Arguably, the hardest thing for most financial advisors is not just learning their craft, but rather generating leads and finding new prospective clients to get in front of in the first place. As no matter how good an advisor is at giving great advice and helping people move towards their goals in life, the sad fact is that there aren’t that many folks who wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because they suddenly realized they don’t have a comprehensive financial plan! Which means that an advisor not only needs to be good at what they do, but they also need to learn how to effectively market their services and communicate their value to people that they might do business with. Because if there aren’t prospective new clients coming through the door, eventually the practice simply won’t be a viable business anymore.
For most advisors struggling to grow, the natural solution is to cast an ever-wider net to try and attract anyone who might be willing to pay for advice. Unfortunately, though, such an approach makes it remarkably difficult to differentiate yourself… as when trying to market to everyone, it’s almost impossible to be differentiated for any of them. Instead, by focusing in on a specific and narrow target market, it becomes much easier to create and distribute very targeted marketing messages that resonate with your chosen niche.
Yet just saying that you serve a particular niche isn’t enough. To truly gain a deep understanding of the type of client you want to attract and figure out how to market to them effectively, Katie Godbout, the director of sales and marketing for Covisum, highlights in this guest post one of the most powerful tools any marketer can use to get very specific about who they’re targeting and how to reach them… the client persona.
The client persona is a detailed description of an ideal target client, which describes (among other things) their demographics, specific pain points and goals, where and how they spend their time and money, and (most importantly) how your services meet their specific needs. Which matters because, as Katie explains, by putting yourself in the shoes of these hypothetical clients you can determine if your messaging will really resonate with prospective clients, if the marketing channels you choose would actually reach them in the first place, and if the client experience you create will really foster the creation of a long-term relationship (so that you can effectively systematize and replicate that experience for other similar target clients as well).
Ultimately, by painting a crystal clear picture of an ideal client and targeting them accordingly, advisors will find that they come across prospects that aren’t a good match and might be better served by another advisor whose service offering meets their needs. But in a world where an advisor can create a wildly successful business by serving 50 (or fewer) of their ideal clients, getting very specific about the details and characteristics of the exact ideal client you want to serve will go a long way towards ensuring that when you do find one, your marketing messages resonate and attract him/her to actually become one of your ideal clients.
Are you the type of advisor who wants to get “as many clients as possible?” Or are you the type who wants to only attract and retain “the right clients?” If you’re the former, I’d like to try to persuade you to become the latter. It’s actually easier to market to the right prospective clients than to try to market to everyone.
It is important to any business to attract prospects, convert them into clients, retain them year after year, and delight them in such a way that they are out in the world singing your praises and referring contacts within their networks to become your newest prospects. If that’s not the case, how do we get there?
Years ago, I read, “If your content marketing is for everybody, it’s for no one.” This really resonated with me, and I began reiterating that phrase to my team.
If we took a look at how you are marketing to and communicating with prospects now, I’d guess that you share information about your business and the solutions you provide via numerous channels, possibly including an in-person presentation, newsletters, emails, social media or other ads, direct mail, video, phone calls, etc. with varying levels of success. If your messages resonated with your audience and aligned with your business goals, you probably found some success. If not, you likely found frustration instead.
The key to marketing financial services is resonance. If the messages you’re putting out aren’t relevant and don’t resonate with the prospective clients you’re trying to reach, they won’t work. And if you try to create a message that resonates with everybody, it won’t work because nothing is going to resonate with everyone at the same time. At best, your marketing messages will only reach some people, some of the time.
This means the first step to effectively marketing your practice for growth is to narrow your focus and pick which specific prospective clients you want to target. Then you can create marketing that resonates with those particular people. But you have to get really clear about what you offer, to whom you offer it, and the value you provide to them.
The Niched Advisor
This phenomenon of creating targeted resonance is why financial advisors who have identified a niche and actively work to attract and engage clients within their niche will be more successful at growth than advisors who dilute their marketing efforts – and their impact – by trying to reach a multitude of audiences at once.
