June 18, 2012

How to Get Referrals That Are the Right Fit

In discussing marketing strategies, some advisors will (proudly often) say, “I don’t do any marketing. I get all my new clients from referrals.” 

In truth, any tactic meant to bring new business into your practice, whether in the form of new clients or new assets, is marketing, and that includes referrals. “Doing marketing”—which means developing and strengthening your branding—not only brings in more referrals, it brings in more right-fit referrals. 

Advisors tend to be oriented toward investments and returns, so they often look for a direct correlation between marketing expenses and increased revenue. Taking that approach with marketing professional services almost never works. Running an ad in the Yellow Pages will not bring you the type of clients you want. After all, who looks in the phone book to find an advisor to manage their large account? Instead, your objective in developing your branding is to increase top-of-mind awareness among prospects so that when those prospective clients reach a tipping point that causes them to seek a new advisor, they think of you first. 

What causes a tipping point? It can be a do-it-yourselfer who decides it’s time for professional help. It could be someone who has been on your prospect drip list a long time and is now unhappy with his current advisor. It could be a person who didn’t meet your target market definition before, but has recently received an inheritance, changed jobs or sold a business. Whatever the reason, this person is perfectly positioned to ask her friends, family and coworkers for the name of a good advisor. 

Most referrals happen that way. It would be great to develop a corps of raving fans who say to their friends, apropos of nothing, “Let me tell you about my financial advisor.” For most advisors, however, that doesn’t happen often enough to keep the prospecting pipeline full. Far more common is a tipping-point conversation. Your client’s friend says, “This divorce has been so hard. I like our financial advisor, but I really think I need to find someone that I’m confident is on my side.” And your client offers your name. 

So how does effective and consistent brand building make that process any more efficient? When you have a clear brand message, or unique value proposition (UVP), your clients understand exactly how you fit their needs, and they can then see how you would fit the needs of others at a tipping point. Your UVP is the core message you deliver through every marketing tactic you use. It is based on the special benefits you offer, unique traits, characteristics or accomplishments. It expresses how you wish to be perceived.

The key to the UVP is the “unique.” You are unlikely to offer truly unique services in the financial industry, but you can find a truly unique way to brand your service. A good UVP should identify your target market, the ways that market benefits from your services and how you are different from your competitors. 

Think about the aspect of your business that you get the most excited about. What are your passions? What positive financial topic causes your spouse to say, “Oh, don’t get her started!”? Your UVP might even include a certain personality type you prefer to work with, whether that’s clients who need more education and handholding, the “set it and forget it” types or the savvy investor who wants more involvement. 

When you think you’ve got a good UVP, apply the Rule of Logical Opposites: If no sane business owner would claim the opposite of the statement, then the statement itself provides no differentiation. So claiming, “We provide great customer service,” doesn’t differentiate your practice, because no other advisor would ever claim to provide poor customer service. 

With your finished UVP in place, start reviewing your marketing components to ensure they are consistent in message as well as look and feel. Start with your website. Why? Because in today’s electronic world, your website is the first place prospects will go to check you out, even if they were referred to you. A missing website today is like a Post Office box address 20 years ago—it can imply you aren’t legitimate. 

Your personal appearance and office environment should also reflect your UVP. Ask a friend who has never visited your office to do a walk-through to look for misaligned messages. For example, if you serve a primarily blue collar market but your waiting room magazines include “Wine Tasting Quarterly.” Or you want to serve a high-net-worth clientele, but your office is located in a strip mall. Or you serve a primarily female clientele, but your website uses the pronouns “he/his/him.” Or you serve widows and divorcees, but your website pictures happy boomer couples enjoying retirement. 

Apply the same critical eye to your marketing materials: brochures, business cards, stationery, signage. Anything that touches your target market should be evaluated against your UVP. If it sends conflicting messages, change the marketing tactic or materials, not the UVP. No matter how much you might love a brochure photo, the beat-up desk you hung out your shingle with, or that Tigger tie your kids gave you, if it doesn’t build on your UVP, it’s pulling down your referral opportunities. 

So how does all this relate to getting more right-fit referrals that stick around to become clients? I’ll discuss that next month.

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