It has come to my attention that many financial advisors have completely stopped marketing over the last couple of years. Many of you are not getting an opportunity to talk to new prospects. This is a serious problem. Every business must do some kind of marketing, or it will go out of business. So let’s get back to some basics.

What Is Marketing?

Let’s start with the definition of marketing. The American Heritage Dictionary defines marketing as “the commercial functions involved in transferring goods from producer to consumer.”

Sales is part of this process, but it is different from marketing. For our purposes, marketing means everything you do before you are face-to-face with a prospect. It means creating an environment for a meaningful sales conversation.

Once you are face to face, you move into the sales process: converting that motivated and qualified prospect into a client.

I like to think of marketing as letting people know you have what people want, while sales is trying to get people to want what you have. Effective marketers conduct research to find out what people want. Then they make offers to prospects, and see which offers they respond to.

Salespeople, on the other hand, try to overcome objections to get people to buy what they are selling. Because of this, salespeople tend to create resistance and negative emotions during the sales process. Just think about it: Whenever you feel like you are about to be sold, don’t you go into a defensive mode? Well, everyone does. That is just natural, normal human behavior. We do not want to be manipulated into doing something that we do not feel is in our best interests. Salespeople ask, “How do we sell this product?” But marketers ask, “How can we serve these people?” If you try to sell to people, they resist you. If you try to serve them, they help you. The difference is like night and day.

The classic marketing question is this: “You are about to open a restaurant and you can have any marketing advantage that you want. What is the one thing that will practically guarantee the success of your restaurant?” Most everyone will answer great food, low prices, friendly waiters, or a great location.

But those are sales answers–they’re all about the product. The marketing answer is “a starving crowd.” If you can find people who are hungry, you do not have to have great service, great food, or a great location. They will be glad to pay for your services. If you have a great product or service also, so much the better.

This is one of the key marketing challenges for financial advisors. How do you find people who are hungry or eager for your services? In today’s crowded marketplace, this is more difficult than in the past, unless you have very specialized services that meet the needs of specific groups of people.

Create a Written Profile

First, create a simple profile of the people who can benefit the most from your services. If you think of your prospects in terms of transitional events, it is pretty easy to determine who would benefit the most.

By the way, if people are not going through a transitional event, their desire to discuss their personal finances and make changes is typically very low. When they are going through transitional events, their desire and need are both very high. These are the best times to attract them.

When successful business owners sell their businesses, they receive a large amount of cash. It may be the biggest single chunk of cash they have ever had in their lives. They need someone to help them make smart choices about their personal finances and the management of that money. Rather than selling to these people, what you need to do is position yourself as an expert who can help them make smart choices during this critical transition point in their life.

Another classic example is the retiree. When people retire, they often get a large chunk of money through a 401(k) rollover. At this juncture, they have critical decisions to make and problems to solve.

When these people go through these major changes in their lives, they need the help of a competent professional financial advisor. However, if you act like a salesperson and try to sell them things, they will tend to back away and try to find someone who can advise them instead.

What Do You Provide?

Before the market meltdown, just having access to investment products put you in a very strong position. People would come to you because of the spectacular returns in the markets. Today that is reversed and people are afraid of the markets. You must take a more active and professional role in business development–or starve.

Many of the advisors I work with find themselves in a defensive position when speaking with potential clients. The investors put them on the spot and ask them, “Why should I work with you? Show me what you did for your clients over the last three years.” If you are trying to convince prospects to invest today, it can be a very difficult road.

But if you are well-positioned as an expert at solving problems that people with money have, you will find that those people are highly motivated to work with you. The key distinction here is that a problem-solver has expertise and processes to guide people through solutions to problems that they want to solve.

One strategy that works incredibly well for financial advisors is to document their problem-solving solutions with simple marketing material. When you tell people something, it is processed in a different way than when you show it to them in writing. Terry Allen, a financial advisor in Walnut Creek, California, developed a detailed list of her services and her processes for helping people make smart decisions about the management of their money. She recently met a prospect who had $1.3 million and did not feel she was getting adequate attention or service from her current advisor.

When Allen showed this prospect the services that were part of her own money management process, the client immediately recognized what she was lacking with her other money manager. Allen provides financial planning, periodic meetings, and an ongoing client relationship–all of which is exactly what this client wanted.

Paul Brock, a financial advisor from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, works primarily with independent women. He has developed a complete list of all the major transitions that independent women go through in their lives, and he has documented, in writing, his step-by-step processes to help clients analyze information, make smart choices, and implement their decisions.

One of the primary things Brock does is help women reduce the risks in their portfolio. Many times, his women clients have been sold portfolios aimed at maximizing performance, when in fact, most of the women were primarily concerned about minimizing risk and maximizing the probability that they will actually be able to achieve their goals. Thus, Brock’s risk minimization process is very popular; in fact, it recently enabled him to attract a $600,000 account from a woman who wasn’t even looking for a new financial advisor.

Mike Ricinak, a financial advisor from Walnut Creek, California, recently documented his services for retired couples and widows. Not too long ago, he had meetings with two couples who each had over $500,000 in investable assets. When he showed them his money management and comprehensive wealth management processes and a step-by-step bullet-point list, they were truly impressed. They both said, “That’s it–that is exactly what we want. Where do we sign?”

Ricinak said he was amazed at the enthusiasm the prospects showed. Ironically, he had actually been providing these services for a decade, and simply had never before documented them in writing. But he learned a valuable lesson: Write it down in black and white, and clients will respond.

My experience as a marketer over the last 30 years is that if you understand what your clients really want and need and create simple written documents that explain your processes for providing what they need, those people who are interested in what you do will actually come to you, as opposed to you having to chase them down.

Get Started

Now that you have your processes documented and you have a clear written profile of the person who could benefit the most, you can start to market. Now you need to go out and share what you do and who you do it for with your best clients, centers of influence, and potential strategic alliances.

Our experience over the last couple of years has been that financial advisors who are well positioned as problem solvers are continuing to build their business in these difficult markets. Advisors who are strictly selling investments, however, essentially have nothing to talk about that is of any interest to their prospects.

Once you and your prospects are clear about what you do to help clients, you will find that your marketing is attracting people to your door even in difficult markets. Your prospects’ desire to solve problems, not your desire to sell your services, will drive your business development. This is a complete reversal of the traditional sales approach.

All indications are that the future of the investment markets will be much less spectacular than the recent past. If you are relying on the markets to come back in order for your flow of prospects to pick up, it could be an extremely long wait. If, however, you package yourself effectively and communicate your problem-solving processes to the right people, you will continue to build your business regardless of what happens in the markets.

Steve Moeller is president of American Business Visions and author of Effort-Less Marketing for Financial Advisors. Call American Business Visions at 800-678-1701, or visit