Illustration by Brian Raszka
If you're like most of us, you hate being bugged by telemarketers, deluged by junk mail, and inundated by sales pitches for things you don't need or want. You're sure that your clients - and potential clients - feel the same way, yet you need to enlarge or enhance your client base. So how do you reach new clients, and stay close to current ones, without coming off as a pushy salesperson?
We've taken a look at a stack of books and one video that promise to help financial advisors promote themselves. Here's our take on which ones live up to that promise.
First, some general comments on the lot. Most are filled with selling techniques, but the most helpful ones offer lots of advice on how to incorporate more holistic coaching and "life goals" services into your practice. As you read about marketing an image in any of these sources or elsewhere, the key point to remember is that you must become that image. You won't survive in the long term if you fail to deliver on your commitment to putting your clients' and potential clients' concerns and goals first.
Some of the selling techniques seem downright counterproductive, but you'll find advice here on everything from presenting the proper image, to "mining" the right niches for the most profitable clients, to writing and selling articles and books in order to qualify as an expert in the eyes of the world. There's entirely too much "selling" jargon, when the authors actually are proposing marketing techniques. There's a big difference between the two. Selling, points out Dan Richards in Getting Clients, Keeping Clients, is "convincing somebody you have what they want." The book defines marketing as "making sure that you have what somebody wants."
Here, in order of our preference, are our observations on each of the seven books and one tape we reviewed.
Richard's Getting Clients, Keeping Clients is packed with advice about how to remake yourself into the advisor most clients would be thrilled to have.
Richards's book is written for both fee-only and commission-based advisors, recognizing that the latter may have a harder fight for credibility. Any advisor, fee-based or otherwise, who follows this book's strategies should indeed have a better client acquisition rate and a higher retention rate because the strategies are grounded in principles of cultivating client trust and putting the client's interests first.
Richards sets the tone of his book immediately, with the striking example of Dodee Frost Crockett, an advisor with Merrill Lynch in Texas. Crockett prides herself on helping clients with any problem, any time, even if it has nothing to do with financial planning. She has lived in Dallas all her life, knows a lot of people, and is able to draw on her connections to find answers to lots of questions - everything from finding someone a new plumber or carpenter to filling in herself as a wedding photographer at the last minute.
The best example of Crockett's willingness to help concerns a client looking desperately for a second medical opinion before consenting to immediate cancer surgery. Crockett contacted another client with ties to the chief of oncology at a local hospital and succeeded in securing an immediate appointment. Ultimately, the second doctor performed successful surgery and the client is convinced that "his broker saved his life."
Richards's book is also filled with more mundane but equally valuable examples of attention to clients' needs. Thoughtful extras, such as having a parking place reserved for a potential client at your first meeting, can go a long way toward getting new clients, retaining old ones, or getting referrals without looking like a pitchman. Richards also emphasizes that listening - really listening - to a client will get you a lot further than talking through most of a client meeting, particularly when you are trying to determine what a new client needs from you.
Fundamentally, the strategies Richards suggests boil down to treating your clients as individuals worthy of your respect and care. People treated this way feel special - as if they matter to you as people, not just because you manage their money. They're far less likely to leave you, and far more likely to refer their friends for the same kind of thoughtful treatment.
Each chapter in this book concludes with "snapshots," the salient points covered in the text broken out into bullet points for easy reference. It's clearly written, interesting, and very enlightening - and transmits an enthusiasm for its views that is contagious.
Despite its "selling" title, Storyselling for Financial Advisors, by Scott West and Mitch Anthony, is really about communicating with and understanding clients and potential clients. The title comes from the idea of "telling a story" to convey information in a way that clients who may not be familiar with markets and math can grasp. The authors warn that financial decisions are not always made on the basis of logic and numbers, and point out ways to learn how a client's history or specialized knowledge will affect her response to a planner's suggestions. Strategies range from learning enough about a prospect to tailor even your initial presentation, to converting a financial proposal into a "story" that an unsophisticated investor can understand, without being patronizing. Financier Warren Buffett is cited for his ability to tell stories that reduce complicated matters to understandable terms, and the book devotes a lot of time and space to helping advisors figure out how to do the same.
Storyselling also proposes different approaches for several specific target markets, including women, retirees, and the affluent (also defining nine substrata within the affluent group). In addition, there is an interesting discussion of body language, and some attention to the importance of respecting your clients' principles and concerns. We think this is a useful book on how to handle the human side of growing your business.
The following books, and a video, are reviewed in this article. |
Guaranteed Results, by Martin R. Baird (Robinson & Associates, ISBN 0-964-32340-5)
The Guide to Financial Public Relations, by Larry Chambers (St. Lucie Press, ISBN 0-910-94412-1)
Get Media Smart! Build Your Reputations, Referrals & Revenues with Media Marketing, by Lisbeth Wiley Chapman, video with cassette and booklet (Ink & Air, ISBN 0-9658693-0-X)
Get Clients Now! By C. J. Hayden (Amacom, ISBN 0-8144-7992-8)
EffortoLess Marketing for Financial Advisors, by Steve Moeller (American Business Visions, ISBN 0-9672059-0-5)
The Brand Called You, by Peter Montoya and Tim Vandehey (Millennium Advertising, ISBN 0-9674506-0-8)
Getting Clients, Keeping Clients, by Dan Richards, book with CD-ROM (Marketing Solutions Ltd., ISBN 0-9684277-0-7)
Storyselling for Financial Advisors: How Top Producers Sell, by Scott West and Mitch Anthony (Dearborn Financial Publishing, Inc., ISBN 0-7931-3664-4)
Steve Moeller's book, Effort-Less Marketing, will help you focus on what kind of business and clients you want and how to package yourself to succeed in your desired market. There's a lot of useful information, but there's also a disturbing tone that we'll get to in a minute. (Mr. Moeller is a columnist for this magazine.)
