From the April 2013 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Sidebar: Top Tactics for Getting Clients

When Merrill Lynch Wealth Management executives surveyed their top 250 acquiring financial advisors last year, the firm identified several key tactical client acquisition strategies responsible for the majority of new business results.

During their third year, advisor trainees are introduced to the top tactics as part of what Merrill calls its Optimal Practice Model, focusing on business management and development, planning, investments and financing, relationship management, and service and administration.

Here are three of the strategies:

Targeted seminars: The idea here is to organize an event around the needs and interests of the client. As an example, one Merrill advisor—whose client owns a Mercedes dealership—held an event on investments for the dealership’s clients. Another hosted a retirement celebration for a client and dozens of the client’s friends. The advisor spoke briefly at the party about the transition to retirement. “It’s not rocket science but it’s really smart,” says Dwight Mathis, who heads new advisor strategy. Merrill helps fund the seminars up to a point.

Intimate events: Every month, advisor Carl Cafaro hosts a lunch for no more than eight clients in a private room at a restaurant. He also invites a “topic expert” like an economist or an identity fraud specialist to join them. “If you are running a practice with a certain amount of exclusivity to it, you don’t necessarily want to have 80 or 100 clients in the room if you don’t have to,” says Cafaro, who manages $1.2 billion in assets from offices in Newton, Mass. The goal is to invite all of his clients to one lunch a year. “I want to show my clients we’re really focused on them and their needs,” he adds. “Best yet, one client will meet another at lunch and realize they can add value to each other.”

Strategic networking: Several top Merrill advisors use “passion prospecting” to build client networks. One advisor who races Porsches has developed a long list of new clients who are also passionate about racing. “The idea is to put yourself in an environment you are passionate about to make connections and build relationships,” says national business development officer Erin Buhler. Another advisor, a chef, invites prospects and clients to his home and cooks for them. Other advisors have developed clients through their love of fine art. “They invite other clients and prospects who have that same level of appreciation to a cool venue like an art museum and talk passion,” says Buhler. “It’s all about pulling people together around common ground.”

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