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Three Ways to Get More Client Referrals

Most advisory firms will strive to be more successful, whether it is this year or by the year 2030. To do this, most will have to significantly grow the number of total assets managed. For others the total number of clients will need to increase, which is especially true for the minority of financial planners that only charge a financial planning fee.

The SEI and FPA research titled, “Advisory Firms in 2030: The Innovation Imperative,” showed that 77 percent of those surveyed believe client referrals are the most important growth driver. Yet, when we first start consulting our clients, few of them already have a well-thought-out plan to gain more client referrals year after year.

To help, here are three strategic actions each financial planner should do this year. These best practices can have a compounding benefit of increased number of clients and assets under management.

1.) Know Your Clients

At first each firm should have identified target markets that it wants to focus on for future growth. Hopefully the current client base is in line with the ideal client profile, as it is easier to replicate existing clients than to start from scratch.

By knowing the clients better than anyone, customized services can be offered, unique marketing messages can be created and targeted prospecting can take place.

How should planners get to know their clients? Of course, some of that work starts in one-on-one meetings. However, advanced client research requires an independent third-party facilitator to get deep into the clients’ feedback and opinions.

Every planner should use an independent third-party facilitator to conduct an annual survey that can be as short as 10 questions. More advanced research can take place in the form of focus groups and advisory boards to get to know the client base even better. Interestingly enough, when focus groups are conducted, clients involved typically give more referrals after the research than they did before. By asking them to share their thoughts and advice, they start to have an even greater vested interest in the success of the advisory practice.

2.) Have Conversations About Referrals

All the high-pressure tactics of asking for referrals have damaged the financial services industry in many ways. The effects are that often planners do not feel comfortable asking and—not by coincidence—clients do not want to be asked either.

Traditional approaches put the need on the client to help the planner. However, this is not the right approach. Instead the conversations should be around the planner wanting to help their client by helping their family member, friend, colleague, etc.

If the planner can, offer help, instead of asking for it. That approach will lead to many introductions. First of all, the planner will be comfortable having the conversations. Plus, the clients will feel like the planner is doing them a value-added service my helping others they know. This simple change can make a huge difference. Byrnes Consulting has seen that the more “helpful” conversations that occur, the more likely referrals will start coming from the existing client base.

3.) Facilitate Real Introductions

In every survey Byrnes Consulting conducted for our clients that included referrals as part of the learning agenda, we found that clients said they gave significantly more referrals than planners were actually seeing. We find that often planners only have 5 to 20 percent of their clients give referrals. However, approximately three out of four clients say they give referrals.

That is a big difference with huge potential. There might be many reasons the referrals are not reaching out, ranging from them experiencing terrible online first impressions to them just not being ready to take the first step all on their own.

Planners really have to step up their digital presence. Referrals will be the main way planners continue to grow, but any more websites and social networks now get an assist on making the referral a real lead. Today, the majority of prospects will have done some online research before taking the first step to call, email or visit a planner. Expect this preliminary step to be close to 100 percent in the coming years.

For those prospects not quite ready to take the first step on their own, planners need to create opportunities for them to get introduced. Ideally the existing client can bring them to an event or something more intimate. Every year, each firm should have a very diverse event strategy to get most of the client base to participate in at least one activity.

The financial planners that want to grow at a faster pace over the next decade need to continue to have a well-thought-out plan. Hopefully these strategic actions can help them take the initial steps needed to bring in more clients in the coming years.

Mike Byrnes Headshot

Mike Byrnes is a national speaker and owner of Byrnes Consulting, LLC. His firm provides consulting services to help advisers become even more successful. He helps financial professionals with business planning, marketing strategy, business development, client service and management effectiveness. He is a coach in the FPA Coaches Corner. 

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Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared in the FPA Coaches Corner whitepaper, “Action 2020: Create Business Success for Today and Tomorrow.” Download your copy of the whitepaper here.  


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Be Wary of Lead-Generation Adviser-Matching Services

Advisers looking to grow their business are always interested in finding new clients, but almost universally, advisers hate prospecting. Most of them don’t have the time, skill or interest to do the marketing on their own, which is why lead-generation services have become more popular. In fact, these services are banking on demand and specifically targeting advisers. You can find firms that will sell you prospect information in specific high-net-worth zip codes or Google and Facebook ads that will pop up on specific sites investors might be searching.

Some services take it further by promising advisers you’ll never have to prospect again. While adviser/client matching services have some differences in their business models, their core offering tends to be the same: they promise to match advisers with great quality prospects in their area who are pre-qualified and need their services. The adviser pays a fee to participate (usually a setup or onboarding fee, plus a fee for every referral the adviser receives) while the end client pays nothing.

Wow! That sounds great, doesn’t it?

You know what’s coming, don’t you?

