Segmentation, targeting & positioning – fundamentals of adviser marketing

Going back through the eons of time, I can recall a number of the key marketing principles that were ground into me time and time again; the importance of research and knowing your customer, understanding buyer behaviour and the role of the four P’s (product, price, place and promotion) among others.

However in my day-to-day work with financial advisers today, the principles that I find myself returning to more and more to address the challenges of advisers are Segmentation, Targeting & Positioning (STP). Many advisers today recognise the importance of these strategies as they attempt to make best use of their limited marketing resources, be they time or money or both.

Some definitions

So to start this 60-second marketing lesson, here is a definition of each, as set out by Philip Kotler, the grandfather of marketing education.

  • Market Segmentation: Dividing a market into distinct groups of buyers with different needs, characteristics or behaviour, who might require separate products or marketing mixes.
  • Market Targeting: The process of evaluating each market segment’s attractiveness and selecting one or more segments to enter.
  • Market Positioning: Arranging for a product (or service) to occupy a clear, distinctive and desirable place relative to competing products (or services) in the minds of target consumers.

What’s happening in the financial adviser market in Ireland?

Many financial advisers realise that a “one size fits all” proposition just doesn’t cut it any more. Either for the client who is looking for more than a generic service, or for the adviser who cannot profitably or successfully deliver the same service to all clients irrespective of their value, characteristics, needs etc.

As a result, many advisers are undertaking segmentation exercises, analysing their client bases and potential markets, most often by value. Others are also segmenting but by different dimensions – some are focussing on SME’s, others on specific professional groups.

A smaller number are then going on to specifically target sub-sections of their client bases and target markets at the expense of other groups – for example focusing all of their attention on clients of a certain value. In this case, some are even offloading their lower value clients to truly target their desired groups. Others are identifying specific occupations that they will target and also those that they won’t. And then sticking to this!

Finally, a relatively small number are taking that final step of actually positioning their business and all of their communications to appeal directly to their target market, even at the risk of alienating other potential customers.

Why STP is so important for financial advisers today

It’s this final step of having the courage to position yourself within a specific target market (or even a niche) that is a step too far for many advisers. They struggle with the thinking that while business might be quite tough today; it might actually be easier if you narrow your focus! How does this make sense?

If you offer a generic service to clients, they will recognise this. They won’t feel any particular connection with what you do, as it is not targeted at them. Instead if you have a clear target market and all of your communications are aimed with that group specifically in mind, the customers within that group will connect with your messages and are more likely to view you as a specialist who is out to serve their specific needs.

There are lots of very good financial advisers operating in the Irish market. At the end of the day, how are you going to stand apart from the crowd if you offer a very generic service?

Is a niche positioning viable in the Irish market?

My view is that it is 100% viable. Indeed you can build an extremely successful business based on a niche strategy! I’m not saying that it’s easy – you need to first of all very clearly and carefully segment your potential markets. You then need to decide the markets that you will target and have a clear strategy for building presence and scale in these markets. And finally you need to relentlessly build your positioning and re-affirm it time and time again.

I’m a believer and would argue that I practice what I preach in this area! There are 1,000’s of marketing consultants out there but not many that position their business specifically around meeting the needs of the financial adviser community. I’m really happy that I’ve pitched my tent there, attempting to meet the needs of a community that I admire and enjoy working with! Thank you all for welcoming me into your world and helping me to grow my business! I passionately believe that you can do the same within your chosen markets.

Do you have any views on this topic? Is a niche strategy viable? What are the challenges you face in running with this approach? All your comments as ever are very welcome.

Are your Advisers doing what YOU want them to do?

A challenge faced by many financial advice firms… The target market is clearly defined, the value proposition is carefully constructed and articulated and a suite of marketing supports are developed to help the team of advisers go out and attract a cohort of new clients. And then…nothing.

Well not quite nothing, but not the results that are being sought by the principals. Instead the advisers continue to work as they always did, going after business as they always did. Hitting their sales numbers (maybe) but not in the way that the firm wants it done – that is building up strong and durable relationships with clients in the chosen market segments, adding real long term value to the business.

This is quite a common occurrence, one I’ve come across in a number of firms, so why does it happen?

The goals are all wrong

This is where the problems usually start… Often the adviser goals are quite poorly constructed and actually are not aligned at all to the goals of the organisation. The principals might be clear about what they want to achieve and have Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to help them track their progress. But unless they link the individual adviser goals to these KPIs, they really have little hope of them being delivered by the adviser. At the end of the day, the more aligned the goals of the adviser are with those of the organisation, the more likely those KPIs will be achieved.

The focus is only on the numbers

When you are trying to influence advisers to change the way they carry out their daily roles, you are actually trying to change their behaviours in their day-to-day activities of finding and targeting prospects, delivering advice and providing ongoing service to clients. But often, the behaviours receive scant attention as the year goes on; the focus tends to be always on the numbers. While the numbers are of course critical, it is the behaviours that actually impact them. It is so important to set expectations around behaviours, to monitor them and to measure them. If they are not being achieved, there needs to be interventions such as training, reinforcement of expectations, encouragement or sometimes good old fashioned pressure to deliver the required behaviours!

Rewards must be aligned with the KPIs

At the end of the day, money drives behaviours for a lot of people, and in my experience this particularly applies to salespeople! They work at the sharp end of the industry, in a role in which it’s pretty nigh impossible to hide, as results are clear for all to see. For this, they expect to be well rewarded.

But if their remuneration is based solely on their overall sales result, well that is where their focus will be. In this situation they will likely pay little attention to;

  • Those all-important behaviours
  • The quality of advice given
  • Product mix
  • Client retention

So what should goals and rewards look like?

The key is alignment between the KPIs of the organisation and the individual goals of your advisers. Obviously income generation will be a significant part of this, as this is going to be a goal of both the organisation and the individual. However, the level of “credit” that is given to advisers may be adjusted to take account of;

  • Are the new clients signed up by the adviser in the stated chosen market segments of the business?
  • The “shape” of the income – the level of upfront commission / ongoing income (i.e. trail) taken
  • An adjustment may be made to reflect the retention of business written by each adviser
  • Overall satisfaction levels of each adviser’s clients (this is surprisingly easy to measure).

One of the biggest challenges facing advice businesses is encouraging the individual advisers to work towards building up long-term value in the business. This is a big ask if their goals and rewards are based only on short terms factors. If you really want your advice team to play their part in building up value in your business, are you willing to reward them for doing so through long term incentive schemes or indeed through a route to a share of ownership in your business? Because at the end of the day, this is what it may take to really get them aligned with your objectives.

Do you use any particularly innovative methods to reward your advisers? If so, I’d be very grateful if you would leave a comment below.