The financial services industry has changed in the past few decades. The way advisors are taught to sell has changed drastically. The products carriers offer have changed to meet the shifting demands of consumers. Prospecting strategies have improved with the available technology. And the way advisors market themselves has changed most of all.
When many advisors got their start in the industry, the World Wide Web was still a tool used almost exclusively by government agencies. Heck, when many advisors got their start in the industry, personal computers were elements of science fiction. Time was when a yellow pages ad sufficed to draw new business. Today, if an advisor doesn’t have a Web site he’s behind his competition.
“People are using the Internet to become better consumers,” says Steve Uhring, vice president of business development for Torrance, Calif.-based LiveOffice, a provider of Web sites and Web site support for financial advisors through its AdvisorSquare division. “You are conspicuous by your absence [on the Internet].”
Having a Web site, however, is easier said than done. How does an advisor get one designed? What are the elements needed? Do sites designed for seniors require anything special? (For the answers to those questions and more, visit the Web sites listed in the information box at the bottom of this story.) Beyond the design elements needed, what are some of the do’s and don’ts of financial services Web sites? Whether an advisor designs the site himself or uses a Web site-building company that offers thousands of templates and all the support one can ask for, knowing those do’s and don’ts is essential. One thing is sure: Web sites are a good way to reach out and say hello.
A good introduction
The Internet has provided professionals of all stripes a way to introduce themselves to everyone with Internet access. That’s something advisors can take advantage of. People can read an advisor’s biography, see a picture and find out the advisor’s investing or planning philosophy, all with a couple clicks of the mouse. But, it’s important to remember – especially when dealing with retirement financial products – that face-to-face meetings are going to be the real deal closers.
“When dealing with seniors, you need to have a Web site,” Uhring says. “A Web site is a good introduction, but it is no substitute for personal contact. Seniors primarily want to do business in person.”
To entice that face-to-face interaction, an advisor needs to make his Web site personable. His picture should be on the site, most likely with his biography, and he should include photos of his family. Many seniors are grandparents; they like seeing pictures of children and grandchildren. Beyond that, photos of clients at advisor-sponsored events are a big draw.
“Advisors should put pictures of customers in their target market on their Web site,” says Sylvia Todor, marketing director for Financial Visions, a financial services Web site provider based in Lafayette, Calif.
Uhring agrees with Todor’s assessment. LiveOffice has data that show such photos actually drive more site traffic. Survey results show that advisors who post and promote photos of them with clients, either at private or community events, attract twice as much site traffic as those advisors who don’t.
Senior advisors know how important it is to develop relationships with clients. One of the mantras of this business says this is a relationship-driven industry, not transaction-driven. A safe, risk-free introduction is a positive step toward building a relationship. But don’t let that positive introduction go to waste because of poor follow through.
Don’t ignore your site. It’s like a virtual employee that needs attention. If the site has a “contact us” button that utilizes e-mail, make sure someone is monitoring that inbox. People who don’t receive prompt responses don’t return to the site, wasting the initial relationship-building step the site is designed to promote.
“Don’t include a “Contact Me” link and then fail to check your e-mail,” says Richard Sherman, better known as Mr. Modem to the thousands of seniors who subscribe to his weekly “Ask Mr. Modem” newsletter. “A response is always appropriate, and not some boilerplate, auto-generated response. Make it personal. And don’t try to compel a Web site visitor to pick up the phone and call for information because it’s more convenient for you. They’re using the Internet for a reason.”
It should be obvious that advisors can’t ignore the people who visit their site, but they shouldn’t ignore the content on the site, either. Fresh content is what keeps people coming back. Keep the content relevant and useful, Todor says, adding that the site is not supposed to be static. She calls it a living, breathing animal, a sentiment Mr. Modem shares.
“Web sites are living, breathing entities,” Mr. Modem says. “Content on a site should be updated frequently. Content management is vitally important.”