In essence, it’s the difference in effectiveness between a laser focus, versus the “spray and pray” methodology. Research backs this up. The 2018 FA Insight Study recently published by TD Ameritrade Institutional shows that firms with a specific target market are achieving greater rates of growth and profitability than their peers — the median operating profit margin was 18% greater, and the median annual client growth was 35% greater.
Niche marketing is becoming an increasingly popular topic in the financial services industry. Many financial planners start out as insurance agents or stockbrokers who are in the business of selling a product, so sales skills are second nature. But before a sale can be made, you must first attract a prospect through marketing. And in this industry, marketing is often self-taught. As someone who has over 20 years of experience on both sides of this coin, I can tell you that self-taught, part-time marketing is never as effective as investing the time and resources to build and execute a full strategic marketing plan. Hiring a firm can help, but there are some things you need to know before tackling marketing on your own or reaching out to a marketing firm.
Communicating Your Niche
For starters, who are you trying to reach? Answer this question effectively, and you have one of the first building blocks for growth. Take a look at your website. Do you have an “about us” page? Does it say something like this?
Welcome to Godbout Financial Services, proudly founded by Katie Godbout in 2001. We serve individuals, families, business owners, endowments, foundations and institutions with a focus on college planning, planning for retirement, wealth management, wealth accumulation, employer benefits, business planning, and investment strategies.
Let me tell you, that is not a best practice. Imagine you are a prospective retiree who earned a healthy income over the years and managed to save enough to be considering retirement. You are in search of a financial advisor to help with your retirement planning. Would this paragraph really speak to you? Sure, “planning for retirement” is mentioned in the middle, as are families… but so are half a dozen other “typical” clients and common planning needs. You’d be just “one of the numbers.” This doesn’t exactly make a prospect want to pick up the phone or get in their car and invest their limited time listening to you tell them what to do with their money. It’s not even clear how much experience this advisor has with clients like you.
If your website is a version of that example, make it a priority to get more granular. How could you frame your solution so that the right prospective client can clearly see themselves in the description and think, “this is the perfect advisor for me!”?
Consider something like this instead:
Are you wondering if you have enough money saved up to retire? Or when you should start taking Social Security? Do you want to make the most of your retirement income?
Godbout Financial Services helps people who lived frugal upper-middle income lives, allowing them to accumulate enough wealth to be able to retire. We help you plan for and make the transition into retirement. We are a comprehensive financial planning office, focused on helping you get the most out of your money in retirement, as you did throughout your working years. Our team cares about our clients. We’ll take the time to get to know your goals and help you navigate your financial options to build a retirement strategy that works for you.
Again, picture yourself as a prospective client who’s been a diligent saver and is getting ready to retire. Can you recognize yourself in this paragraph? Does it resonate and “speak to you” more than the other?
This second example makes it clear that Godbout Financial Services provides retirement planning for mass-affluent clients who care about making the most of their retirement. If they really are a successful professional who has saved their way to an upper-middle-class retirement (which usually means a million-dollar nest egg), this second description is far more likely to make them think “Wow, this advisor really does know how to work with people just like me!”
The other important objective is to make it easy for those who are not your ideal client to opt out from continuing to research your firm. It will cost you more money and require more of your time and energy to attract and retain clients who are outside your area of expertise.
I fixed my website, now what?
Fixing one page on your website to more clearly explain who you are really “right” for is a good start but will hardly make a real difference in your business growth.
However, committing to a target clientele or niche, learning everything you can about that niche, and communicating with prospective clients with these messages through all of the channels they consume, can really move the needle on your business growth.
Gaining a deep understanding of your buyer is critical to building anything that relates to customer acquisition and retention, and you’ll use this information every time you make a business decision.
But how do you really make sure that everything you say on your website will resonate with the clientele you’re trying to reach? This is where a “client persona” becomes incredibly valuable.
Creating Ideal Client Personas
The basic idea of a client persona is to create a hypothetical profile of your ideal target client written with enough detail that you can use it to put yourself into the mindset of that prospective client and see if your marketing resonates with that person.
When creating client personas, consider including client demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, as well as goals and financial details. In fact, the more detailed you are, the better. The goal is to make these personas something that you can use when creating marketing messages (not to mention making business decisions about what new services to roll out to clients).
