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Marketing tips from referral expert Steve Wershing

These lines in Stephen Wershing’s Stop Asking for Referrals caught my eye.

I have looked at hundreds of advisor websites, and many of them don’t just say the same thing — they use the same words. Make sure that your marketing communicates what’s different about your clients and what’s unique about what you do for them.

I agree with Wershing about these weaknesses, and I was happy that his book offered advice about how you can differentiate your marketing materials.

Some of Wershing’s tips resonated strongly with me. I discuss them below.

1. Define your target audience narrowly

Focus on a problem that you solve for a narrowly defined group of people, so it’s easy for people to recognize your ideal clients. This focus will differentiate from other advisors and make you easy to refer.

2. Focus on benefits

Failure to focus on benefits is a common flaw in the articles and white papers I edit for investment and wealth management firms, so I’m glad Wershing discusses this. I like his before-and-after examples of elevator speeches. Here’s an example.

Before: We do financial planning for the suddenly single.

After: When people come into money, it is easy for them to lose their values and make bad decisions. I show them how to avoid those pitfalls.

3. Ask for introductions or advice

Ask clients for introductions or advice instead of referrals, says Wershing. This puts less stress on clients than referrals so it’s more likely to be productive. To boost your introduction request’s effectiveness, do research to identify people who fall within your target audience. LinkedIn makes this easier than in the days prior to social media.

On the advice front, consider trying the following question posed by Wershing: “If you were in my position, trying to do what I am trying to accomplish, what would you do?”

Wershing’s suggestions about introductions and advice remind me about the power of informational interviewing, which has been essential to my career development.

In an email exchange with me, Wershing said, “The most exciting thing I have discovered in working with advisors on these strategies is the techniques that will attract more referrals also end up providing the client better, more expert advice.  Advisors can improve the industry while growing more successful. I cannot imagine a better outcome.” I agree.

Your suggestions?

If you’ve tried the techniques discussed above, I’d enjoy hearing from you. Please add your voice to the conversation.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from McGraw-Hill in return for agreeing to write about it.

Reader challenge: How do you save your marketing project from last-minute derailment?

 

If you’ve ever had a project go bad at the last minute, you’ll care about the answer to this reader challenge. You may even have solutions. So please join the conversation.

I’ve participated in at least one marketing project that was cancelled due to a change of direction at the top. Some projects’ derailments are out of your control, for example if your firm is sold or a new boss arrives.

Stakeholder buy-in is key

marketing strategy, content strategyOther projects die from preventable problems. This is why I said “Aha!” when reading Margot Bloomstein’s Content Strategy at Work.

Bloomstein says, “It’s important that you involve all the stakeholders in the room–don’t let anyone hang back like a shadowy presence, ready to swoop in and derail activities.” In her book chapter on “Designing cohesive experiences: Introducing content strategy to design,” she walks the reader through a process using a facilitator to get stakeholders to agree on a company’s messaging priorities. While the specifics of Bloomstein’s plan are most appropriate for a firm tackling its marketing “big picture,” you could adapt elements for smaller projects.

My approach to getting buy-in

Learning from experience, I’ve tweaked my writing process to help my clients get buy-in from their colleagues and superiors.

You can adapt the following process to your situation, if appropriate.

Step 1: Interview the client to understand what they’d like to accomplish and why. Define the project’s scope as narrowly as possible.

Step 2: Prepare a proposal that incorporates information from Step 1. This lets us see if we share a common understanding of the project. If not, we discover our disagreements early. This saves time.

Step 3: Collect information for the writing project and prepare a robust outline. Rather than go directly to a first draft, I prepare a robust outline for the client’s review. The outline’s purpose is to let clients focus on ensuring that all of the necessary content is included, without getting distracted by stylistic issues. I’d like to think that it’s easy for them to circulate the outline for internal approval. Once a client finishes commenting on this outline, there shouldn’t be any surprises in the form of new content introduced later.

Step 4: Circulate a complete draft for comments. My clients typically have only minor edits in response to this draft.

How do you keep your marketing projects from getting derailed?

The techniques described above help in some, but not all, situations. I’ve discussed solutions specific to working with portfolio managers in “Reader question: How can communicators manage difficult portfolio managers?

I’m sure you have techniques that I haven’t discussed. Please share your ideas.

Marketing communication notes from #fpaexperience

Here are some highlights from sessions I attended at FPA Experience 2012, the Financial Planning Association’s annual conference, in San Antonio, Texas. You’ll notice my notes focus on marketing and communication, even when that wasn’t the speaker’s focus.

