From the October 2009 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Early Adopter

Kip Gregory helps advisors use social media networking tools to win new clients.

It's not an overstatement to say that Kip Gregory is ahead of the technology curve. In 1984, he helped build out CompuMall, one of the earliest online retailers. In a prescient move, he wrote Winning Clients in a Wired World -- five years ago. And now Gregory is talking up social media as a business development tool he wholeheartedly believes will transform the advisory business.


"What we're in right now is a frontier environment," says the 48-year-old Gregory, founder of The Gregory Group, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm that helps advisors with business development. "Because human nature is what it is, people will wake up to capitalize at different rates. The person smart enough to get in the game now establishes himself as an early adopter and an innovator and that's a good place to be. This should be a core part your business development strategy."


Kip Gregory, FOUNDER, THE GREGORY GROUP, WASHINGTON, D.C.

ON THE PROMISE OF SOCIAL MEDIA:

"Fast forward five years, probably not even that long, 12 to 24 months, and this will be an essential element of not just somebody's business development but their business approach. It will be as ubiquitous as e-mail."

Gregory, in talks around the country at industry events and in webinars, has homed in on a wildly appealing niche: how to use social media networking tools to win new clients.

"Do you realize you have more horsepower in the palm of your hand than entire Fortune 1000 organizations had just a generation ago? This is game-changing. If you're an advisor who has access to this information and you choose to employ it and compete against someone whose head is buried in a three-by-five card system approach and hopes to succeed on the power of personality, you're going to clean that person's clock," says Gregory. "Your ability to get at that information, digest and act on it will leave them in your dust."


There are lots of social media websites -- including Facebook, Plaxo, ZoomInfo, Naymz and Business2card -- but Gregory is first and foremost a fan of LinkedIn. The business networking site has 45 million members, and a new member signs up every second. Gregory calls it an "intelligence source" that allows you to track unobserved, and for free, the movements of people in your network: Who's switched jobs? Who's experienced a change in household composition? Who's received a lump-sum inheritance? Who's started a new company?


The size of the networks can be significant. Gregory, for example, has 1,000 direct LinkedIn contacts that in turn link him to over 100,000 second-degree connections. If he worked his third-degree connections, the number would be in the millions.


"Think of it as a radar screen of activity across your network. You see stuff that would historically go completely by you," adds Gregory. Interested in converting that lump-sum inheritor or entrepreneur to a client? Then work your network to find out if anyone is acquainted with the prospect and work that relationship.


"What it becomes is a very comfortable vehicle for having those referral conversations. You might say: 'What is the best way for approaching them? Would you make an introduction? Could I use your name?' There are these paths of connection that can bring these opportunities to the surface," he says. "The last time I saw this potential was with Google in 1998. It's life-changing."


David Krasnow, founder of Pension Advisors in Beachwood, Ohio, was about to fire his sales manager -- until Gregory came along. After hearing Gregory talk at a retirement plan roundtable, Krasnow invited him to speak to his eight employees.

As a result, the sales manager dumped cold calling and joined LinkedIn -- in the process connecting with a corporate attorney friend of hers who introduced Krasnow to a key prospect: a business with an $8 million retirement plan. "The attorney told me they'd been looking to talk to someone like us for years, but didn't know where to get started," he added. After meeting with firm executives twice, Krasnow says he's certain he'll get the business. Not coincidentally, the sales manager kept her job.


In another LinkedIn story, Krasnow thought he had lost out on a business opportunity when the chief executive, after poring over a list of Krasnow's clients, said he wasn't interested in pursuing the relationship because he didn't know any of Pension Advisors' clients. Krasnow promptly went to LinkedIn and discovered that a good friend of his had gone to high school with the reluctant CEO. The firm is now a client.


As social media networking tools become more mainstream, Gregory expects financial institutions themselves to become proponents. At the moment, he says AIG Advisor Group and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney are "out front," allowing advisors to use LinkedIn at their work stations. Other firms still prohibit its use in the office.


As for compliance -- and it's an issue with social media as it is with all marketing vehicles -- Gregory suggests using already approved information for your profile on any networking site.

And, he adds, take a close look at pre-approved marketing materials on file with your firm. "Believe me," he notes, "These companies spend millions of dollars over time creating libraries of content that in far too many instances go unused."


Finally, Gregory says, get ready for more stories like Krasnow's.

"Those stories are repeating themselves on a large and small scale in hundreds of conversations every day. What drives business in this industry? Referrals," he observes. "Put up a profile that tells the world exactly what you want your marketing message to be -- with a tool that doesn't cost you a penny. Take a step down that path."

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