The power of "thank you"

By Katherine Vessenes

Vestment Advisors


About 20 years ago, my life was changed dramatically by a sales trainer named Tom Hopkins. He had written a book, "How to Master the Art of Selling," that was so powerful, I read it half a dozen times, listened to his tapes over and over, and went to every class he offered. His information revolutionized my business, and I still use and teach his techniques today.

At the time, I was practicing law in a town of 3,000 people (and 12,000 deer) in Western Wisconsin. Much to my despair, no law firm would hire me, even though I had been a successful prosecutor, assistant dean of a law school and was even law review. Apparently, pregnant lawyers did not fit into the old boys club. Needing to work, I had one choice: open up my own law practice. I was determined to build it up using Hopkins' techniques.

I was particularly impressed with his thoughts on thank you notes. He is a big advocate, and writes about 10 notes per day. Did they work for him? So much so that by his third year as a realtor, his business was 100 percent referrals. I decided if it worked for him, it could work for me.

I sent thank you notes to any and everyone in that town, including the shoe salesman who was nice to me when I brought in three rambunctious kids. I would send notes to other attorneys in town and I even sent notes to the physician's assistant in my doctor's office, because she knew I was on a tight schedule and would move me to the head of the queue. The notes were so effective that after a year of sending about three per day, my income, working part time in my own little practice, was as high as the big boys, who were working full-time with their big corporate clients.

I am still surprised by the amount of money that superstars -- advisors making a million dollars or more per year -- spend on expensive marketing programs. Sometimes, hung up on seeing their name on a billboard ($10,000 per month), or hearing themselves on the radio ($32,000 per month), they forget that some of the most effective marketing programs can be the least expensive (about $100 per month).

Effective and inexpensive marketing programs have never been more important. The former president of Apple computer, John Sculley, noted it takes 16 times more financial investment to attract a new customer than it does to keep an existing customer.

According to a study conducted by the Technical Assistance Research Project in Washington D.C, there are four main reasons why any business losses a customer:
  • Three percent leave for convenience

  • Nine percent leave for a relationship

  • Fifteen percent leave because of problems with the product, price or delivery

  • Five percent leave for miscellaneous reasons

  • Sixty-eight percent leave for the most important reason: perceived indifference -- this group simply did not feel valued or appreciated
If you want to keep your clients, make sure they feel loved and appreciated, encourage referrals, and do it all inexpensively. The best answer? The simple thank you note.

I have always thought that financial advisors were about 10 years behind realtors when it comes to marketing ideas and systems. In this case, I think we are about 20 years behind. I only know one financial advisor who sends thank you notes -- or to be more precise, his assistants send thank you notes. Steve sells very large life insurance policies and he learned the hard way that the cases were more likely to stay on the books if he could help his clients avoid buyer's remorse. He does this by a high-touch campaign after every large purchase that includes follow-up phone calls and a few thank you notes. It is one of the things he does to get his income up to more than $5 million per year.

We are such strong believers in thank you notes, that when H&R Block asked us to design their new sales strategy, we included thank you notes as a key part of the process.

How to

In case you were asleep when your mother taught you how to write thank you notes, here are some pointers:

Every card should have a minimum of three lines, a salutation and a close. You can write up to five lines, but more than that is a letter. A good format might be:
    1. Gratitude for the kindness
    2. Personalize the kindness
    3. Reference to a future interaction
Here is a sample note to the CPA who just referred you a new client, using the format above:

Dear Don,

I so appreciate the confidence you have in me and your many referrals. I met with the Martins this morning and I know they are going to be fun clients. As soon as I complete their plan, I will give you a call and we can review it over lunch, my treat.

Thanks again for all your support,
Katherine


You will notice what is not in the note:
    1. Personal information about yourself. This is not the time to brag about what your new baby is doing, or the latest award you have received. It is about the person being thanked.

    2. There is nothing in it about specific investments or performance. You would never say "The XYZ Fund is a perfect investment for you and should easily meet our goals of 12 percent per year." First, this will drive your compliance officer crazy, and second, it is not the purpose of the thank you note. However, it is perfectly acceptable to send a note after a client has purchased something from you and thank them for that purchase. Here is a sample of that note:
Dear Jane,

I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you how much I have enjoyed working with you over the past three months. I particularly appreciated all the confidence you have expressed in me and my recommendations. My goal is to now offer you excellent follow up service so you will have no reservations about referring me to others who have similar needs. If there is anything I can do to make your experience with our company better, please call me on my personal number.

Looking forward to seeing you at our quarterly review,
Katherine


Who gets notes?

My general rule of thumb is if they don't live under my roof, they get a note. Even my children, who are all grown now, get thank you notes from me and they send me lovely ones, which I cherish.

When do I send notes?

Whenever you can. Certain times should be part of your sales process: after each client meeting, after key phone calls, after investment purchases, after referrals, after reviews, whenever anyone does anything nice for you, and for older clients to remind them how much you appreciate their business.

I found that when I set a goal for myself of five cards per day, I got creative on when to send them. One thing that has worked well for us, is taking a list of client addresses on our overseas trips. Peter and I will always spend an hour or two in a coffee shop, looking at the ocean, writing postcards to business contacts and clients. We have a little contest to see who gets more postcards written. This little kindness is so rare now, it really makes an impression.

Key points to remember when using thank you notes:
    1. Use nice cards or paper, never full size sheets of paper or letterhead. Avoid the preprinted thank you notes, as they frequently look tacky and don't always fit the occasion. eBay has many online suppliers where you can order embossed note cards with your name or initials, very inexpensively. If money is no object -- after all, this is a lot less expensive than steak dinners at your country club -- buy from Crane's online.

    2. Use a nice pen or felt tip in blue or black ink to handwrite every note. Bolder strokes make more of an impact. Computer printed cards are never an option.

    3. The cards are hand addressed and use real postage stamps, not your office Pitney and Bowes machine. To be frank, I would consider having the return address preprinted, or using a nice return address label. Never print the client's label on your computer and then paste it on the card.

    4. Every card, no matter how many you send to the same person, includes your personal business card.

    5. Set a goal for how many you (and your assistant) will send out each day. With each note taking an average of three minutes to write, five is not unreasonable. Even at a dollar a card, including postage, this costs about $5 per day, or $100 per month.
A final note: About six months ago, I ran into an old friend, a realtor from Austin, Texas. He told me that he started using thank you notes again during a dry real estate period. "How is it working?" I asked. "Great," he said. "After doing it for 60 days, I was doing so much new business, I stopped!"

Final piece of advice: If this works as well for you as it has for me and many others, don't stop!