Start by writing a list of attributes about your ideal clients. For example:
- Live in and around the Dallas, Texas metropolitan area
- Late 50s, 60s, and early 70s
- Mostly married couples
- Some women – divorced or widowed
- Only a couple of singles
- Total household income ranges from $120,000 to $400,000
- Jobs: oil, industrial, engineering, health care
- Interests: family, traveling, fishing, golfing, running, gardening, cooking, volunteering
Turn that list into a made-up, ideal client. Write a short summary about your ideal client, considering some of the traits from your list. You want to nail down:
- Your value to your target audience
Here’s an example:
Carl Client is a soon-to-be-retired industrial engineer. His wife, Sofia, is a retired registered nurse. Carl has been working for an oil company for the last 25 years and has a large pension. Sofia watches their three grandchildren at their home in a Dallas suburb after school until dinnertime.
In the summers, Carl and Sofia spend time at their vacation home in Gulf Shores, Alabama, entertaining friends and family. They watch the local evening news on television, keep up with their children and grandchildren on Facebook, and subscribe to Time Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, and National Geographic magazine. Carl loves to read historical non-fiction books. Sofia tends a large vegetable and flower garden. They both enjoy swimming and hiking and get regular exercise.
Carl and Sofia work together to make financial decisions, but Carl has saved more over his lifetime because Sofia took time off when their children were born. They sought out a financial advisor to help plan when Carl should retire and see if they had enough money to continue to fund their annual summer trip for the kids and grandkids.
The significance of this detailed client persona is that now you can really begin to focus your marketing and messaging. Because the question is no longer simply, “Is this something a prospective client would like?” Instead, the question becomes, “Would this resonate with Carl and Sofia?”
For instance, saying you work with individuals and families, but also business owners and foundations and endowments, isn’t very compelling to Carl and Sofia, because they’re not (and don’t identify with) business owners, a foundation, or an endowment. And if you’re doing a marketing event, consider that a dinner seminar won’t be a good way to reach Carl and Sofia, because they’re watching the grandchildren in the early evening; instead, a social event during the day at a local botanical garden would be more likely to draw out Sofia. Similarly, given how important family clearly is to Carl and Sofia – both because they are part-time caretakers for their grandchildren and because taking continued family trips are so important to them – your marketing messages might focus on the importance of making sure you have enough in retirement to support yourself, but also the family you want to spend more time with.
Simply put, figuring out exactly what kinds of marketing events, messages, and communication channels you should use suddenly gets a lot easier when you have a very specific client persona.
Financial Planner’s Guide to Client Persona Development
Are you ready to get started creating your own client persona to better refine your advisor marketing and messaging to prospects?
Use the checklist below to outline everything you know (and would potentially want to connect with) about your target audience. Remember, this shouldn’t just be a description of a client; it should look like your ideal client. Because by definition, that is who you will expect to connect most directly with your new marketing. So, be certain you’ll attract who you want to attract. Who do you want to make up most of your business?
It’s also important to recognize that while you are creating a client persona, targeting based solely on wealth or potential AUM doesn’t cut it. Sure, those may be relevant criteria to include to ensure that your client persona is someone who could actually work with you and afford your services. But it’s not distinct enough to create marketing messages that resonate; prospective clients want to be understood and feel heard for who they are, not the number of zeros on their balance sheet.
Accordingly, relevant client persona details include:
- Marital status
- Educational background
- What industry are/were they in?
- Job title/role (current or former)
- What are their media and social behaviors and consumption?
- What kind of content do they read, and what specific blogs or publications?
- Are they members of Facebook groups? Do they subscribe to magazines or newspapers? Which ones?
- What kind of activities do they enjoy? Do they do yoga, run, fish, boat…?
- Do they have a dog? Or a cat?
- Are they involved in their church?
- Do they volunteer or donate to any causes? Which ones?
- What does a typical day look like?
- Are they an individual decision-maker, or a couple where you need buy-in from the spouse, too?
- What motivates them?
- What are their pain points?
- What traits do they value in a financial planner?
- What expectations do they have of their engagement with a financial planner?
- What are their personal goals?
- What are their professional goals?
- What are their retirement goals?
- What are their biggest challenges?
