My guest on today’s podcast is Maribeth Kuzmeski. Maribeth is the founder of Red Zone Marketing, a marketing consulting firm with a focus on independent financial advisors that are looking to implement actionable marketing strategies. What’s unique about Maribeth though, is the particular research-based, evidence-based focus she takes to financial advisor marketing, and the principle that marketing success doesn’t have to be about doing something completely innovative and new and never seen before, but simply looking at what already works in the world of financial advisors and just adapting what is necessary to the specifics of your own business, so you can get started and getting results more quickly.
In this episode, we talk in depth about what Maribeth’s research shows that financial advisors are actually doing now, in the midst of the ongoing pandemic environment, to adapt their marketing to a virtual and digital world. From conducting hyper-targeted email marketing campaigns to using third-party email services, and suggesting some of the providers so that advisors are actually using to do it successfully, to conducting virtual educational events with webinars and how to adapt your presentations to get better marketing results when you’re delivering in a virtual format, to the rise of virtual client appreciation events, that are less about conducting a celebratory event for clients and more about simply creating meaningful social opportunities in a pandemic environment where we’ve all been closed off from each other. Whether it’s virtual cooking events, virtual team meetup, or for one advisor, weekly virtual Bingo for their clients and prospects.
We also talk about how the pandemic has changed the nature of generating referrals in a world of virtual meetings. Why it’s so crucial to turn the video on and ensure that virtual meetings are still face-to-face with tips on how to get reluctant clients, who in the past have preferred phone calls, to actually start meeting with you via video. How video meetings make it possible to connect with clients more frequently in smaller bites in a way that can actually help keep the advisor more top-of-mind for referral opportunities, and how to get opportunities to meet with prospects virtually by offering second opinion meetings to encourage them to meet with you for the first time.
Be certain to listen to the end where Maribeth shares her own journey of finding financial advisors as her niche as a marketing consultant, the way her first financial advisor client grew his business from 10 million to 200 million of AUM in just five years by focusing on a niche of his own, and how, in the end, many of the most successful niches for marketing purposes don’t come about by trying to mastermind the ideal perfect niche upfront, but instead by simply finding a segment of clients you’re already having some success with and going deeper and deeper and deeper until you look back and realize that what you’ve created is far more specialized and differentiated than you ever realized it could be.
So whether you’re interested in learning what other financial advisors are doing to adapt to the pandemic, how to adapt your virtual presentations to get better marketing results, or why video calls are crucial to making the face-to-face connection with clients and prospects alike, then we hope you enjoy this episode of the Financial Advisor Success podcast.
What You’ll Learn In This Podcast Episode
- How Maribeth Created Her Red Zone Marketing Brand [06:07]
- What Marketing Looks Like In The New Normal And The Strategies That Are Currently Working For Advisors [11:19]
- How Face-To-Face Virtual Client Meetings Compare To In-Person Face-To-Face Meetings And How To Encourage Clients To Make The Switch To Video Calls [21:21]
- Maribeth’s Tips For Improving Virtual Client Meetings [30:48]
- How To Successfully Ask For Referrals In Today’s Pandemic Environment [39:22]
- The Most Successful Email Campaigns That Advisors Are Running Right Now And How To Build Your Email Lists [45:48]
- How Put On Virtual Educational Seminars That Get Results [55:31]
- How To Hold A Virtual Client Appreciation Event [01:06:19]
- Maribeth’s History And How She Got Started Working With Financial Advisors [01:22:43]
- What Red Zone Marketing Looks Like Today And The Services That They Offer [01:33:04]
- What Advisory Firms May Not Understand About Marketing [01:37:35]
- The Low Point For Maribeth On Her Journey And The Marketing Advice She Would Give New Advisors [01:41:38]
- How Maribeth Defines Success For Herself [01:45:57]
Resources Featured In This Episode:
- Maribeth Kuzmeski
- Red Zone Marketing
- The Connectors
- …And The Clients Went Wild
- 85 Million Dollar Tips for Financial Advisors – Updated for 2020
- Data Axle USA
- Snappy Kraken
- Lead Pilot
- Leading Response
- White Glove Marketing
- Trivia Hub Live
- Bingo Maker
- Constant Contact
Michael: Welcome Maribeth Kuzmeski to the “Financial Advisor Success Podcast.”
