Industry leaders roundtable session

The Industry Leaders Roundtable Session was a new introduction to the MFAA Convention. It involved a unique one hour plenary session, ten tables, ten practical and actionable topics, hosted by ten industry leaders. This was an exciting opportunity for delegates to interact with industry leaders in a relaxed, informal, roundtable discussion.

The sessions were:

  •    Improving Productivity, Sam Boer
  •    Stories and Actions from Successful Credit Advisers, Ruan Burger & Melissa Gielnik
  •    Marketing Actions that Keeps Growth Happening, Justin Cooper & Stephen Hale
  •    SMSF Lending – What Should I Do? A session for Credit Advisers, Aggregators and Lenders, Peter Dunworth, Doug Mathlin & Liam Shorte
  •    ASIC, Chris Green
  •    What is the Underlying Value of your Business? Gerard Hermens
  •    The role of Technology in your Business, Steve Kane
  •    How to Attract New Talent, Aaron Milburn
  •    The Younger Generation – How They Build a Successful Business, James Schulze & Marissa Schulze
  •    Increase Profits with a Structured Referral System, James McCracken

At the ‘Improving Productivity’ session Sam spoke about revaluating your processes and finding ways to save time and money. Just because a process has been in place the entire times doesn’t mean it’s the most efficient way to do something now. He also discussed the importance of having a business model for broker’s needs. looking at what broker’s wanted to do and building the business around that, for example, if a broker doesn’t want to be on the road because of time spent in the car.

Ruan and Melissa shared some interesting stories and tips in the ‘Stories and Actions from Successful Credit Advisers’ session. Trying to find out as much about your client in the beginning will work wonders down the track and help speed up the borrowing process. Also the importance of a work-life balance was highlighted with both Ruan and Melissa having families they needed to make time for. Ruan also pointed out that brokers need to always look at a class half-full – even in adverse situations there’s always an opportunity. He also suggested partnering with big estate agencies for potential leads.

Justin Cooper and Stephen Hale challenged their group in the ‘Marketing Actions that Keeps Growth Happening’ group to critically look at their business and answering six important questions honestly:

  1. Who is your ideal client? The biggest trap companies can make is to define their target market as ‘anyone with a pulse and a wallet.’ It can result in very poor prospect conversion and short-term client retention, as the prospects you try to engage with are not aligned with your business values.

    So you are far better off thinking carefully about who your ‘ideal’ client is – and then setting about finding them in a targeted, rather than scatter-gun way. It will make your marketing and sales expenditure far more efficient, and you are much more likely to convert your prospects and end up with long-term clients. It’s like a dating service – if you are clear on who you want to meet, you’re much more likely to find them. If (on the other hand) you just turn up to a bar with the vague hope of finding the Mr or Mrs Right, you are likely to be bitterly disappointed!

    Create a profile of your ideal client in terms of their age, gender and location. Ask yourself what problems and concerns they are facing, what their specific needs are, and why you are best equipped to help them (as opposed to your nearest competitors).

  2. Why do people choose to work with you instead of your competitors? What is your secret ingredient? Why do people love working with you and your team? It’s not just because you do good work – that’s expected – and is offered by most of your competitors.

    There’s an ‘X-Factor’ to every business. But it’s normally hidden to the business owner and managers. ‘It’s just what we do’ is normally the response when you try to explain it. So think about it from your most loyal clients’ perspectives. Why did they choose to work with you in the first place? Why do they continue to want to work with you in the long-term?

    It’s likely to be more about the character and personality of the owner/directors and the culture you’ve created in your office, than the way you do things. So think about what that culture is that you’ve created. Is it a positive, can-do approach – or is it caring and supportive to your clients? If you’re not sure ask your top five clients to explain why they enjoy working with you. If they are happy, loyal clients they’ll be more than happy to tell you – and you might even be surprised by the feedback. Ask for a testimonial that you can use in your marketing and sales communications.

    Also think about how you deliver your services – do you have a system that’s different and better than your competitors? If you don’t, can you create one that gives a better customer experience and service to your clients?

  3. How do you promote your business to your potential customers? Once you’ve worked out your secret ingredient, how do you leverage it to ensure you look and act differently from your competitors?

