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5 ways to sell to seniors

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As longevity increases and more boomers advance into their senior years, those 65 and older are the most prevalent demographic on many advisors’ prospecting lists. With such a large pool of potential clients looking for retirement and financial advice — and also likely to make referrals to their friends and family — you can’t afford to miss the mark. 


1. Differentiate yourself online

You might think digital marketing is most effective when targeted towards younger generations, but a 2014 Pew Research Center study shows that 59 percent of seniors today are increasingly Internet savvy. That’s more than half of the market and a 6 percent upturn compared to the previous year.

Don Chamberlin, CFEd, president and CEO of The Chamberlin Group, a tax planning and wealth management firm in St. Louis, Mo., finds that when marketing to seniors, print ads are not as effective as a strong online presence. In addition to regular posts on LinkedIn and Facebook, Chamberlin credits his clear and engaging company website for the numerous prospects walking through his office doors. “Seniors are doing their own research on the Internet more than ever before,” he says.

Chamberlin’s advice to fellow advisors is to find a niche you can focus on — Social Security, Medicare, long-term care — and then become an expert in that area. On his company website, the goal is to “make it clear that we’re helping people with taxes, because not too many financial practices do that.” By distinctly communicating their specialty, they differentiate themselves from the crowd. “You must have an image online,” Chamberlin says. “It’s like dressing for success; you’re showing your professionalism by having a good website.” 


2. Be an educator

By providing education to the senior community, advisors establish themselves as experts and earn credibility and trust, according to Annalee Leonard, IAR, owner of Pensacola, Fla.-based Mainstay Financial Group. Leonard is adamant about education and believes the first role of the advisor is to educate the community. She hosts a holistic radio show, discussing not just finances but all the other pieces of the senior-life puzzle, such as doctors, real estate and downsizing. She also teaches continuing education classes at seven different college campuses, as well as a class at three local hospitals on a different financial topic every month. “Teaching is my forte; it’s what I’m good at it,” she says. “If you want to be successful, do what you do well and delegate what you don’t.”

Chamberlin also recognizes the importance of education, and pays a minimal fee to be able to access financial podcasts produced by his colleague, JamesJ. Silbernagel CFP®, LUTCF, which he then emails to his prospects and clients with an option to “Share this with a friend.” The podcasts are geared toward the senior community and include interviews with CPAs, estate planning attorneys, experts in insurance and charitable remainder trusts, and MDRT speakers. “It’s nothing that’s earning us a living,” Chamberlin says, “but we find that we get five times more responses to the podcast than we get to a regular weekly or monthly emailed newsletter.”


3. Be available to communicate often

According to Cassie Monson, CIC, CLTC, LUTCF, agency manager of Dakota Financial Services in Aberdeen, S.D., meaningful conversation is a surefire way to earn a senior’s trust, whether you’re discussing their finances or their children and grandchildren. It takes extra effort, she says, but it is well worth the time. Monson has found that most of her senior clients still prefer face-to-face interactions and constant communication, so she makes sure to stay accessible and active in the community. “I point out that my cell phone number is on my business card,” Monson says. “I tell them: ‘If you ever need me, you can call me, even if it’s after five o’clock.’”

David A. Tirey, CAS, CSA, CLTC, a Medicare specialist and president of Tirey Insurance Agency, Inc. in Charlotte, N.C., gains his clients’ trust by sympathizing with their concerns and needs. He always hand-writes a thank you card immediately after meeting with a prospect, even if he didn’t make a sale. “A lot of times,” he says, “the final decision they make on whether or not they want to change their coverage will be based on whether or not they like you.”

Chamberlin makes sure to keep track of his prospects’ and clients’ ages so that he can touch base with them when they reach critical ages. “Around age 61, we do Social Security workshops,” he says. When they reach age 64, he begins educating them about Medicare, and “around age 70 ½ we figure out how their RMD from their IRA works, how much they need to take out, and how much that’s going to impact their taxes.”

Leonard also makes an effort to stay in constant communication with her clients. “Our people who are doing managed money are touched every quarter,” she says, “with a full phone call that deals with the state of the nation, what’s going on around the world, and how that’s affecting them. That’s rare in our industry.”

But the area where advisors fail the most, according to Leonard, is with their fixed annuity clients. Those clients come into her office at least once a year to sit down and talk, she says. “Too many people put into fixed annuities and fixed indexed annuities are never seen again [by the advisor who set them up],” she says. “Nobody helped them use that instrument the way it should be used, which is one of the reasons these products have gotten such a bad name.”


4. Be patient, not pushy

Many times, people get impatient when they’re working with seniors, and it’s the first thing that will kill a sale, says Monson. “If you take the time and listen to them,” she adds, “You don’t have to sell to them; they will sell themselves.”

When Leonard teaches her classes at churches and nursing homes, she offers a form that prospects can fill out, but only if they are interested. “I make a promise to not bother you,” she says. “Nobody is going to be calling you and saying, ‘You came to my seminar; you ought to be in my office.’ I have never done that.”

Chamberlin adds that making decisions becomes much more difficult for seniors, especially if they’re over age 80. “I think they feel like they want to keep things the same,” he says, “no matter how good or bad it is, or whether there’s a huge tax consequence or risk involved. It’s hard for them to make that change.” He suggests asking the client if they’re open to including their children in the meetings with them, which might help ease the transition. “But if they’re not open to that, you just have to keep it the way it is.”


5. Make your business senior-friendly

Your office and presentation style should be tailored to seniors; handicap access, for example, speaks volumes to your elderly clients when they meet with you for the first time, says Leonard. When Monson uses printed materials, she takes care to use a larger font. Chamberlin made a point to decorate his lobby like a living room, rather than a waiting room: plush couches, big chairs, lamps, tables—even a three-ring binder full of clients’ recipes to share. It adds a warm, personal touch that goes beyond their expectations, he says.

Leonard sought out a ground-level office with easy parking and access to the front door. She makes sure there isn’t a lot of lighting glare, “because of cataracts, something that affects many of my senior clients.” She offers her visitors a variety of beverages and makes sure her PowerPoint presentations move slowly and aren’t filled with boring statistics.

“One of the things I do that seniors love,” she adds, “is bring my three Miniature Schnauzers to work every single day.” The dogs greet and comfort her clients, earning them the nickname “the smile committee.” Many times, she will see someone in the lobby and think, ‘Did I have an appointment today?’ “It’s not me they come to see,” she says with a laugh. “It’s the dogs!”

Leonard also takes the extra time to visit her clients in hospitals and nursing homes, usually accompanied by her male Schnauzer, Beau. “He goes with me when I have a client in rehab,” she says. “You walk in and see a person, many times depressed. But when they see the dog, they smile.”