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.
Sometimes, participating in an RFP process is like eavesdropping on an awkward first date. You can tell everybody is trying to say the right thing, but nobody really understands what the other person is talking about.
Here are a few questions to incorporate into your conversations with vendors, so you can better understand what you’re buying before you sign a contract:
You and your vendors come from different worlds. Vendors love to work with large companies that have deep pockets and teams of experts to guide the project along. When they look at financial services, they see a vast opportunity representing one-twelfth of the entire U.S. GDP. What vendors don’t realize is that they aren’t dealing with 300,000 advisors in a single market, but 300,000 small businesses, each operating in its own market. Advisors’ needs vary widely, their budgets are tightly managed, and they may not have a fully dedicated internal contact to teach vendors the ropes.
That’s why your most important goal in your due diligence and selection is to make sure your vendors understand your business. Do they know the difference between a broker and an advisor? Between fee-based and commission-based business? Are they aware of the regulatory, sales and marketing review you are subject to? Do they even know how you get paid? If vendors don’t understand these basics, how can they possibly offer you anything useful?
I’m going to come out and say it: You should only use vendors who have worked with advisors before.
I admit it. I didn’t get it for a long time. There I was, working in-house at advisor firms, putting out RFPs to marketing agencies and consultants as part of my daily job responsibilities. The proposals would come back. I’d review them, cheerfully nodding at all the big promises, all the corporate happy talk.
We’d sign the deal. Do the project. And then—nothing. The benefit to the firm, or advisor, rarely outweighed the cost.
Eventually, I realized it was all wrong. The consultants were selling a high-sounding bill of goods that did very little for our business, largely because they didn’t actually understand our business. When I started FiComm, I swore I would never do that to a client, and I’m still passionate about that commitment. (Maybe I’m just mad they had me fooled for so long.)