Pleased to meet you…

Networking is a very traditional, but still a very effective and important marketing activity. It’s also one that fills a lot of people with dread… They think of standing around in crowded rooms with no one to talk to, or being pinned in the corner making small talk with someone who they frankly have little interest in meeting. And so while most people recognise the importance of networking, very few people do enough of it. In fact, I find it’s the one activity that causes the most discomfort when it ends up on the marketing plan for a financial adviser!

So what can you do to make it easier and more effective? After all, if it actually works and helps you generate new clients, you are much more likely to continue to do it.

 

Recognise that it isn’t easy

Networking isn’t easy and doesn’t come naturally to lots of people… but it isn’t easy for anyone. So while you might think that it’s so easy for certain people, that tends to be because they’ve worked really hard at becoming good at networking.  However, while some people might appear to find it easier than others, everyone at least has a common purpose  – they are there to build connections. So approach it from the point of view that at least everyone has the same goal and are open to talking to you.

 

You must have a strategy

At the end of the day, you’ve got to be standing in the traffic if you want to get knocked down! But it’s not enough to wander blindly into a networking event without a clue of how you’re about to approach it. This starts before the event where you try and get a handle on who is likely to be there. Are there lists of attendees available in advance? Can you check out who members of the business group / conference attendees are? Once you’ve an idea of who will be there, you can start thinking about who your preferred “targets” are. And then you can start doing some quick research on them through their website and LinkedIn profile. And this research will hopefully come in very handy later…

 

Be a first mover

Don’t just head for your pals and spend your day in deep conversation with them! By all means, if they are in a group of people that you want to meet, take the opportunity to get introduced into the group. But be active and make the first move to start conversations. Others will thank you for this and it also gives you the opportunity to guide the conversation.

 

Be interested

And this is where your research comes in really useful! If you can show a level of interest in the people you meet – some knowledge of their business, some connections you have in common, it might even be that you know about some quirky interest of theirs, this will ease them into the conversation as you are opening the door for them to talk about themselves. And then be interested because your interest in them will come back in spades. Remember you’ve two ears and one mouth for a reason! People will naturally want to reciprocate and turn the conversation towards you, which of course is then your opening…

 

Hone your own pitch

When you get over the initial chit-chat and move on to talking about your reason for being at the event and what you have to offer, this simply must be interesting and must grab their attention. At the end of the day, they will be talking to many people that day so you must be in some way memorable. If you are pitching your wares, paint pictures of solutions, not saying why you’re such a great financial planner. Let people see how you can solve problems for them and enrich their lives in some way.

 

Follow up brilliantly!

Then when all the hard work is done, make sure you take the final step. Contact people after the event saying how it was great to meet them and thanking them for their time. Connect with them on LinkedIn and if you send out a company newsletter, suggest that they be added to the circulation list. Send them information if this makes sense. If there’s a favour you can do for them, maybe there’s someone else you can introduce them to – well then this is even better.

 

So yes, networking is not easy. But hopefully these few thoughts might make the task a little less daunting for you!

Get set for a strong finish

Most advisers that I talk to are having a good year in 2017. Most are somewhere on the journey to building a business around your advice proposition, and this in turn is driving higher levels of assets under management and more protection product sales. But most also recognise the need to not take the foot off the gas in terms of new client acquisition.

So here are a few ideas that you can work on over the next 4 months that will set you up for an ever better year in 2018.

 

Set activity targets

Activities drive sales, so set yourself clear activity targets. Set monthly or even weekly targets for the activities that work best for you. These might include;

  • Prospect / potential client calls made
  • Sales emails / newsletters to prospects sent
  • LinkedIn connections made
  • Networking events attended
  • Client meetings arranged
  • Client reviews carried out etc etc.

