Documonials: true stories from the trenches

Our clients tell their stories in their own words

Video 1: Firm Struggles To Make The Right Impression

Prospects Referred, Examine Website, Disengage From Dialogue. Ouch!

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The Client Situation

So tell me Bill, what does your company do?

Whitnell provides investment advice, tax planning and financial planning for individuals, families and small foundations.

Who’s the ideal client for your company?

Interestingly enough, we have, I would consider, 3 ideal clients. One would be the corporate executive, someone who is time starved and has a relatively complex financial situation. The second ideal client would be the business owner, small business owner for the most part, family businesses in many cases.

And then our third client base would be what we call family office services. The family office service group specializes in dealing with very complex family situations, often across multiple generations, across limited partnerships and trusts as well.

What goals are ideal clients trying to accomplish?

What they’re really looking for is a trusted advisor who can provide thoughtful advice and have a deep understand of that particular client’s goals and objectives, far beyond just their financial objectives: what makes them happy, what are they trying to accomplish in their family life. The principal way we accomplish that is by matching up their wants and their needs with our capabilities.

This is something that might sound intuitive. But in fact it takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to truly understand the clients and also to know which one of the vast capabilities we can bring to the table that match best with what they’re trying to accomplish.

When we first met Bill you told me of a master plan. Build the right team. Build the right brand. Attract and serve the right clients. And you did the first one amazingly well. You built a great team, top flight people. Everybody says so. But the challenge is that eagles don’t fly in formation. How did building the right team complicate building the right brand?

With the collection of very experienced and sophisticated professionals, having them all buy into the same brand is a significant challenge. This is like a law firm where you have star lawyers in different disciplines. So if you are a litigator, having the firm brand be about estate planning would be an issue. They might say – these estate lawyers are great, but this firm is a litigating firm.

Well in many respects we had the same thing here. Each one of these professionals felt very strongly that their particular expertise was, if you will, the most important.

When you think back to where you were a year ago, what were the conditions that prompted you to be looking for a company like ours?

We had known for some time that our brand was weak. We had a website because you had to have one. But it wasn’t designed to do anything other than give the resumes of our people, a broad overview of what our vision was and then a contact point.

A couple of things happened that really opened our eyes. There were two referral sources, one was an attorney and one was a client, who had been very comfortable in the past referring people to us. Within a two month timeframe, each of them called up as they often did and said – look I’ve given your name to so and so. Well in both of those cases we didn’t hear from those clients.

We started digging into it a little bit deeper, and particularly in the case of the lawyer who was very helpful, because he asked the client – what was it? It was interesting. The client said – well when you gave me those names (this was an elderly gentleman), I’m not an internet kind of guy. But I had my two sons and my daughter. I said - here are these two names. Go find out what you can find out about them.

They both immediately went right to the internet, went to our website, were nonplussed I guess would be the best way to describe it. Then they went to the other couple of names and got a feel that those firms were more to their liking.

And that lead to the whole discussion of the brand, vision, all of that type of thing - the elevator speech and all the buzzwords in our business. We really were not as refined as the people out there that we were competing with.

How did your team members feel and how did you feel about your brand, say about a year ago?

Our brand for all intents and purposes was nonexistent.

Mia Erickson:
I thought the Whitnell brand and story was a great story. That’s what drew me to Whitnell in the first place many years ago. The problem is we were not conveying it, not only to our existing clients fully, but also to any additional prospects out there to meet with.

I felt like we were really missing the mark as far as being able to capture a greater client base because we didn’t have the tools necessary to expand our message. I really don’t think there was a Whitnell brand identity at that time.

Robert Legan:
We have great people. We have great clients. And we do great work for our clients. So I thought we had all of the ingredients, but I thought we didn’t have a recipe for a brand. I thought we really didn’t have a process that brought all of those great ingredients together.

Robert Peckenpaugh:
I think the brand needed to be refreshed. We had a website that was out of date.

Wayne Janus:
I think we were disconnected. I think that I had a tremendous amount of respect for the talent that was amassed and the people and the skill-sets. But there was a lack of connectivity. There was a story that wasn’t getting told about how as a group, a very formidable team, has been put together than can help meet the objectives of a wide range of clientele in a very effective way. That message was not being depicted as well as I think it could have been.

Brian Henderson:
As a company, one person would say one thing and I’d say something else. Really I thought we needed to figure out who we are as a company and then figure out how we wanted to tell our story. I felt like we had an identity crisis.