“The hardest part of this business is meeting people in a favorable manner,” says Glenn Fasani. “One way to do that is by organizing small gatherings of affinity groups that help you to connect on a personal level with prospects.”
Fasani practices what he preaches. A financial professional for a Tampa, Fla.-based branch of AXA Advisors, Fasani and his team use creative marketing events narrowly tailored to individuals’ interests–a cooking class for food and wine lovers, a talk on health and fitness for seniors or a pre-parade party for children and their parents–to build relationships with prospective clients and, ultimately, to steer them to the firm’s financial planning solutions.
Fasani is not alone in leveraging such gatherings. Businesses nationwide spent an estimated $27.94 billion in 2005 on event marketing, according to Veronis Suhler Stevenson, a New York City-based private equity and mezzanine capital fund management firm. Insurance and financial services firms are increasingly joining the fray. And many, like AXA Advisors’ Tampa office, are using the events to soft-pedal their offerings.
When registering attendees at the gatherings, Fasani and his team briefly describe the firm’s services and provide a synopsis of the post-event talk. Often the focus of the discussion is the “family love letter,” an inventory of vital information needed in the event of a family member’s incapacitation or death. The list might include wills, trusts, beneficiary designations on insurance policies and individual retirement accounts, plus contact information for lawyers and accountants and other financial professionals.
“The family love letter is about getting your financial life in order,” says Fasani. “The talk has been very popular because it makes people realize they don’t have a single place where they keep all of their important documents.”
Also subscribing to the soft-selling approach is Barnum Financial Group, a Shelton, Conn.-based office of MetLife that leverages seminars as part of an agency marketing plan. Barnum Financial Marketing Director Elizabeth Buckley, who spoke on the topic at the 2007 GAMA LAMP show in Toronto in March, says the firm’s 200-plus advisors depend on the events to help meet rigorous prospecting and sales quotas: Each is required to book 15 appointments, see 10 prospects and close 3 cases per week.
To that end, Barnum Financial avails its advisors of support staff, sales literature, call centers and other lead generation tools for a range of event marketing programs. Among these are trade shows, worksite seminars, and charity and sporting events where the firm’s insurance and financial planning products and services can gain wide exposure.
Not all of the events target large numbers of people. New advisors, for example, are encouraged to organize “natural markets seminars”–welcome receptions for family and friends. At these and other Barnum Financial events, greater emphasis is given to developing professional relationships and acquainting attendees with the firm’s services than to discussing solutions in depth.
“These gatherings are very low touch,” says Buckley. “There’s no selling or presenting–just networking. Later, the advisor will make follow-up calls to attendees to try to book appointments.”
For other advisors, the way to bond with clients–and establish their credentials–is through other financial professionals with whom the clients have pre-existing relationships. The advisory team at Baystate Financial Services, Boston, Mass., regularly hosts events for mortgage brokers, CPAs, attorneys and property-casualty agents to showcase the firm’s talent and the benefits to be gained by partnering with Baystate Financial.
But for the gatherings to be successful, the principals of the allied firms have to get directly involved in the event planning, says Herb Daroff, a partner at Baystate. During a meeting held this month, the president of a community bank–1 of 9 lending institutions that Baystate Financial markets through–personally invited between 10 and 20 business-owner clients to a reception where the president was also on hand to greet the owners and introduce them to the featured speakers.
Daroff says he uses the pre-presentation networking time to acquaint himself with the owners’ firms–information he later incorporates into his talk to illustrate certain points. This knowledge, adds Daroff, aids in not only personalizing the talk, but also in engaging the owners in a conversation about business planning opportunities, which is critical to building a rapport with participants.
“I don’t worry about covering all of the PowerPoint slides,” says Daroff. “The key to giving a successful seminar is to connect with the audience by posting questions and exploring scenarios. Once I get people talking to me, the presentation’s a winner.”