And then track these targets carefully and measure your progress against them. We all know that “what gets measured, gets done”…

 

Get to work on your pipeline

credible pipeline is a really important asset of your business. It’s no use if this is just a list of names of people that you’ve spoken to over the last few years. So it is well worth spending a few hours going through your pipeline from top to bottom. Here are some suggestions as to how you might improve the quality of your pipeline

  • Remove the dead wood – get rid of all those old prospects that you know in your heart are going nowhere. Don’t waste any more time on them.
  • Review recent additions to the pipeline that you added in 2017. Are there people here that may have simply been delaying action until later in the year? Are they now worth a call?
  • Qualify your pipeline prospects. Prioritise them by their likelihood to become clients or transact business with you.
  • Understand and capture the stage you are at with each prospect, exactly where they are within your sales funnel. This will help you to ensure your next activity / approach is the right one.


Review your marketing supports

I know this one regularly raises its ugly head… But it really is so important, as old (even worse if it is actually out of date) marketing collateral can be pretty damaging. It can show you as out of touch, or even worse, not caring about your business. The main supports to review and update include,

  • Your client value proposition – have you updated this, your process, your service supports and your remuneration structures in line with your changing business model?
  • Your website – does this really reflect your proposition? Also make sure you read through every page and remove / amend any time sensitive information.
  • Your LinkedIn profile – is it fully up to date in relation to your skills. Remember that when someone Googles your name, your LinkedIn profile is often the first search result that they will click on.
  • Your sales presentation and reports – many advisers use templated reports. These make a lot of sense, but need to be reviewed regularly. Make sure that the information in these is bang up to date.

 

Get updated testimonials & LinkedIn recommendations

Research has shown that approx. 80% of people trust peer recommendations, while only about 14% trust advertisements. So talk to your satisfied clients about providing you with a testimonial that you can show on your website and in sales presentations. The key here is getting their permission to use their full names to make the testimonials fully credible. Better still, if your client is a connection on LinkedIn, ask them to make the recommendation through LinkedIn, with you also displaying it on your website. That way it gets even more visibility.

 

Work hard on referrals

All advisers know the value of referrals, however some don’t have a clear process for getting them. Develop a process, make it a part of every review meeting with clients and use the likes of LinkedIn to help you identify the people that you want your clients to refer you to.

 

Put extra effort into networking

Some advisers really struggle with networking; they really don’t enjoy it at all! However it is a very necessary marketing activity – the old adage springs to mind that if you want to get knocked down, you must stand out in the traffic! Identify relevant networking groups and then set yourself clear objectives – these might simply be the number of meetings you attend and the number of people you make the effort to meet at these events. Again you’ll get out of them what you put into them!

 

Work out what your introducers need

Introducers are also identified as a very rich source of potential clients. However the days of ringing a local accountant, agreeing to split commission and then sitting back and waiting for the clients to roll in are long gone… Introducers today need to be crystal clear themselves about what you do and the value that you offer, both to them and to their clients. So spend time developing your proposition for introducers and then develop marketing activities to stay top of mind with them.

Working your way through this list will help you to achieve a strong finish and will set you up nicely for 2018.

6 Years On..

StepChange is just coming up to its 6th birthday. It’s a business that was born in the teeth of the recession, but we’ve also seen the great growth years of recent times too. We’ve been really fortunate to spend this time almost exclusively among financial advisers and other players in the life, pensions and investment community. So what’s changed in the last six years?

 

The market is really evolving now

Six years ago, the term financial planner didn’t exist. Then it became a fashionable title for people to use. But today it perfectly describes what so many within the advice community do every day. So many firms have actively shifted their business model from one centred on product sales, to one where the financial plan developed by the planner sits at the core of the client proposition. And this has resulted in a whole new breed of advisers; those who are adding significant value to their clients and are now confidently in control of their business, not dependant on product sales and not exposed to the whims of the market and the changes in product strategies by providers.

Other advisers are still operating in a more traditional way, their business model based upon selling products. I worry that they face a difficult future with legislation and regulations making their lives more difficult and commission levels under pressure. They also face the emergence of low cost robo-advisers squeezing their margins, and it becoming ever more difficult to demonstrate real value to clients and to justify their income.

 

Technology is playing a key role

A lot of the potential threats for advisers lie in technology… but so do the opportunities. Robo-advisers pose a real threat in the next few years, offering advice solutions and low cost funds to consumers. Just see what Vanguard are doing in other markets – offering rock bottom fund fees, admin fees of 0.15% and CFP level financial advice for 0.30%. How can the traditional adviser compete with that?

