HomePrivate WealthWhat A Landscape Architect Taught Me About HNW Cultivation

What A Landscape Architect Taught Me About HNW Cultivation

“Soft power” exists in the world of networking within the HNW community. If in diplomatic circles, “hard power” is military prowess, in our area, having a large house in the right neighborhood and an exotic car is the equivalent. If foreign aid is an example of soft power in those diplomatic circles, being counted as a patient of the famous local cardiologist gives you something to talk about at those receptions and events. A few years ago, I achieved that distinction. Now we went a step further when we had a consultation with the landscape architect, known for his long waiting list. Whether we will implement the plan is a decision for another time, yet I learned a lot about cultivation within the HNW community.

These lessons are easily transferred to the financial services industry. Although they are used within HNW circles in this example, several of them can easily apply to general prospecting.

1. I am handling this personally. I have been looking forward to it. Everyone wants to be considered an important client. The smile and the enthusiasm got things off on the right note.

2. Your property is beautiful. He used expressions like: “It has potential. You are fortunate to own it.” The lesson here is compliments move the conversation onto the right footing. As an advisor, you might be looking over statements showing a prospect’s current investments. You might congratulate them on making some good choices and decisions in the past.

3. Bring the property up to its full potential. This is a way of creating a need and establishing a goal. This is one any HNW client could agree with easily, because it also translates into increased property value. In financial services, you might be learning what they want their money to accomplish, what goals they want to achieve.

4. Additional land is an investment asset. Everyone knows this is going to cost a lot of money. Where will it come from? In walking around, he talked about the area that would be landscaped and the larger area that would be left alone. He spoke of that larger area in terms of potential sale as future building lots. He might even provide a realtor to give an estimate of their value. The message was if the landscaping project appeared too huge, it might be self-funded. In the financial services industry, you might be explaining how dividend income might contribute towards the cost of asset management fees.

5. This can be done in stages. You know from experience, if you tell the prospect you want to “sell everything and make big changes” they often retreat. People want to know “Where do I start?” and “How can I do this in stages?” He pulled out a piece of paper and ordered projects by priority. You may be able to get the prospect to take the first step, then they have become a client.

6. This is within your reach. When you hear a dozen ideas of what you can do, it might seem unaffordable. After all, you aren’t going to sell off land tomorrow. It involves rezoning and lots of other hurdles. Will this be too expensive? That is when he explained: “I know a guy…” He explained what that task normally costs, but he has a connection that can do it 30% cheaper. At this point, you realize the first couple of steps would make a significant impact, yet be affordable. We are at the “can you put us in touch with the right people?” stage.

7. Technology is your friend. There are parts of this job I knew about beforehand and have attempted on my own. He explained “Machines do it better” and hiring the right guy with the right piece of equipment might cost $5,000 for the day, but he could accomplish in one day the same amount of work it would take me several weeks to match. For financial advisors, a client might be positioning robo-advisor technology to handle simpler portions of portfolio management, freeing up the advisor’s time to work on more complex issues requiring the personal touch.

8. Feel, felt, found.  I thought this was unique to the financial services industry. He noticed a teak Chippendale bench we had near the house. He felt its position made the property seems small, probably something to do with sight lines. He feels the property should have features that draw your eye into the distance. He told the story of another client (also with a similar bench) who felt the sand mound septic system (in the distance) with its white plastic pipes was an eyesore, but they found if they set the bench on top of the short plastic pipes (now painted green) that they had a focal point that drew guests gaze into the distance, emphasizing the size of the property. The client was overwhelmed with this simple improvement, provided at little or no cost.

9. Anything might be possible. He mentioned full length glass exterior doors would bring in light and provide a view of the landscaped spaces. I was concerned about security—can’t thieves simply break a large glass panel? He explained this isn’t an issue—you can even get exterior doors fitted with bulletproof glass if you choose! For financial advisors doing future planning with clients, you might be talking about future tuition costs for Ivy League schools or the prospect’s Alma Mater and how they could invest now to afford it for their children later.

10. Not removed, but rehomed. As the sketch plan comes together, lots of changes would need to be made. We have favorite plantings we installed and watched grow and develop. They don’t fit into what he has in mind. He didn’t say: “This has got to go” he said: “This plant would be rehomed elsewhere on the property.” We didn’t feel we would be losing anything. When advisors meet with a prospect and present a proposal, sometimes “everything would be sold” to move the proceeds into managed money. That is a big step for a new client. It can be better to find some things they already own that fit into the plan, compliment them on making a good investment, explain “Let’s keep those” and possibly suggest adding to the position.

11. What he has done for other people. There is always an element of confidentiality when working with HNW individuals. On the other hand, you want references. When he talked about specific projects, he was able to show photos of a similar project he did for another client. We saw the end result, but have no idea of the identity of the other client.  

12. Everything is positioned in terms of adding value. No mention was made about resale value, but every project was traced back to achieving the property’s potential and enhancing the quality of your life. You want the garden to draw you out for your morning coffee. Here, landscaping is an intangible. For financial advisors, showing how different recommendations in the financial plan support helping the client achieve their goals is a lot easier.

13. We are all getting older. Several of the recommendations tied into ease of access. One example was getting groceries from the car into the kitchen. The idea of an ADA compliant ramp near the kitchen door was suggested. This added value in terms of the unspoken resale value, but also aging in place, staying in our own home. For financial advisors, this easily ties into retirement planning.

14. Documentation needed in advance. He explained if we moved forward, he would need property documentation and survey reports that might be on file with the county. This would be our responsibility to provide. We would need to be investing time. Advisors often ask prospects to provide certain financial documents at the first meeting. People who take the time to be prepared are serious about making changes.

In my opinion, landscaping projects recall JP Morgan’s famous expression about yachts. “If you have to ask the cost, you cannot afford it.” This needs to align with the reality that wealthy people are often cheap. It’s how they stay wealthy. The landscape architect’s consultation was worth the price.

Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book Captivating the Wealthy Investor is available on Amazon.


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