From the January 2009 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

January 1, 2009

Marketing in a Downturn

If you are retaining 100% of your clients these days, you have a compelling story to tell. Consider that The Wall Street Journal reported on September 30, 2008 that "Fully 90% of clients of brand firms plan to take money away from their advisor and 70% plan to leave the advisor altogether. That compares with a mere 29% for the boutique, local advisory firms."

Even if your client losses are minimal, that doesn't mean you shouldn't have more clients. Since current clients are your biggest asset when it comes to getting new clients, is now the time to ask for referrals? For example, you might say something like this to clients:

"I'm proud to have kept all my clients during these uncertain times, especially because I've heard that many clients are looking for new advisors. Many clients have asked if I'm taking new clients, so I'm holding a small, informal event on January 15 to update a select group on market conditions. This is a specific opportunity for clients to introduce me to others who might be helped by knowing me. How many seats would you like me to reserve for you?"

Think about the events you sponsor. Can you replace some expensive items and events with informal, less expensive ones? Instead of spending $100/household on gift baskets, one advisor piggybacked on an event sponsored by his village. He rented a downtown booth in celebration of Santa's arrival aboard a fire engine. He sent clients a customized, cost-effective formal invitation made available via his broker/dealer and served free coffee, hot chocolate, and donuts. Many clients brought their grandchildren, and the free bag of candy distributed to "children of all ages" was a big, inexpensive hit.

Because there's no bigger current event than the market turbulence, your clients are no doubt talking about it to others. Why not provide them with an e-mail to forward to friends as a way of talking about you?

Don't Waste Marketing Dollars

If you put time and money into getting prospects, make sure those who are a fit for your firm become clients. It's critical that you have the skills to establish iron-clad relationships with these potential clients so you can genuinely understand their needs. This doesn't cost money, but it does require advisors to consistently be at the top of their interpersonal game.

Michael Duncan of DFG Advisors in Ridgewood, New Jersey, doesn't necessarily think of himself as a great marketer. That's why he feels it is important that he convert into clients nearly all qualified prospects who walk through his office door. He never sells investment management, however. "If you think you can add value through asset management, the last quarter has certainly taught us humility," notes Duncan.

For Duncan, focusing on financial planning helps ensure that it's all about the client. The best way to support his clients has been to create a culture where planning is always used to tackle a client's current or future need. Given the 40 ultra-wealthy clients of the firm, intricate estate planning expertise is as common as it is critical for him.

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