Maribeth: Well, thank you. I’m happy to be here.
Michael: I’m really excited about today’s podcast because I feel like we share a unique affinity in the financial advisor world, which is marketing by color. As many folks who are listening to the podcast know, we kind of have a blue thing going on with Nerd’s Eye View and “Financial Advisor Success Podcast,” the blue shirt, the blue brand on the website, the little blue nerd icon. I know you run a marketing consulting business called Red Zone Marketing with a wonderfully strong red theme to the brand. I know we have shared the podium at conferences where I am in blue and you are in red. You had a full red dress on. I know we have both lived the interesting fun that comes from even just using color with stubborn consistency for a decade or two at a time as it produces a wonderful branding effect. Our color of choice happened to be blue and your color of choice happened to be red. Looking forward to the discussion today overall. I know we also share a viewpoint around the value of marketing – of marketing your business – of finding ways to focus your business with marketing through niches and other ways to specialize and differentiate, which I feel like starts with having a strong brand color that you own and lean into. Just really looking forward to the discussion today, talking about marketing and branding and colors and niches and specializations.
Maribeth: Yes, I’m excited about it too and when I first started my company, I heard somebody say, “If the name of your company is Red Zone Marketing, you actually have to wear red.” I’m like, “Yeah, but I don’t like red.” If you’ve named your company Red Zone Marketing, you’ve not given yourself any choice. Hence, red.
Michael: Oh, interesting. That wasn’t necessarily a preference for you? Because I’ll admit from our end, I only fell in the blue shirt thing because I think subconsciously I had a blue shirt; I liked it. It was the one I tended to pull off the hanger when I was going to travel at conferences. Then, people teased me because they only saw me at conferences, and I always had the blue shirt on, so I decided to just step in and own it. Yours comes from the other end. You didn’t actually pick red because you liked the color red. You picked a business and then got stuck with the color because the color was the name of the business?
Maribeth: That’s exactly right. Red Zone Marketing is a takeoff of an analogy to football, so I liked that, and then all of a sudden I had to have an entire part of my closet that is filled with red wardrobe.
How Maribeth Created Her Red Zone Marketing Brand [06:07]
Maribeth: Right. Red Zone in football is the final 20 yards before you score, and I was raised by a grandmother who – I was her firstborn grandchild – and she loved me because I was her firstborn grandchild and football. I spent enormous amounts of time with my grandmother, and she would school me on the rules and the positions and the players and everything about football, and I loved it because I loved her. When I started my company, I thought, “In the spirit of my grandmother, I want to have this connection to that football that I love so much, but not about the entire game of football. About where it really matters.” Because I think there’s a connection to marketing. Sending our direct mail and getting a 0.25% response rate is not Red Zone Marketing. Doing something today that’s going to produce a client tomorrow is Red Zone Marketing, and there are lots more strategies that are more immediate, and immediate-gratification-focused, and that’s what we do at Red Zone Marketing. There’s a whole theme behind it, but it all started with my grandmother.
Michael: Interesting. I like how you frame that. The idea of Red Zone Marketing and the kind of marketing focus you like to look at is not necessarily the, let’s talk about your 10-year marketing strategy with brand evolution. Yes, that stuff matters and has a place but you’re living in the world of, as you put it, of the red zone of, okay, if we’re just a couple of yards from the end zone, what do we need to do move the ball forward from here to get to an endpoint. What can we do in marketing that moves the needle today and tomorrow, not necessarily what puts us on a strategic marketing path for 10 years from now? And hey, we’ll get some results when we get some results.
Maribeth: Right. There’s a lot of good to be said about long-term strategic plans, but in marketing especially, things move so quickly. I wrote a book 15 years ago; I had to take it out of publication because there’s nothing correct in there anymore related to what we would do today in marketing, which is i.e. there’s no social media in that book. You can’t have a book on marketing without having social media in there. Everything changes so quickly. I think that that theme also works in just about any industry that’s using marketing regularly because it’s got to work today and the things that work today might not be what work yesterday.
