By Jeff Neher, CNC Financial Group LLC
Many years ago, out of the blue, I got a call from Pete, one of my wealthiest and most influential clients, and he was not happy. I could tell the minute I picked up the phone that something was very wrong. Pete said he wanted me to meet him at his office the next morning at 6:30 a.m. but refused to discuss anything further over the phone. I asked him again what he wanted to talk about. He said, “No, we'll talk about it in the morning.”
So I hung up and struggled to figure out what he would be so upset about. Pete was a valuable client who represented a significant amount of billings for our firm, I decided I had to show up and, even though I’m definitely not a morning person, I had to be there right on time.
Thankfully, when I showed up at 6:30 the next morning, Pete had the coffee made. He sat me across the desk and poured me a cup. When he sat back down, he picked something off his desk and threw it in my direction. It was an invoice my office had sent to him, a small bill of about $40 or $50. Then Pete, clearly still a bit incensed, said something that totally changed how I see clients and billing: “Don't you ever send me a small bill like that again. If you want to bill me, then come to my office, spend time with me, spend time with my employees, do something that makes a difference to me’’ — and then he said something that really shook me. He said, “Then send me a larger bill, a large bill that represents the value that I received.”
Pete wasn't really angry about the bill. In fact, he wasn't complaining about the bill at all. What he was really upset with is the level of service he was getting from my firm. He didn't know how to ask for more service, so he took it out on me by way of anger over the small bill.
That morning, we sat down and talked about his business; the problems he faced, his worries and his concerns. We then discussed the services my firm could provide, how we could help him with everything from tax and accounting to wealth management, estate planning, business succession planning and more. We agreed to a whole new service level for him and his firm. After that day and until Pete passed away some years later, he never once called me to complain about a bill. Instead, he would call me and ask what we were accomplishing. He wanted more communication and he was willing to pay for that extra communication.
This experience has remained with me throughout my career and has changed the way I interact with my clients. It has caused me to ask all my clients one simple question: If price were not a factor, what is the one problem you would like to solve?
The question is simple but amazing. It opens the client to a new perspective, because clients in general only see us providing the service that they currently receive. They don't see the other services we provide and how those services could affect them. They only know about what they're getting. They know they want something more, but they don't know whether we provide it.
I've got a nice fancy brochure with all of our services listed, and even if they read it, clients don’t always get it. This simple question — If price were not a factor, what is one problem you'd like to solve? — gives the client an opportunity to tell me what he’s thinking. Often, the client will tell me exactly how much he’s willing to pay for the service he wants. He’ll say, “It's too expensive. I know I can't do this. All I'd be willing to spend is $5,000.” Meanwhile, I know that what they’re asking may only cost $2,000.
This question also gets the client to open up about his fears — fears of running out of money, fears of retirement, fears of selling his business, fears about being able to fund his children’s education. I know I can alleviate those fears by introducing the client to my financial services team. This opportunity feeds my personal passion and gives me energy to do the right thing — enable clients to keep the important promises they make to the ones they love.
Recent marketing studies within the financial services industry have pointed out that this lesson I learned from Pete all those years ago is right on the money. Affluent clients, especially older ones, are discovering that free financial advice isn’t worthwhile and are willing to pay more for solid financial advice from a trusted professional. Think about this, then introduce your firm to the power of our simple question: If price were not a factor, what is one problem you would like to solve? It's worked for me. You’ll be surprised at the potential it has for your firm.
Jeff Neher is Managing Principal of CNC Financial Group, LLC, a Wenatchee, Wash.-based wealth management, financial planning and tax and accounting firm. You can learn more about Jeff at www.cnccpa.com.
1st Global Capital Corp. is a member of FINRA and SIPC and is headquartered at 12750 Merit Dr., Suite 1200, Dallas, Texas 75251; 214-294-5000. Additional information about 1st Global is available via the Internet at www.1stGlobal.com.
 "Addressing the Elephant in Financial Services: Insights into How Older Investors Really Want to Receive, and Pay for, Investment and Personal Financial Advice," Hearts & Wallets, May 31, 2011.