In 21st Century, Relationships Won’t Attract Clients

I had the opportunity to participate on a panel at FPA Experience last weekend in Orlando to discuss the Advisor of the 21st Century. It was an interesting and wide-ranging discussion. A report based on it, along with some video interviews will be made public by the sponsor and I will update this post with a link when they are available. (If you want a note when they come out, leave a comment and I will get in touch.) Perhaps the most important insight from the conversation was that if you fail to embrace the new ways of projecting your message, you may be meeting a lot fewer new clients.

We covered a lot of topics ranging from the operational efficiencies available through technology to new security issues to social media to the coming staffing crisis. What stood out, though, may be a sea change in advisor marketing: earning the opportunity to meet prospective clients is a whole new ballgame with huge implications on your business development strategies.

On the panel was Geoff Davey of Finametrica. Geoff has been a financial advisor in Australia for about 30 years and has rich experience in running a business, including attracting new clients. In discussing social media, Internet videos, and e-mail, he made a remark that I have heard experienced advisors make for 25 years: it is all about the relationship. When you sit down and a prospective client can feel as well as understand how much you care about helping them succeed it is that human connection that will prompt them to sign on with your firm.

Sitting next to me was Kile Lewis of oXYGen Financial. Kile and his partner Ted have taken great pains to create a distinct personality in their firm that appeals to younger clients and they aggressively project that personality over the Internet with pictures and videos and also broadcast it through regular radio appearances. Kile observes that when the firm and its Internet presence was new, 90% of the incoming calls from the website were requests for information and a tiny percentage wanted to go straight to an appointment. Now, however, about half of those first calls are direct requests to ask to meet with an advisor.

Sitting across from me was Justin Reckers of Pacific Divorce Management. Justin has taken the idea of niche marketing seriously. A child of divorced parents, he realized that many of his high net worth clients also went through a divorce. And many of them suffered financially because they got lousy advice in the process. He determined to become an expert in the rules, regulations, and special planning challenges of equitably splitting a marital estate. He now gets practically all of his new business by referral, much of it through lawyers and psychologists.

I am committed to the power of niche marketing well done, and my presentations on the topic get great reviews. But the message I am getting from people like Kile and Justin takes the idea to an entirely new level. I believe we are seeing a new trend that may fundamentally change what it takes to successfully attract new clients. Several years from now, we may find that unless you can articulate something special about you, a niche that you occupy, and project special value with new media, you may have a much more difficult time getting those introductory conversations with people who become clients.

Even when the initial client referral comes the traditional way, with a client of yours mentioning your name to a friend who has just expressed a financial challenge, these days that rarely prompts a phone call as the first step. Upon hearing a little about you, the first thing people do is go home and Google you. While they’re at it, there is a pretty good chance they will also search for other advisors using search terms that describe their challenge and not you. They are more likely to search for “divorce” or “severance” or “adult day care” then they are to search for “financial advisor” or “certified financial planner.”

I have a lot of respect for Geoff as an entrepreneur and a planner and I have no doubt that people who do not yet know him respond positively to his warmth and sincerity when they meet him. But new century advisors like Kile and Justin are going to mean that Geoff may never get that introductory meeting. Advisory firms that can project the fun of an oXYGen or the deep technical expertise of a Pacific Divorce are the ones who will inspire people to call them. Is “relationship” still a powerful influence in winning over a client? Of course. But to in order to have the opportunity to develop that rapport, you first have to get them into your office. And, as many of you can attest, the advisor who gets the first conversation has a huge advantage.

How specifically have you defined your niche and how clearly have you articulated the unique thing you can deliver to it? How well have you projected that reputation into the community over the Internet and through your human networks? It could be that to thrive in this new century you may need to take some action on those questions today.

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