But the opportunity also lies in technology. I was chatting to a financial planner recently about his client proposition and he said to me, “You can chop off my arm but don’t take Voyant away!” Now I’m not sure how important his arm is in the equation, but his message was clear. Future cashflow planning has been the key to helping him deliver a valued lifetime planning service to his clients and helps him build engaged relationships with clients that centre around the advice given, and not the products sold.

 

Many struggle to communicate the value added

You know somewhere in the back of your mind the value of what you do and know that you are delivering value to your clients. The problem for many of you is that your clients are just not seeing it. This often stems from not having the time to actually articulate what you do and the value that that you add, and as a result not actually documenting your proposition. As a result, there are lots of “chats” happening with prospective clients, instead of structured conversations with relevant marketing supports that set out your proposition in a compelling and engaging way.

 

Having a clear target market makes your life so easy

If you can easily identify and reach your target market, you can then focus your client value proposition, your sales activities, your marketing messages and indeed your whole support infrastructure around meeting the needs of these specific groups. Some only see the risks involved in this – narrow groups of people to target, missing broader opportunities etc. As a result, many advisers continue to try to appeal to everyone. And as a result, they don’t really connect with anyone. Yes, your target market must be big enough to sustain you. But if you then focus your efforts on them, you gain the opportunity of creating a real standout positioning for yourself.

 

Pricing is an ongoing challenge

The most common questions I’m asked are about charging; the calculation basis used by other advisers, how much they charge and how they actually get paid. As more and more financial advisers move from transaction based pricing to advice based pricing models, the big question that you are confronted with is how much to charge. This first of all comes back to your actual proposition, then how good you are at actually communicating it to your clients.

Even then, there is a certain amount of trial and error. Certainly I know from working with many advisers in this area (and from my own work), you need to initially work out sensible pricing levels and then keep them under review going forwards. For those advisers with well thought out propositions, experience suggests that they tend to initially set their pricing levels too low and end up reviewing them upwards as they gain more confidence in their pricing. And yes, in many or most cases, the fees are ultimately collected through the commission system.

 

 

So in summary, what’s my view six years later? For advisers who haven’t changed as the market evolves, I see a rocky road ahead. But for financial planners who are using technology, putting the time or getting the help (there’s a hint if ever you got one!) to developing a clear proposition for an identifiable market and communicating it effectively, their future is so much brighter than ever before.

Segmentation of clients is no longer optional

Thankfully there are very few financial advice firms remaining who see segmentation as one of those tasks to be done “when they find the time”. Which in other words is never.  There are now so many compelling reasons for segmentation of clients to be seen as one of the most important tasks a broker needs to do on an ongoing basis. Why?

Because at the end of the day, are you able to (and should you) provide a top-drawer service to every one of your clients? The answer to this most often is no. After all, you derive hugely varying levels of income from each of those clients so surely the clients that are driving very high levels of income to your business deserve a higher level of service?

Of course this is not at all a novel concept! Every time you step on a long haul flight, it’s immediately obvious. Turn right for the cheap seats in Economy or turn left to be pampered in Business Class or 1st Class. And then when you book a hotel, you can pay less for a standard room or pay more for a suite with all of the bells and whistles that come with that.

Now let’s take this concept into the financial advice space where many Financial Brokers see their future remuneration model as centred around trail commission. If I come to you with €100,000 to invest, your trail commission might be €750 p.a. (assuming you charge 0.75% of assets). All sounds good.

But what happens if I’m singing your praises and my sister rocks up to your door with €500,000 to invest? Now your earnings are €3,750 p.a. from her. This is perfectly justifiable if your proposition stacks up. But she is also justified in asking what she is getting for this €3,750 and you need to be able to demonstrate additional value to her. And if there is no difference between the services offered in each of these situations, I suggest you’ve got a challenge on your hands… Simply adding trail commission to policies without thinking through your various client propositions is fraught with danger.

And not completing a robust segmentation of your clients is also very dangerous. Even without doing a segmentation exercise, I’ve no doubt that a small number of your high value clients get your best service at all times. But inevitably what happens is that there are other high value clients that slip off your radar. Either you don’t realise that they are high value or they just aren’t demanding. And then some low value clients who are constantly on the phone get a huge amount of attention. That’s hardly fair, is it?

