Right now, you should be running. At top speed. With a flag in your hand, ready to plant it in the ground.
Get the reference? It’s from Far and Away, that ‘90s movie where Tom Cruise plays an Irish immigrant on a land run in the Old West. He’s running across the open prairie with a flag in his hand, looking for a little plot of land to claim. Then, just in the nick of time, right as a posse of competing land rushers comes riding up over the hill, he and Nicole Kidman plant their flag and stake their claim. It’s very dramatic.
It’s also an apt metaphor for RIAs. You occupy extremely desirable territory in the market. But a herd of new claimants is coming to take it from you, if you don’t plant your flag and stake your claim right now.
If you’ve ever been to an industry conference or read an advisor trade pub, you’ve heard an expert telling you the “best” way to define a target market is by profession. But is that notion true?
Let’s think this through. Suppose you decide to target endodontists—the nice people who give you root canals. They’re affluent, busy professionals, and many own their own practices. Although they’re smart and educated, most probably still need help with financial matters. In other words, ideal client material.
What’s your plan for the next stock market crash?
I bet that question took you by surprise. Judging by some of the conversations I’ve had recently, it’s probably not something you’ve been thinking about very much. As of this writing, the Dow is dancing around its all-time highs. Financial institutions are salivating at the prospect of deregulation. Economic indices are looking good. Nobody is worried about another crash.
But you know one is coming.
I know, I know. Your integrations are real. Not like those other guys. You integrate with more vendors, or you have more APIs, or you’re the one who’s really seamless.
Tough love moment: Integration isn’t a differentiator anymore.
It’s just a buzzword. Jargon. In the past few years, media fatigue has completely drained the word of any meaning or importance. At this point, it’s simply expected.
Some advisors say they want to stand out from the crowd—but they’re fibbing. They really want to look and sound like everybody else. We can help them define their target market, identify clear points of differentiation, and craft a targeted message. They don’t want any of it. They just want a list of generic feel-good words to put on the website. Fiduciary. Objective. Holistic. Whatever. Basic, table-stakes qualities that every advisor talks about.
As I’ve already explained, an exceptional service model can take your business quite far. Add a handful of strong Center of Influence (COI) relationships, and you may have everything you need to drive your growth.
Here are some tips for making those relationships perform their best for you:
1. Don’t limit yourself to only attorneys and accountants.
If you do, you might be raking over the same tired ground again and again—while missing out on huge pockets of opportunity. Suppose you want to target young tech workers starting their first high-paying jobs. Accountants and attorneys don’t know those people. Who does? Parents, grandparents. Recruiters. Maybe leasing agents. If you’re targeting entrepreneurs, cultivate relationships with VCs and private equity firms. Do you serve families dealing with eldercare issues? Get to know geriatric care providers. You may be wondering how to identify all of these untraditional COIs. That’s simple. If you have done a good job defining your ideal client persona, you should have no trouble figuring out who their influences are.
How would you like to get so many referrals that they’re your number one source of inbound leads? You potentially could—if you’re willing to to take an honest assessment of your approach to service models.
If you’re like many other advisors, you probably segment your clients according to profitability. Then you create a different service model for each segment. The most profitable clients—call them level “A”—get face-to-face quarterly meetings, nice leather-bound financial plans, maybe some football tickets. The B-level clients get vinyl, not real leather, and they can’t sit in the skybox. And down it goes. It’s a very typical model (and yes, I’m exaggerating to prove a point). But I have a problem with it.
Here’s where things get awkward.
If I found out I was a “D” client, why wouldn’t I leave and go someplace where I could be an “A” client? If your book is really segmented “A” through “D,” that means you are intentionally giving suboptimal service to 75% of your clients. In an industry that lives and breathes referrals, how is that supposed to help you grow?
If you sell to advisors, you’ve probably experienced at least one deal that seemed like a sure thing—but you just couldn’t make it happen. You hit it off with the advisor. He or she seemed to really get your message. But the sale just petered out, leaving you to wonder why.
On the other hand, maybe you had a client relationship that inexplicably soured. You lost the account without ever understanding what happened.
(Note: In this post, I’m speaking directly to all the marketing coordinators, marketing directors and marketing managers ensconced at their lonely posts inside advisor firms. This one’s for you—but it might do some good if your boss reads it, too.)
“What have you done for me lately?”
If you haven’t heard your boss say that yet, you probably will—and sooner than you think. You were hired with high expectations. You see, your boss thinks that, as soon as you arrived, all of your firm’s marketing challenges would be instantly solved. You’re supposed to be a one-person band, able to edit a podcast with Audacity while writing a prospecting letter with your other hand and laying out a brochure with InDesign while coding a website with your toes. This is how you’ll be able to triple revenue in six months, right? Right?
Time for a reality check.
Look, I love and respect financial advisors. I spent the first decade of my career on the inside working directly with advisory firm owners, and co-founded this company because of my genuine passion for the profession and the industry. But I have to be honest about my experience and what I’ve learned over the years. Most advisor’s expectations of what a single marketing person can do are just not realistic. And there’s only one solution.