Leads. Advisors must have them to survive. They are the lifeblood of any successful business. Without them, advisors have a couple of choices: Spend more time on the golf course or milk their existing book of business for all it’s worth – which isn’t a bad idea but can take a person only so far. Leads. Gotta have them, but how does an advisor keep a steady stream of them rolling in? Seminars? Going it on their own? Using the experts?

Many advisors find great success with seminars, getting in front of crowds of seniors anywhere from a couple times a week to once every month or so. Successful seminar presenters manage to convert a high ratio of seminar attendees into clients based on traits ranging from the seminar content to the advisor’s personality to the attendees’ specific needs. Much has been said and written lately about seminar saturation – the fact seniors in populated areas get too many invitations to too many seminars from too many advisors – but seminars still get the job done for a good number of advisors.

Advisors who don’t use seminars- either because they aren’t comfortable in front of groups of people or because they concentrate solely on selling – have to decide the best way for them to keep the prospect pipeline full. Established financial practitioners may have the luxury of running a 100 percent referral-based practice, picking and choosing new clients from the pool of prospects referred by long-standing clients. Those who don’t have that luxury are faced with the task of using some of their valuable selling time to prospect, which isn’t always the best scenario.

Outsource it

“Most folks want to focus on selling instead of prospecting,” says Bob Weir, president of Riverhead, N.Y.-based Lead Strategies.

Weir’s statement illustrates why lead generation companies exist: to allow advisors to sell and create financial plans. Advisors certainly can do their prospecting on their own. They can buy or create their own lists, mail to those lists over and over again, and do all of the follow-up, or they can use a lead generation company to take care of all that for them. Technology has spawned new ways to generate, follow-up with and close leads, but the traditional methods still work, too.

“Using a direct mail company specializing in leads for the senior market allows the senior advisors to send out larger mailings more affordably than them doing it on their own,” says Michelle Bardin, an account/sales supervisor at Rockwall, Texas-based TargetLeads. “And it helps them free up their time to do what they do best – sell.”

Whether an advisor uses a traditional lead generation company or a company that uses the Internet, a few things are clear. First, advisors are likely to save money. Companies that specialize in lead generation can compile lists faster and more effectively than a person working alone. Plus, those companies can use their massive mailing volume to save money on postage. If an advisor’s 5,000-piece mailing is sent at the same time 20 other advisors’ mailings are sent, postage costs are significantly lower. Bardin says an advisor trying to do it on his own likely will have to pay first-class postage.

“Individual advisors can’t do the volume we can on printing, mailing, etc.,” Weir says. “Plus, it takes a bit of time.”

Another advantage to using a lead generation company is that advisors are paying for performance.

“A producer who is good at seminars is paying for a list, the mailing, a meeting room in a hotel, food and more,” says Matt Burskey, chief marketing officer for AnnuiWeb Direct. “And he pays for that whether people show up or not. When you’re using a lead generation company, you’re paying for performance.”

Burskey, whose Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company specializes in Internet leads, discourages advisors from using just one lead generation source, something that may seem counterproductive for a man who makes his living that way, but he says advisors shouldn’t put all of their eggs in one basket – much like successful advisors probably tell their clients.

Characteristics

Lead generation companies are plentiful, so what should an advisor look for in a prospecting partner? One of the first things advisors should consider is a company’s track record. Has it been around for several years? Can you ask other advisors about their experiences with the company? Does it have a clean record with its local Better Business Bureau? Do some homework on several companies before you choose one or two to work with.

“Make sure you know the people you are going to work with,” Weir says. “Make sure they’ve been around a while. It’s nice to give people a chance, but don’t blow your entire budget on someone new.”

If you go the traditional route, specifically with direct mail, make sure the company can offer proof of mailing. Don’t allow yourself to be shortchanged by a company that claims it sent 5,000 pieces when it really sent 3,500 or 4,000.

“With the original Form 3602 from the Post Office, you can see the date your job mailed, total quantity mailed, postage cost, etc.,” Bardin says. “An original Form 3602 from the Post Office will be signed at the bottom by a rep from the Post Office and will have a color stamp with the date the job was accepted at the post office.”

Exclusivity. This can be a big topic of discussion. Does the company you may work with provide exclusive leads, or is the lead offered to more than one person at a time? Burskey says the leads don’t have to be exclusive to be effective.

The faster an advisor follows up on a lead, and the better he is as a salesperson, the more likely he will be to capitalize on a non-exclusive lead. For proactive advisors, non-exclusive leads may be the way to go because they typically are cheaper to buy than exclusive leads. If a company can sell a lead only one time, it has to charge more for that lead. That’s a tradeoff each advisor has to analyze for himself and make his own decision.

Burskey says a good Internet-based lead generation system should do several things. It should provide quality leads that advisors have the opportunity to convert. But it should do a few things on the front end, too, before an advisor ever receives the lead. A company should give consumers the opportunity to back out. The company should let the consumer know someone – the advisor – will be calling him about the product in which he expressed interest. Even beyond letting the consumer know someone will call, the company should make sure the consumer has clear comprehension.

“The lead company should make sure the consumer understands what is going on,” Burskey says. The company should go beyond simply telling a consumer someone will call. The consumer should know exactly why he is being contacted.

Weir says companies owe it to advisors to scrub down every lead prior to selling it. Lead companies want and need advisors to have success with the names companies provide.

“As the names come in, companies should make sure they are really leads,” Weir says.

Cost analysis

Weir says companies need to make sure the names they get really are leads before they are sold to advisors. That goes a long way toward improving what TargetLeads’ Bardin calls the cost of the sale. She says it’s not the cost of the lead that advisors should look at when evaluating a lead generation company, especially one that uses direct mail.

“You can get a mailing that pulls a high percentage of response, resulting in a lower cost per lead,” she says. “But if you can’t convert any of them, they’re worthless, right? Anytime someone tells me they found another company that is cheaper, I always ask if cheaper is better.”

A less expensive mailing isn’t better if the response rate isn’t as good as a more expensive lead. Bardin uses the following example: You mail 5,000 pieces from Source A at $335 per 1,000, or $1,675, and get a 3 percent response, or 150 leads, for a cost of $11.17 per lead. If you convert 20 percent to sales, that makes your cost $55.83 per sale. If you mail 5,000 pieces from Source B at $380 per 1,000, or $1,900, and get a 3.5 percent response, your cost is $10.86 per lead. If you convert 20 percent to sales, your cost per sale is $54.29.

In the end, the mailing from Source A cost more per lead than the mailing from Source B. Here again is where it is up to each advisor to test different companies, and it is why Burskey suggests using more than one lead generation source. Spreading the budget allows advisors to find out what works best for them and spend their money accordingly. The same system won’t work the same for every advisor.

The biggest thing to remember is this: Advisors should have the right expectations when it comes to leads from a lead generation company. Once the leads are in their hands, it is up to them to convert the leads.

“Remember,” Burskey says, “it’s a lead, not a sale.”