If getting a steady stream of new customers is vital to business growth, then reliable lead generation is the fuel that kick-starts the process. Consider that before you can add a name to the “new client” file, that person was a prospect and before that was a “lead.” If each business is in a state of constant flux and a certain percentage of clients is annually lost due to nearly countless factors, then lead generation becomes a key component in sustaining your business as well as growing it.

So how does one regularly find the type of leads that can grow the client file? There are as many answers to this as there are clients. Some so-called sales and marketing pros point to “systems” that, when properly followed will result in new clients. Similarly, offers to buy the “perfect” list arrive on nearly a daily basis. While appearing promising, most direct mail experts will counsel that due to a variety of factors, a 1 percent response on a direct mail piece is considered good. Others argue for such time-honored methods as print advertising and seminars. Similarly, technology has made its case in the financial-services marketing world. While each of these techniques has helped produced sales superstars, due to a variety of factors, each one may not work for every senior advisor.

“You cannot replace a contact you personally made with one you bought,” says advisor Shak Hill, CFP, CLU and ChFC with Lantern Wealth Management in Centerville, Va. Hill likes to rub elbows with the right groups to nurture business. He regularly networks with related professionals such as Certified Public Accountants, stays active in local business groups and tries to get local speaking engagements in front of targeted prospects such as women business owners–a niche he’s cultivated. To further grow the niche of providing financial guidance for women in business, Hill is at work on his first book: “A Woman’s Guide to Financial Planning—The Seven Essential Ingredients for your Best Financial Recipe.” He is also considering using a media relations professional to simultaneously help promote his practice and the book.

“A book can give one integrity and let others know you’re serious about what you do,” notes Hill, who recently transferred from a career as a bank-based representative to an independent financial advisor with broker-dealer Cantella & Co., Inc. “It’s another statement to validate your practice.”

Good will = good leads

“Providing community service and gently letting people know what you do can help create leads that can grow a business,” says 16-year industry veteran George Solomon, of Mattituck, N.Y. “Be knowledgeable and truthful. This is especially important in smaller communities,” he adds. Solomon, who recently returned from a humanitarian trip with fellow Rotary International members to a remote Haitian island to help establish a medial clinic there, can trace most of his business-building leads to networking referrals, many of which were obtained through his community service. A firm believer in the “value of one’s reputation,” Solomon strongly recommends advisors get involved with their local service organizations but be sure they’re hearts are in the right place. “You’ve got to become involved to help the group not to help yourself,” he says. “No other feeling compares to helping others who are less fortunate.”
Solomon, who started in this business at a major wirehouse but left after roughly two years, says nonconformist thinking partly propelled him to his community work. “I did not like being a telemarketer. I do like being involved in my community and helping others. Nearly all of my leads have come from positive word-of-mouth referrals.” And unlike the leads he canvassed when dialing-for-dollars at a wirehouse, he says his community-based leads generally have had a higher close ratio.

Create your own leads

Karen Compton of A3K Consulting in Glendale, Calif. also advocates the power of business networking to encourage lead generation. But taking it a step further, she argues that senior advisors should be prepared to push the activity to the next level. “Network with a purpose,” she urges. “A free martini is not a purpose. Be part of organizations and associations that include the business professionals that precede you in a transactional process. They have a concrete understanding of what potential opportunities are on the horizon and the challenges the client faces.”

“Prospecting is all about creating opportunities,” adda Compton. “No matter what the market holds, people are often looking for the lead. You can create a lead if you have an understanding of the business issues affecting a client. If a client is looking to retire but has no visible means of doing so, the opportunity is created for someone to offer a solution, converting the lead to a client.”

One can also build a promising bank of leads by being alert to what’s happening in your business community. Keeping abreast of area as well as national trends with local ramifications can prove to be an effective lead generator or business-development practice. Waiting for an item of interest to appear in the news before acting can often be too late.

“Identify what profile you serve or can best serve and make that your template to judge all prospects against for an increased percentage of conversion,” says George Ludwig of GLU Consulting in Schaumburg, Ill. If one of your areas of expertise is helping workers transition to early retirement, keep your ears open to news of area plant closing and layoffs, as these events may provide a fertile base for new leads and prospects.

One ideal way to use this as a lead generator is to create a relationship with human resource professionals, which can sometimes be found attending area business events. If you can’t directly reach them, try gaining access through a business acquaintance who has established a relationship with your target group. When meeting with a human resources professional or union official, ask if you can give a talk on areas of importance to their workforce. Such organizations often have employee- or member-based newsletters and websites. Ask if you can contribute an article to them or provide insight to one of the writers. Appearing in such publications can give your practice validity. If you sense a layoff is in the planning stage, ask to provide help to employees expected to make transitions, how to manage accumulated retirement money or maximize cash flow. Similarly, as tax time approaches, it can be opportune to market tax-advantaged investing services.

Utilizing technology

E-marketing, or using electronic means (usually e-mail and/or Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics) to promote your company is moving with increasing speed, and here’s why. E-marketing can be relatively inexpensive once staff is trained on the appropriate software, which usually must be purchased. It’s fast, practically instantaneous. It’s cutting-edge, meaning it helps elevate your image to a firm that does more than offer traditional financial-planning services. The impression it makes is that since your firm has aligned itself with an e-marketing campaign it is probably very technologically savvy. And increasingly, clients are expecting this.

E-marketing can also help with customer retention and increased return-on-investment, notes eMarketer, a business research and consulting firm which adds that e-mail marketing ranks No. 1 for customer retention and delivers the highest ROI of any marketing method.

For a vibrant business, lead generation will never be a finite practice but an ongoing one. By employing a multitude of techniques however, senior advisors can regularly compete at the highest levels while growing their practice.