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September 1, 2020

Financial Services: How to Keep Business Flowing When You Can’t Meet In Person

Casual business man having video call

The world has changed for financial services relationship managers and national accounts professionals since COVID-19. In a business that relies on relationships, it’s much harder to maintain those connections now that in-person meetings are on hold.

In the financial services industry, relationships are forged by formal conversations and informal interactions. Not too long ago, it was common for relationship managers/national account professionals to travel to client home offices or to industry conferences to interact with their accounts. You would spend all week on the road, updating your contacts on product information or engaging them in conversations to better understand their firm’s strategic direction to see where you might be able to assist these efforts. I also remember the days of stopping by someone’s office or their booth for a casual chat or to quickly touch base without needing to set up a formal meeting.

But now, financial services professionals have to do business a whole new way. I reached out to my network of senior leaders about their national account efforts to see how they are keeping relationships alive now that they can’t rely on informal or in-person meetings.

My question was, “If you can’t visit your clients or casually bump into somebody, how do you build relationships or keep relationships strong enough to keep both information and business flowing?”

Keeping Your Contacts Engaged

The managers I spoke with work at some of the premier financial services firms, varying in size from gigantic asset management companies to mid-sized and boutique organizations. They all agreed on two points: First, keeping your people engaged is a challenge and second, firms need to be much more intentional when connecting with clients.

Their advice was to “manufacture events” that add value or be creative in order to “play in traffic” and remain top of mind. In a virtual sales world, firms must provide white glove, concierge service to various levels of their client organizations, not just the senior leaders and home office contacts, but to their field leaders and product managers. Sharing product updates, mentions of the firm in the news or positive media coverage, commentary on national or global events and their impact on investment strategies are all examples of the types of information that add value.

As an example of creatively ‘playing in traffic,’ one senior leader is coaching his team to share articles related to personal as well as professional issues, so the client knows they’re thinking about them all the time. “You want to foster that sense of community, that sense of connectivity on a regular basis,” he said. All great relationships are based on communication, a back and forth that forges a sense of understanding and caring.

Another way to add value is to make a strategist available to meet with advisors or clients in either a one-on-one or a one-to-many setting via technology. These subject matter experts have deep expertise to help advisors and clients make sense of rapidly changing markets and trends.

Strategists can talk about the long game against a historical backdrop, putting short-term movements in context. The markets have been volatile. There’s a disconnect between the struggles of companies and individuals and how the market is responding. Strategists can discuss why the stock market is resilient over time and how short-term peaks and valleys get smoothed out as the market identifies the companies who will survive and adapt.

Another national account manager referred to the process of keeping people engaged as a sprint. The firm uses sprints to keep their client facing teams (relationship managers and wholesalers) up to speed on products, company viewpoints, and savvy ways to keep in touch.

Client-facing teams have always maintained relationships with constant touches, using their expertise as a differentiator. The difference is that now they have to be deliberate, methodical, and structured in their communications to their intended audiences. In this environment, there are no ‘drive by’ or ‘drop in’ conversations. The primary way of keeping in touch is to manufacture value and create connectivity.

Reinforcing the Importance of Relationships

National account managers and relationship managers need to create visibility and awareness to ensure their products are recommended. They must provide good service so that the account person makes their company’s funds more visible in the system. These days, firms must use a deliberate approach to enhance connectivity.

More than ever, personalized communications are critical. National accounts people are calling on their counterparts at the home office, saying:

  • “Here’s a great article I read about keeping safe in this environment.”
  • “Here’s our viewpoint on the strength of the dollar today.”
  • “Our strategist is available for half an hour consultations and I’m scheduling appointments to meet with them. Would you like to pick a date and time? Or offer these slots to your top advisors?”
  • “We hear that advisors are often asked about what’s happening with the market relative to the economy. Here’s how our subject matter expert answers that question.”

Sharing a mix of information every week that’s relevant on a personal and professional level is a way to stay in front of your key accounts and their advisors without being bothersome. A simple phone call, an informational email that doesn’t require a response, a formal video conference call with strategists, or a pre-recorded video from your website are all great ways to keep in touch. Another is recording a Q&A video response to a frequently asked question.

In this business, knowledge is power. What you want to be able to do for your firm is to let your client facing teams (wholesalers and relationship managers) know that you have intellectual capital that they can parse out to their client’s advisors.

Every one of your client firms has a “house view.” The intellectual capital your firm has from your strategists and portfolio managers can assist both your key account clients and their advisors to validate that this view is thematically correct or, if there is a counter view, help them explain the difference to their clients. When you reach out this way, you’re showing your contact that their concerns are valid and affirming your expertise and credibility with timely, relevant, and useful information.

Increasing Productivity

An unexpected silver lining of not being able to meet in-person is that many asset managers think that productivity has increased because their people have to be more deliberate about their communication. One shared, “You can’t rely on drop-ins or drive-bys to stay in touch or grow business. You have to be more strategic and make sure you stay connected to remain relevant.”

The challenge for management is keeping people focused on committing to this approach. Being deliberate is harder than relying on informal tactics. It takes more work and more time. But, as one manager said, “There’s no flow coming back to you unless you create the flow.” Firms need to encourage their people to make the effort so that they can keep an edge over their competitors.

“In difficult times, you create a bond with the person in the foxhole with you. By being intentional and reaching out, you say ‘we’re going to get through this together’,” said one manager.

When the world returns to normal, we may find that we can apply the lessons of the virtual world to the post-pandemic workplace. Using mobile, video, and peer-to-peer networking technology to give your team the best chance to build and maintain relationships is one way to generate business we won’t want to leave behind.

Learn More

Download our new eBook The Essential Guide to Virtual Selling to learn more about amplifying sales productivity when you can’t meet in person.

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