Have you considered attending large advisor conferences such as the Morningstar Investment Conference or Schwab Impact in the past, but missed out because you were reluctant to pull the trigger?
Industry conferences can be a great place to showcase your funds and engage advisors. They provide unparalleled opportunities for you to play with the big boys, setting up your booth alongside some of the most well-known brands in the industry. Hundreds, if not thousands, of financial advisors with the potential to sell your products will be present. At dinners and breaks, you'll have the opportunity to meet a number of quality advisors informally and build new relationships.
But, something might be holding you back. You may be thinking, "Is it really worth all that money? What if I don't look as good as the others and even worse, what if no one talks to me?" The price of exhibiting at these events can be hefty on top of booth, materials and travel costs as well as time away from the office.
As an asset manager, you can't help but think in terms of what the return will be on your investment. While that's nearly impossible to quantify specifically, there's often a nagging feeling that attending is the right thing to do. You can learn a lot by attending just one or two of these conferences before you exhibit.
- Education: If your primary business is working with institutional or high-net-worth investors and you want to gain more traction for an existing fund or are just getting started, you can learn a lot about the mutual fund industry, particularly what products your competitors are offering and advisors are using.
- Demand: As an RIA you are the target audience for many conferences. These events are designed around your needs as an advisor. Because you also manage a mutual fund, you get the added value of seeing the event from two perspectives.
- Affordability: Companies like Schwab or Pershing receive big bucks from fund firms to sponsor. Often, the fee is under $2,000. As long as your firm is associated with one of these larger companies, you may be able to attend conferences for a low cost and still reap many benefits.
- Competitors: You'll notice the largest players. You'll also discover that you are exactly where other firms were just a few years ago before committing to growth and participating in conferences. These are the firms you could be learning from.
- Advisors: Learn as much as possible from the advisors you speak to by knowing in advance what questions you want answered. Not only will this allow you to learn from a variety of industry representatives, you might walk away with a few business cards to follow up on.
- Media: There is usually a press room at these events where interviews between reporters and portfolio managers take place. Some meetings are set up in advance; others are more last minute. Conferences are a great way to meet and greet dozens of reporters within a few days.
- Thought leaders: You'll hear some of the biggest names in the industry speak about how they are making money for shareholders. You're likely to walk away with some new investment ideas or topics to debate when you return to the office.
- It's a competitive industry: Hundreds of name brand and niche firms have spent $10,000 to $100,000 or more to gain the attention of the advisor. Many sponsor conference events, host private events, build impressive exhibit booths, and hire skilled salespeople who are trained to ask advisors what they do. For them, engaging advisors is a year-round effort, not an annual event. You will have to work hard and differentiate your firm to compete with them.
- Your competition may not be your competition: You might believe other boutique firms are your competition. At a conference, you may realize you are actually competing with deep-pocketed firms like Vanguard and Blackrock.
- Visibility is key: To differentiate themselves, many financial advisors pride themselves on discovering boutique firms that their competition hasn't. Direct access to your portfolio managers will help set you apart from the pack.
- Be present: Not all exhibitors are taking full benefit of the opportunity to engage with their audience. Your representatives need to have the personalities and motivation to engage with anyone who stops by the booth and to draw in those who don't.
- Have a plan: The firms that get the most out of these conferences have a strategy that can take six months to design. They've done the research to determine which conferences make sense for them. They also have pre-, during-, and post conference campaigns and evaluate what they could have done better afterwards.
After hours can be key. Linger longer at the conference after formal business hours have ended. This is a great time to network informally with attendees and key speakers. If there are organized evening activities, like a happy hour reception or dinner, attend those as well. Spend time at the hotel bar. Connecting with people socially may make them more likely to share valuable insights and take your call later.
The contacts you make at conferences can become lifelong friends and colleagues. Make it part of your long-term plan to communicate with them regularly on social media or by phone.
Dan Sondhelm is a partner and senior vice president of SunStar Strategic, a financial services marketing firm.