So what do you do?

 

Segment your clients

For starters, do a proper segmentation exercise. Know who is valuable to your business and who is not. Don’t be put off from doing this work with the excuse of “it doesn’t capture the full picture”. Yes, there will always be exceptions within your segmentation – for example a client with very little business with you, but who constantly refers other clients to you is actually a high value client to you and should be treated as such. But don’t start with the exceptions; work out how to deal with them later on a case-by-case basis.

 

Develop your service packages

Develop service packages for your business that reward clients depending on their value to your business. Make your high value clients feel really special, reward them for trusting you with their money by giving them a truly rewarding client experience. Build a moat around them and pull up the drawbridge from your competitors by providing a second to none service.

Let your mid-tier clients feel valued by your business, while at the same time making them aware that there is lots more you can do for them (if they are willing to pay for it).

And of course your no/low value clients will begin to realise that it’s a business you are running and that they don’t have 24/7 access to you. If they want access to superior service (ongoing advice from you), they pay. The same as when they book a flight or a hotel room.

 

Don’t be afraid to say no

Yes, your lower value clients may want a better service possibly than you are offering and might try to demand it from you, without paying for it. Don’t be afraid to say no or insist they move to a higher value service package with greater remuneration for you. You’ll only be doing this with your no/low value clients… And they are not of much value to your business. Put your time into those clients that are of value to you – this is what your clients deserve and what your capacity allows.

The days of a “one size fits all” approach are over. Give your clients a service that they want and deserve.

AIDA – know your client’s buying cycle

First of all, this is not a review of AIDA, the opera by Verdi! Instead it’s a few thoughts on how an often-used marketing acronym that is usually used in relation to advertising to describe a buying cycle, can be applied to the services offered by a financial planner or broker.

AIDA in this context stands for

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

Each of these steps is part of the mental journey that a client will embark upon, before he or she decides to use the services of a financial planner. It is important for you to remain alert that you are delivering on each of the steps, or else you are likely to end up with a sales funnel with a hole in it.

So what are the marketing and sales activities that you might deliver, in order to ensure that you can build up a steady flow of new clients?

 

Awareness

This stage is all about building your presence in general and is about simply getting on to the radar of potential clients. Any mass marketing activities that you carry out will be done with the goal of building awareness. These will include advertisements that you place in national or local newspapers, radio ads and of course any online advertising that you carry out. Writing editorial that subsequently gets published will also help you to build awareness as will any local sponsorship activities that you carry out.

Another activity that will help to build awareness, but that is a lot closer to home is referrals. When an existing client of yours suggests to a potential client that he / she might seek your services out, this is awareness building, but of course is much stronger and more personal than the mass marketing activities mentioned above.

 

Interest

Now you’re on your potential client’s radar! Your goal now is to pique their interest and to demonstrate that your financial planning business is the one for them. When the prospect looks to find out more about your business, you want to ensure that the information they get heightens their interest.

Your website plays a really important role here, as does your LinkedIn profile. Both of these are very important.  Do they press the buttons that will get people thinking “this is the business for me” or will they end up feeling that your business is no different to any other financial advice business out there? Are your services clearly explained? Are there good testimonials that demonstrate real live stories of how you can change people’s lives? Are there case studies that show your excellent problem solving capabilities?

And then you need to have strong “Calls to Action” to move prospective clients to the next step, to ensure they don’t then simply lose touch with your business. You need to make it easy for prospects to sign up for your newsletter or better still, to contact your business.

 

Desire

Building the desire to act is hard for financial planners. This is typically built by retail businesses through short-term price promotions etc. Personally I don’t believe that price promotions / “free” consultations are effective for financial planners.

Instead seek to build desire through demonstrating your value. Use your client newsletter and your social media activities to demonstrate your expertise, and to firmly position yourself as the provider of excellent and professional advice and services, and the financial planning firm of choice.

Of course you can also invite prospective clients to seminars or other client events too, these will help to further build their interest in your business and their desire to “get on-board”.

The key goal for you here is that when the prospective client is ready to act, that it is your firm that is contacted.