Attracting top clients, says Moeller, is a matter of identifying a niche, learning about it, and then becoming an expert on the needs of the people in that niche. This makes perfect sense. If you can satisfy the particular needs of a group of wealthy individuals, you can indeed make yourself a valuable addition to their financial strategy. He suggests interviewing people within the niche to learn what they need, packaging yourself to attract the attention of people in your chosen niche, speaking before groups about issues that concern them, and getting publications to write about you to enhance your credibility in print. He also devotes a fair amount of space to instructing readers to write articles about financial subjects for various publications as an additional way to enhance credibility.
Now the disturbing note. In several places in his book, he implies that one needn't be all that technically good at things in order to be successful. This may be true, but what we find disturbing is the casual acceptance of this idea as okay.
For instance, there's the example about Moeller's wife, the veterinarian, and the dog. The Moellers moved and took their dog to a new vet, whom Mrs. Moeller felt was less responsive than their former vet. So she went back to the previous one, who subsequently missed a cancer that killed the dog. Moeller's take on the situation? His wife wasn't all that upset because the vet "was so nice about it" and Moeller notes drily that this was a "clear example of valuing style over substance."
His point may be that clients value more than technical excellence in an advisor, but it's important to remember as well that just being "nice" won't cut it if you happen to be so inept as to lose a client's portfolio through poor decisions.
Then there's the assumption that if you can't write all that well, it's okay - editors will clean up your story for you and make you seem like a genius. It's one thing to correct grammar and spelling, but editors don't like to have to rewrite virtually an entire piece. Eventually, if they have to do it for you too often, your next submission will be rejected up front.
Still, there's still a lot of useful advice in Moeller's book about packaging yourself, as there is in The Brand Called You, by Peter Montoya and Tim Vandehey, and The Guide to Financial Public Relations, by Larry Chambers. Chambers' book will also guide you rather extensively through the processes of writing a book, getting on radio and TV, and being quoted in the press on a regular basis, in order to be seen as an expert and to attract the clientele you want.
If you're strictly interested in the marketing aspects of changing your practice, The Guide is a pretty good bet, but we question some of his advice, including that same disregard for basic writing skills that we've heard before.
Brand goes into a great deal of detail about designing a logo, a marketing statement, a brochure, and other pieces of a promotional plan. The book outlines direct mail strategies, suggests using an advertising agency to help you (the authors run an agency that specializes in helping advisors), and tells you why you need a Web site. It's advisor-side, not client-side marketing, but it's useful information.
Brand also gets the award for best quote. In keeping with its focus on marketing your image rather than your knowledge, the authors say, "If image marketing is a suave, soft-toned sales consultant in a muted Armani suit, direct marketing would be Billy Bob in an orange checked blazer and a plaid tie."
The video Get Media Smart! offers advice on getting your name in the papers (in a positive fashion, presumably), assembling a press kit, and generally using media exposure to increase your credibility with the people you're trying to reach. Lisbeth Wiley Chapman, whose public relations business also specializes in financial advisors and money managers, talks about how to come up with story ideas that appeal to editors, the best ways to approach the press, and how to become an expert source for the media on financial topics. The video comes with a supporting booklet.
Get Clients Now! looks, at first glance, like a straightforward marketing program. It sets out schedules for how to deal with your "pipeline" and discusses strategies to attract attention, get people interested, and close deals with clients. But there is also an element of self-discovery ("giving yourself permission" to do things, confronting your fears), and there are forms on which you can grade yourself on your ability to meet various objectives and schedules. There are even how-to instructions for designing your business cards and stationery. The subtitle is A 28-Day Marketing Program for Professionals and Consultants, and 28 days of following its suggestions ought to make some substantial changes in your practice. Just don't get too tied up in the paperwork.
Probably the least useful of the lot is Guaranteed Results. There's an accompanying Web site targeted toward financial advisors, and even an electronic newsletter, but in contrast to the other sources listed here, we found the book to be repetitious, extremely basic, and very sales-oriented. There is some good information, but it's not always relevant or appropriate for financial advisors. Some suggestions seem like obvious client turn-offs. Selling your contact lists to third parties and mailing items printed on neon paper in oversized envelopes (with playing cards enclosed!) seem like sure-fire ways to make you look like Billy Bob in his orange jacket. The Web site, over several viewings, was cumbersome to navigate and contained little of relevance to financial advisors, especially compared to the other sites we review in our pages.
Before you put out another mass mailing or teach another class in adult ed, check out a book or two and see what other strategies might work to attract the clients you want in your practice.
And lose the orange jacket.