Despite banks' promise of a stream of client referrals, many advisors struggle to fill their calendars with sufficient quality appointments. To succeed, you need to implement many different marketing activities to fill your calendar.
Too often the advisor will simply pull out last year's plan, slap a new date on it and resubmit it to their sales manager. But for Chuck Prather, an advisor at Bellco Credit Union in Denver, his marketing plan underlies his success. "A business plan is your vision of where you want to go," says Prather. "But a marketing plan is the road map that will show you how to get there." Here are five steps for building one of your own.
1. Identify Target Markets
There are two schools of thought. One is to focus with laser-like intensity on one specific client demographic. For mature practices, this kind of focus can be very beneficial to creating a sustainable business.
But advisors trying to grow their businesses need to cast a wider net. In my experience, all investment programs have at least four broad target markets you need to reach out to:
Existing clients. In his book, The Loyalty Effect, business strategist Frederick Reichheld estimates that it costs six or seven times more to acquire a new client than it does to get an existing client to do more business with you. Existing clients are already familiar with your services and, if you've done a good job, already trust you and the services you provide.
The banks' customer base. According to Rebuilding Consumer Trust in Financial Advice, a July 2009 report by research firm Datamonitor, consumers generally trust their own bank more than they trust the wider financial services industry, which means you benefit from trust by association. You still need to deliver quality service, but you're likely to be given a chance more often and more easily than a wirehouse broker or independent, so long as you deliver high-quality, solution-driven service.
Centers of influence. Centers of influence aren't just attorneys and accountants; they can include business owners and HR directors at the companies doing business with your bank. Often their employees look to these individuals for financial guidance. If you position yourself as a financial expert, these individuals can provide well-qualified referrals.
Branch staff. Treat these folks exactly the same as any other target market—with professionalism and respect. They can open the door to countless referrals. Don't become too informal with the branch staff—you could end up offending someone and losing credibility.
2. Plan Recurring Activities
Once you know who to target, how do you reach them? Chris Zuck, a regional sales manager for Frandsen Investment Services in Jordan, Minn., says that for existing clients, it starts with staying in constant contact, at least 12 touches per year, either in writing or by phone. "You've got to stay in touch if you want to maintain or strengthen that relationship," she says. Specific marketing activities include sending out annual, semi-annual or quarterly review invitation letters, monthly print or electronic newsletters, or holding annual or semiannual client appreciation events.
Each is a separate but ongoing marketing activity designed to keep you in front of your existing clients. According to CEG Worldwide's study of affluent investors, the most satisfied clients averaged 28 contacts either in person, by telephone, mail or email with their advisors a year.
You may need some help from the marketing department to reach your bank's customer base with statement stuffers, website messages and/or coordinated lobby displays. Take the initiative to approach them with a well-thought-out plan of how to reach the customer base.
One word of warning: While asking for a list of maturing CD customers may seem obvious, it carries political or reputation risk. Branch managers often have their own asset growth goals and may not appreciate you raiding their deposits. "If that's your plan you're not going to last very long," says Prather. "That's not where your major clients are going to come from." Instead, become known as a knowledgeable and caring problem solver for the bank's customers. By showing that you put customers' needs first, you'll gain the trust and confidence of key players within the institution who can open the doors to the overall customer base.
Meanwhile, develop a strong two-way relationship where centers of influence can see and appreciate the value you provide. "We focus on a handful of attorney and accountant relationships that are referred to us by our bankers or clients," says Rene Bruer, an advisor with Capital City Banc Investments in Tallahassee, Fla. "We tell them we want to establish a partnership to assist our mutual clients and treat our attorney and CPA partners just like we treat our best clients. We invite them to our client events, go out to lunch with them and stay in constant contact with them just like we do with our best clients."
With business owners and HR executives, position yourself as the expert for the company's 401(k) and other benefits, and become the go-to person when an employee retires or leaves the company. To reach these business owners and HR centers of influence, try hosting a quarterly luncheon and bringing in guest speakers to address topics that concern this group.
It's all about developing a trusting relationship with centers of influence, says Frandsen's Zuck. "You've got to let them get to know you." For example, she formed an important relationship with a center of influence at a local commercial club. "They asked me to speak a few times and after one of my presentations, a gentleman told me he wasn't happy with his current advisor and wanted a second opinion," she says. "I was happy to set up a meeting that resulted in some nice business from him and several referrals. Let them get to know that you'll always do the right thing."
