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Client Events Shouldn’t Be All About You

February 17, 2017

This time we hear from Peter Lee, founding partner of Chicago, Ill.-based Summit Trail Advisors. He recalls how he came to realize the importance of a fresh approach to client events.

During my years working at a large broker-dealer we regularly hosted client events. They generally followed a standard format: a private lunch for 20 or so people, featuring a speech by our CIO. He’d pitch a new fund we were recommending or explain some of the details of our investment philosophy — but whatever the topic was, the general focus was on our firm, our investment philosophy, our amazing staff. But then I helped put together an event with a very different kind of agenda — and it made me reconsider my approach to hosting client events.

The first time I realized that those traditional events weren’t really serving client needs was when I hosted a dinner at a newly-opened restaurant and invited a diverse group of current clients, prospects, and friends.

I knew the restaurant’s owner, and he and I decided to put together an event and to try to approach it a little differently. We invited twelve guests, most of whom were entrepreneurs or business owners, to a dinner in the restaurant’s small private room.

The energy in the room that night was so different from any other client event I’d attended that it was striking. There was no official discussion of investments or finances at all. Instead, my co-host gave them a behind-the-scenes look at how the restaurant had taken shape: the vision they had started with, how they curated the menu, all those fascinating nitty-gritty details that go into creating a fine-dining establishment.

The attendees were all consumers of fine dining, and as business owners themselves, they were fascinated to get this inside glimpse into the industry. The guests easily talked among themselves about their businesses and the challenges they were facing. Afterward, someone started a group email chain to continue conversations that had started over dinner. Some really interesting connections were fostered that night.

Peter Lee

The success of that evening made me reconsider the traditional approach to client events. Some advisors seem to feel they need to use these events to try to tell people why their firm is the best. Similar to how the industry has been slow to adopt new technologies, I think there’s some inertia to reconsidering client events. If every quarter for the past 20 years you’ve had a client lunch at the local country club, then it’s easy to just keep doing the same thing. But advisors can really benefit from taking a step back and asking themselves if this is really the best way.

When I founded my own firm I didn’t want to repeat those same old mistakes. Now when I invite clients to an event I focus on what will benefit them. I make sure to invite people from different industries and walks of life who wouldn’t necessarily cross paths in their day-to-day lives.

If your client is a very successful attorney, the last thing she wants is to sit around the table with a bunch of other attorneys. Our events include artists, entrepreneurs, CEOs of large companies and athletes. I also try to keep in mind the fact that most of these clients have the level of wealth to go out for a nice meal whenever they want. We try to do something different, both by bringing together a unique and curated group of people, but also by making the experience itself different.

In the past, that’s meant eating at a restaurant before its official opening, or getting a tour of an artist’s private studio.

I always try to ask myself: When these guests walk out of that room after the meal is over, what will they remember? What will benefit them going forward?

Even if we never once mention investments, these events are a great advertisement for our firm. For our existing clients it’s an illustration of how we put them first. For prospects it’s a great first taste of why we’re different from other firms.

When you structure your client events around your clients, you make them into something they want to do. They’re not just doing you a favor by showing up. There are a ton of firms out there that want to manage people’s money. By centering these events on your guests and your clients you reinforce the message that your work is all about them, instead of all about you.