Q. I'm having trouble convincing prospective clients to return my calls, let alone meet with me. How can I improve my prospecting efforts?
Most financial advisors understand that the advisory business is all about relationship cultivation, and that most new clients come from referrals from existing clients or centers of influence, rather than advertising, web sites, direct mail and other 'cold-contacting' techniques.
But even when you go do get a referral, it's not safe to assume that you're the only one going for this prospect's business. You may be competing with other advisors, and not even be aware that that such competition is going on.
As the advisory business becomes increasingly commoditized, individual advisors are finding it difficult to differentiate themselves in terms of the products and services they offer. Prospects don't care all that much about your firm's brand, its assets under management, or its new commercials. They want advisors who understand their needs and challenges, and are willing to go through the extra effort of demonstrating this knowledge before the relationship is formalized.
The Importance of Knowing Your Prospects
When I was in the advertising business, I once worked with a senior salesperson who used to start off every sales meeting by asking, "So, tell me about your company." Inwardly, I would groan as a room full of product managers and marketing executives rolled their eyes in disbelief. Needless to say, these kinds of meetings were not particularly fruitful.
Today, you can't adopt a one-size-fits-all approach when cultivating potential clients. Form letters and generic brochures won't work in an environment where people expect highly personalized service. You can't wait until you've signed the service agreement to gain a fuller understanding of your clients. Instead, you need to create a customized prospecting strategy that reflects your understanding of each prospect's unique lifestyle, demographics and financial concerns. Because if you don't do it, your competitors will.
Pump Your Referrals for 'Client Intelligence'
A referral from a client needs to be more than a name. Your client should know enough about this prospect to be able to give you some preliminary intelligence that indicates why the person may be looking for an advisor with your qualifications. Your client doesn't want you to make a fool of yourself (partly because it makes your client look bad), so he or she should be willing to provide enough 'inside information' to help you succeed. Don't be afraid to ask your client's opinion on the best way to approach the prospect (Email? Phone call? Snail mail? Seminar?) or what their concerns may be (Retirement? Portfolio performance? Estate planning?).
Conduct Additional Background Information
A simple Google search can identify a prospect's 'online history' that may provide valuable clues to their personal and professional interests. Viewing their Linkedin and Facebook profiles (if accessible) or using online prospect research tools such as WealthEngine can provide additional information.
Send a Customized Introductory Communication
Once you've built a financial and demographic profile of your prospect, and your client has 'introduced' you to the prospect via a preliminary contact, start by sending this person a customized letter in which you introduce your firm and mention one or more situations you've identified through your background research.
For example, if this prospect is nearing retirement you may want to offer them a free, no-commitment meeting or phone call to answers any questions they may have about retirement income planning. You may want to include one or more educational articles on the topic along with your letter as an example of the 'value added' services you provide. At the end of the letter, mention that you'd like to call them in a few weeks to see if they have any questions about this material. No matter what you do, don't push specific products or services or even your firm's capabilities. At this stage, your job is to promote your ability to solve their problems, not push products.
Some advisors may balk at this approach, believing that mentioning specific lifestyle situations may seem like an invasion of a potential client's privacy. This might be true if this were a cold contact. However, since this communication is a follow up from a 'warm lead,' the prospect shouldn't be surprised if you discuss what you've learned about them. In fact, most prospects will probably be impressed that you made the effort to acknowledge issues they may be facing--even if your assumptions are incorrect.
Use Good Old Fashioned Snail Mail
Unless your prospect is the 25-year old CEO of a high tech company, you should send your first communication to a prospect via 'snail mail' rather than email. An attractive direct mail package featuring your firm's branding on your letter, articles and business card are far more likely to be read (and stored), than an email message that is likely to be lost in the hundreds of messages your prospects receive every day. Plus, your email could be inadvertently directed to your prospect's spam folder, where it will never be read.
Given that this prospect has come through a referral, it's perfectly acceptable for you to call this person within a week or so after sending your letter. Since this person initially agreed to be contacted by you, the "Do Not Call" rules technically don't apply, since this is not an unsolicited communication.
The best times to call are between 5:30pm-6:00pm and from 7:00pm-8:00pm, since chances are high that the prospect may be home from work. Make sure you start your conversation by introducing yourself, mentioning your client as the source of the referral, and asking if they received your recent communication.
Chances are they may not have read your materials and they may not wish to have a long conversation with you at the moment. That's fine. Your purpose for this call is to set the stage for the next conversation, whether it's on the phone or, preferably, in person. Let them recommend a time for you to meet or talk.
In the meantime, ask if there's any additional information they'd like to receive from you on issues of interest. They may not have any ideas, so be proactive in suggesting topics. Ask if they'd like to receive this information in print or via email, and fulfill their preferences accordingly. The key here is to keep your name and your value top of mind as you approach your first meeting.
It may take several phone conversations until you get to that first meeting, but by the time you're there this prospect should already have a positive impression of your desire for their business and your responsiveness to their issues. In a business based on relationship-building, this can make all the difference.ShareThis