On Becoming Unconventional

uThe unlikely scene played out, advisor marketing guru Maribeth Kuzmeski recalls with wry amusement, during morning rush hour at a busy Chicago-area commuter train station one day in 2008, as the economy—and people’s investment accounts—were bottoming out.

Seeking a creative way to leverage the financial meltdown in his prospecting efforts, one of Kuzmeski’s advisor clients headed to the train station to hand out fliers to passers-by, a tactic typically used to tout political candidates and happy hour drink specials. The flier essentially read, “Are you happy with your investments? If not, it’s time for a second opinion,” with the advisor’s contact info and an invitation for a no-strings-attached consultation, she recounts.

As much time as Kuzmeski, who heads Chicago-based Red Zone Marketing, has spent in the trenches, helping advisors market themselves and their practices, this was one idea she had never seen attempted. And for good reason: it was, in her estimation, a nonstarter, little more than a gimmick. Had the advisor asked her an opinion on the idea beforehand, she says, “I would have told him it wasn’t going to work.”

In this case, Kuzmeski acknowledges she would have been dead wrong. What struck her as a harebrained prospecting scheme proved to be a fruitful, if highly unconventional, marketing approach. In a matter of days, that handbill had landed the advisor a new client—and close to $1 million in new business.

Advisory practices are built and grow using a broad range of marketing angles, some conventional and well known, others less so. Here’s a look at some tactics that while leaning more toward the nontraditional, overlooked or obscure, just might be worth exploring, because, as advisor marketing expert John Comer, CFP, of Comer Consulting in Plymouth, Minn., points out, “If you’re looking to grow your practice, you need to fill your pipeline.”

Work these overlooked, underused and unorthodox marketing angles to build your practice.

oOne-on-one virtual appointments. Face-to-face doesn’t necessarily mean in- person, especially for prospects who are interested in engaging your services, but lack the time or inclination to meet at your office for an appointment. Instead, suggests Kuzmeski, invite them to an online one-on-one meeting, conducted via a virtual conferencing platform such as GoToMeeting, where the advisor can walk the prospect through a presentation that appears on both their computer screens. Such a prospect may appreciate the convenience more than a handshake.

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Lend a hand, shake a hand. Community involvement is a positive in and of itself. But advisors who volunteer for a charitable organization or not-for-profit also can leverage that work to generate networking opportunities and good will, which in turn may lead in a variety of promising directions. “Get involved where the money is, by sitting on an organization’s fundraising or development committee instead of the finance committee,” Kuzmeski suggests. “It gets you face-to-face with people with the money. I’m not recommending you go out and sell yourself in these situations. You’re looking to build relationships. I know advisors who have built client bases mostly from these kinds of relationships.”

“Doing a client survey every year is a great way to identify clients who are willing to provide referrals, and to identify a product or service void that needs filling.”  John Comer, Comer Consulting

wUse webinars as a seminar supplement. For similar convenience issues, it’s becoming harder to get people to attend brick-and-mortar seminar events, says Kuzmeski. Her suggestion: try delivering seminar content to a group of prospects via a virtual webinar event, again using a platform such as GoToMeeting. The growing web-savvy of today’s seniors makes this a more viable option.

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Client surveys. When it asks the right questions— Would you be willing to refer me/my practice to people you know? Is there a product or service you want that I/my practice doesn’t currently offer?—a client survey can be highly effective at uncovering referral and business-building opportunities, says Comer. “Doing [a client survey] every year is a great way to identify clients who are willing to provide referrals, and to identify a product or service void that needs filling.”

mDirect mail (?!). Surprise! Direct mail isn’t the marketing black hole you might have assumed it is, according to Kuzmeski. “Just about everybody has gone to email marketing,” she observes, and as a result, people are becoming “turned off” by the volume of email they receive. That, in turn, has made them more receptive to direct mail. Well-executed marketing pieces for seminars and the like that once might have yielded a paltry and hard-to-justify 0.25 percent response rate now are generating response rates as robust as 1 percent or more, she says.

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Embrace a cause. Put your professional expertise to work for a good cause, such as by working for a financial literacy campaign, a collaborative law program or a financial empowerment program aimed at women, for example, Comer suggests. Besides helping people in need, this type of work yields relationships that may open doors to potential clients.

pHighly targeted professional referrals. Referrals from other professionals—accountants, attorneys and the like—are a valuable commodity. But according to Comer, it’s not enough for advisors to approach just any accountant, attorney or other professional in attempt to forge a relationship that may lead to referrals. “These people probably have multiple advisors asking them to provide referrals,” he says. “So you have to give them a reason to pick you as the one they give that referral.” That means finding professionals with whom your practice focus, demographics and philosophies align. If you’re an advisor whose client base is heavy with wealthy seniors, for example, it may be wise to target an elder law attorney or estate planning attorney for referrals. On the other side of the coin, if you’re an advisor who wants to add senior clients, don’t target a CPA who’s heavy on young clients but light on seniors.

As unorthodox, obscure or overlooked as some marketing angles may seem, they’re usually rooted in common sense, acknowledges Comer. “Marketing is easy to understand but hard to execute.”

Whether it’s handing out fliers at the train station or closing prospects via webcam, the success of your practice depends largely on how well you execute your marketing ideas, however far-out they may seem, says Kuzmeski. “It’s how you get your message out and how you drive others to you. There’s not an advisor I know who has too many people to see.”

“It’s how you get your message out and how you drive others to you. There’s not an advisor I know who has too many people to see.”   Maribeth Kuzmeski, Red Zone Marketing

By   From the June 2012 issue of Senior Market Advisor    David Port is a Denver-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to SMA. He owns and operates his own writing and editing business, Southpaw Print/Net Communications.
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