(Note to reader: This is the actual story as created and told by Glenn Harrington of the Harrington Newsletter Company. Other renditions of this story are in circulation, especially in Western Canada. This is the original.)
Lynne and Dave are two successful retail investment advisors, both of whom used a Harrington newsletter, and one of whom remains a successful investment advisor.
Lynne issued a Harrington newsletter for five bull-market years, then stopped it when the stock market turned in a bear run. She retired a few months later. Dave’s story has a rebound, but not of the stock market. He really found the source of resilience in client relationships – heart.
The Story of Lynne and Dave is a story of differing approaches or philosophies about newsletters and client relationships. It also reflects how people’s characters show in their businesses. I’m a strong believer that it’s rewarding to let your character shine through in business – even if some people don’t take to your true colours. We’ll see, at the end of this story, what conclusions Lynne and Dave might have drawn.
When Lynne signed up with Glenn Harrington, she was a high-volume, top-grossing investment advisor. She put on seminars regularly. She did frequent advertising. She provided good performance to her clients. Her clients were pleased with their investment returns. Lynne accordingly put emphasis on her stock-picking acumen when she presented herself to the world.
It’s a common principle in marketing to focus on what you’re best at, or what makes you unique. Lynne regarded this as the stock-picking performance that her clients enjoyed. So, she made that her sales proposition.
Dave differed. He came to us a couple years after Lynne did. Dave was more modest. He seldom made performance claims. In terms of what was important to Lynne, Dave did speak of getting good returns for his investors. Yet, he didn’t take a lot of personal pride in his ability to generate competitive returns for people. More importantly, he gave people confidence that he would make sure their money was well cared for, then delivered on that.
Lynne was a higher-profile investment advisor. One of the reasons why she came to us – actually, the main reason why Lynne came to us – was that she basically rejected the corporate newsletter. Lynne did not want a head-office newsletter that would include stock-picking advice, with her name and photo pasted onto it. Stock picking she regarded as her own specialty.
It was important to Lynne that she had her own claims to make. She had a reputation to maintain and build upon. It was important to her that her newsletter was authentically her own. Her ideas were expressed through her newsletter by us, with some value-add from us. We did newsletters for Lynne for about five years – that is, before she retired.
Dave started dealing with us because he was buying what’s sometimes called the “off-the-shelf” newsletter or “canned” newsletter from a newsletter service. Not from his head office. His firm didn’t have a head-office newsletter that he would even consider, though his head office did encourage advisors to use newsletters.
So, Dave subscribed to a newsletter service, where his name, photo, and phone number were pasted in with pre-written, pre-approved content and his firm’s logo and disclaimer. He even had some choice as to which articles would go into those newsletters. The service gave him a small menu each, so that he could choose what articles he wanted in his newsletter – each time, if he wanted.
In any case, even though Dave regarded the off-the-shelf service as better than a corporate newsletter, he came to us because, frankly, he felt embarrassed sending a newsletter where the content was not from him. He felt uncomfortable that there was a lack of authenticity in that newsletter. He was concerned that someday, somebody would have a question and he could give an answer contradicting what the newsletter said. So, Dave was seeking authenticity and a more genuine connection with people who would listen to his newsletter as his voice.
Over the five years that we created newsletters for Lynne, I advised her several times that there was more to a client relationship than providing stock-picking advice and generating investment returns. She, as a woman in the investment business, considered it very important to come across as professional rather than personal. Her philosophy: Why show a caring side when you have edge?
Lynne decided that the colours of her newsletter would be a dark blue and black. She considered the blue to be professional. The paper she would print her newsletter on was a standard white bond: a very normal, unnoticeable paper for any newsletter.
The combination of black and blue on white paper led to a somewhat cold newsletter. When I told Lynne this, she replied that professionalism is a little bit cold; it wasn’t her responsibility to be personal or luxurious with her clients, but rather to make sure that they get good returns.
Lynne did actually follow my advice in a few issues. For example, she ran a little story about her son and a little story about her daughter. She also started a lending library of business books that she made available to her clients as announced in two or three issues. Then, she basically told me that she decided to can this attempt at including personal content, because it did not get the phone ringing or increase her income. Nobody was borrowing books from the lending library, except for two people who borrowed books that they never returned. Lynne regarded these as failures. So, she would continue focusing in her newsletter on stock-picking and providing investment returns.
Dave, on the other hand, really took the advice to include some personal content. We ran stories about his family (which would be safe in the hands of people who were not his clients). We ran some stories that reflected Dave’s personality. Also in photos of his client events, we let Dave’s character show through.
