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Want to work exclusively with the affluent? You can do it–these principles will help.

Ten years ago, after 15 years in financial services, most of that time spent in the wholesale side of the business, I decided to return to the retail side and work only with affluent clients. “To work with the affluent exclusively and help them disinherit the IRS in favor of their family and charity would be a dream-come-true for me,” I thought. “What could be better–ideal clients and work that made a difference in my community!”

My problem was profoundly simple: great idea, but no affluent clients. In fact, I didn’t have any clients. “How do you magnetically attract only ideal clients who want to work with you?” I mused.

I needed help, so I did research on how to become appealing to the affluent–how I could stand out in their minds. If the affluent perceived me as a salesman with commission-breath pushing financial products, I was dead in the water. There is no mint powerful enough to neutralize commission-breath.

Fundamentally, I needed to transform who I worked with, what they thought about me and how I met them. If they could see who I had labored to become — a consultant, a specialist, an expert — I would look different and be much more attractive to them.

However, there were three big obstacles–and they are even bigger today. Too much information! Too many choices! Too little difference!

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Too much information! In the twenty-year period from 1971 to 1991, the average number of marketing messages per day grew six-fold from 560 to 3,000. In the last thirteen years, there has been an estimated ten-fold increase to 30,000 per day–information overload.

The daily edition of the New York Times contains more information than the average 17th century individual would encounter over an entire lifetime–information overload. Printed information is doubling every five years–information overload. Two billion websites–information overload at high speed.

Too many choices! Just compare the overwhelming plethora of simple choices like soft drinks, potato chips and running shoes. Now consider the ballooning range of choices in the more complex areas of our lives, health and finances. Are you overwhelmed with the choices? So are the affluent. What do you do when you are overloaded and overwhelmed? Usually nothing.

Too little difference! According to the Spectrum Group, the number of U.S. households with a net worth of $1 million or more in 2004 was around 7.5 million. The Capgemini/Merrill Lynch 2005 World Wealth Report estimates there are only 2.7 million individuals in North America with investable assets exceeding $1 million.

The affluent in this country range somewhere between 2.7 and 7.5 million strong, and there are about half a million advisors. Half a million advisors chasing a very limited number of affluent!

That means one advisor for every fifteen affluent prospects on the high side; one advisor for every five prospects on the low side. Either way, in the mind of the affluent (which is where the battle is waged and won) there are few discernable differences among advisors.

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Winning the battle in the mind of the affluent is becoming increasingly difficult. No wonder traditional marketing is obsolete. To penetrate the mind of the affluent, power positioning is required. You must build what I call a credibility arrow.

Following a 5-year strategic credibility plan, I began adding each one of the components that are familiar to all of us–articles, radio, TV, and a book. Jay Abraham, the world-famous marketing genius, shared a concept that I thought was brilliant: Find someone who has already developed credibility with your ideal prospects and figure out a way to work together. I call it borrowed credibility.

Many advisors have applied this concept successfully through referrals or working with other advisors, like accountants, attorneys and bank officers. For various reasons, I chose charities. But I struck out miserably. The charities thought I was there only to market to their key donors. And you know what? They were right.

In their fabulous book Positioning, Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote, “You look for the solution to your problem inside the prospect’s mind.” In order for borrowed credibility to work, you must help fulfill the needs of your credibility partner.

To discover those needs, I surveyed a number of charities. For charities and their planned giving professionals, three big challenges surfaced: how to see more donors, see better donors and get them to take action.

Then I asked myself, “What would charities pay me to do for them?” The answer to that question prompted me to create a program for charities–a program that pays me to educate and motivate their donors. Charities gain help in removing their biggest challenges while I benefit from the power of borrowed credibility. See how the principles work so powerfully together?

You can do the same thing. First, you need to choose your credibility partner. You can choose charities, like me, or another “partner” like attorneys, accountants, or bankers. If you are working with one of these now, use these principles to power up your working relationship. If not, use the principles as the foundation in establishing a new relationship.

The next step is to survey three to five potential partners. (Need help with a survey? E-mail me and I’d be happy to send you a sample.) Remember, make the focus about the partners; help them boil the survey down to their three biggest concerns.

Then make a list of your strengths and ask the same question that I did: “What would my credibility partner pay me to do for them?” It’s not necessary to charge, but the question forces you to focus on bringing them value.

Then design a system, process or solution that removes an obstacle or solves an issue for them and allows you to borrow their credibility. Lastly, get their feedback; ask them whether you are on the right track.

Want to work exclusively with the affluent? You can do it! Create a 5-year strategic credibility plan to build your own credibility arrow. Don’t forget to find credibility partners, survey them to discover their issues and help them remove their obstacles. Through the process, your credibility will soar!

Need more credibility with the affluent? Borrow it!

Scott Keffer is founder and president of Wealth Transfer Solutions, based in Pittsburgh, Pa. You may e-mail him at

‘Find someone who has already developed credibility with your ideal prospects and figure out a way to work together. I call it borrowed credibility.’