Many of us joined this business to be hunters. I'll never forget being a new advisor and having a hugely successful top producer tell me that our job was easy - just leave your cave every morning, hit somebody over the head, and drag them back. I wondered if I had joined the wrong industry.
Since then, of course, things have changed fundamentally, and thank goodness. Hunting for new investors every day doesn't work well anymore, certainly not with highly desirable affluent prospects. Now, people don't want to be beaten over the head or be sold to. They want to buy in by getting the information they need to make the right decisions about whom to work with to solve their most pressing issues.
For the last few years, I've been participating in groups with top entrepreneurs worldwide from many industries. I've discovered that the way prospective clients want to get information and make decisions about whom they are going to work with is now very different. Before most significant decisions, clients conduct research primarily online and then want to have conversations with the few credible sources they believe can solve their problems. They are having fewer conversations significantly later in the marketing and sales funnel. As a result, your marketing efforts to attract new clients should be focused on generating awareness, then engaging people in conversations that nurture strong relationships.
Investing in Time
This type of conversational marketing takes time, of course. But that's good. It creates more loyal relationships, builds a genuine connection with the members of a community, and continually enhances those connections over time. When you have conversations with someone in a niche you serve, they're more likely to explore working with you.
That means advisors need to stop hunting and start farming, growing relationships that will yield huge benefits. Farming for clients is a key way to differentiate yourself and get prospects to buy in to what you offer. It's a shift in how many advisors think, but it's vital to attracting an endless stream of pre-qualified, pre-endorsed prospective clients.
A client-driven world
So how do we start farming, and leveraging conversational marketing, to get prospective clients to raise their hands? It's important first to acknowledge that the old firm-driven model of financial advice - where big investment firms sent their great ideas down the chain to their advisors, who pushed them onto their clients - is dead. We now operate in a client-driven world. You work for your clients even if a large corporation employs you. You chose which firm to work with to be able to offer the best solutions for your clients.
In this client-driven environment, your approach should focus on enhancing relationships and getting conversations started. You don't shout what you sell. You share your beliefs, ideas and insights. You don't mass- market yourself. You take a targeted approach. And you certainly don't talk and talk when you're in front of a prospect. You listen and reach out to understand that person better.
With that in mind, advisors need to hone their "nichemanship" - the art of skillfully selecting market segments in which they can compete effectively. You can't have conversations with everyone.
The more you can identify the right affluent clients to work with, the more successful you can be. We see this in all our studies and with all our coaching clients. The more focused you are on understanding a niche's unique needs, the more you can emerge in the center of that community and start engaging in conversational marketing.
Honing Your Niche
If you haven't already defined a niche for yourself, it's time to get going. If you have, try to can refine it further and be even more focused. Keep in mind the five key steps to picking a niche: 1) Identify the largest pockets of wealth in your community; 2) Identify a few promising niches in that community; 3) Determine which ones offer the most significant opportunities; 4) Determine if any existing clients are part of these niches; and 5) Pick your niche.
Next, it's important to research that group of investors so that you understand their key concerns and know how best to attract them. The first outlet for such research is existing clients in the niche you've chosen. Profile these clients so you can replicate them again and again. Assuming they are happy with you, ask them for introductions to other people they care about. The first time I did that, I gained a great client with a $20 million account.
Next, move to centers of influence - the key leaders in your chosen niche. This will give you needed insights, such as their major financial challenges. They also will be the ones to spread the word about you and what you offer the niche. Think of them as the early adopters of your solution; once they come aboard, your business will accelerate quickly. And don't forget to subscribe to the newsletters and other publications your niche clients read.
All this work will help you spark conversations with your target audience and enhance your credibility with them over time. With all the noise out there these days, it's your credibility that will help you succeed. To build it and get people wanting to talk with you, consider these steps:
* Create a website that spells out what you do. Ninety-nine percent of the people making a major purchase will Google that person. If you don't show up, you don't exist.
* Write articles aimed at your niche market. Writing your own articles is more effective in building credibility and starting conversations than getting quoted in other people's articles. You have more control over the message.
* Create an email newsletter that you send out regularly with fresh content.
* Write research papers that detail the financial issues facing your niche and how they can solve them.
* Conduct group presentations targeted to your niche.
* Write a book. This may take a huge amount of effort, but it helps attract ideal clients.
* Appear on TV. The credibility of being on TV and being able to link people to your appearance is very beneficial.
* Create a blog and maintain it with fresh content.
* Leverage social media. Friending your clients on Facebook or connecting on LinkedIn is a good way to keep conversations going and learn what is new in their lives. It's also great for identifying centers of influence and networking with them.
* Conduct webinars. These are great tools to provide content and get people to talk and raise their hands. Keep in mind that 95% of your content should be valuable content that addresses the challenges of your niche clients. At my firm, we provide 56 minutes of content aimed at our niche: top financial advisors or those aspiring to be them. We wrap up a webinar by saying, "If you'd like to schedule an impact assessment to explore working with us, we'll accept the first 50 people who schedule a phone appointment." Usually it takes about two minutes to have 50 advisors raise their hands.
* Create videos. Professional-quality videos showing you speaking to your niche members or interviewing people of importance to them (such as the centers of influence with whom you have built relationships) can be very effective. Be sure to focus on providing information and ideas that can jump-start conversations. Remember, your job is to farm. No selling!
You don't need to do all of these things. Few if any of us possibly could. These are simply ideas that I have seen work well with our coaching clients.
Your job is to take the steps that will resonate especially well with your particular niche market and get investors from that group to meet with you and determine if it makes sense to work together. This should always be your call to action.
Start farming for the ideal affluent clients. Having effective conversations with prospects will ultimately lead to a much more successful practice.
John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide of San Martin, Calif., a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors.