What are the most important factors prospective clients consider when selecting an advisor? Is it the same for all individuals? And is it the same today as it was a year ago or five years ago? If you haven’t asked prospects recently, their answers may surprise you. Knowing what matters to buyers is often more difficult for financial and professional services firms than for those selling more common, easily understood, and comparable products. And knowing how successfully you are communicating what matters is even more of a challenge.
Buyer Decision-making: Comparing Returns And Costs
Typically, financial performance is immediately identified by service providers as the most important element in their clients’ decision-making process:
- For asset managers and savings institutions: How much can my investments gain?
- For tax filers and accountants: How much expense can be mitigated?
- For insurance providers: How much is protected?
Undoubtably this kind of performance-based information is among the most critically important to buyers. However, beyond advisors that obviously lack standard industry capabilities – and results – the evaluation of options quickly becomes much more challenging.
Fees and prices also are often identified as primary reasons a provider was or was not selected. However, again, beyond the low- and high-cost market leaders, comparing the majority of similarly priced providers in the middle, is extremely difficult. This is particularly true when estimations about the amount of work needed (and how fees will be charged) differ.
It is important to recognize that in addition to the obstacle of comparing similarly performing providers that may even charge similar rates, other difficulties unique to marketing financial services include the passing of time between engagement and results, differing priorities of different clients, and the impact the current economic climate has on priorities.
Given this complexity, secondary considerations in the decision-making process become more important. But do you know what those considerations are? The ability to communicate objective satisfaction and experience metrics on these secondary decision-making variables is essential.
Traditional Client Satisfaction
Answering, “what impacts decision-making?” and, “how you compare?” requires marketing-driven research. But this kind of evaluation differs from the traditional and widely used “customer satisfaction” surveys such as:
- Net Promoter Score® (NPS) – Which helps quantify product and service satisfaction, loyalty, and promotion of products and services to others.
- Customer Effort Score (CES) – Which helps assess the efforts and ease of actions customers must perform to interact with products and services.
- Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) – Which helps measure customer experience, particularly as it relates to certain elements or experiences in the product or service purchase and use.
While useful to evaluate performance, identify opportunities for improvement, and avoid the loss of dissatisfied clients, these tools provide inadequate insight into the focused effectiveness of marketing and communication.
To identify critical components of decision-making and how successfully those are being communicated to buyers, firms should consider a message-motivated listening project. This type of research is most successful when incorporating both qualitative and quantitative surveying, and only then incorporating findings into message strategy.
Step 1. Qualitative Conversations: Open-ended questions that provide direction.
Questions at this step center around what is most significant to a buyer about a product or service. It is important to capture what is uniquely important to the individual (versus a generic, wider group), what is specifically important right now (versus in the past or over a long timeframe), and refrain from leading them towards expected responses. Conversely, questions about what is not important can also be asked to confirm and refine insight. Gathering this information at this step is most effectively done in-person through one-on-one or focus group interviews where follow-up questions and further in-the-moment exploration is possible.
Step 2. Quantitative Surveying: Quantifying results to direct attention.
Once you know what matters to clients you can ask them how well your brand, products, or services communicate and represent those elements. Alternatively, you may ask buyers to rank your brand, products, or services in comparison to competitors on a certain component. It is important at this step in message-motivated listening to maintain focus on evaluating the communication of any variable versus measuring performance. One strategy may be to reacquaint buyers to your messaging by sharing an advertisement, presentation, or piece of content and then ask them to evaluate it based on previously identified criteria. When analyzing the results, the areas of greatest attention should be those that were identified by the buyer as important, but poorly communicated.
Step 3. Adjusting Marketing: Effectively Communicating key elements.
Once decision-making components are identified, and current marketing is evaluated on those elements, it is finally time to adjust or implement a new marketing strategy. An effective effort in this area can be as focused or as broad as is necessary and may range from a comprehensive rebranding to minor adjustments of language in print or digital sales material.
While traditional client satisfaction and message-motivated listening both provide critical information, few financial services organizations strategically evaluate their marketing of decision-making elements. To be a leader, firms should utilize customer insight to improve service and communication efforts.
Paul Kaiser has nearly 10 years of experience marketing for leading financial services firms and is the founder of Trailhead Marketing Communications. Based in Denver, CO, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via LinkedIn.