- How do your products and services fulfill those needs?
- What are their barriers to using your products or services?
Use these questions to create a client persona, so it’s easier to find the right marketing and messaging to attract your ideal clients. If you were able to attract the kind of clients you wanted to add to your book of business, how would their answers differ from those with whom you are currently working?
If you (hopefully) have at least a few clients who fit your ideal client profile, dig in deeper and spend time asking them these questions and gathering real quotes from existing clients (who otherwise fit the profile) to help you figure out what the right words are to describe and communicate with them. Similarly, pay fresh attention to what new prospects say to you when they walk in your door. Why do they need your help? What do they say after you’ve provided them with financial advice?
Put the answers to all of these questions in a document with real quotes from your clients. Your client persona document will help guide you or your marketing firm in how you communicate with your audience moving forward.
Take a good look at your service model
If only it were that easy. Fill out a checklist and the prospects come rolling in – amazing, right? Not quite.
Now that you’ve invested the time in documenting who your ideal client is, and committed to serving a specific niche (in our example, we’re serving upper-middle-class affluent savers heading into their retirement transition and then beyond), it’s important to take a critical look at your service offering before you begin to build a marketing strategy.
Audit your processes and answer these questions about your business:
- Do your client acquisition, on-boarding and retention processes optimize the client experience for Carl and Sofia (or whoever your client persona is)?
- Does their experience actually answer the questions that drove them to seek your advice in the first place, and demonstrate the benefits your expertise has on your clients’ finances in an impactful way?
- Are you providing more value than they were looking for?
- Is your process systematic and repeatable for this ideal client persona?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you’ve got some more work to do. Make sure that the services you offer align with those that your ideal clients are seeking, filtered through the lens of your ideal client persona.
If your clients ask questions, and you are only able to partially answer them, or if they request services that you don’t provide, but could, you should consider the impact of adding that to your service model. Often, it’s not effective to do so for “one-off” client situations. The whole point of creating a clear client persona is that if a new service is relevant for Carl and Sofia, then it will be relevant for all your future clients – since that’s who you’re targeting – which makes it a far more cost-effective business decision to invest into!
Alternatively, the reality is that there are services you really can’t provide (like getting out of the market just in time to avoid a crash and back in right after each crash is over). If so, prepare content around why you don’t offer that service – in this case, it’s because those processes don’t exist – and explain the best option you can provide to help your client meet their goals. Frame your explanation in a way that will connect to your target client persona.
Leveraging Your Target Client Persona – I did the work, now what?
You’ve written out a client persona detailing exactly who your ideal client is. You know what your ideal client wants. You know if you need to make changes to your service model to attract and retain your ideal client. Now, you are a niched advisor with a clear target client persona and you are prepared to attract, retain, and delight your target clients.
Which means you are ready to get started with a marketing and communication strategy. Your strategy could then include any combination of these elements:
- Broadcast advertising
- Direct mail
- Educational events/seminars
- Email marketing
- Outdoor advertising
- Public relations/media relations
- Print advertising
- Social media
How are you going to reach your ideal clients, now that you know exactly who they are?
The starting point is to look back at the work you did on client persona development. You have an outline of what media they consume, what social networks they do (and don’t) use, and what publications they read. You know what activities they are involved in and where they spend their free time.
If you want these people to know who you are, you need to be where they are and be seen in the places they’re looking. You need to commit to helping them achieve their goals, listen to their needs, provide insight they didn’t expect, and delight them in such a way that they become your most credible lead generation medium.
But what are some tactical things you can do now to get started? Let’s consider our example above with Carl and Sofia.
- Your clients watch the evening news
- They keep up with family on Facebook
- They read print magazines
Public Relations and Media Relations
If Carl and Sofia watch the evening news, it may prove effective to include public relations in your marketing strategy.
Look into whether your local news channel features outside guest experts. See if there’s an opportunity to be a guest on the station’s morning talk show. Consider sponsoring one of the station’s philanthropic drives with your business name. Think about how you can use your business to be of value to the local news media and get your name and website in front of Carl and Sofia.
If Carl and Sofia are on Facebook, you need to be there too.