Zuck applies that same philosophy to her branch staff. "Bankers are very proprietary and protective of their clients. They need to have good faith and confidence in you. There has to be a sense of mutual respect."
For the frontline teller staff, the focus is slightly different. "They want to understand what you do, but they also want you to acknowledge that they are not the low man on the totem pole," says Zuck. "You've got to make them feel as if they are critical to your business-because they are."
Educate bankers about the issues their customers deal with every day. "Unfortunately the branch staff are often unfamiliar with what we do," says Prather. "If we can educate them to make better financial decisions themselves, it leads to better-quality referrals.
One tactic is to provide short 10-minute training presentations at monthly branch meetings on basic financial planning concepts, such as the Rule of 72 method for calculating how long it takes for an investment to double in value, the difference between tax-deductibility and tax deferral, or the difference between stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Captial Cities' Bruer says these monthly trainings are a requirement at Capital City. "It shows your competence and builds confidence in you. The No. 1 thing is to build trust with your branch staff so that they can see you always do what's right by the client."
The actual marketing activities you choose, will depend on the opportunities at your institution. Some institutions will let you contact their business owner customers and other centers of influence, while others want you to work through your institution's business development department. The goal however is to constantly be visible to each of your target markets.
3. Link Tasks and Activities
Ten to 15 different ongoing marketing activities may seem overwhelming, but they're necessary to really grow your business. To manage them, break each one into component tasks. For example, mailing an annual review invitation letter requires you to write the letter, get it approved by compliance, put together the mailing list, print it, stuff it and mail it. For a seminar, you need to select a topic, line up a guest speaker or sponsor, reserve a location, get your invitations, posters and seminar content lined up and approved and send invitations. It's a lot to keep track of! "The hard part is implementation," says Zuck. "Finding the time to implement a marketing plan is often challenging."
The key is that many of these processes are simply a series of repeatable small tasks. Let's assume you wanted to send a series of direct mail letters to your clients. While the content of each letter might be different, the process is repeatable.
Thankfully, certain tasks like writing a review invitation letter or getting compliance approval on a letter, typically only need to be done once. Break each marketing activity down into its small components to create a step-by-step list of tasks that you or your assistant can execute on a regular basis. With a clearly defined task list for each activity, you don't have to think about what to do next, you simply follow a systematic process.
4. Use a Marketing Calendar
Putting these tasks onto a marketing calendar helps you stay on top of the details. Prather says he meets with his sales assistant and associate advisor each week to review their marketing calendar and ensure each task gets done. "We don't always execute everything that's on there," he says. "But we follow it pretty closely, and it's made a dramatic difference in keeping on track."
Highlight tasks that can be delegated and see how you can implement several marketing activities simultaneously. On any given day you might need to pull a client list to send review letters to, make or confirm a reservation for a seminar and send an email invite to your HR contacts for next month's luncheon.
5. Execute Your Plan
The final step is to execute your plan. Prather has been able to both manage his existing clients and gain new ones. "I had one client who was upset over a $25 fee that their custodian charged," he says. "I agreed that it was unnecessary, but I also reminded him of the golf outing we did last summer, the movie night we're sponsoring next week and all the workshops he attended this year. The fee was no longer a big deal." Another client had initially resisted his attempts to meet. "When he finally came in, he said: 'Boy, you send a lot of stuff to me,'" says Prather. "But he ended up doing a $70,000 ticket with me that I wouldn't have gotten otherwise."
No one else has more to gain or lose from a full appointment calendar than you. Regardless of your employee status, you need to adopt the mind set of an independent entrepreneur and take responsibility for your own marketing. I am often reminded of a quote from George Clason's classic personal finance book, The Richest Man in Babylon, where he says, "To be successful in any business venture, we must master two skills: We must perfect the craft to which we dedicate ourselves, and we must master the rules of business. Even the most skilled craftsman will languish if he fails to attract new customers, or prudently manage the finances of his business."
Keith J. Weber is a program consultant, speaker and practice management coach. He wrote Rethinking Retirement: How to Create the Life You Want Without Waiting to Retire. Contact him at either Retirement2020.com or kjweber.com.