The ‘focinar’ is a powerful vehicle for client acquisition

When discussing how to approach new clients successfully, I am often reminded of a meeting with the U.S. Senator for whom I worked and one of his key constituents. Our topic was how to win fund-raising dollars from a prestigious “breakfast club” of CEOs. During the course of our conversation, the senator turned to his constituent and asked, “How do you suggest we proceed?”

As the senator’s aide, I didn’t realize what my boss was doing. But, when the constituent, Tom, responded by saying that he would set up a dinner with the executives, I understood. By asking that simple question, the senator had gotten Tom to agree to set up a meeting with many of his fellow executives. Tom added that he would furnish the senator with talking points tailored to issues important to this group of executives.

The event was a “home run.” The senator eventually was re-elected and Tom was a hero for our campaign.

Years later, I find myself as a financial wholesaler. And I’m not necessarily doing things a lot differently than during my time as a fund-raiser on Capitol Hill. The only difference now is that I work for 150 financial advisors, instead of politicians.

Helping advisors build thriving practices is a big part of my mission, but I am continually stunned how advisors–even senior ones–still employ lame, antiquated marketing approaches to grow their businesses.

At best, the traditional seminar, with 100 strangers packed into a steakhouse, is an inefficient marketing mechanism; at its worst, imbecilic. Letter writing, asking for referrals and, heaven forbid, cold calling, are still employed with shocking frequency and disappointment.

“Just make one more phone call” is pass?. Late nights spent cold calling accomplishes little except building a book of largely undesirable clients.

Undoing this standard industry behavior, however, takes some doing. All too regularly, we in this business lose a critical marketing tenet: “If you want to market to Pat Jones (Mr. or Mrs. ‘Extremely Affluent’), look at the world through Pat’s eyes.”

Think about it: If you had a million dollars of investable assets, would you willingly turn those assets over and seek advice from some stranger blabbing on about efficiency theory in an over-priced steakhouse?

The inescapable reality is that the very affluent do not use the yellow pages. Instead, they use friends and peers to get to what they need. So, the central question for an advisor trying to acquire clients should be: ‘How do I get my thrilled clients talking about me to their pals?’

Larry Biederman, co-director of PSBTraining.com, has taught thousands of advisors that the best way to get your thrilled clients to talk to their friends about you is the ‘advice process.’ Ask your best clients for their advice about how you should grow your practice, and then be quiet. The approach works and often leads to the most powerful vehicle for client acquisition: The focinar.

Inspired out of the ‘advice process,’ a focinar is a client acquisition event where like-minded, affluent folks gather to hear a customized value proposition from a financial advisor. Think “focused seminar.”

Let’s use Chris as an illustration. By developing and employing focinars, Chris has won awards in his major B-D for client acquisition during the last two years. Committed to working with successful NCAA coaches as one of his niches, he asked one of his coaches, a raving fan, for advice on how to win more clients.

Her response, after a dramatic pause: “I’ll tell you what we are going to do to grow your business. Next month, I am throwing a party for many of the head coaches at the University of Florida; why don’t you come, and I will introduce you as our [coach's] personal advisor.”

Leveraging research from his friendly wholesaler on the ‘coach’s niche,’ Chris was able to speak informatively about issues germane to the group: retirement matters, the particulars of their contracts, when it would be convenient to meet, etc.

The focinar was a hit. Chris won six new clients within the next three months and was awarded his own private locker at the O’Connell Center to keep his materials. Most importantly, he works with folks from a niche that he truly enjoys. And I will argue he is a more productive financial advisor because he is sculpting the book of his dreams.

Another example, my accountant, is the niche-marketing master of the financial wholesaler. When he calls me, he asks about matters pertinent to my profession using my business language. (“Hey, your high yield muni fund should be selling well in this environment.” Or “How are your rotations?” Or “Did you know your 50 million ton vehicle qualifies as a tax write-off?”) When asked for advice, I, in turn, tee him up for focinars with my wholesaler pals.

Remember that a successful focinar is born from the imagination of a happy client. Maintain discipline. And don’t “think for” clients by making suggestions after you’ve asked for theirs. More often than not, a happy client will design the event to appeal to their peers–precisely what you want.

As with any ‘best practice,’ execution is critical. Insist that the location match the group’s theme and that the setting not be too loud. (I recently hosted a focinar for ranchers at a rodeo. The function rated an ‘A’ for location but an ‘F’ for the distractingly raucous setting.)

And, most importantly, study the issues of concern to your focinar audience. For your first focinar, consider teaming with a strong wholesaler to develop an action plan.

There are a few simple keys to a successful focinar:

? Invite no more than 20 ‘like minded’ prospects to attend. This gives you the opportunity to listen and discuss issues with them on a more personal basis.

? Make every prospect feel as if he or she has been “listened to.”

? Customize your pitch to the group and deliver it with conviction. Remember: Unless you’re asked, nobody needs to hear about alpha, Sharpe ratios, efficiency theory, etc.

? Don’t get sucked into the vacuum of traditional marketing practices that only yield one in nine desirable clients. Instead, leverage the ‘advice process’ and ask your happy clients for their suggestions on reaching a wider audience.

With a little help from them, you’ll soon be on the road to your first focinar. It’s simply the best way to win folks over–just ask the senator.

John L. Evans, Jr., is vice president of Florida Sales
and the Investment Advisor Channel of American Century Investment Services, Inc. You may e-mail him at john_evans@americancentury.com.