    Most professional service businesses try to differentiate themselves by talking about ‘what they do.’ However this is actually an oxymoron – because you can’t differentiate yourself by saying the same thing as everyone else. In other words if everyone is offering the same highly professional service – delivered by an experienced and expert team of people passionate about what they do – there’s no difference. And that’s exactly how most professional service businesses describe themselves on their websites and in their marketing. Trust me – I’ve audited them, and it’s depressing!

    So you need to talk about your ‘why’ – why you love helping your clients and what drives you and your team to give an amazing experience to your clients. But don’t be glib and talk about being ‘dedicated’ and how ‘integrity is at the heart of everything you do.’ Been there, bought the T-shirt. Go deeper into what really drives you. Your clients and prospects will want to know this stuff, because it’s the acid test into whether they can trust you with their money.

    Back to question 2 – the character and personality of you and your staff are also part of your company’s ‘why.’ Think about ways in which you can instill this character in every thing you do – internally and externally. Not only will you and your staff have more fun in your work – but your clients and prospects will see how totally different you are from your competitors. It’s so much more interesting than being ‘passionate about helping people with their finances…’

    Back to the dating analogy. If you place an ad that reads ‘tall, dark handsome male seeking loving relationship with tall blonde,’ you’re unlikely to get too many replies.

    But write something about what you are interested in that’s based on a true story about the kind of person you really and you’ll be deluged with offers!

  4. How do you communicate your business to the potential customers? What are your current marketing activities? These could include newsletters (printed and online), regular client catch-ups, networking meetings, social media (Linked In, Facebook, Twitter) communications, traditional media advertising, online advertising (e.g. Google), Search engine optimization (SEO), Blogs, Vlogs (online videos posted on your website and You Tube), and so on.

    It’s a good discipline to put your activities on a monthly spreadsheet, with who is responsible for each task – so you and your team are prompted to do these activities on a regular basis.

    Look at these activities in light of your answers to Q2 – and adapt them to suit the kind of people you are looking for. For instance if you’re spending money advertising in a national publication, yet you identify that 90% of your ideal clients are located in your local area then clearly it’s time to switch to a local publication. This may sound obvious, but ‘media wastage’ (promoting to a larger area than you need to, or to people who are not part of your target market) is quite common.

    So we go back to our dating analogy again. It’s no good putting your profile on a dating agency that’s Australia-wide if you only want to meet someone living in Sydney.

  5. How visible are you in the community? Are you missing opportunities on your own doorstep? By raising your profile in the local community it’s surprising how quickly you can build a powerful local client base.

    It can be as simple as joining the local Chamber of Commerce or networking group (e.g. BNI), or choosing to sponsor a local charity or cause. There are also co-working spaces opening up in the suburbs where you’ll find professional solo-preneurs who can provide invaluable networking opportunities. And local advertising rates are far more economical compared to the equivalent national rates.

    Is it time to think local?

  6. When people find you online, what impression do they get? Having a professional and attractive website is no longer a nice to have – it’s essential. Having an outdated, ugly and difficult site to navigate is equivalent to having a dingy office with dirty windows in a poor location, with a cluttered reception entrance manned by an unfriendly receptionist with body odour. Not a good look!

    Here are a few simple rules for creating a welcoming and attractive website:

    1. Hire a professional web designer / developer with a good track record to communicate your brand values and image

    2. Make sure your ‘secret ingredient’ is clearly communicated in simple language and imagery on your home page

    3. Ensure you have a ‘reward’ for the visitor – such as tips or advice that they can download, in exchange for their connection to a newsletter, so you can build a database.

    4. Include a video on your homepage of you or a spokesperson communicating in a few short (60-90 second) videos how you help people and what your secret ingredient is. Don’t be tempted to do a 10-minute video – no one will watch it, except your Mum (and she’s never going to be a paying client).

    5. Keep the ‘architecture’ of your site simple – you only need a few menu pages, such as ‘About,’ ‘Services,’ ‘Clients,’ ‘Tips and advice’ and ‘Contact.’ It keep the site looking clean and uncluttered.

