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Looking through a magnifying glass at a chess pieceClients are the centerpiece of any successful advisory business; without them, it wouldn’t exist. But they aren’t all alike in terms of their goals, needs and financial situations. This is where understanding client segmentation for financial advisors becomes crucial. Knowing how to segment your book can help you improve your efficiency and profitability. At the same time, it can allow you to better serve your clients’ needs and help them further their financial goals.

Why Does Client Segmentation for Financial Advisors Matter?

Segmenting clients simply means separating them into different categories or tiers. This segmentation can be based on different criteria, such as age, assets under management or net worth. So why go to the trouble of dividing up your book this way?

“Client segmentation is key to efficient and effective relationship management,” says Mary Sullivan, co-founder of Sweet But Fearless and former regional director at TD Ameritrade.

In other words, segmenting your client list can help you more effectively address your clients’ needs so you can deliver the type of results they’re expecting. This can lead to improved satisfaction for them and increased profitability for you.

“The mistake many advisors make is that they spend more time disagreeing with the company segmentation philosophy and end up product selling instead of relationship building,” Sullivan says. “Every product and service is not the best fit for every client.”

By segmenting relationships, you can ensure that you’re spending your time with clients who want to engage and having meaningful conversations through that engagement, Sullivan says.

Client segmentation can also help you fine-tune your niche strategy and identify unaddressed gaps. By finding those opportunities, you could be better positioned to increase your market share within your niche.

What Client Segmentation Often Means for Financial Advisors

Market segmentation graphicTraditionally, many advisors are encouraged to segment their books by categories based on assets or revenue. For example, clients may be assigned to Platinum, Gold or Silver status, based on how much they have in assets or how profitable they are for an advisor. “Although this may seem logical, it’s actually a very big missed opportunity and a common mistake made among advisors,” says Dennis Schlegel, Jr., co-founder of Emeritus Wealth Group.

Schlegel offers an example of what he means. Say Client A has $1 million in assets under management and generates $10,000 in revenue annually for an advisor. Client B, on the other hand, has $300,000 in assets under management and generates $3,000 in revenue per year.

Most advisors would probably segment Client A into a higher tier than Client B, Schlegel says, given the difference in yearly revenue. This may result in the advisor being more attentive to Client A and investing more time into building that relationship. The problem, however, is that this segmentation method doesn’t consider a client’s entire financial picture or details that go beyond their net worth.

For instance, if Client B refers three new clients to the advisor each year with an average of $600,000 in assets each, that can double the amount of revenue they generate compared to Client A, who refers zero new clients. Albeit this revenue generation occurs indirectly. But knowing this about Client B presents a stronger case for moving them to a different segmentation tier and delivering a different level of service.

How to Approach Client Segmentation for Financial Advisors

Sullivan says that effective client segmentation starts with a good client relationship management system (CRM). If you have that in place, you can utilize it to segment your client base in a way that aligns with your sales goals, marketing efforts and client life cycles.

“This means if your company sales goals are emphasizing managed products then segment your client book based on that: clients already in managed products, clients with large cash balances, clients who have expressed an interest,” Sullivan says.

Secondary to that is making sure you’re following up on your efforts to market to clients with personal calls and opportunities to educate them about your firm’s products and services. Because, as Sullivan says, “educated clients make better decisions.”

Schlegel says the key to successful client segmentation for financial advisors lies in getting to know the people they serve and determining their true value to the business.

“A small client that refers me to multiple people every year is invaluable,” he says. “They’re helping me grow my business year after year, not including secondary impacts like their referral who may refer me to others.”

Schlegel says there are no shortcuts to knowing your clients. While you can start by doing a cursory filter of your book to establish broad client tiers, you still need to dig in on a case-by-case basis. And if you’re unsure, you can always err on the side of delivering a higher level of service.

“A client is rarely upset by getting too much attention,” he says.

One thing Schlegel does advise watching out for is the “rented” client. This refers to a client who may have substantial assets with you but is in the process of transitioning them to other investments outside of the ones you currently manage for them.

“These individuals won’t be clients for long and may actually be best served by being fired,” he says.

If you’re not comfortable cutting ties directly, you could relegate them to a lower service tier. This can free up more time that you can then devote to nurturing relationships with clients who are likely to stick around for the long term.

The Bottom Line

Market segmentation graphicClient segmentation is an important part of your strategy for scaling your advisory firm. The better you understand your clients’ needs and backgrounds, the easier it is to segment your book efficiently. While it may take some effort to perfect your segmentation strategy, the end result may be happier clients and a thriving business.

Tips for Sourcing More Clients

  • Leverage time-saving tools. Sourcing leads can be time-consuming and leave you with less time to focus on client segmentation and serving your existing client base effectively. Using lead generation services can help you scale quickly and save valuable time.
  • Tap your existing clients. Referrals from existing clients can be a powerful driver of new leads. If you aren’t asking clients for referrals on a regular or semi-regular basis, consider how doing so could help you to connect with a broader audience.
  • Think ahead. While investors who are closer to retirement often have more assets, investors from Generations X and Y are rapidly catching up. Getting ahead of the Great Wealth Transfer by expanding your client base and working with investors who are entering their prime earning years can help you build a sustainable business model.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/AndreyPopov, ©iStock.com/designer491, ©iStock.com/Indysystem

Rebecca Lake Rebecca Lake is a retirement, investing and estate planning expert who has been writing about personal finance for a decade. Her expertise in the finance niche also extends to home buying, credit cards, banking and small business. She's worked directly with several major financial and insurance brands, including Citibank, Discover and AIG and her writing has appeared online at U.S. News and World Report, CreditCards.com and Investopedia. Rebecca is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and she also attended Charleston Southern University as a graduate student. Originally from central Virginia, she now lives on the North Carolina coast along with her two children.
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