A few weeks ago, as I was sitting across from an advisor and her staff, it struck me that I have not gone deep enough into discussing personas, niches and targets. I realized in that meeting, and in a few subsequent others, that it’s time for a more detailed conversation about how to build and how to use personas.

Widowing it down

I recently asked an advisor who he wants to work with, and where he finds a passion. He started with three types of clients: pre-retirees, business owners and widows.  As we dug into each, it was clear that he chose the first two because that is what he thought he should say. As he talked about a few of his widow clients, I could hear the tone in his voice change. He then explained that his father died young, and discussed the struggles of his family after. By the end of the call, we both realized what he really wants is to build his business and help more widows – he is passionate about helping them.

personasHis challenge is getting started. He wants to build on his successes so far, but didn’t know how to create that ideal client profile. (Yes, we agreed that calling a widow ideal was in bad taste but we softened it with the understanding that he could really help them.) I suggested that he compile a list of the widows he worked with to start finding commonalities. I asked him to average out the answers to demographic and qualitative questions. Our goal was to create the average/ideal client and understand everything from how old she is, how she feels about money,  what clubs/organizations she belongs, and how she is emotionally supported.

He compiled the data and named the persona after his mother.

What is the last question?

Some firms can build that persona easily and some take time. The firm I mentioned at the beginning of this post did a great job of digging in and creating a profile. They didn’t need coaching to find “who” their client is. In fact, they created a great branded one-pager they give their clients. It accurately defines who their client is, what they want and seek in a relationship with their advisor. As I reviewed the list, I couldn’t help but marvel at the detail and the obvious work that went into this piece, but I also had to ask, “What are the implications of working with this client”?

Too many advisors today are still trying to be generalists in a specialist world.

It was an outward facing document, written so that a prospect would identify with the persona as described, and seek more information from the advisor.  As we dug in to the “ideal” (they didn’t name it), I asked what they learned from the exercise of creating the persona, and what changes to  business and processes were made to meet the needs of that “ideal.”  As you can guess, they’ve changed nothing. It was aspirational, not actionable.

Wrap it up

We have discussed often on these pages that the advisory business is evolving from advisor-centric to client-centric. Clients now usually demand customized and personalized advice by an advisor who understands them and can anticipate their needs.   Building personas helps you understand those needs, helps you identify what solutions you need to add (or quit) to better service them.  The more you “know” your target, the better.  Too many advisors today are still trying to be generalists in a specialist world.

It’s time to dig deep into your ideal client and ask yourself – not your clients – some of the difficult questions. Who are the clients I can serve best, what are their needs and how can I position my business to meet those needs?

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