Client engagement, according to Julie Littlechild

Truly engaged clients are the clients who will refer business to you. While 84% of clients in Advisor Impact’s surveys say they are comfortable making referrals, only 2% provide referrals to people who actually make it into your office to meet with you, said Julie Littlechild, CEO and founder of Advisor Impact, in her presentation on “Cracking the Code: Tactics That Drive Engagement and Growth.”

The best and most frequent referrals come from clients who see someone with a need for financial advice that you can meet. At least this is how I interpreted Littlechild’s words.

Littlechild got me thinking that consistently blogging about a financial challenge specific to a narrow target audience is a good way to guide referrals. Your blog helps your clients identify the problems you’re best at solving. Plus, your blog posts will boost your credibility with your new prospects.

For more on research by Advisor Impact, see Littlechild’s article, “4 Ways for Advisors to Better Engage Clients,” which originally appeared in the October issue of Investment Advisor magazine.

Tailor your written communications, says Zywave CEO

Advisors are missing opportunities to deepen their connections with their clients, according to Jim Emling of Zywave in “Expanding Your Firm’s Potential with Compelling Communication.”

Advisors need relevant content delivered at the right time via a medium that will reach clients, said Emling. This is a common sense approach that isn’t often practiced, he added. This is a big issue for advisors’ Generation X clients. More than 40% of them are less than “very satisfied” with current communications from their advisors, according to Emling.

Here are some of Emling’s ideas for boosting your communications:

  1. Send communications driven by life events like having a baby — When Emling’s wife had a baby, he “never heard a peep” from his advisor.
  2. Send a series of communications focused on specific client goals, such as managing a problem with debt.
  3. Send communications that go into more detail on new ideas introduced in meetings — Emling had no idea what ILITs were when his advisor introduced them in a meeting. He would have appreciated a follow-up explaining ILITs in writing.
  4. Figure out your clients’ pain points so you can focus your communications on those topics.
  5. When you target younger clients, you may also need to target different referral sources.

By the end of October 2012, Emling’s company is launching Advisor Briefcase, software to help advisors deliver targeted communications.

Engaging women in money discussions

The need to engage your clients and prospects ran through many of the sessions I attended at FPA experience. I was intrigued by Elizabeth Jetton’s discussions of the need to find better ways to empower and engage women. Jetton is a co-founder of Directions for Women.

Engage women with you, so they can see the value of your guidance and you can increase their financial literacy and well-being, said Jetton. She uses circle gatherings of five to 20 women and conversation cafes of larger groups to foster interactions where everyone, even an expert, shares stories.

During her discussion of these techniques, Jetton made some comments that relate more broadly to communications:

  1. Stories help people learn. When a story is told, the whole brain focuses.
  2. Don’t ask people to process more than three to four pieces of information at once.
  3. People use their guts to select you as their financial advisor, and then they rationalize it.
  4. Clients like to hear advisors’ stories and to know that you’re human and imperfect.

I think #3 speaks to why blogging, social media, and showing some personality in your writing are so important.

In case you’re interested in learning more about circles, either Jetton or Directions for Women plans to publish an e-book, Guide to Circle for Advisors.

FPA Experience through my eyes

Here are more of my blog posts inspired by FPA Experience:

How Merrill Lynch and US Trust stay relevant to clients, according to Justine Metz

Justine Metz presenting On Merrill Lynch and US Trust to Financial Communications Society

Justine Metz presenting to FCS in Boston

Bank of America’s business units, Merrill Lynch and US Trust, needed to rebuild their reputations following the financial crisis. Justine Metz, marketing and sales support executive for global wealth management & investment at Bank of America, outlined the business units’ approach in her September 18 presentation to the Financial Communications Society (FCS) in Boston. Metz titled her presentation “Marketing’s Imperative at Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust: Staying relevant to clients during times of financial crisis.”

Reverse psychology as key

“I wanted us to fight more.” This was Metz’s initial reaction to the need to boost her business units’ reputations following the financial crisis. After all, banks’ reputations had hit all-time lows, and no one was giving Merrill Lynch and US Trust credit for doing anything good.

However, Metz went with “reverse psychology” in her unit’s response. While they continued to push back on inaccuracies, the focus was on advisors and their clients, she said. “We had to shut up because no one wanted to hear us.”

Key role for uber-brains of the advisory business

“Advisors shielded the brand throughout the crisis,” said Metz. Merrill Lynch advisors continued to receive high ratings from clients even as the industry suffered declining ratings. Merrill Lynch also got credit for having great information produced by smart people. Metz calls them “uber-brains.”

The rise of social media gave the firm non-traditional ways to highlight its smarts, so it @MerrillLynch on Twittercould spur clients and influencers to talk about it. It introduced a Twitter account (@MerrillLynch, which has almost 25,000 followers), a YouTube channel, and iTunes apps, including MyMerrill and BofAML Research Library.

