After a long and challenging 2009, Senior Market Advisor’s readers are beginning this year on a conservatively upbeat note. The results of SMA‘s 2010 Advisor Survey are in and according to the more than 500 advisors who offered their opinions, there’s a mood of optimism and opportunity in the air as they look forward to regaining their business foothold in the coming year. They also admit they face great challenges addressing a client base that’s pessimistic, distrustful and still financially hard-hit by a down economy.
Conducted online this January, our survey asked readers to provide their thoughts on the state of the industry, including specific details on what marketing methods, lead generation strategies and even electronic tools are producing the best results (or, not doing so). We also polled them on their biggest concerns, and whether or not their relationships with their longtime clients and prospects had changed in the past year.
We were pleased with the breadth and scope of the responses, including hundreds of personal comments; in this special feature, we’ll try to capture some of that dynamic commentary. Be sure to check out our Web site for an expanded version of the story, with full survey results.
It’s hard to think that anyone in the United States wasn’t personally impacted by the multiple financial crises of 2009, and our readers shared that sentiment. Overwhelmingly, 46 percent of respondents said that it’s still the embattled economy that keeps them up at night, although a nearly equal number (44 percent) said that the challenges of lead generation are their primary business concern.
What keeps you up at night?
“We’re all going to need to run a lot faster to keep up with the changes just over the horizon,” offered one respondent. “The vulnerability of everyone’s finances is somewhat disturbing. And waiting for the cycle to change is tough.” Another reader was obviously more optimistic: “I sleep well since I control my destiny.”
“Competition, new tech and legislation have always been factors,” said reader Rick Lidinsky. “Change will always prevail. I worry about who I will talk to tomorrow.”
Others, such as Christopher Richter, put things in a broader perspective: “Qualified leads are harder and harder to come by nowadays, as many people are bombarded by information that oftentimes doesn’t even relate to their personal situation. On top of unscrupulous sales practices and with the huge economic downturn, people are wary of trusting anyone, and rightfully so.”
The ever-evolving nature of industry regulation also remained a serious concern. To that end, nearly two-thirds of our respondents say that they do not support the SEC’s 151A legislation, suggesting that the federal government’s since-delayed push to securitize fixed indexed annuities promises to cause more problems than it seeks to fix.
“Laws should not be changed just because someone sees them as an inconvenience,” said reader Vicki Guy. “Laws are laws. Additionally, the SEC oversees hedge funds, stocks, securities, etc. And look where they’re at now!”
The power of community
When it comes to making in-roads with clients old and new, 57 percent of our survey takers said that an altruistic marketing strategy – community involvement – was working best for them in the current economic climate. This far surpassed more traditional methods, including direct mail (36 percent), seminars (27 percent) and print and electronic advertising (23 percent).
“Community involvement helps because I am able to reach those that are in need of my services, faster,” explained Al Aldrete. “Also, the more often they see me, the more likely they are to think of me when it comes time.”
“Getting to know people personally works for me,” added Karen Boehm. “My clients realize how valuable my services are, (they) appreciate what I do and refer me as a great advocate for what they need.”
“I compete against reps who show little willingness to get out of their offices and be where people are,” said advisor James Oiler. “I love to be ‘on the scene’ with my logo t-shirt on, telling people what I do to help families.”
Others said that old-fashioned hard work, especially cultivating and following up on referrals, remains the cornerstone of their business, especially in tough times. “(It’s all about) picking up the phone and making those calls on a disciplined, regular schedule letting those I meet and those I know what I do for a living,” said Victoria Keiffer. And as another reader noted, “Advertising you can buy. Referrals have to be earned.”
On the flipside, when asked what marketing efforts are specifically not working right now, readers said they were dissatisfied with direct mail (42 percent), print and electronic advertising (41 percent) and social media (30 percent). Those methods, many argued, have become too expensive and are lost among the clutter of people’s busy lives.
“Direct mail was great 18-20 years ago, but now most people (including me) sort their mail over the trash can,” said Dennis Eckmeyer. “E-newsletters, like community involvement, help because of the number of times clients and prospects see my name, my company’s name and my contact information.”
“People get too much junk mail,” added Laura McReynolds. “Electronic or snail mail – unless they are already a client, they just don’t read what we send.”
(However, for ideas on successful and strategic niche market usage of direct mail, please read Ed McCarthy’s “The Check is in the Mail,” starting on page 67).