Some advisors find that sales seminars aren’t as effective as they used to be. Regulators have tarnished the reputation of this proven sales technique with warnings about the use of free-dinner-with-a-presentation gatherings to generate unsuitable sales of financial products to senior citizens. Because of the negative publicity, prospects of all ages are shying away from sales seminars.

A different approach

Maybe that’s not so bad. After paying for lists of prospects, marketing and a decent meal at a reputable location, dinner seminars can be costly. We favor a different approach, one that has become extremely popular among field agents because it is effective, inexpensive and fun–for the hosts as well as the guests.

We call it client event prospecting. An advisor partners with local vendors of popular products or services and they all invite their clients to an event they co-host. The gathering results in exposure to new prospects for all of the hosts, who also use the occasion to cement relationships with existing clients.

The event can take any form an advisor believes will work in his or her market. One of the advisors, for example, partnered with 3 other professionals to hold a “Feng Shui Your Finances” event. The meeting was held at the home of a stylist with a large clientele. A realtor helped host, and the Feng Shui expert delivered the bulk of the presentation.

Each of the 4 professionals was introduced to the clients of the other 3 and bolstered their relationships with their own clients for about $500 per host. Though it’s hard to quantify the impact of any marketing strategy, this advisor is confident that the Feng Shui event more than paid for itself in new revenue.

Another advisor co-hosted an event with a BMW dealer where guests had an opportunity to drive new and classic cars and later–over wine and hors d’oeuvres–heard about the advantages of developing a financial plan. One of our female advisors floated the idea of co-hosting a Botox Bus with a local plastic surgeon. We gave her credit for being creative, but did not encourage her to move ahead with that plan!

Another of our female advisors conceived a similar idea that is less risky. She is teaming with a stylist and career coach for an event called “Facelift Your Finances, Style, and Career.” Each of the guests will receive tips about hair, makeup, wardrobe and timely advice about career and financial planning.

Each host will speak for about 20 minutes, but the presentations are more of a discussion than a lecture and are completely non-confrontational. Because there is time to network, the guests help spread the word about the benefits of working with each host, generating instant favorable word-of-mouth advertising.

It’s easy and fun for everyone involved–including the hosts, who do not have to labor over lengthy, dry presentations. We find that many advisors traditionally have taken a very transactional approach to building their businesses. These events are relationship-building and they are productive because they are fun!

Our male advisors have latched onto the client event marketing concept, too. We’ve helped with several events centered on demonstrations of sporting gear. Demonstrations are much more cost-effective than inviting clients and prospects on hunting, fishing or golfing outings. Cigars and microbreweries also have provided themes for events hosted by men. Seasonal ideas work well, too. Tax season is a good time to co-host an event with a tax preparer or attorney–or both.

One big advantage of the client marketing event is the relatively low cost. It can cost as much as $2,000 to purchase a pre-packaged seminar, not including the cost of the meeting room and whatever refreshments may be served. The client marketing events that our advisors host range from $500 to $1,500. In addition to splitting costs with co-hosts, advisors also can negotiate discounts with hospitality vendors–caterers, meeting facilities, musicians–in return for an opportunity to market their own services during the event.

Financial product wholesalers can help with costs, too. They often have budgets for advisor marketing and will spend money willingly on events that are well-planned and correctly executed. At the very least, wholesalers will provide pens, calendars, portfolios and other goodies to drop into gift bags for your guests.

The role of my unit, market development, is to help the advisor develop an idea for a client marketing event (if he or she doesn’t already have one) and provide a step-by-step execution plan. We call these “turn-key” events because we provide everything that can be provided by an out-of-town partner: design services, invitations, collateral materials, check lists, templates and stationery for follow-up notes, and other materials unique to each event. In addition, one of us will attend the event to help make sure all goes well.

We also stay in close contact with the advisor throughout the planning phase to encourage him or her to closely follow the plan and complete the various tasks on time. When an event is not successful, we can almost always trace it back to a step the advisor skipped. Once, when I went to an advisor’s office the day before an event, I saw the “save the date” post cards sitting on his desk. Predictably, that event was not particularly successful.

Measuring the impact of the client marketing events is another important part of the process. Most firms own or have access to customer relationship management software that allows advisors to keep records of all their interactions with clients and prospects. Over time, the software can provide hard data on the effectiveness of any single marketing strategy, but only if the advisor faithfully records each interaction.

Our advisors say that while these client marketing events do not provide the immediate hot leads that come out of seminar sales, the events definitely shorten the sales cycle and do lead to sales. Our records show that demand from advisors for help with these events has risen 50% in the last year.

While it’s clear to us that client marketing events do work, they are different from the traditional sales seminar. The traditional seminars still can be effective, but it helps to refresh the technique by inviting a list of people with whom the advisor has some affinity, such as membership to an alumni association. It also helps to call the gathering a work shop or “Lunch ‘n Learn” rather than a seminar.

Following through

Regardless of the type of event you choose to host, the most important step is the follow-up. The turn-key programs we provide include templates for thank-you notes and follow-up letters. It is critically important to contact prospects while the memory of the event–and the good time they had!–is fresh in their minds. You can be the most knowledgeable, personable, organized advisor, but all of your talent and work goes for naught if you allow that warm prospect to turn cold by not following up.

Jennita Papineau is a supervisor of market development at Securian Financial Group, St. Paul, Minn. You may e-mail her at