 

Action

And then the prospect contacts you! You’re now faced with the final hurdle of actually getting the prospect to sign up with you as a client. At this stage you need an excellent first meeting process, which should include a really sharp presentation that clearly sets out your proposition and the value that you bring to your clients. Then you have a chance of getting the prospect to move forwards with you!

Of course the “buying cycle” of a financial planner’s client will be different to that of a high street retailer’s customer. However everyone goes through a buying cycle, so hopefully these points will help you to keep prospects moving through your sales funnel.

What Do You Look For In A Service Partner?

The way financial advice firms deliver their services has changed hugely over the last decade or so. Up until then and maybe with the exception of accountancy and legal services, businesses pretty much delivered (or not) all of the required services themselves.

But times have changed, the world of work has become far more complex and the delivery of all of the business services required have moved beyond the capabilities of most advisers. As a result, there has been an explosion in the availability of external partners available to advisers, to assist them in bringing their businesses forward and allowing them to concentrate the adviser’s own time and effort on spending time where they add most value – in front of their clients.

But how do you choose the right external partners to work with?
They must know your market

Whether it’s compliance support, any IT services, sales training, marketing support, business coaching or any supports at all, the external partner must intimately understand the world in which you operate. It ends up as a huge source of frustration for advisers when they end up spending their time educating the external partner on what is needed, not the other way around!!! You want a partner who understands the market in which you are operating, really understands the specific challenges faced by advisers today and also keeps their finger on the pulse of changes within the market.

They set out to achieve your specific goals

At the end of the day, suppliers are businesses too. They develop expertise and a range of products, services or solutions in their chosen area. Yes they will develop common methodologies to deliver their solutions, but that doesn’t mean the end result is the same for every client.

Indeed most financial advisers use a well-developed advice process that they employ in all client meetings. However unless you spend time really understanding the financial goals and objectives of each client, their current circumstances and their attitude to risk, the resulting financial plan will be the same every time!

The same applies to service partners. Make sure that any supplier is not pulling a solution straight off the shelf, but instead is spending time really understanding your business, your specific challenges and the results that you want to achieve.

They practice what they preach

OK, I have to admit that this one is a real bugbear of mine! I’ve seen advisers getting support in areas from people who simply don’t practice what they preach. I came across an example of this recently with an adviser who had paid a lot of money to a digital marketing “specialist” for training in reaching customers online. They were very disappointed by the results achieved.

When they asked me for a second opinion, I did some cursory research on the supplier (who I hadn’t heard of). They had virtually no online profile themselves at all! An out of date website, no LinkedIn presence, no blog, nothing… How can someone teach you about social media when they are a passive bystander themselves?

A provider should be able to show you that they passionately believe in what they are saying by demonstration (where it makes sense), not that they’ve just learned a few titbits to pass on out of a book.

They are not trying to be “all things to all men”

This is another area that bugs me. When I set up on my own a few years ago, I was developing a brochure for a client. I had worked on a few previous occasions with a great printer who had never let me down. Business had got quite tight for him though during the recession and on this occasion, he convinced me to outsource the graphic design work on the brochure to him too. He was a terrible designer and it ended up ruining our relationship.

I suggest that advisers work with people who don’t necessarily claim to be great at everything, just the areas where they can add value. However your external partner should still be able to co-ordinate the complete solution required by you, just being clear with you as to the work they will complete themselves and also the work that they will in turn outsource.

So a partner saying “no” to elements of the work is actually a good thing. It shows an interest in getting the right result for you, not just looking to hoover up every available Euro for themselves, with no eye on the result.

They Can Demonstrate Success

Actual testimonials are a must too. I encourage every adviser to have client testimonials on their website that are real and verifiable. They must be completely credible with the full name and company name / location of the person giving the testimonial.

The same applies to supplier testimonials. You should be able to find credible testimonials on the suppliers website or recommendations (not endorsements!) on LinkedIn from people similar to yourself. You should be able to get a clear sense of the capabilities of the supplier from the testimonials and their ability to achieve the results that you are seeking. These testimonials should give you a sense of comfort and a lot of confidence in the service you are buying.

Are your external partners passing these tests?