    Finally make sure your website look and feel is identical to the brand look and feel of your business cards and all your sales and marketing collateral and communications. Consistency is one of the golden rules of marketing.

    One last dating analogy. If you’re photo on the dating site is grainy, your hair is a mess, you’re wearing badly-fitting, daggy clothes – and you have bits of food in between your teeth, is anyone really going to ask you out on a date??

In the ‘SMSF Lending’ group there were some hot discussions about the topic. Peter Dunworth, Doug Mathlin & Liam Shorte answered some interesting queries and discussed the role of credit advisers being the facilitator. They suggested helpful tips like giving a client an outline of the SMSF lending process and the role of everyone (accountant, auditor, lawyer, auditor) and what they are meant to do throughout the SMSF process.

Chris Green discussed  what ASIC has been focusing on recently. He provided information on ASIC’s recent and current work in the consumer credit arena and ASIC’s priorities for the next 12 months.

In Gerard Hermen’s ‘What is the Underlying Value of your Business?’ session, he noted the most important learning outcome is to develop a successful succession plan. This may not mean that you will exit the business. For some of these broker principals it’s about staying involved in the business from an equity perspective and leveraging the energy of more ‘smart’ people to help continue the growth of their business.

Before developing a success plan, you need to identify what the underlying value of your business is. Gerard and the group explored both the ‘book value’ of their business as well as the value of the underlying EBITDA growth that fuels the ‘book’.

Steve Kane emphasised the importance of having a proper  risk management framework around data and technology in his ‘The role of Technology in your Business’ session. He discussed certain security issues such as off-shore porcessing and the potential legal and compliance complications associated with that. Steve also discussed what brokers need to consider in the ever-changing world of technology, and how can they adapt trends like mobile computing and social media for their business.

Marissa and James Schulze gave a snapshot of their relatively new but very successful business – saying that they were focusing on conversion rates and pitching themselves as ‘advisers for life’ to clients. Some helpful engagement strategies they noted were holding property education seminars, and tagging photos of clients on Facebook when their property purchase went through (with permission of course).

Aaron Milburn chaired a discussion on ‘How to Attract New Talent’ discussing the importance of succession planning and encouraging young, new talent to ensures the longevity of an aging industry like this one. He asked credit advisers to think back to when they first joined and think about why they joined and what made them happy. He also asked his group to think about the reasons why they left and how they could counteract that to capture the new talent. He suggested looking at wages including a small retainer and bonus for new starters which would be the equivalent to a graduate in other industries. It is important to make them feel like there is a path for them and they are part of your business. Up-skilling and giving them industry knowledge and investing time in your new staff member will in return become an investment in your business.

Feature Roundtable Session: Increase Profits with a Structured Referral System, James McCracken

James McCracken’s session took attendees through an easy process to increase referrals, improving business performance as well as client experience.

“I ask people ‘What are you doing to generate more clientele?’,” McCracken said. “The answer is usually ‘word of mouth’. This is good and bad; you must be doing something right to earn business through word of mouth, but it’s a reactive strategy, not a proactive strategy.”

Credit advisers want calls from new clients all the time, but if the phone isn’t ringing, a proactive strategy is needed to make it happen. “This way, you can create your own opportunities in your business,” McCracken explained.

He outlined three simple steps of his seven-step strategy: having a trusted adviser mindset, being referrable and setting client expectations.

Step one: have a trusted adviser mindset

“Having a trusted adviser mindset is important because studies show that the more you are trusted, the more you will be referred and the more likely your clients are to stick with you longer,” McCracken said. “And, clients are more likely to be receptive to add-ons.”

Selling these add-ons isn’t just about boosting the immediate bottom-line either, because having each client invested in more products increases the likelihood of client retention.

Clearly, being a trusted adviser is a vital part of running a credit advice business. Key to being seen as a trusted adviser is being perceived as trustworthy. Which isn’t to say that a credit adviser need only seem trustworthy but need not actually be so. Rather, it means that all the hard work a credit adviser can put into being trustworthy will not translate into becoming a trusted adviser unless clients perceive that trustworthiness.

Some qualities that credit advisers need to exhibit to become trusted are integrity, an ability to listen, quality knowledge, rapport and empathy.

