While the classic image of the hard-working salesman pounding the pavement and pumping fists to close the deal still holds some truth – one does have to get out and press the flesh to build rapport with prospects and maintain your client base – in the midst of our technology-forward society, there are a few easier ways to do business.
And when even your baby boomer and senior clientele have shown themselves to be masters of the Internet, iPod enthusiasts and first in line for the newest electronic innovation, perhaps it’s time to examine your own practice and see if new technological advances can help you expand your market and broaden your income.

Computers are a wonderful innovation (and the Internet, debatably, either the best development of the last 100 years, or the biggest time-waster ever created), but they won’t sell product or service clients on their own.

Rather, you need to familiarize yourself with a variety of high-tech innovations that can help you more efficiently meet your customers’ desires or, more conveniently, offer them financial services solutions in the comfort of their own homes, rather than taking up their valuable daytime hours.

Here’s a sampling of some of the best and the brightest applications of the brave new world of technologically related sales tools:

Becoming a Web-head

Edmond Walters, founder and CEO of Conshohocken, Pa.-based eMoney Advisor, has advocated that financial professionals become fully immersed in the online realm – as it has become a regular part of many of your clients’ lives.

“Technology can be your not-so-silent partner in the quest to lead a family’s advisory team,” he says. “What you need to look for is Web-based technology with collaboration features, robust account aggregation capabilities, concierge-level service and secure documentation storage capacity.”

Web-based technology, he says, allows you to give access to all of your trusted counterparts so that they can view the overall plan you’ve developed, and collaborate. Others can view bits and pieces, but in the end, it will only be you who has the total picture.

“Account aggregation capabilities allow you to continuously monitor the plan,” Walters explains. “You will be able to advise your client on how current market conditions are affecting his overall plan, and combat the knee-jerk reactions to market fluctuations.”

More importantly, you can become the key player in your clients’ financial decisions by seeking out and providing concierge-style services, such as identity theft monitoring, specialized medical services or access to private banking services.

And by making a connection with the growing number of Internet-based archival services, you can also offer your clients the convenience of secure storage for all of their important documents, such as legal papers, wills, trusts, birth certificates, family photos and medical records.

The resulting integration of information can be crucial when the unthinkable does happen, making you the source clients and their extended families immediately turn to.

Raleigh Lang, an advisor with Twin Financial Inc. in Kansas City, Mo., received an urgent call from her client’s son – her client had been severely injured in an accident. The family needed to know if Lang was aware of any medical instructions or if the son had a Power of Attorney. Thanks to an electronically aggregated account, Lang was able to tell the family how to access all of the pertinent legal documents on a secured Web site, which they were able to do from the hospital.

The secrets of Internet access

While the World Wide Web was still largely the domain of educators, librarians and self-proclaimed computer geeks as recently as a decade ago, the past few years have seen the Internet become as much a part of regular life as television or sports.

A study done last year by Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 73 percent of American adults now use the Internet on a daily basis, immersed in applications from e-mail to online banking. And while statistics also suggest that many are spending just a little bit too much time on the Web while at the office, many advisors are discovering that the almost universal nature of Internet usage makes it a great (and very convenient) forum to educate and interactively communicate with consumers. It can also be a good way for them to learn more about their own products.

A whole new world

Producers’ lives are full of many of the same daily working chores as their forefathers endured in earlier days of the business. But the drudgery of doing computations and cost analysis by hand – or trying to figure out all of the details before making a presentation to a prospect – has no doubt left many advisors wondering if there might be an easier way.

Tom McDermott was one of those folks. McDermott, who now runs Raleigh, N.C.-based Asset Protectors, was a successful producer who found himself bogged down by paperwork. “Like so many people, I had no system besides a yellow pad,” he says. “Instead of selling with a flip-chart, I wanted to find a better solution.”

That labor-saving tool came in the form of “The Shield,” a suite of customizable software products which allows advisors selling annuities to figure out the details with prospects and expedite a satisfactory close, rather than waiting for an FMO to come back with answers. The product is not company specific and is available to any representative, adaptable to nearly any carrier’s offerings.

“Clients absolutely love it, because it allows you to come across as an unbiased advisor – it’s extremely maneuverable, and you end up having a range of options like a painter with a palette,” McDermott says. “It doesn’t sell products, it sells concepts. If you want to be a successful salesperson, you need a track record that’s stable and duplicatable, and this can do both. It’s good for the new agent, and extremely good for the experienced agent.”

There’s even an Internet or surface mail marketing application, which can automatically send out personalized birthday or anniversary cards to clients, as well as invitations to seminars and other events. Salespeople can learn all they need to know to use the product through a series of Webinars (if you’re new to the term, it describes a Web-based, interactive educational seminar).

“Think back to the early days of computers when there were only dedicated word processing terminals, and then the first spreadsheet programs came along,” says Wayne Anderson, vice president of sales with Prosperity Software Solutions, which creates McDermott’s programs. “This is an entirely new class of software – it truly is a point-of-sale selling system.”

Direct television of a different kind

A further application of forward-looking sales technology is direct response television, better known to fans of late-night TV as the infomercial. In the spirit of sales tools such as self-hosted radio programs, a DRTV spot – if done correctly – can help you reach a slightly different audience and build a whole new list of prospects.

While the whole concept may conjure images of people pitching face cr??mes and miracle knives, a successful DRTV campaign can work wonders to hit a wider audience, build your brand and, most importantly, allow potential customers to immediately contact you via a phone number or Web site. It’s not cheap, but as Ren?(C)e Mezzanotte, senior vice president of accounts for Wayne, Pa.-based DRTV agency DMW Worldwide says, the return on investment can be spectacular.

“Direct response TV spots can be extremely effective and incredibly useful for generating leads and making conversions to sales,” she says. “Being on TV gives you a certain status, a certain notoriety, and that can help you in lots of different channels – it will increase your Web traffic and can also affect your direct mail. People who pick up the mail now will say, ?hey, I recognize that guy from TV.’”

Mezzanotte says that DRTV ads may be beyond the range of some individual producers, but says that a number of carriers create national campaigns for their products and have the ability to personalize the spots for local agents and reps.

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