From the May 2003 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

May 1, 2003

Get Outta Here!

Management guru Tom Peters introduced the concept of "management by wandering around." I would like to introduce you to the marketing corollary: "marketing by hanging around." It seems like every advisor I talk to tells me how difficult it is to get new clients today. Since qualified, motivated prospective clients are probably not regularly waltzing into your office demanding to hire you, I recommend that you go where your prospective clients are. Then, make a point to develop relationships with people who could become great clients.

Marketing is simply a matter of communicating the benefits of your services to people who have a high probability of wanting and needing them. The ones who are interested will let you know that they want more information, and from there it's a simple matter of signing on the dotted line. If you are unable to get your message to the right people, it is very unlikely that they will magically find out about you and your services.

Many advisors don't communicate their benefits to 200 prospects in a whole year. I have a very simple marketing success formula: Spread the good word to as many qualified prospects as possible.

The Secret of Ron's Success

One of the secrets to marketing success in this industry is perfectly illustrated by an advisor I met when I was a wholesaler. Ron was the fifth-highest generator of revenue for one of America's largest brokerage firms. He worked in Scottsdale, Arizona, which was part of my territory, and he was the top performer in that office.

I cultivated a relationship with Ron. He would take me out to help him sell my company's offerings to his clients. Ron was extremely easy to like and highly productive, but, to tell you the truth, his demeanor and presentations were not terribly impressive. In fact, he was often late for appointments and would forget to bring along information requested by important clients. We got lost a few times trying to find clients' homes, and he didn't have a particularly high level of technical know-ledge, either.

One day, over lunch, I asked Ron what he felt the key to his success was. "You know, you're not the sharpest knife in the drawer," I said, only half-joking, "but you're the biggest producer in the office. What do you attribute your success to?" I was surprised when he said, "Oh, far and away it's because I'm out of the office more than anyone else in my branch. The second-highest generator of revenue in my office is out of the office more than anyone but me. I believe he would surpass me if he stayed away from the office more."

I asked Ron what he did when he was out of the office. "I found out a long time ago that great clients don't typically come into my office," he said, "so I decided to go to where they are." Ron had done some research and found that Arizona's small towns often had fairly large treasuries. He got a list of all the small cities in Arizona, found out when their city council meetings were, and then drove to the towns and participated in the city council meetings. This is called "surfacing in a target-rich environment."

Over time, Ron became good friends with the movers and shakers of all these small towns, and eventually picked up the investment accounts from many of the city treasurers. This was Ron's initial key to success. As he developed more relationships and more knowledge about the treasurers' special needs, he added even more cities to his account list. It seems the treasurers and city leaders talked among themselves and referred their colleagues to Ron.

By the time I met Ron, he was firmly established in this market, and he didn't even need to participate in many city government meetings anymore. Some of the brokers in his office were trying to copy his idea by simply cold-calling other city treasurers from their offices in Phoenix or Tucson, trying to get their accounts. Ron was sure they'd never succeed. "They'll never get to manage these cities' assets because they're not developing any kind of a relationship with the people involved," he said. "I've spent years developing the trust and confidence of these city officials. I have a personal relationship with them, and I know their spouses' names, their kids' names--sometimes even their dogs'."

What I learned from that lunch conversation is that you do not have to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, you do not have to have all the answers, and you do not have to be totally organized. What you do have to do is make personal contact with people, and build relationships with them if you want your business to grow.

Become the "Go-To Guy" (or Gal)

For many years, an advisor I know has been very successful working with soon-to-retire Chevron executives. Just like Ron, Hal is typically out of the office a lot, making an effort to surface in those target-rich environments.

When he has a client he needs to meet with, Hal makes a point of meeting with the client at their place of work. While he's on site meeting with his client, he naturally meets the client's friends and associates who also work at Chevron.

Through this process, Hal has become known as the "go-to guy" for anyone retiring from the two Chevron facilities in his area. Hal has networked himself into Chevron so well that he knows all of the movers and shakers. These well-connected employees function as Hal's early warning system for upcoming layoffs.

Hal told me that when he meets a potential client who is about to retire or be laid off from Chevron, he has a 100% closing ratio. How can that be? "When I meet with someone, he usually knows three or four other people who I am already working with," he says. "I get great recommendations and endorsements from people the prospect knows and trusts."

Hal has also figured out how to make himself stand out from the crowd. Since planning for retirement is a very important decision, retiring employees typically shop for a financial advisor. They attend seminars presented by advisors, get multiple proposals, and comparison-shop before deciding whom they'll hire to manage their money.

"The prospect goes to Firm A, and the financial advisor shows her a portfolio and says, 'I can get you 8%,'" says Hal. "She goes to another firm, and the advisor says, 'I can get you 9%.' Then the next advisor says, 'I can get you 10%.'"

Hal destroys the credibility of his competition by asking the prospect one simple question: "Can you really accept that level of risk?" Every one of the prospects responds in the same way: "Of course I can't accept high risk. I'm retiring!" And that question, combined with Hal's established reputation and specialized knowledge, generates his 100% closing ratio.

If you feel a little down and wish that you could get more great clients, I highly recommend that you get out of your office and hang around where your ideal prospects are. There's no subsitute for good old face-to-face contact and relationship-building.

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