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Why "internal marketing" might be the industry's best-kept secret

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Idaho Falls has a population of 58,000. Not quite a small town, but perhaps not populous enough for most advisors to hang their shingle in. An advisor, let’s be honest, needs to have a sizable client book to be successful, and the only way that is going to happen is if he or she is situated in an area with an ample enough populace from which to draw their clientele. A small or even mid-sized city may not be the most advantageous place for an advisory practice.

Well, maybe not. For some, it’s the perfect place to be.

Take Jennifer Landon, president and founder of Journey Financial Services in the aforementioned Idaho Falls, located in the eastern part of the state. Though small by big city standards, Idaho Falls is a metropolis compared to the town of 300 she grew up in. Basalt, Idaho, “doesn’t have a gas station, but it does, however, have its own zip code and post office,” Landon says.

Yet working in a smaller city or town has its advantages when it comes to marketing, Landon finds. “Word travels quickly in a small town. If you know how to harness that, then it can be a good marketing tool through the use of referrals and adequately using your client base to help you meet new people.”

Two marketing strategies

Landon began her career in financial planning in 2001 as a captive agent for a not-for-profit fraternal agency. Then in 2007, she started her own independent business.

Since striking out on her own, Landon has built her marketing program around two central themes: internal and external.

“There are two ways to grow a business,” she explains. “One way is to try to introduce yourself to more people you’ve never met or number two, bring a higher level of service to the people you already know and become very referable through your current network.”

The way to become referable is to provide superior customer service to her current clients, says Landon: If she does that, they in turn will refer her to their friends.

But there is more to taking care of her clients than just making sure their financial statements are in order every quarter, or that they are placed in the right investments. It entails seeing them as people with real-life problems beyond their fiscal status.

Say a client has been recently widowed. She may need help with yard work or shoveling the snow from her driveway so she can get to her car. So make arrangements for someone to do that for the client. “That really solidifies a relationship, when they know you care for them as a person not just as a client,” Landon says. “When you become that type of advisor, then they want to introduce you to their friends. They know there is more to it than the math and the numbers.”

All in the family

One outgrowth of Landon’s internal marketing strategy is what she calls multi-generational marketing. As the old saying goes, no man is an island. All clients (or nearly all) have families…sons, daughters, mothers and fathers. So when drawing up a financial plan, it’s wise to bring in those family members, the meaningful people in their lives, so they can see what the provisions of the plan actually are. If executed properly, Landon points out, financial planning not only affects the individual but their children and grandchildren as well. It’s also a great way to show what she does and catch referrals.

Landon recalls one time a client invited her family in for a planning session. So large was her family that its members stretched the capacity of her office. Once the appointment ended, all of the client’s children took her business card, and the very next day, she received a referral: One of the children wanted his father-in-law to meet with her.

“If we had one marketing tip that everybody should be implementing it would be to be a multi-generational advisor,” Landon says.

“Touch” base

Perhaps the most internal of internal marketing methods Landon employs is the sealing of a service contract between herself and her clients. Back in 2007, she worked with Norm Trainor of the Covenant Group and he suggested she formalize an agreement with her clients stating how often the two would meet, or “touch,” and when. For example, after a quarterly statement is sent out, a client is contacted for a meeting or any follow-up questions. The method of communication is also specified in writing and the plan is adapted for each client’s unique needs.

Putting pen to paper provides structure to the client relationship and enables the advisor to take an active, not passive, role, Landon says. “A lot of advisors approach service haphazardly,” she says. “It makes a lot of sense to plan your service initiative ahead of time. Instead of waiting for the phone to ring and having them call you with questions, be proactive rather than reactive.”

However, Landon is candid enough to admit that successful marketing efforts and superior customer service cannot overcome a basic mismatch between advisor and client. No advisor likes to turn away a client, but sometimes it must be done, especially considering the long-term nature of the client-financial advisor relationship. It can last a lifetime, not just a year, Landon points out. So each party must be in synch from the get-go.

“We are pretty conservative advisors,” Landon says. “If they are more aggressively focused I’m not going to be able to meet their expectations. So they would be better served by finding an advisor that line ups more clearly on that strategy. I don’t want to have someone come onboard and we weren’t able to meet their expectations because we weren’t selective.”

Working the workshops

Like many financial advisors, Landon conducts workshops two to three times a month on a wide variety of financial topics ranging from the future of Social Security and how clients can maximize their benefits; IRA strategies and, of course, taxes. “There are so many relevant topics now,” she says, stressing the emphasis is on those topics, not products.

Current clients are invited and encouraged to bring friends; invitations are also mailed to people in the community based solely on age. “We are not trying to handpick prospects,” Landon says.

Then there are classes she conducts quarterly at the local library that encompass about six hours of material that digs into the intricacies of trusts; Social Security; pensions; investment strategies and different types of investments; as well as risk management. Attendees pay tuition and can range in age from 25 to 75.

Not “scoreboard” driven

When asked how many clients she has obtained from these events, Landon answers she doesn’t have an exact figure. She prefers not to “scoreboard watch,” as she calls it. She wants to concentrate on putting on a good program that shows people what her firm does rather than tallying up the number of clients she draws from these events and putting a ROI calculation on it.

“A lot of colleagues are very numbers driven. My brain doesn’t work like that,” she says. “When we do a workshop sometimes we’ll have a lot of people there who end up becoming clients and other times, we don’t. My intent is to educate and if I can do a good job and bring new information to people that they haven’t heard before, that they can see value in or at least gather the right questions to ask, they are going to become better because of it. Then they will invite me into their life in one form or another. So I try not to get too driven by the numbers behind the workshops. I don’t even know. I know that we pick up a lot of business from workshops either from people who’ve attended or people who’ve attended that referred someone to us even to a later workshop. But as far as our return on investment, I don’t know those numbers.”

However, putting more emphasis on internal marketing strategies has boosted her business significantly over the past year, roughly 200 percent, Landon estimates. About 30 percent of new business came from referrals, another 30 percent from sales to her existing client base; and 40 percent from seminars and community classes, Landon details.

What’s even more impressive about those percentages is that those gains were obtained at a low cost. “The internal marketing is very profitable and it’s not expensive to implement. Essentially, it’s just taking care of people,” Landon says.

Growing your garden

Not all of Landon’s workshops highlight financial topics. After surveying her clients on their interests, Landon has sponsored programs as varied as gardening and even packing for a trip. Though the subject matter may not be as serious as the new tax code, they nevertheless provide a relaxing venue for networking since clients can bring along friends.

With all her external marketing and educational efforts, Landon’s aim is to present herself as an authority on financial matters, not a salesperson hungry for propects’ business.

“It’s a very nice way to get good information out to the community, but also a way to make a name for yourself without trying to pursue clients,” Landon says. “Instead, we want the community to perceive us as an expert and to seek us out, not to feel like we are trying to pursue them.”

Sounds like the best marketing strategy of all.

Additional reporting by Daniel D. Williams

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