Why social media? “Our main strategy is to empower our clients to talk to one another,” said Metz. That fits in with today’s emphasis on communications by people rather than institutions.

Return to TV

TV ads were on hold for three years while the firm focused on social media. When it rolled out a new commercial, it didn’t throw out its strategy of getting its clients talking. Instead, the new Merrill Lynch and US Trust ads about “The Power of the Right Advisor” and “What is Worth,” respectively, are designed to complement that strategy.

FCS chapter forming in Boston

The presentation by Metz was the second Boston event put on by the New York-based FCS. A steering committee is developing a Boston chapter. To learn more—and to volunteer—contact FCS President Kevin Windorf at 212-413-6044. I’m a volunteer. I enjoyed meeting new people at this event.

Guest post: Why you want to announce your book with a press release

Writing and publishing a book takes a lot of work, so you should maximize your gains from it. This is why I invited my friend, book PR expert Sandy Beckwith, to guest-blog about press releases. By the way, I recently completed Sandy’s online class about book PR, which boosted my readiness to launch my blogging book for advisors.

Why you want to announce your book with a press release

By Sandra Beckwith

Sandra Beckwith

Many financial consultants who write books to use as marketing tools with prospects and clients don’t promote their books to others who might pay for the information in them. Most often, that’s because financial planners and investment managers are focused on the potential for generating long-term clients, not on making money through individual book sales.

It’s a smart strategy because it focuses efforts on activities that will generate the greatest return on investment. Advisors will make far more money giving books to people who could become clients or referral sources than they will from talking the local bookstore into stocking and selling the books on a consignment basis.

Still, it pays to announce your book’s publication to the media, even when it’s only for sale on your website. Here are four reasons why you want to write and distribute a press release that announces your book to the press:

  1. Your book announcement press release is “content” that generates links to your site from press release distribution services. Smart consultants use both the free and paid press release services. The free services don’t send your release to media outlets, but they do house them on their websites. They will include a link to your website, which helps boost its search engine ranking (it will show up higher on the page in a Google search). The paid options actually e-mail your press release to journalists; when one of them publishes your information, the news item can generate even more site links, purchases, and the kind of exposure that could help expand your client base. For more information on how they work, read “How to use PRWeb for press release distribution.”
  2. Posting the press release that announces your book on your firm site helps prospects and others find you. The information in your press release helps search engine users find your site. Some of those searchers could become clients.
  3. When media outlets that influence your audience publish your press release, you are viewed as an expert. Clients and prospects like working with consultants who are seen as experts by others, especially the press. Meeting organizers are impressed by experts and authors, too, and often invite consultants to speak to their groups after reading about them in the press.
  4. Your press release can generate radio and TV talk show interviews. This exposure can introduce you to prospects you wouldn’t reach on your own.

How to Write a Press Release It’s not hard to write a book announcement press release, but it’s important that you include the information that journalists need and expect in the format they prefer. Get Your Book in the News: How to Write a Press Release That Announces Your Book, a short e-book I’ve written specifically for authors who don’t work with the media a lot, provides step-by-step guidance. Here are a few tips from the book:

  • Write it like a news article, not an advertisement.
  • Focus on the benefits the book offers readers.
  • Include information on where people can buy it.

I’m happy to answer questions about this – please share them here.

Sandra Beckwith is a former national award-winning publicist who now teaches authors how to be their own book publicists. Subscribe to her free newsletter, Build Book Buzz, for more tips and ideas. Connect with Sandra on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.

Don’t make this mistake in your email subject lines!

A quirky email subject line made me think my husband was spamming me. He graciously allowed me to use his example to remind you to choose your subject line’s first words carefully.

Bad email subject line

Here’s the email subject line as it appeared on my screen:

Can you see why I was concerned that my husband’s email account had been hacked?

The problem: Your subject lines get cut off

Most people don’t see or absorb your complete subject line. Why?

  • Email software typically shows about 50 characters of your subject line on a PC
  • Mobile devices shorten subject lines even more than computers
  • People pay the most attention to your email subject line’s first words. This is why I suggest that you:
    • Put the most important part of your subject line first
    • Put an action verb near the beginning if you’re asking the recipient to do something for you. For example, “Please tell me if you can attend July 11 meeting.”
    • Start with an informative noun if an action verb isn’t appropriate. For example, “FYI, next committee meeting is August 22.”

A better subject line for my husband

I’ve been mulling over better subject lines for my husband’s email. I think the following would work better:

  • Shredder question: Does yours use oil or lubricant sheets?

YOUR subject line questions

What questions do you have about email subject lines? Your questions will help me prepare for my email presentation at the Financial Planning Association’s conference in San Antonio this fall.

Image courtesy of Kookkai_nak at freedigitalphotos.net.

