If passing a weekday fishing or canoeing with your best buddies sounds like a far better way to spend your time than cold-calling strangers from a nondescript cubicle, well, you’re probably right. Yes, these activities are a font of great personal enjoyment. But experts note also that the people with whom you share popular pastimes are also among the most promising sources of new business.
“America is a fragmented society,” says Richard Weylman, founder and president, Weylman Center LLC, Boca Grande, Fla. “People group together based on what they do for a living, their special interests and how they recreate. If you’re not targeting these groups, then you’re trying to be all things to all people. America has rejected this approach.”
As a type of niche marketing strategy, sources say, prospecting to individuals who share one’s own hobbies can be highly rewarding–and profitable. What better way to generate business than by mixing it with pleasure, schmoozing with people who partake of your enthusiasm for a popular pastime, be it stamp-collecting, sky-diving, gardening or bird-watching. Engaging the prospect in a discussion about a mutual avocation can help build rapport, establish trust and transition the relationship from a personal to a professional footing.
“It opens doors,” says Mandy Ebert, an associate national director of American National Insurance, Galveston, Tex. “If you have a connection with a particular client by virtue of a shared hobby, you can use that as a springboard to develop new business.”
She should know. Ebert’s division, America’s Playground & Hobbyists, helps affiliated property-casualty and life insurance agents prospect to owners of motorcycles, recreational vehicles and cars, the last of which is served by a company unit dubbed CHROME (classics, hot-rods, replicas, originals, modified and exotics).
To help connect with these enthusiasts, American National offers policy discounts to groups the company endorses. For the Victory Motorcycle Club, for example, the insurer provides deals on motorcycle coverage, armored gear (such as helmets and jackets) and ancillary products. The company also avails agents of marketing literature, sales presentations and resources for sponsoring organization events.
Craig Meads, a national market coordinator who oversees the CHROME unit, says the business advisors generate at club gatherings can lead to spin-off sales. Those clients who collect antique cars, for instance, might refer business to owners of shops that manufacture replacement parts: tires, interior fabrics, engines and the like.
“One goal of all this activity is life insurance sales,” says Madelynn Innes, a national market coordinator of the insurer’s AmeriCycle division. “Our research shows that if the client has a [p-c policy] for a niche product, then the cross-selling of life insurance becomes an easier task.”
All well and good. But before heading off to the next Antiques Road Show, observers caution, advisors need to ascertain whether the hobby of interest is sizeable enough to justify devoting part or all of one’s marketing efforts to it. While there are many devotees of model railroads and cookware, collectors of hard-to-find or pricey artworks, for example, may be comparatively few in number.
Also, experts say, the passion for one or another pastime has to be genuine. Advisors who hobnob with buyers of rare, luxury autos valued in the millions of dollars in order to gain access to high net worth prospects may not get far if they themselves have no interest in a mint condition Rolls Royce, Pierce Arrow or Deusenberg.
“If I walk into a car club and I’m not a car person, the members will see right through me,” says Ebert. “You have to be both interested and active in the group if you’re going to build relationships. If you’re just there to sell insurance and hand out business cards, then you’re only wasting your time–and theirs.”
Adds Weylman: “Friend-raising must precede fund-raising in almost every niche, including the hobby market. In other words, you have to become known and trusted. Prospects have to see that you have an emotional connection to the hobby and that you can bring value to the relationship.”