“Let me tell you what happened at lunch today,” Mark Smith says matter-of-factly when asked about marketing in the new era.
Um … OK.
The president of Raymond James-affiliated M.J. Smith and Associates launches into a lengthy (and surprising) anecdote completely devoid of phrases one would expect in the age of social media marketing; no mention of search engine optimization, Google analytics, link building and—of course—blogging.
But if you chalk him up to just another “dinosaur” that doesn’t get it, you’d be wrong. He opened his wealth management firm in 1983 and his practice grew up in the computer age. His use of marketing and technology, in part, is responsible for where he currently finds himself; that is, Barron’s named the Colorado-based advisor to its list of top 1,000 wealth advisors in the country in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Smith was the top-ranked national advisor for Raymond James for four consecutive years, and he has been ranked in the top five advisors every year for the past 13 years. You don’t get there with dial-up and a calculator.
Which brings us back to lunch, and a conversation he had about younger financial advisors and the pros and cons of the Internet and social media revolution.
“Financial planners, CPAs and attorneys will all agree that we’ve got this layer of wonderfully smart, young people that can run computer software programs until they’re blue in the face, but they don’t get out and nurture relationships,” he laments. “They’re not out there building the practice.
“The unfortunate reality is we never required them to,” he adds.
Despite the explosion in technological innovation, the increase in the number of possible client touch points and ways in which advisors and prospects communicate, referrals are still among the most effective marketing techniques. As he reviews his own succession plan, Smith is nurturing and educating the next generation of financial advisors, pushing them to develop the same level of high-quality referral systems he himself has built over decades.
As Smith notes, anyone can crunch the numbers and develop the financial plan. There is seemingly an infinite number of places to go to get the asset management piece. But especially for the independent guys, they have to get out there and shake hands.
“I have a couple of delightful young advisors here in town that are also with Raymond James,” he says. “I’ve sent them referrals; quality clients that happen to be below our $1 million minimum. These two young men are fee-based and they’ve got integrity and great personalities and people skills. But they don’t get out.”
They’re part of a generation that’s struggling, he says, one that might be netting $100,000 each, but Smith wants to help them reach the million dollar level, at the very least.
“That’s where you truly start to generate significant levels of free cash flow and begin to make a wonderful lifestyle for yourself,” he says. “I’ve promoted a few of my employees to principles, but they don’t bring in clients. And it’s like, ‘Okay guys, we got to get you out.’ And they’re not real comfortable with that. I’ve explained this to a number of lawyers and CPAs that are part of my referral base. They always say the same thing, ‘Mark, I’ve got the exact same issue.’”
So Smith is organizing, and the aforementioned lunch is one of a number of meetings he’s had recently. Beginning with, “Maybe we can help each other out,” Smith explains his Beige Book concept to his dining companions.
“I asked my team to put together a booklet on who we are, what we do and why we’re different,” he explains. “I certainly don’t want them to pull it out and give it to a prospective client. Rather, I want it ingrained in their minds so they can quickly regurgitate the unique aspects of our practice.”
He then asks his lunch companion if he has someone similar in the office—a key person he’s nurturing. The person always does, and Smith suggests getting the two younger associates in a room to present to one another. They can practice in front of another professional; it’s an opportunity to truly ingrain their stories in their memory. They then brainstorm about workload balance and getting outside the office to nurture relationships.