The weather may have cooled with the onset of fall, but for many advisors, the heat is still on. A glimpse at the numbers for the first three quarters of the year brings a renewed sense of urgency about the business that needs to be finished in the fourth quarter to turn a good 2008 into an outstanding one, a mediocre year into a respectable one. You’re on the clock. Three months remain to meet or exceed the goals you set for yourself and your practice.
Forget what happened the first three quarters, good, bad and otherwise. It’s time to show you’re a closer, a pressure performer, because a strong finish to 2008 will not only boost your year-end numbers, it will set the tone for 2009 and beyond. Like a distance runner who summons a late burst of speed when the finish line looms, there are solid steps you can take to close 2008 with a flourish. Here the experts offer 10 tactics, techniques and tips — some obvious, others less so — to help bring you to the tape feeling satisfied you did the absolute best you could for yourself and your clients in a topsy-turvy year.
Review the portfolios/accounts of ALL your existing clients, then talk with each of them, either over the phone or face-to-face. The existing client base is an often-overlooked goldmine that many advisors fail to dig through. Also, with market volatility causing disruptions, going back to those existing relationships is more prudent than ever.
Connecting with existing clients creates opportunities on several fronts. For clients approaching retirement who feel skittish because of a roller-coaster portfolio performance, it can provide the entr?e to revisit their wealth management plans, then to initiate an already scripted move to more conservative instruments, suggests John M. Comer, CFP, principal at Comer Consulting, LLC, a Plymouth, Minn., firm that helps advisors position and market their practices. “You and your client may decide it’s best to start the process [of shifting assets to income-generation and asset-preservation mode] now, even if it is a little earlier than anticipated. It’s something you can do to make them feel a bit more comfortable.”
Everyone wants to talk about market performance and how it has affected their own portfolios, so there’s a readymade icebreaker to open a “state of the portfolio” conversation that later leads to a discussion about repositioning and rebalancing assets. Here it’s the advisor’s job not only to offer answers, explanations and if need be, comforting words, but also to be a fact-finder, alert for changing circumstances that suggest the client is a good prospect for a new product, and a solution-provider, ready with a strategy that fits those new circumstances.
That’s when it’s a good time to drill down and examine existing investments. Advisors should take the time to research every aspect of a client’s assets — cash accounts, variable accounts, anywhere there’s an opportunity to be creative.
Even if nothing immediate comes of the discussion from a transactional standpoint, says Comer, reconnecting with clients during periods of uncertainty can create good will in a relationship that might otherwise be strained by a failure to initiate outreach. “People are concerned. They know how their investments are doing. If you haven’t contacted them, they wonder why. By you reaching out, a client who uses multiple advisors might see you as one who’s making the extra effort when his or her other advisors aren’t. That can lead to new business or referrals from that client.”
Refocus and redouble efforts to fill the referral pipeline. An advisor with a good referral program should set aside an occasional two-week period to try new soft-but-straightforward tactics for requesting them. Rather than directly asking for referrals during periodic review meetings with clients, an advisor can set it up so his assistant does the asking. Instead of going directly in to see the advisor, clients first meet briefly with an assistant, who raises the subject in a more procedural, less formal — and perhaps less coercive — setting.
Embrace multimedia technology as a marketing ally. While many advisors’ bread-and-butter client recruitment strategy is still seminars, embracing new technology is another way to keep prospects in the pipeline. Custom-designed multimedia platforms such as CD-ROMS can be used to introduce yourself to prospects.
Initial costs can be high when going the multimedia route, but producers are finding it a clean and succinct way to get in front of potential clients.
These multimedia presentations do not need to have everything but the kitchen sink to get a prospect’s attention. A simple three-minute introduction seems to be the right length to get people’s focus, without having them tune out.
An effective technique is to mail the CD-ROM to prospects so they can watch it at home, prior to meeting with the advisor. That way, they already have a built-in relationship and the prospect has a basic understanding of the advisor, his practice and his expertise.
Hold a focus group with selected clients. Here’s a powerful way to deepen client-advisor relationships and to parlay them into new business. Invite a group of clients to meet with you informally to talk about what you and your practice can do to better serve them. Serve a good meal and, provided the vibe in the room is generally positive, be sure to tactfully ask for referrals.
Expand your horizons by learning about new products and maneuvers. Opportunity knocks with the emergence of new insurance and financial vehicles designed to serve very specific purposes, from creating a guaranteed income stream for a lifetime to providing a tax-friendly home for funds rolled out of an IRA. “The key is to follow the money,” says Anil Vazirani, president and CEO of Secured Financial Solutions in Scottsdale, Ariz. “And the money is in retirement accounts. I suggest to the advisors I work with that they become experts in the IRA market, in stretch IRAs and IRA arbitrage strategies involving life insurance.”
It’s also worth becoming an expert on annuity living benefits riders, Vazirani says. “A lot of advisors who have done well lately are having success because they know how and when to use these living benefits. A majority of advisors, I think, are missing the boat on these. I’ve spent a lot of time and money educating myself and my advisors about them.”
Expand your horizons with a new license or designation. “It’s easy to get caught up in premiums and commissions, but a good year isn’t measured on production alone,” says Vazirani. “By going out and getting a securities license, or a new designation, you’re building for the present and the future.”
Vazirani practices what he preaches. This year he got his Series 65 license, which has not only netted him a measurable production increase, but also an ability to better serve his clients with a broader array of financial tools.
Draw from your strengths to explore new promotional angles. >>
There’s more to marketing than brochures, advertising and direct mail. If you’re a good public speaker, seek out speaking engagements via industry associations, business, civic, senior and church groups, etc., or offer your services as a financial expert to a local TV or radio station. If you’re a good writer, offer to contribute an article or column to a local newspaper on a subject within your area of expertise.
Revisit dormant prospects. “Maybe it wasn’t the right time for them a year ago, or even two or three years ago,” says Comer. “But their situations may have changed. It’s worth checking.”
Link yourself in via online social and professional networking sites. Web sites such as LinkedIn.com can help advisors fortify and expand their contact networks through outreach to old friends and schoolmates, former work colleagues, professional contacts and the like, which may lead to unexpected opportunities, according to Comer.
Renew existing professional contacts and cultivate new ones. Other advisors can be a steady source of referrals, says Comer, especially if their expertise overlaps with or complements yours. “If you specialize in planning for divorcees, reach out to attorneys who specialize in divorce. If you’re an elder care financial planner, talk to elder care attorneys. Show them you can bring value to the work they are doing.”