Building trust with client appreciation events

By Bill Bachrach

Bachrach & Associates


In this article, I’ll share with you the keys to a successful event — that means events clients actually attend and enjoy — based on interviews with three trusted advisers.

“We’re always asking for money. How often do we give something back to our clients?”

Floyd Shilanski, of Shilanski and Associates, Inc. in Anchorage, Alaska, began looking for ways to answer his question in 1991. He and his colleagues decided one way was to host a family event that had nothing to do with money. So he asked a good friend, Mark Victor Hansen (soon to become famous for "Chicken Soup for the Soul" and its spin-offs), to speak before a crowd of 450 people.

Shilanski remembers, “He talked about what’s right with America, what’s right with families, and what’s right with prayer. It was so popular that we’ve kept it going every year after that.”

An event like this goes a long way to helping clients feel important, and it far outshines mundane chitchat over lunch or even a banquet dinner complete with the “we appreciate you!” banner. In this article, I’ll share with you the keys to a successful event — that means events clients actually attend and enjoy — based on interviews with three trusted advisers.

Key #1: Give people information that interests them

Elfrena Foord points out, “Based on the research we’ve done with our clients, who are mostly business owners, they do not want to go to another dinner.” They’re too busy; already stretched too thin. What kind of value would be added with another demand on their time?

Sagemark Consulting in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, pulls out all the stops several times a year. Their biggest event, “The Financial Forum,” is a hybrid of client education and appreciation held annually at the Union League (a private club dating back to the Civil War) in Philadelphia. From 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., guests attend sessions on such staple financial topics as tax structuring and risk management — or they can hear something entirely different, such as a presentation I gave on understanding core values, or one by Dr. Gene Stanaland, who is chair of the economics department at Auburn University.

It might sound like a hard sell to get busy people to stop and listen to a professor of economics, but Bob Hammond, who coordinates the event, characterized Dr. Stanaland as the Will Rogers of economy.

“He was plainspoken, kept things basic, and was very humorous. It was not a heavy discussion.”

He was an ideal speaker for this type of event and perfectly met Hammond’s objectives: “We tried to have some fun, we tried to have some inspiration, and we tried to provide some knowledge.”

Key #2: Personally invite clients instead of relying on direct mail

One of the tactics that ensures Hammond’s events will be a hit is that each of the firm’s consultants personally invites and sponsors people to attend. “My experience is that if you’ve got a trusting relationship and you say, ‘Hey, I think you’ll find this interesting and I’d like you to be my guest,’ they come. If we were cold mailing, I don’t think we’d get a lot of people there.”
Key #3: Realize the true cost of the event

Hammond’s firm charges consultants for the guests they bring; Shilanski’s has yet another strategy.

“If you bring in a top-name speaker, you’re going to spend $10,000 plus airfare. You rent a hotel room and do the marketing, and you will spend $30,000 to $40,000 on the event,” he reveals.

How can they afford it? “We spend so much money prospecting for new people. How much money do we spend on the existing clients to keep them? We allocate an equal amount in the budget for maintaining client relationships and prospecting for new ones.” “If you’re in the sales arena,” Shilanski explains, “you’ve got to constantly have fresh money coming in to make your living. But we don’t think like that. We have to consider the cost to replace lost accounts and focus on having a smaller number of them that are high-trust relationships with ideal clients.”

Spoken like a true trusted adviser.

Is it enough simply to have client appreciation events? Not really.

This is just one part of the overall business strategy articulated by Shilanski. For clients to feel truly appreciated, they require the business basics — excellent advice, responsiveness, attention to detail, etc. — and it helps to go above and beyond in remembering the little things that mean so much. The client-adviser relationship is no different from others: When you remember a significant date or personal interest, it makes people feel special. You can easily obtain free assistance in finding speakers for these events.

The salesperson’s approach is to wine and dine prospects until they make the sale, then to move on to the next target. The Trusted Advisor attracts ideal clients and then makes them feel appreciated — in a way that is particular to them. Don’t be a salesperson; be a trusted adviser.