Q&A: How to look trustworthy in your professional photo

Convincing clients and prospects to trust you is essential to building relationships with them. A great photo alone

Lori Johnson

won’t win them over, but a bad photo can undermine how they see you. This is why I conducted an email interview with Lori Johnson of Your Best Image. By the way, Lori specializes in photographic image and she did the makeup for my head shot photo.

Q. What about a photo makes you appear less trustworthy?

A. Dark shadows in the face or background.  Anything that hides the face i.e. sunglasses, hat, facial hair, hairstyle that covers the face, etc.  Poor quality photos.  Inappropriate wardrobe, makeup, hairstyle.  Too much photo shop alteration of the photo so you do not look like you do in real life.

Q. What conveys “trustworthy” in a photo?

A. A sincere smile and sparkle in the eye. Clothing appropriate for the industry and your personal style.  Colors that flatter your skin tone, hair color, and eye color.  Use an open stance; no tightly crossed arms or hands in front of your body, open and relax shoulders, and stand or sit tall.

Q. I’ve heard that blue is the color of trust. Do you agree?

A. Yes. Darker, deeper blues such as deep navy blue are serious and powerful. Deep blue sends a message of authority and credibility, which is why it’s commonly used in formal business attire and as a uniform color. In fact, navy blue gets its name because it’s been the color (along with bright white) of the British Royal Navy’s uniforms since 1748.

Q. Do casual photos make a financial advisor seem more approachable?

A. A few casual photos can help tell your story and make you appear more “real,” open, and friendly. Use these photos to help personalize your print, web, social media, or other marketing materials. They should not be the main images in your materials.

Be careful about the quality and quantity of your casual and personal photos. Poor quality photos may make you appear less professional. That’s why I recommend you rely on a professional.

Q. Can you recommend how to prepare for a professional photo shoot?

A. You’ll find detailed recommendations in my article, “Pre-shoot Suggestions.”

 

Focus your marketing, says the “Financial Services Marketing Handbook”

 

Targeting your prospects instead of marketing to everybody works best, as the Financial Services Marketing Handbook suggests in the following quote:

Very few companies can afford to be everything to everyone any more. Even companies with mass-market products (like basic checking accounts) segment their markets so that they can focus their limited marketing dollars on the most profitable segments.

The book also offers direct-mail statistics to support the value of targeting. “…When the list, the offer, and the message are narrowly targeted, response can go up to 10% or more” versus less than 2%. That’s an increase of more than 500%.

If you’re interested in learning more, this information comes from Chapter 1 Segmentation.

By the way, I won a free copy of this book in a random drawing by PropelGrowth. Thank you, @CandyceEdelen and @PhilDonaldsonNJ!

Facebook likes and links for financial advisors vs. the rest of the world

What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, or so the cliche’ goes. But financial planners regulated by the SEC and FINRA often can’t use techniques promoted by social media gurus. This article discusses one such Facebook page technique.

Somewhere I read that I should ask people who “like” the Investment Writing Facebook page to post a link to my page as their Facebook status. I’ve never had much luck with this tactic. Nor have I noticed any of my Facebook financial friends trying this technique. This prompted me to pose a question about this on my Facebook page.

Have you had any luck asking people who “like” your Facebook page to post a link to your page as their FB status?

This is the question I asked on the Investment Writing Facebook page and on my personal page. Here are some of the answers.

 

How to add personality and warmth to your financial writing–Part one

Independent financial advisors find personality is a powerful marketing tool. It’s one thing that’s unique to you. However, it is not always easy to infuse your writing with personality.

In this two-part post, I address five tools you can use to address a personality gap in your writing, starting with personal stories.

1. Personal stories

Telling personal stories is an obvious way to give a flavor of your identity. It’s simplest if you’re an advisor who has grappled with many of the same financial issues as your clients. For example, you may have struggled with how much allowance to give your children. A story about how you reached your decision–or how you communicated it to your children–is a great kernel for a blog post, if you’re comfortable sharing.

Your personal story need not be directly related to a financial decision. I like how Jude Boudreaux of Upperline Financial writes about life lessons learned from his baby in “Baby Steps Aren’t Just for Babies.” Even non-parents like me can relate to a baby learning to walk. Jude takes pains to translate his little girl’s first steps into lessons for you, the reader, rather than focusing solely on himself and his family. He concludes by asking, “What baby steps can you take today to continue your growth as a person?”

Looking for inspiration?

Here are more examples of financial planners who share personal stories:

Still stumped? Father’s Day is coming up on June 17. Consider writing a post about “Lessons I learned from my father.” Be sure to include the implications for your readers. Give them a reason to care. If you write a Father’s Day post, please post a link in the Comments section. Thank you!

 

For more on this topic, please read the second part of this article.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.