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10 for '10: Sales tactics that work in today's world

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The meltdown happened. Then came the aftermath?investors in retrenchment mode, advisors doing damage control, everyone licking their wounds. Now it’s time to move forward. With the U.S. economy seemingly on an upward trajectory and morale on the rise, it’s time to put your practice on a similarly positive path by breathing new life into your sales efforts.

But wait. The world has changed. The sales tactics and strategies you once relied upon so heavily may no longer hit their mark. What you need now are some fresh ideas for refilling your prospect pipeline and converting leads into clients. Here are 10 inventive ways to infuse your practice with momentum to carry into 2010.

1. Catch prospects’ attention with a story. With so many clients rethinking their advisory relationships in the wake of the financial meltdown, advisors who develop a unique hook to differentiate themselves from the competition will be in the best position to land new clients and retain existing ones, according to John M. Comer, CFP, in Plymouth, Minn. His firm, the Comer Consulting Group, provides practice-building strategies to advisors.

First, define your target market, then build a story around you and your practice that intrigues prospects enough that they want to hear more. “For instance,” says Comer, “if you market to executives in large firms, emphasizing expertise dealing with concentrated stock positions may grab your audience.?If you market to business owners, succession planning expertise may resonate.?If you want to market to clients with a philan-thropic bent, talking about your commitment to philanthropy will get their attention.”

Write your story down and refine it until it’s exactly how you want it, he says. Then integrate it into every aspect of your practice, including your Web site and marketing materials, to give a consistent impression.

2. Build your credentials. Now more than ever, prospects value advisors with credentials that imply trustworthiness, explains Anil Vazirani, president of Secured Financial Solutions in Scottsdale, Ariz. “I have upped the ante by making a commitment to affiliate myself with smart people and by educating myself,” he says. “Show people you are affiliated with a group like the National Ethics Bureau or the Better Business Bureau or that you went out and got your Series 65 license, and that lets them know you’re investing in knowledge and education. Having those credentials and licenses makes consumers take us more seriously. When I offer a solution, clients are more open to it because they realize we are a full-service firm.”

3. Inform first, sell later. Advisors who too hastily cut to the sales pitch are destined to lose deals they might have closed had they first made an effort to empower prospects with knowledge. Information is a
powerful way to coax prospects out of the foxhole they hunkered down in during the financial downturn, asserts Steve Bailey, RFC, principal at HB Financial Resources in Charlotte, N.C. “Seniors want good, solid information to make a good, solid judgment.”

As part of a “motivation through education” strategy, Vazirani gives prospects books whose content links directly to topics he has discussed with them either in workshops or in individual meetings. “Seniors and retirees read everything they can get their hands on. They’re begging for knowledge and education. If they’re holding the book I gave them, they’re a warm prospect. It brings them right back to me, even though I’m not in the room with them.”

4. Move the dialogue along with a thumbnail. When visiting with prospects, Pat Sheridan, director of life insurance at Senior Market Sales in Omaha, Neb., says he makes a point of developing a sketch of their finances through a series of basic questions: Do you have a checking account? A money market account? Life insurance? “I explain that I’m doing this so I don’t waste their time on anything that’s inappropriate for them. But I’m also looking for liquid money and uncovering need.”

5. Give prospects a quick reality check. When the goal is uncovering need, says Sheridan, few tools are as powerful as software that allows an advisor to show a prospect, in real time, based on a variety of inputs, whether their goal of retiring at a certain age is attainable, how much money they’ll need to sustain a desired lifestyle through retirement and at what age their money might be exhausted. Showing them certain scenarios, such as how quickly an extended long term care event can eat into a retirement nest egg, may open the door to a discussion of long term care insurance, for example.

6. Give them guarantees. “‘How safe is my money?’ People are asking that question all the time now because the market has scared the heck out of them,” observes Bailey. Products with guarantees to protect income and principal are an advisor’s antidote to that fear. To protect income, Bailey says clients find appeal in single-premium immediate annuities. For principal protection, they like fixed annuities with short surrender periods.

7. Get them back in growth mode. Scars from the market downturn linger, but for many investors, the equities market beckons. “I’m telling them it’s time to make back some of the losses,” explains Bailey. The idea of getting back into the stock market, at least to a modest extent, appeals to many people’s optimistic side, he adds. After such a dark period financially, it gives them hope. And for many, it also makes good sense from a portfolio balancing perspective. Returning to equities isn’t so harrowing, Bailey notes, when it is part of a strategy that also includes the protective products mentioned above.

8. Prequalify. Asking a few simple questions of prospects in advance of them attending a seminar?about their biggest financial concerns or the aspect of their financial situation they most want to improve?provides the advisor with discussion fodder when appointment-setting time comes around. “You know which hot buttons to hit with them. It’s helped our appointment and closing ratios tremendously,” says Vazirani.

9. Demonstrate diligence. People want assurance that the companies they’re investing with are stable and built to last. To afford them that confidence, Bailey says he has
narrowed the range of insurance and
annuity providers he uses, going only with the highest-rated carriers.

10. Back off the accelerator. The public has zero patience for pushy, too-slick salespeople and fear-mongering, high-pressure tactics. “People don’t want to be pressed,” says Bailey. “You’re going to have to give them time. Be as positive as you can and don’t rush them.”