There’s a big BUT. Like most things that seem too good to be true, there’s a catch. Let’s look at a few issues that should be considered before you sink money and time into an adviser-matching service.

Quality of Leads Generated

Where do the matching services find all these apparently great, high-quality leads? The leads come predominantly from advertising. The companies tout their multichannel approach for putting information in front of prospects, and they leverage Facebook, LinkedIn, Google organic searches and pay-per-click services, strategic partners and alliances, social media, email, custom landing pages and videos to make it all happen.

With these tools, they can target investors who are looking for information on a specific topic, such as how to leave money to children. Or they could compel a group of investors to reply to a general pitch for retirement planning or request an e-book on a topic after completing a form. While many prospects do complete such forms, they may or may not be told that a financial adviser will be contacting them afterward. Some prospects have expressed surprise when advisers reach out and say they don’t know how their name and number were obtained.

Some marketing agencies go even further by making the most of today’s sophisticated data analytics. They can cross-reference reams of data and extract candidates who might seem to fit a specific lead profile, such as being older than age 60, living in a particular town or zip code, owning a second home, driving a Mercedes-Benz and so on. These prospect pools might not have clicked directly on an ad or requested information, they have simply qualified as lead because they visited a financial planning site or clicked to run a retirement income calculator.

A One-Size-Fits-All Approach

All these services create pay-to-play scenarios, meaning that only advisers who sign up and pay will receive referrals. So, even though the services promise to match clients with advisers who are a great fit, the premise is flawed. A questionnaire for an investor looking for an adviser is likely to ask only the most basic questions to assess needs (e.g., are taxes important?), rely on investors to self-report their income and assets and make no distinctions for adviser experience and education. So, an adviser with a CFP®, AIF®, CFA®, CPA and 25 years of experience will be presented on an equal footing with a rookie adviser holding only a FINRA Series 7 securities registration. Since the job of lead-generation services is to spread the leads around to all advisers, everyone is treated the same—even though that may not be best for the paying adviser or the prospective client. Advisers receive a brief form with the name, phone number, email and total assets for each prospect, and then it’s up to them to follow up.

Compliance Approval

This is tricky territory indeed, and every firm is different. Depending on how the particular lead-generation service is structured, the SEC will likely consider the service to constitute a solicitor arrangement under Advisers Act Rule 206(4)-3. That’s because the SEC defines a “solicitor” broadly as “any person who, directly or indirectly, solicits any client for, or refers any client to, an investment adviser.” In general, the payment of compensation by advisers to for-profit lead-generation or adviser-matching services may be done only in strict compliance with the solicitation rule. And since it is the adviser making the payment who falls squarely under the jurisdiction of the SEC, it is the adviser who will be held accountable for failure to comply with the rule. Given that, before you spend money or time with any of the services out there, be sure to check with your compliance department and see if it’s allowed.

Are the Services Effective?

According to the marketing and websites of the lead-generation services, absolutely! And there likely is a degree of success, or these companies would quickly close doors.

Caveat emptor applies, though. First, carefully consider what you are trying to do with your business and see if these services make sense. Second, make sure you understand the following:

  • Cost: The services can be expensive. For most advisers, the up-front costs and costs per lead could be better spent on other marketing initiatives that would give them more control and better results.
  • Limitations: Geographic location seems to be the biggest factor in assigning advisers to clients, not experience or designations. The heavy zip code weighting seems at odds with the ability of more targeted technological capabilities, as well as the increased mobility of clients.
  • Missing information: Many advisers invest heavily in their learning and have earned a number of credentials and licenses. The services don’t take any of that into account when matching advisers to clients, although prospects can be influenced by reading designations on adviser profiles.
  • Lack of customization: Even though the services tout their ability at matchmaking, there’s no way for the service to get to know either the adviser or the client. Most prospects who fill out the (very basic) questionnaires might not even know their financial issues or the kinds of solutions they need, so how can they choose the adviser best qualified to help?
  • Risk of wasted time: While advisers can pay more for a lead based on the prospect’s assets, they cannot identify or choose their ideal clients. At Commonwealth, we coach advisers to try and find the right people who meet their minimums and ideal client profile. The opposite is happening with these services when the adviser agrees to follow up with all leads, whether they fit the practice or not.

Evaluate Carefully

Where do you want to spend your money, time and energy? What is best for the long-term success of your practice? In my opinion, most advisers’ time would be better spent deepening relationships with current clients, learning the best ways to ask for referrals and introductions and being highly visible in the community.

If you do want to engage in a digital strategy to find leads and prospects for your business, I suggest you check out LinkedIn first. There are plenty of resources to help you leverage the social media platform that are free, easy and put you in control of the people you contact. And that sounds like a lead-generation strategy worth trying.

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Kristine McManus is chief business development officer, practice management, at Commonwealth Financial Network®, member FINRA/SIPC, the nation’s largest privately held Registered Investment Adviser—independent broker/dealer. Since joining the firm in April 2014, she has been working with affiliated advisers to grow their top line through the introduction of various programs, tools and coaching. Kristine holds the Chartered Retirement Planning CounselorSM designation, a master’s degree from Pennsylvania State University, and a BFA from Adelphi University.


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How Financial Planners Can Make Summer Prospecting Enjoyable and Easy

The summer season sends many financial practices into the doldrums. Business-building efforts don’t stop completely, but they sure slow down. Clients might be away or not interested in coming to the office, and advisers and staff likely have days off or extended vacations booked. Summer days drift away from one to the next without much impact. Then September comes—and advisers realize the end of the year is going to arrive before they’re ready for it. And what were those business growth goals, again?

The Perfect Time to Prospect

This year, why not spend the dog days of summer building your business? Of course, have fun and enjoy some leisure time off, but also think of all the ways you can boost your firm’s visibility and attract your ideal clients. To help get you started, consider the following ideas—they will delight your community and are loaded with great prospecting opportunities.

Summer safety session. Schedule a summer safety session and invite parents and grandparents with young children. For example, a session titled “Keep the Kids Safe This Summer” could attract lots of people. For added reach—and a community event worthy of PR—invite a few guest speakers such as a pediatrician, lifeguard or water safety instructor. Whether you discuss sunburn, poison ivy, ticks or water hazards, a safety session can attract both clients and prospects. Take pictures, give small gifts of bubbles or sidewalk chalk, and you’ve got great talking points and pictures for your website and LinkedIn and Facebook pages.

Sports team sponsorship. Consider sponsoring a sports team for the summer. Think about it: your firm’s name and logo will appear on T-shirts worn by little kids trying to hit a ball off a tee or score their first goal in soccer. The pictures alone will make it worth the investment, as many towns put pictures of kids’ teams in local newspapers and on their websites. But you can do so much more:

  • Take pictures and put them on your website, with captions such as, “We’re proud to sponsor the Riverdale Green Hornets!”
  • Go to games and meet the parents and grandparents of the players.
  • Invite some of your clients to attend a game with you.
  • Sponsor a pizza party at the end of the season and mingle with the parents.
  • Bring popsicles or ice cream treats for the players and fans.

These simple activities can have a huge effect and get you talked about in the community, for very little expense.

Community events. If you’re a solo adviser or small firm, create an event for your clients that leverages a bigger event in your area. Many towns hold free summer concerts in a local park or show family movies on a big screen in a nearby field or stadium. Check out your local town’s recreation brochure or website to see what’s available, decide on a guest list and make your plans accordingly.

  • For clients with children, invite them to join you to watch family-friendly choices or the movie of the week. Tell them you’ll have blankets and refreshments ready and where you’ll be set up in the park. Bring coolers of soft drinks or ice cream novelties, have some boxes of movie candy and popcorn on hand, and you’re done!
  • For older clients, be sure you have lawn chairs available so that people will be comfortable, and bring some blankets in case the weather cools. If your town allows it, a simple wine and cheese picnic held outside while listening to music could be something your clients talk about long afterwards. And, of course, let your clients know their friends are welcome to join in the fun.

Ice cream social. Do you have a popular ice cream stand in your area? If so, invite clients to join you on a certain date and time and treat them to the ice cream of their choice. Yes, it really can be that simple! People are always looking for an excuse to get out in the summer, and who can turn down an ice cream cone? Especially one with sprinkles. Plus, you’ll be sponsoring a local business and having fun at the same time.

Putting Smiles in Your Posts

No matter what event you choose, don’t forget the power of pictures! Posting heartwarming photos of your events is an incredibly valuable way to spread your firm’s name and gain community goodwill. (Remember, you’ll need to get client approval for picture use, but most are happy to give permission.) Here are some simple ways to share the fun:

  • Post the pictures on your website, Facebook or LinkedIn page, or other social media platforms.
  • Send clients an email and attach a few pictures that they (or their children) are featured in. Your clients can post the photos to their personal Facebook pages—and hopefully mention your firm.
  • Create a collage of the pictures from your event and hang it in your reception area or conference room. This makes a great visual for prospects.

Making the Summer Sizzle

Summer can be the ideal time to plant the seeds for future growth. With some careful planning and creativity, you can turn the slow days of summer into growth momentum for your business.  Kristine_McManus_2_lg

Kristine McManus is chief business development officer, practice management, at Commonwealth Financial Network®, member FINRA/SIPC, the nation’s largest privately held Registered Investment Adviser—independent broker/dealer. Since joining the firm in April 2014, she has been working with affiliated advisers to grow their top line through the introduction of various programs, tools and coaching. Kristine holds the Chartered Retirement Planning CounselorSM designation, a master’s degree from Pennsylvania State University, and a BFA from Adelphi University.