Michael: I think that’s probably all the more apropos in the pandemic environment that we’re living in right now, where – very directly – a lot of marketing strategies we used a lot not so long ago just don’t work and got broken, or at best, have to be materially reinvented. In a pandemic environment, we’re just – networking events and client appreciation events and seminar marketing, and a lot of those staples of the financial advisor marketing world either don’t work now or at least have to be substantially reinvented in a very different way. Yes, we can take a seminar marketing strategy and try to turn it into a webinar marketing strategy for the basic strategy level, but the actual way you implement and do that is pretty much completely different in every step of the process. Except maybe the presentation itself, that might still be the same presentation.
Maribeth: Yeah. That’s exactly right, and that’s what we’ve spent the last six months doing, is figuring out what will work, what does work, and just continuing to look at that over and over again because it is so much different from it was just a little while ago. I was talking to a friend of mine recently, we were talking about the beginning of the year and I’m like, “Man, it seems like 10 years ago. January and February of this year seems like 10 years ago,” because so many things have changed in everyone’s lives, but it’s really changed in marketing and especially for marketing for financial advisors.
Michael: Talk to us about that a little bit more. Let’s just dive into that discussion. I think it’s top-of-mind for most of us these days. I feel like this went in phases. Phase one was March, April, May, and markets were going crazy volatile, there was so much uncertainty in the environment. I feel like for most of us, it was really just an ‘all hands on deck’, keep clients on board, make sure no one’s doing any bad panic selling. Just survive and get through. Then, we got into the summer which I think for a lot of us is a little bit of a lull anyways, business tends to slow down, a lot of people, at least used to be on vacations but we didn’t tend to have as intense of meetings. It wasn’t always an intensive business development time. Then, just over the past two or three months, we got into the fall. This thing’s clearly still hanging around for a while because in March it was supposed to be gone by September. Now it’s September, it’s clearly still here. I can tell because my kids are doing school in the kitchen downstairs. And now we’re into, “Okay, this is here for a while. I’m not getting back to my old marketing strategies any time soon. I got to figure out how our growth is going to come from because I still got to get some level of growth to move forward. Oh jeez, I guess now is the time to really start thinking about completely reinventing my marketing.”
What Marketing Looks Like In The New Normal And The Strategies That Are Currently Working For Advisors [11:19]
Maribeth: Yes. I think that the first initial thought was this is going to go away, and I’m going to be able to go back to normal, so I’m not going to do anything right now. Not going to make any really quick changes right now. But, by the time we got to May at Red Zone Marketing, we did a survey of financial advisors. We wanted to know, “Hey, are you going back to the office? Are you not going to the office? Are you meeting with clients? What are you doing with your marketing and what’s actually working, and are you getting support from your broker/dealer? Are you getting support from your firm of affiliation? Are you getting support from your wholesalers?” We wanted to know all those questions, and in May we did the survey, and it was, “Hey, we’re going to be back in the office pretty soon. If we’re not in the office now, we’re going to be back in the office pretty soon.” Then, we did the survey in June, then we saw, okay, maybe it’s not what we thought it was going to be and maybe we have to start getting into…and we saw more and more marketing strategies that were coming about that we were collecting in the survey that were actually working for advisors. Then, we did the survey in September and that’s when we really started to figure out if you’re bringing on new clients exactly how are you doing it, what are the strategies. Then, we dug deeper into it and did some qualitative research too to find out, “Okay, if you’re doing virtual educational seminars, what are you doing? What’s the topic? Who are you using? How is that working?” Because we wanted to make sure we weren’t just looking at our own clients that are financial advisors but looking across the industry.
In the very beginning, I think advisors just thought that this was just going to go away. Hardly any advisors had any kind of plan for returning to the office and then they realized, “Okay, we probably need a plan. We probably need a plan to announce to our clients, because if they’re going to come back in, they’re going to want to know about safety.” All of these things happen but the most interesting thing for me, of course, in doing this survey was what are the marketing strategies that are working right now. I’m also interested in what are the strategies that you’re using, but I’m much more interested in what’s actually producing new clients and those are actually, there are different answers to those. But we found some really interesting things, and it has not been easy for financial advisors. That is for sure. When you’re used to meeting with your clients face-to-face and getting referrals because you have all that face-to-face time with them and they love you, it’s just not happening in exactly the same way.
Michael: Can you just share some with us? What are you finding in your research? What are advisors doing that is actually working for marketing and growth in this environment where a lot of the old stuff seems to not work, or certainly not work the way that we used to do it?