Dave’s involvement in the newsletter (in supplying source material) made that really easy – so that we did not have to do any guesswork. We worked together with Dave in a collaborative way, as we did with Lynne. Lynne and Dave each had their character showing in story angles and in other ways because of this.
One of the advantages of the collaboration with Dave was that we were able to get Dave’s likeable, trustworthy character to show through in the newsletter – including the fact that he was modest about investment returns. We plainly implied (rather than explicitly stated) in his newsletter that people who want incredible stock-picking performance basically don’t belong with him.
On the other hand, people belong with him who simply want to feel that their life savings are safe, being cared for by a trustworthy, likable, conscientious professional. This was the underlying message in every issue of Dave’s newsletter.
Eventually, Lynne’s business became strong enough that she continued to follow basically her own formula for her newsletter. We were mainly wordsmithing Lynne’s ideas and doing assembly work for layout. I was concerned that her approach took unnecessary risk for her reputation, with transaction- and returns-based client relationships. It turned out that these concerns were justified.
When the stock market turned bearish in 1999-2000, Lynne lost clients. In fact, even though her stock-picking saved many of her clients from suffering as badly as the stock indices, over years Lynne had created a reputation for herself as somebody who would get people incredible stock returns. Her clients were not getting incredible stock returns – her clients or anybody else’s. Because Lynne implicitly promised that they would get incredible stock returns with her, when they did not get incredible stock returns, she lost clients. In fact, Lynne lost so many clients that, in the first-quarter of 2001, she retired.
Lynne had just stopped issuing her newsletter, because she didn’t think that the newsletter could make a difference on her main problem: client attrition. The attrition continued to a point where she basically would have had to rebuild for years – and those years of rebuilding could only start after the stock market had an upward trend again.
Lynne now spends much more time with her children. (The children that her clients barely knew about.) Dave, on the other hand, suffered very little attrition during those bear market days. Basically, the only attrition he endured was from clients who died, or in other cases, people who were leaving the country.
Dave actually managed to maintain normal attrition, even though other investment advisors (such as Lynne) were basically losing their book. Not only did Dave continue to maintain his clientele through periods of low investment returns, but he actually received new referrals. He continues to receive referrals.
In fact, Dave’s business continued to grow so healthily after the bear market that he said, “My business is so successful that I don’t need a newsletter anymore.” Dave stopped his newsletter in the summer of 2003. By the summer of 2004, he had received so many expressions of concern from his clients that he felt he had to resume the newsletter to maintain that connection with them.
After he stopped his newsletter, Dave’s clients became concerned that he was not successful. The truth is that he was so successful that he didn’t think he needed a newsletter anymore.
They, however, were concerned they had lost their connection with their liked and trusted investment advisor. They were wondering, “Is my portfolio so small that I don’t qualify to receive your newsletter anymore?” or “Are you not focused on people like me anymore?” or “Are you still in the business? What happened to you?” or “Have you been sick?” Dave received so many inquiries like this that he resumed his newsletter with us in the summer of 2005.
He found that attendances at client events became healthy again quickly. After the newsletter began again, attrition remained low and new referrals began again. Dave just recently announced to me that he has brought on a partner to help manage his business, because he has so many investors that he needs somebody else’s help to serve them. He already had a full-time, licensed assistant with experience.
In summary, we can say that both Lynne and Dave rejected the conventional idea that any good newsletter sent regularly will work (in Lynne’s case, the corporate newsletter; in Dave’s case, the off-the-shelf newsletter). They came to us wanting their own voice with Harrington’s value-add (writing, layout, arranging printing and delivery on schedule).
In Lynne’s case, her main show of character was her pride in her stock-market performance. Lynne’s pride and her career performance both turned southward quickly when the stock market did, because she failed to develop more actual relationship with people, rather than relationship with their money. When her performance sucked by the standard she had set, she lost clients.
Dave learned that when people like you and trust you, they stay with you and they bring more money to you. Let me say that again. When people like you and trust you, they stay with you, and they bring more money to you.
We have discovered with Dave, and learned the hard way with Lynne, that professionals who show their character, get involved, and put heart into their newsletter, enjoy a loyal clientele with good depth of relationship, low attrition, and good referrals. Dave’s business was so healthy that he had to bring on a partner in early 2006.
These contrasting stories each represent an approach to a newsletter and to CRM. Two successful investment advisors. One built resilience into client relationships with help from Glenn Harrington and found resilience in his own career. One regarded client relationships as transactional, and so gave only passing attention to connectedness with investors in her client newsletter. She left her career seeking greener pastures.
Dave and Lynne each represent many other financial services professionals. Which type are you: a Dave or a Lynne? Which would you rather be?