Make sure your business has a presence on Facebook. Then create sponsored posts that have messages that will connect with people like Carl and Sofia. Use Facebook to invite people to your educational seminars at the local botanical garden. Post helpful content that positions you as the expert retirement planner that your ideal client needs and provide free, downloadable assets that help build your credibility and keep you top-of-mind. Record and share videos of you sharing the expertise that your clients are looking for. Share articles about great activities to do with grandchildren as well. It’s relevant for Carl and Sofia and shows that you understand their real concerns (which aren’t all financial).
Carl and Sofia read print magazines. Which means they pay attention to what comes in the mail for them. So, it may pay to get yourself into their mailbox, too.
Consider creating a longer, magazine-like publication, and mailing it to your prospects like Carl and Sofia. Given that they like to read print magazines with content that is relevant to them, there is a high likelihood they’ll actually read what you send them if the quality is good.
When a prospect is in the decision stage, a high-quality, printed booklet could be impactful as well. Consider high-gloss, heavy weight paper, in full color (because those are the kinds of high-quality print magazines Carl and Sofia are accustomed to). Include pictures of things that make your client dream of their own retirement. Explain your process and the benefits your clients can expect. Include a clear and strong call to action to set an appointment. Call and/or email to follow up with anyone you invested in sending this piece to. In this day and age, direct mail is only a small part of a successful communication strategy – if it’s included at all. But if your client persona is Carl and Sofia who still read print magazines, it should work for them. Which is the whole point of detailing their client persona in the first place; so, you “know” what should work to reach them.
These three communication efforts are specifically targeted to our example of Carl and Sofia. Not every firm will benefit from doing exactly these things. But hopefully, you can see how creating a client persona and thinking in terms of that specific person or couple will impact your business decisions and marketing strategy. Because you can always be asking, “Is this something that would resonate with Carl and Sofia?”
Once you’ve defined exactly who you are trying to talk to, you’ll be amazed to find how much easier it is to figure out what you should say, how you should say it, and where you should be saying it. Customize all of this for your niche, based on your client persona.
Similarly, think about who your client persona is and who you are trying to talk to, and then re-read, and possibly revise, every page of your website, all of the materials you hand to your clients and prospects, and any of the advertising you do.
Imagine Carl and Sofia are sitting across from you as you create your social media posts, as you write your talking points for your seminars, as you prepare your video scripts. When you decide how much money to invest in your marketing efforts, think about the places that you can advertise that will be most visible to your ideal client.
Some Tough Love – You CAN’T Be Everything To Everyone
Pretending that everyone can benefit from your financial planning services is not only untrue, but it would also be exhausting (financially and personally) to try to keep up with.
Be honest with yourself about who you are best suited to help with their financial planning and invest your time and money in making it abundantly clear to those prospects that you can help them. Because otherwise, by trying to sound like you can do anything for everyone (even if they wouldn’t actually be a great client for you), you reduce the likelihood of convincing the prospects you would want to work with because it’s not clear that you’re really for them.
For some, it may feel like making a client persona, with the level of detail shown in the example of Carl and Sofia, might be too specific. But the truth is, most advisors can be wildly successful with fewer than 50 of their ideal clients. I explain it like this: I’d rather have 20 of the perfect clients, than 200 who aren’t a good fit.
Think about it. How much money, time, and energy are you wasting on a bad fit? Being very specific still leaves more than enough room to find enough of the right clients to build a successful financial planning practice. In this case, spending time being specific means you are being strategic, relevant and resonant. This combination makes you far more likely to be successful.
So, here's what you need to do to move forward:
- Schedule time to work on your business
- Work through the client persona building process, and name them at the end
- Audit your service model and update it based on the people you describe in your client persona
- Build a communication strategy that would connect with your client persona
- Speak to your clients in the places where they are, using your client persona as your guide
- Make sure to provide value by solving the challenges for which that specific client persona seeks financial advice
Invest your time in your business, focus your efforts, and be strategic about communicating your message, and you can grow your practice. It might feel like hard work up front, but building a quality foundation creates a sustainable, scalable model and sets you up for success. All of which is easier when you can talk – by name – about the specific client persona you’re trying to reach in the first place!