Maribeth: Right. There are four main…if we look at the top four things that advisors are doing right now that are actually bringing on new clients, it’s, as expected, referrals without asking, because we wanted to separate are you asking for referrals, or are you getting them just because you’re doing a good job? Referrals without asking has always been at the top of the list, still is. Asking specific strategies for asking for referrals from clients and strategic alliances is number two, followed very closely by email campaigns. Specific email campaigns to clients and prospects, and then virtual educational seminars are something brand new and rounding up number four.
There’s a whole bunch of other strategies that are producing new clients, but those are the – if we segment off from the whole population of the advisors that we surveyed – when we segment off at the advisors who are bringing in more new clients than others, they are doing not only the virtual educational seminars but also virtual client appreciation events. They are doing Facebook prospecting, social media advertising, LinkedIn prospecting, Google AdWords. All the things that a lot of advisors will say, “I’m not sure all that digital marketing is really going to work.” But this content marketing and digital marketing is starting to have success, and I think the reason that it’s starting to have more success and bring in more clients is because advisors are doing it more. I think the more we do it, the more we’re going to find out that that’s actually going to bring on new clients. We don’t have as many restrictions with social media that prevent us from doing these things. I think part of it is we think we have all these restrictions, and depending on what firm you’re at, you probably have some restrictions. But, it’s very possible, and it’s really starting to work in terms of bringing on new clients. We’re seeing that, but the virtual education seminars and the virtual client appreciation events are really an interesting topic because that’s something that no one really, for the most part, had done before. Now, there are all sorts of evidence that it’s actually working to number one, get more referrals, and number two, get more clients. That’s all good.
Michael: Help me understand a little bit further how each of these buckets are being done. I want to start with – we’ll call it the more traditional ones first. As you noted, number one for growth was just getting the referrals you don’t even ask for. They just come because you’re doing a good job and certain clients refer you for that stuff. Bless their souls. We did an advisor marketing study earlier this year as well, and we were actually polling – we were mostly surveying advisors into last year so we’ll call it pre-pandemic surveying. But similarly found from our research, the raw numbers are pretty straightforward. Client referrals are just still an absolutely phenomenally efficient strategy if only because it’s a very relationship-based strategy which is actually time intensive. But you had to do that just to keep the client, anyway. At the margin, the only work is essentially, “Hey, I’m sending Jim your way. Can you take the call?” Yeah, we’ll take that call. It just doesn’t take much work at the margin to field inbound referrals. They just show up with new revenue. We’ve seen that as well. Is there anything specific that you’re seeing or finding in the pandemic environment, in the current environment, about why some advisors seem to have a lot of success getting referrals without even asking, and others I feel like: I’m doing good work. Ain’t no rain falling from the sky for me.
Michael: Is there something that defines or delineates that you’re able to tell who’s actually getting referrals without even asking, and what differentiates them from the rest?
Maribeth: Yeah. From the research, we drew the conclusion that the advisors in general are communicating more with their clients this year than they did last year, and for a variety of different reasons they’re doing that. But, the advisors who are having different kinds of communication like Zoom or Webex with the face-to-face, and they’re getting that face-to-face meeting down with their clients, are finding that it’s a much better connection for the referrals and for the other things than just having that regular phone call in the midst of…I don’t know that there’s ever been a time when financial advisors were needed more than they’re needed now because there’s so much uncertainty and people are like, “Should I retire? What should I do? Do I have enough money? I don’t want to lose any money.” Advisors have been communicating a lot. The level to which you communicate, though, makes an actual difference related to referrals. Now, not every single client is going to refer you, but your best clients, the more you have a connection with them and meet face-to-face – meaning face-to-face video – the better off you’re going to be in terms of gathering those referrals. It actually really matters. Some advisors don’t feel comfortable.
Michael: That means not just sending out, I guess, mass emails to clients or even individual email updates to clients, but specifically the, “Hey, Jim, it would be great to check in with you. Can we hop onto a Zoom call next week at 2:00 for a little while? I just want to connect with you and see how it’s going, if there’s anything we can do to help.”