“You’re not just a broker, you’re a marketer, and empathy is the number one quality of a successful marketer,” said McCracken.

Other qualities include consistency, a collaborative nature and care. This means that, in a practical sense, credit advisers need to deliver exactly the behaviours their clients’ expect, to think of themselves and their client as a team working together to achieve the client’s goals work and, in McCracken’s own words, “to give a crap”.

Collaboration and being a true team is vital, according to McCracken, because it’s a lot easier for a client to say yes to a team-mate and a lot harder to say no.

It’s also easier for a client to say yes to someone who is steadfastly on their side. “I don’t think there is enough ‘give a crap’ factor in the industry,” McCracken said. Citing Matt Church’s presentation earlier in the day, McCracken explained that a credit adviser’s business is not about the transaction, its about the interaction.

“There is too much transaction and too much of a mentality of ‘How do I get something out of this?’ instead of ‘How can we achieve a better outcome for the client?’”

It’s also vital to build a relationship with each client. “Your client doesn’t want a home loan, they want a better life,” said McCracken. If credit advisers understand this and help clients with it, they become a key part of creating that better life, more attractive and more referrable.

“That relationship will mean that you don’t even need to ask for referrals, even though asking for them is good.”

Finally, transparency and value are key to being a trusted adviser. Be honest, and deliver true value. “When you can deliver value, clients’ perception of your competence is higher, the perception of your value is raised, and your clients will want to stick with you longer.”

Step two: be referrable

The more effort a credit adviser puts into being referrable, the more he or she will offer a different experience for the client than if they were simply waiting for more leads to come through from a head office, said McCracken. Any steps an adviser can take to be more referrable, then, are a win/win: clients will enjoy better outcomes, while CAs will earn referrals.

To be referrable, credit advisers firstly need to do everything in step one, meet and exceed expectations, and ask for referrals; this will earn referrals from clients.

McCracken suggested taking a long-term view of clients. “Think about what you will be doing with this client if they were still with you in 10 or 15 years, and the lifetime value of this client and all the people they could refer to you. If you think of this, you may approach them differently than if you think of them as a $1500 commission and a little bit of trail.”

Secondly, give referrals and foster relationships with referral partners; this will earn referrals from related industry professionals.

“The best way to get referrals is to give referrals,” Gregg Cook from Oxygen Home Loans offered from the audience. “If you can refer someone to an accountant, solicitor, whatever, ten times a week, that builds a community and has a ripple effect.”

Effective strategies credit advisers can use to build these relationships with the right referral partners include searching LinkedIn and meeting people for coffee to work out whether their approaches align, and speaking to related professionals who did a great job helping another client.

“It’s far more powerful to call someone to tell them they did a great job and ask if you can meet them for coffee and refer other clients to them, than to call and ask for referrals,” McCracken said.

And there is no harm in having more than one accountant, more than one conveyance who you refer to. “The worst number in business is ‘one’,” said McCracken. “You might have a core marketing strategy, but if it’s the only one you are using and it doesn’t work, you’re done. Similarly, its good to have a few referral partners.”

Finally on this step, use attraction-based marketing, or pull marketing. Give your content (your advice and industry knowledge) freely, because you will profit from its implementation.

Step 3: set expectations

A one-page document a credit adviser can refer to when outlining what clients can expect is a key tool to cementing a productive relationship. It means the client knows know exactly what the credit adviser will deliver and, most importantly, it helps a credit adviser communicate their value very clearly.

McCracken suggests that credit advisers sit down with clients and, in a very structured and transparent way, run through how they work, as well as the reasons and the ways this approach will positively impact the clients’ outcomes.

Then, he suggests, the credit adviser should tell the client his or her expectations of them: “If you are unhappy with my service in any way, I expect you to tell me so that I can fix it. Be honest with me about your goals so I can help you achieve them.”

The transparency, right up front, and the inclusion of their goals at every point, creates a relationship rather than a transaction.

Finally, McCracken shared what he called his ‘killer question’: “I’m just curious, what would need to happen for this to be a great relationship for you?”.

“Most clients have never been asked and don’t know how to answer,” he said. “Then you tell them, with your document setting expectations, what a great relationship looks like.”

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