When you hear really successful people talk about their success “in the seminar business,” they seldom share the fact that seminar selling has changed. Before I begin to tell you what and how I make seminars work–and they do–let me share some of the issues I’ve had to deal with and to some extent still deal with today.
1. The numbers are different. Ten years ago, you could mail 3,000 pieces and be successful. Today you’d better mail 10,000 or save the stamps altogether. A 1% rate is what you can reasonably expect if you have a good invitation.
Where do our mailing lists come from? Early on our firm tried commercial lists. Then we bought database lists. We found that we could develop our own list from local resources; and often our lists were better than those you could buy. One idea we use that adds at least 50 names to our master list each month involves giving away books. Each attendee who gives us at least 4 referrals for our mailing list gets a free book.
2. There is a large group of people in the community that are “professional seminar attendees.” These folks can sleep through your presentation with their eyes open. Often, they’re the ones that appear the most interested. They have heard great questions and can repeat the questions so you think they are really interested. Don’t be fooled. If they ask great personal questions in public, they are usually broke and have just learned the basic tricks required to be a “professional seminar attendee.”
3. Competition appears out of thin air. If you start seeing really fancy invitations to expensive restaurants where lawyers, CPAs or company VIPs are guest speakers, then smile–these folks won’t be around next month. I ask my staff, friends and clients to save the invitations for me. I put them in a file and occasionally I even steal a neat word or phrase from the invitation.
While I am convinced that there are really great seminar assistance companies in the marketplace few, if any, are actually in our business–they are in the seminar assistance business. If they claim to make you successful fast, assume they are only talking about making themselves rich, not you.
These people have simply figured out that most agents are looking for an easy way to spend their money. They know we hate rejection. And they know that most agents would rather fail expensively than deal with rejection or pay the real dues success requires.
4.Compliance is increasingly important. Always have your compliance folks review all of your presentations. They should also review stationery, business cards and all of your literature. Always have a disclaimer that you aren’t practicing law.
Also, tell your clients that it is your job to assist them in getting the work done efficiently and economically. We tell them we’ll sit down with their lawyer at our office without charge or we’ll bring in a competent attorney, with whom we have no financial relationship, to assist them. They know in advance that we do not get paid by the attorneys. Our goal is to help them get the needed work done quickly and correctly.
Not too fancy-not too plain
My process starts with an invitation to a dinner seminar. The invitation is a multifold card in an envelope. It is not fancy or elaborate. You hear all about fancy mailers but they just cost too much. Even if they work, they are too expensive and take too much effort.
I believe in luck and numbers. Luck only works when you send out enough numbers. The first mistake most people make is to send out too few invitations. If you are going to do this type of marketing, do more than enough.
The numbers are not the same as they once were. People are more suspicious and the competition is keen. We usually do bulk mail. The key to making bulk mail work is making sure that the mail gets out earlier than normally is required for first class mail. Often bulk mail will sit in the post office longer.
We have discovered that when we go to a nice neighborhood restaurant, close to where prospects live, our attendance and believability picks up at least two notches. There are many restaurants with meeting rooms that go unused most evenings. The owners are often happy to have those rooms in use and the smart owners will work with you.
Today, our attendance has improved, often the cost of the event is reduced, and I enjoy dealing with folks who aren’t professional seminar attendees.
Go out of town
I suggest you go to towns and villages 20-30 miles out of town. If possible, go further. By traveling these distances, you’ll find that your conversion rate of invitations to attendees will more than double.
Small town folks are part of a largely underserved market. When I go into a town and conduct a presentation, I ask a few questions. How often do you see your agent or your broker? When was the last time your advisor did an “asset allocation review,” a “beneficiary analysis” or helped you with “income planning?”
The answer is usually: “It has been years”. Then I say: “If you’ll drive (20-50 miles) to our office 2-4 times a year, we’ll help keep you in financially good health.” Initially, I thought folks would say they wouldn’t travel to see us. Nothing can be further from the truth. Many come 50 miles 2 to 4 times a year for their review meetings.
Speak before dinner
What day works best for seminars? You can do it any day of the week but we prefer Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday evenings. Monday just doesn’t work. Even if the restaurant will open, most people are still mentally getting over the weekend. We start at 6 p.m.; early enough to get the whole thing over by 8:15 p.m.
When do you present and when do they eat? There are dozens of ideas that are a matter of preference and style, but I speak before dinner. We do not serve alcohol. This helps keep the audience in control and participants are not going to leave before the food is served.
Important points to cover