingredients for a successful RELATIONSHIP.” ~ Anonymous
The foundation of successful long-term business relationships is trust built on strong, two-way communications. When clients, prospects and consultants believe you genuinely care about their interests, needs and challenges, and are a valuable resource, they will open up and share more information with you. Mastering the art of meaningful communications will help you attract clients who are a good long-term fit with your firm and capabilities.
How do you convey that you are an advocate first and a quality service provider second? The key is first to do your homework and prepare; second to be relevant and add value (above and beyond the investment mandate); and third to hear and respond appropriately.
Homework and Preparation
Before every interaction – whether a call or in-person meeting – learn as much as possible about the person or group with whom you will be speaking or meeting. What are their objectives, needs and challenges? Have there been any recent significant changes that impact their roles or your firm’s fit in their investment program? Have they been in the news? Review past call and meeting notes, including questions they asked.
Prepare relevant probing questions to ask to elicit the information you need to provide value. Ask open-ended questions to promote thought and dialogue. For example:
- What are your key initiatives/priorities for the year?
- What are your greatest challenges?
- What managers stand out as best in class in the way they work with you and why?
- What type of information and intellectual capital do you find most valuable?
- How can we help you beyond our portfolio mandate?
- What else should we know about your group?
- What is your approval process?
- What can you share with me about your client base?
- What is your firm’s greatest need?
- What would you like us to know about your (objectives, firm, preferences, clients)?
- What are your (or your clients’) primary objectives? Absolute return? Preservation of capital? Tax efficiencies? Capital growth? Other?
- What are your/your client’s criteria for selecting a manager?
- What would you like to know about us?
- What are your reservations, if any, about our firm?
- How may we best work together?
- How often do you like to hear from us?
- Is there anything you would recommend we do differently?
- Is there anything we should have asked you that we didn’t?
- When we last talked last fall, you were conducting a search for a new consultant (or emerging markets debt manager, or considering outsourced CIO options). Where are you in the process?
- What are the most important attributes you seek or need in a manager?
- What are your pet peeves in working with a manager?
- How do you approach asset allocation (e.g., traditional or outcome/risk-oriented)?
- What is your investment time horizon in measuring a manager’s success?
- What if any changes are planned for the coming year?
- How would you like us to work with your consultant(s)?
Be Relevant and Add Value
When you learn client, consultant and prospect needs and challenges, be proactive in offering information of value. Share research and articles (whether generated by your firm or others) that would be of interest. Are there resources in your firm with whom it would be productive to offer a call or meeting to help the client, prospect or consultant with a need (e.g., a meeting with your head of asset allocation, a credit analyst, or a health care analyst for a health care industry client or prospect)? Does your firm have other clients with effective solutions to shared challenges who would be willing to talk with them? Demonstrate that you care about what is important to them. Show that they can trust you and count on you to respond productively to any information they do share.
Hear and Respond
We agree with voice coach, Kate Peters (katepeters.com) that hearing is different than listening. If you simply go through a checklist of questions and note the responses, it is unlikely you will get another meeting. You must be selective, ask relevant questions, probe when appropriate and give meaningful responses. For example, if a client shares with you that their key challenge is closing the funding gap, you can respond that a significant number of your clients face the same challenge. Ask if they would be interested in learning more about some of ways your other clients are addressing the issue. Another example, you may have a prospect, consultant or client who is interested in allocating assets to your small cap growth strategy, however, it has reached capacity. You can ask if they would be interested in names of other small cap managers whom you hold in high regard. If your clients express interest in Impact investing (ESG-related), send them studies, white papers and articles on the topic. If a prospect is attracted by your strong long-term record, but you experience occasional periods of high short-term volatility when your approach is out of favor, it is important to show what they can expect.
If you demonstrate to clients, consultants and prospects that you hear and understand their needs, and are a valuable, responsive and high-integrity resource for them, you are well on your way to developing strong relationships that will stand the test of time and market cycles.
Charnley & Røstvold, Inc., a preeminent marketing consulting firm to asset management firms ranging in size from start-up firms to some of the world’s largest investment firms with over $1 trillion under management. Charnley & Røstvold helps clients with competitive positioning, marketing strategies, key messages, presentation refinements, communications and sales training, consultant relations and client service programs.
Christine Røstvold, co-founder of Charnley & Røstvold, Inc., is a popular industry speaker and author. Christine was a founding board member of PAICR (Professional Association for Investment Communications Resources), and served on the Advisory Board for more than a decade.