It’s been a tough road for agents who rely primarily on the traditional public seminar to build a business. In recent years, agents have watched their results plummet as fewer viable prospects attend their seminars. Agents’ businesses are stagnating and new client acquisition has stalled across many firms.

The heavy use by the industry of direct mail and the public “seminar” has reached the point of over-saturation in many cities. In Sunday newspapers, you can see multiple advertisements for free seminars offering a bonus of free food. Since many of these seminars are merely disguised sales pitches, consumers have become skeptical. As a result, a higher percentage of attendees are there for the food.

While mass mailing invitations for a public seminar can still be an effective tool for selling annuities to the mid-tier, retiree market, new approaches are required to maintain their effectiveness. For all other markets, public seminars in their traditional form are dying an expensive death. Agents must change their strategies.

The prospecting challenge has become more difficult; people are more reluctant to refer because of the loss of trust due to the Internet bubble and industry scandals. To prosper, agents must excel using a broader range of referral strategies and a more refined approach.

Agents must now become proficient at leveraging referral events and creating methods for clients to introduce them in a risk-free, easy and personal way. A name and a number are no longer enough to secure an appointment.

In-person introductions are key. Agents must find a way to involve the client more personally in the introduction process. Referral events provide the vehicle to make these personal introductions happen.

Referral events are typically less expensive than public seminars because there is no need for massive mailings of invitations. You can decide who you want and how many you want and thereby manage costs more easily.

Referral events offer many advantages over the traditional public seminar. First, you don’t have to spend nearly as much money getting people to attend. Rather than mail out a huge number of invitations and hope that 0.75% actually attend, your clients drive the invitation process after consulting with you about who they should bring.

Second, referral events allow you to control the quality of prospects who attend. You can target precisely to whom you want to be introduced.

Consider the example of hosting a retirement party for a long-term employee of a large company. If you set up the invitation process correctly, you can pack a room with other long-term employees who will be retiring soon or recently have retired.

What a great way for your client to introduce you! The party is also a great pre-step to conducting a private financial seminar for the long-term employees of that company.

Third, referral events are a risk-free way for clients to introduce you. This issue becomes critical when you want introductions to people with high standing, such as a boss or chief of staff.

Junior physicians or mid-tier executives may not feel they have standing to recommend you as their financial advisor. But they can feel comfortable inviting their boss to a neat event you host.

Referral events create fun opportunities to distinguish your business and “do cool stuff.” Hosting a cruise on a visiting tall ship or a private tour of a traveling art exhibition create exclusive opportunities to get introduced to your ideal prospect. One of our advisor clients conducted an event where the collective net worth of the guests was more than $500 million.

Referral events will begin to replace the traditional public seminar as the preferred vehicle to generate introductions to business owners, working professionals and high-net-worth prospects. The good news is that referral events generate more comfortable introductions to higher quality prospects.

The bad news is that agents will need to develop a proficiency to create referral events or referral event/seminar hybrids. It will take creativity and new skills.

Where do you begin? Start by identifying those clients who are uniquely well positioned to introduce you to dozens of quality prospects. Look for event ideas that are both fun and have personal meaning for them.

If they are working and coming up on a big birthday, then think about hosting a birthday party for them. If they are nearing retirement, host a retirement party. If they are passionate about a charity, work with them to host a fund-raising event where they invite the donors and you provide the food.

Times have changed. Agents need to recognize this and update their marketing tool kit. By doing so with referral events, you can save money, better control the quality of prospects you attract and provide your clients a comfortable way to introduce you.

Michael Brizz, CMC, is creator of The Referral Mastery System and president of the Center for Professional Achievement, Chagrin Falls, Ohio. You can e-mail him at mike@referralmastery.com.

Referral events create fun opportunities to distinguish your business and ‘do cool stuff’

The Reasons

o You don’t have to spend nearly as much money getting people to attend.

o They allow you to control the quality of prospects who attend.

o They are a risk-free way for clients to introduce you.

o They create fun opportunities to distinguish your business and “do cool stuff.”

o They will replace the traditional public seminar as the preferred vehicle to generate introductions.