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By Lynn Brackpool Giles
The ranks of financial advising are expected to grow 30 percent between 2014 and 2024 – more than four times as much as the average growth rate for all occupations.
While that appears to be good news, it also means that advisors must find better ways to market and differentiate themselves.
But why, exactly, do advisors find marketing so challenging?
Charles D. Epstein thinks he knows. Epstein is a financial services veteran who also runs a program, known as the “401(k) Coach,” that develops curriculum for retirement plan professionals to build and refine their practices.
“They don’t have the knowledge,” he says. “It’s frustrating to them. When I started out in insurance 30-plus years ago, the training I was given was basically ‘Go out and sell, son.’ I wasn’t given any formal marketing instruction.”
Epstein coaches many advisors, and he says they often lack the data that can help them determine if something is working.
“They’ll tell me, ‘I took a lawyer out and didn’t get any referrals,’ and then they dismiss the tactic,” he says.
“Advisors work in fits and starts,” he adds. “They are attracted to a marketing idea and do it for a short time—and then they find something new.”
Ross Marino, CFP, CPFA, shares this viewpoint. Marino is the CEO of Rekon Intelligence, an event management firm for 401(k) advisors.
“Advisors aren’t sure what will work because they have tried many strategies that haven’t produced results,” Marino says. “They try one or two tactics but don’t invest in starting a true marketing campaign.”
In terms of a marketing budget, Marino stresses to “balance what you invest in marketing with what you invest in internal systems so you are able to handle business that comes in.”
Epstein adds that a marketing plan is just as important as a business plan.
“The first step is to start with a three-year plan where you set gross and net revenue goals,” he says. “From there, you can create a marketing budget and plan.” The next steps are then critical, he says, to narrowing your focus.
Once the prospective client list is in hand, the work begins.
“You need to be a farmer who nurtures, fertilizes, waters and irrigates your [prospective] crop,” Epstein says. “Just don’t dump everything in at once.”
Many advisors do not have built-in marketing savvy or experience, Epstein and Marino say, so the answer is to leverage existing relationships.
“Talk to providers that you currently work with, such as record keepers and investment companies,” Marino notes. “They have tons of experience and resources that are readily available. They have also already built, paid for and tested proven techniques over and over. You have to learn to scale your marketing, and the best way to do this is through an existing team.”
Epstein adds, “The number one thing that advisors aren’t doing is hiring or outsourcing their marketing to professionals.”
He suggests using sites like Elance.com and Guru.com to find qualified marketing experts who can work on a project-by-project basis—and, typically, at competitive rates.
Another important strategy is attending networking events to connect with prospects.
“Partner with a law or CPA firm,” says Epstein. He cites this as a win-win because you can tap into others’ email lists, share event costs and—most importantly—have a built-in trust factor.
“When I stand up at one of these events in front of my co-host’s clients, there is an implied endorsement of my financial services—and vice versa with my clients to theirs,” he says.
Marino also suggests hosting events that offer continuing education credit.
“Partner with (local) Society for Human Resources Management offices on a session that provides value like ‘Changes in 2017 health and welfare benefits’,” he says. “Or pick your favorite provider or wholesaler and talk about hot topics such as financial wellness programs.”
Marino and Epstein agree that advisors should not overlook time-honored marketing options like regular mail.
“People aren’t doing it as much anymore, so if you have a catchy idea, it will stand out in a pile of mail,” says Epstein. As an example, “attach a crisp $1 bill to your mailing. [Say,] ‘These are hard to come by, so give me 20 minutes of your time and I will show you how you can save money.’”
Looking ahead, Epstein says that changing regulations will make marketing more difficult.
“Compliance departments and the government are going to make it harder for advisors to market their capabilities to the consumer,” he says “They want every advisor plain-vanilla and the same.”
With current and looming challenges, it’s not enough to just use one form of marketing, says Marino. One approach is just one piece of the puzzle.
“Whether you use direct mail, cold calls, referral events or the like, you need multiple ‘punches’ to help narrow your field,” he says. “It’s a rifle approach, not a shot gun.”
Epstein wants advisors to treat marketing like a business.
“Be thoughtful, not random,” he says “Lay track in front of you – not behind you.”
And it’s definitely not a one-time endeavor.
“Marketing is a lifetime approach,” says Epstein. “It needs to be done every day.”