Today's new breed of advisor recognizes that the nature of the advisor-client relationship has changed, with discussions shifting from investment markets, products and performance toward life goal-setting, protecting the client's future and life enjoyment. In light of this shift, we are taking a six-part, step-by-step look at ideas you can use to forge your 2003 business plan and reposition yourself against your competition. In our fifth instalment, Barry LaValley discusses leveraging your life planning message when constructing your prospecting strategy:
(February 2003) Prospecting using a life planning approach has proven to be a very effective differentiation and branding strategy that forms the backbone of the message that you take to your marketplace. Those advisors who successfully prospect using the life planning approach have found ways to convey to their marketplace that they do four things for clients:
- Educate them on how money and investment relates to life planning issues.
- Talk about money within the framework of life transitions and their consequences.
- Help clients visualize and set goals over the short term, mid term and long term.
- Provide clients with wisdom by continually focusing on the theme of "what money does" rather than "what money is."
Prospecting is a systematic effort to create a need in the prospect's mind that they should come to you for help. It can be a slow process but will ultimately be successful if you remember these key elements:
- You have to have a brand that differentiates you.
- You have to consistently take that brand into the marketplace through word-of-mouth, advertising or through any other method that establishes your presence.
- You have to deputize those people who know and trust you to also carry the message (however, you have to ensure that they understand what the message is that they are to carry and whom it is that you want the message carried to!).
We all know how important it is to continually grow our practice and extend our reach into the marketplace, but in today's market environment, the need to prospect has become even greater. Many long-term clients have changed their relationships with advisors or are not providing new revenue; still others have gone elsewhere in their never-ending search for a return to the glory performance days of the recent past.
In my memory, there has not been as great an opportunity for advisors to prospect. Think about this: How many times have we seen such a large group of disaffected investors searching for an advisor with a new approach?
While some advisors continue to mine their current books of business or sit like a deer in the headlights waiting for client sentiment to turn around, others have taken up the challenge and are actively using this opportunity to generate new business.
Dan Tinling, an advisor with Edward Jones in Nanaimo, B.C., says he finds "a lot of people out there who are willing to move their accounts simply because their advisor has stopped talking to them." He notes that people still need advice and comfort, but they look at their advisor as someone who "played the performance game and lost.
"These clients are the easiest to move because I don't have a relationship with them that has been soured by negative investment returns," says Tinling. "This gives me the opportunity to build an entirely new kind of relationship based on what I actually do — helping them understand their long-term financial planning rather than acting as an investment guru."
The wrong way to prospect
Many advisors are choosing to prospect by promising to do the same things that other advisors have been doing — only better. One group of advisors who approached me to help them develop a marketing presence in their community wanted to find a way to access the high net worth market by focusing on their ability to manage wealth.
"What is it that you do for clients in this market that you think sets you apart?" I asked them.
"We manage wealth for high net worth investors," came the reply.
I asked them what that meant. Their reply was that they felt that they were exceptional wealth managers and that all they had to do was to find a way to convey that to their marketplace — almost like, "If we build it… they will come."
A fresh approach
Let's take a different approach to prospecting and incorporate a life planning approach. First, what do you want to say to your marketplace about what you do? If you tell people that you manage money, or that you provide financial planning or that you are an investment advisor, you will run into apprehension — although your clients know differently, remember that your prospects just think that you are like everyone else, particularly if you advertise that you do what everyone else does.
However, if you create a marketing strategy based on your ability to help people understand how their money relates to their lives, you have already differentiated yourself.
Doesn't every advisor talk to clients about how their money relates to their lives? My experience tells me no. Advisors who focus on investment returns or managing money for clients typically use the discussion of life goals as a catalyst to position other investments. Even if they don't intentionally do this, if every client/advisor conversation focuses on the stock market or investment performance, the client can't help but pigeonhole the advisor as "an investment person."
For that reason, you want to prospect potential clients by presenting yourself in a different way. Here are some things that you can do to prospect using the life planning approach:
- Create a brochure on yourself that is "right-brain" oriented and talks about what you do for clients from a life planning standpoint. Your brochure will help educate your prospects on the various aspects of their lives and the financial consequences of the life decisions that they make. Avoid the following words or thoughts in your brochure:
- financial planning
- money or investment planning
- insurances or estate planning
- wealth management
- the size and greatness of your firm
- Use your brochure as a business card and make sure that you give it to everyone you meet. Your brochure should be the main banner of your branding strategy. When you give it out, show your enthusiasm for why you have taken a different approach and explain that the brochure is a good summary of what you do.
Put the "life" in your practice in 2003 — previous stories
- Creating a professional referral team
- Creating your marketing brand
- Developing your mission statement and value proposition
- Creating your communications strategy
- Develop a regular workshop series that focuses on life planning issues. Invite those clients who will find the content relevant and encourage them to bring someone else who may also benefit from the information. Create regular client communication through your Web site, newsletters or phone calls to advertise your workshops. Utilize different professionals in your community who have the expertise to conduct the workshops and then encourage them to invite people they know to hear their message.
- Use the business owner strategy when taking your brochures out into the marketplace. Focus on business owners, shopkeepers or anyone else who is active in your community. Remember: if these business operators are not the right type of client for you, chances are that they can at least provide a referral to someone who is.
- Create a strategy with your existing clients to ensure that they understand the approach that you are taking. You don't have to call it a "new" approach; instead, you can let your clients know that you are refocusing your efforts on helping them understand how their money and their lives relate to each other, because this is more relevant as we get older. Over the next quarter, arrange to see every client possible for a face-to-face meeting and take advantage of this opportunity to reposition what you do and how you do it. The purpose of this strategy is to make each client an advocate by reselling them on your approach. Think of this as your way of "deputizing" all of your clients!
- Take every opportunity to convey to clients, friends, family, business owners or anyone else that you come in contact with about why you are different. Successful prospecting means converting one client at a time into someone who will sing your praises or help you advertise your life-oriented approach.
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Barry LaValley is president of LaValley Communications and a partner in the Retirement Lifestyle Center. He works with advisors and their clients to help them understand the importance of lifestyle planning and its relationship to "the new retirement". His Web site is www.retirementlifestyle.com.