Getting Beyond Platitudes: How To Define Your Ideal Client Persona

Go Beyond Simple Labels To Create A Narrative That Defines Clients And Their Needs In A Multifaceted Way

Many advisors try to zero in on a client type, believing it helps to differentiate themselves in the market, which, in turn, will lead to more growth. To do this, sometimes they’ll label clients based on what they do (doctors), where they are in life (retirees, widows) or how much money they have (high-net-worth).

But the reality is that this limited amount of information does little to help an advisor focus their business and maximize its potential. Indeed, if the challenge is to spotlight would-be clients who are a good fit for what you can deliver – including everything from your services to areas of expertise to products and centers of influence – then knowing someone is, say, a pediatrician isn’t very useful.  

By contrast, building an ideal client persona can be far more revealing. Indeed, don’t just consider a single trait about a client. Consider many of them. Ask yourself a ton of questions.

Where do they live? How old are they? Are they married, single or divorced? What do they do for a living, and how long have they been doing it? Then picture their lifestyle, goals and priorities. And, finally, think about how you are uniquely positioned to add value to the person you envision.

How To Create A Narrative

Perhaps the best way to go about this is to create a narrative. Doing this increases the chances of identifying the type of client you are most able to serve well. Let’s explore an example of a narrative surrounding an ideal client persona.

The basis for it could be a married couple in your city, Sally, 48, and Dan, 52. Sally is a successful startup entrepreneur, while Dan is an executive at a well-established, rapidly growing company. Together, they have three children.

They also have a house, a new boat and over $2 million in concentrated executive stock options. Additionally, each has an elderly parent who may not be able to live alone for much longer. Despite the couple’s finances being in good shape, Sally, who takes point managing them, is nonetheless stressed out.

Technical difficulties of parenting

To further the narrative, think about a day in her life. After a busy series of sales meetings, Sally drives home with an aching back. She pulls her kids away from their smartphones to ask about their day at school.

Then she asks Dan to find out how much his vested stock options have appreciated because she’s worried about capital gains. It’s late in the day, so Dan barely hears her, responding that they should take their boat to the lake for the first time that weekend, and she suddenly remembers it’s still uninsured.


Her phone then rings. It’s the best salesman at her data analytics startup, saying he received an offer from a rival firm whose benefits package far outstrips anything she can provide him. Naturally, Sally now has a headache.

From all this, it’s somewhat easy to think about what Sally and Dan may need:

  • tax-efficient portfolio diversification strategy to reduce their executive stock option exposure
  • 529 plans for each of their children’s upcoming college education
  • property and casualty insurance for their new boat
  • long-term care insurance for each other
  • a 401(k) plan for Sally’s growing business
  • Someone who knows and can team with a CPA, an estate planning attorney and other outside experts
No one likes being pigeonholed

Think Bigger

It’s unlikely a couple out there has precisely these same issues, so this exercise is not meant to eliminate someone that doesn’t fit your ideal client persona down to a T.

Josh Harris,
Managing Director of Corporate Development,
Coldstream Wealth Management

Still, by building a narrative, it’s easier to envision the services, offerings and relationships you need to have not only to enjoy the work you do and give you a sense of purpose but achieve more growth in the process.

No one likes to be pigeonholed. Not you, your firm and likely your clients. So don’t just think about them as doctors, retirees, high-net-worth or whatever. Think bigger and more broadly. Your business will likely take a leap if you do.

Josh Harris, CPA, is Managing Director of Corporate Development at Coldstream Wealth Management, a Bellevue, Washington-based RIA.

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