Maribeth: That is it exactly. And especially when the market goes down. Maybe it goes down one day, then it goes down another day, and then now the clients – maybe they’re not calling but maybe you know, “I should reach out to them, we should just connect.” Even just for 15 minutes, making that appointment to have that face-to-face. Because if I see your face, and you’re looking like you’re pretty confident in what’s happening here, I’m going to be more confident as the investor. It makes a big difference. That somehow getting that face-to-face feeling makes a big difference. We knew that that was the truth back when – how many times are you meeting face-to-face with your clients to do a client review or whatever that might be? And the advisors that are meeting one time a year face-to-face were having some – not all cases, it’s not a total generalization – but were having less success than those that had more connection with their clients. That connection could be through client appreciation events and other things that are happening, that how do you get that feeling and get them thinking about you so that they go out and refer you to others. It does matter.
Michael: I feel like there are a lot of advisors that…I was going to say argue. Maybe argue’s not the right word, but would make the case that it’s just not the same doing it virtually. It’s not the same face-to-face connection virtually than it was in person or will be again at some point whenever we’re allowed to get back together in person. Would your response be, are we underestimating how good the face-to-face actually is in virtual, or is it just, yeah, it’s lesser but hey, we can’t do anything else anyway so it’s still better than nothing? How do we compare face-to-face virtual versus face-to-face person and in person?
How Face-To-Face Virtual Client Meetings Compare To In-Person Face-To-Face Meetings And How To Encourage Clients To Make The Switch To Video Calls [21:21]
Maribeth: Face-to-face in person, there’s nothing that beats that because you get the non-verbal communication, you get all of the things that happen when you’re face-to-face. When you’re doing a virtual meeting, the meetings are typically much shorter, they’re more concise. There’s a whole bunch of differences, and we’ve done a bunch of research on that too. What actually makes a good virtual prospect meeting or a good virtual client meeting. But here’s the thing. Having a phone call with the client or having a Zoom call with a client, which is going to help you be more connected? It’s going to be the Zoom call. It’s not the best, but it’s better than the regular phone call, and it’s certainly better than the bulk emails that go out saying, “This is what the market’s doing this week”. It is better than anything else that we can do in the midst of a pandemic. It’s that face-to-face meeting, but it’s also some of the fun things that advisors are doing with virtual client appreciation events and things like that. But if you’re comparing face-to-face with virtual, face-to-face is always better, but that virtual video meeting is better than a phone call. You’ve got levels, and we’ve added a level because most advisors didn’t do Zoom calls with their clients. They would do a phone call, maybe a phone review, and then they would do a face-to-face review. The Zoom is much more connected than just the regular phone call.
Michael: How do I handle that for my clients that aren’t cooperating with video in the first place? Sometimes it’s us where you’re like, I’m not so comfortable with Zoom and this video and I’d rather just call my clients, but sometimes it’s the client. “Hey, Bob, I’d love to catch up with you on a Zoom call.” “Sure, call me at my phone number.” Actually, I was kind of asking for a Zoom call, but sure I’ll phone call, call you instead, I guess. Do we just have to meet clients where they are? Push for them to meet with you by video but if they don’t, take the phone call because it’s still better than nothing?
Maribeth: Yes, and also I know advisors who have had some pushback from their clients, like, “Can’t we just do a call?” “Well, I’d like to share my, screen and I’d like to talk about what’s actually happening right now. I want to show you some graphs. I want to show you your own accounts. I want to go through this with you.” Sometimes it starts with the shared screen and then moves into video. But you have to have a reason, and that’s a really good reason. I just want to show you some stuff.
Michael: I like that. It’s not like, “I just want to see your smiling face. Can we turn on the video?” We don’t have to go that route. “I want to screenshare some things about what’s going on in your accounts or what’s going on with your financial plan. Just would be easier to share that information if I could turn it on for a screenshare. Would it be okay if we did this via Zoom just so I can share more information with you and make it a more productive conversation?”
Michael: It’s hard to say no to that.
Maribeth: Right, because it makes sense. “Oh, yeah, I want to see what’s going on with my financial plan or my accounts. Okay, that sounds good.” It’s also Zoom – now some advisors can’t use Zoom, but for the most part, Zoom is super easy. My parents are almost in their 80s and they’re able to get on with no problem to Zoom. I’m telling you, sometimes the iPad doesn’t work very well, but they have no problem getting on Zoom on their computer. I think there are fewer excuses from the clients. I think it’s more of what you said before. I don’t know this for a fact because we didn’t survey on this, but it’s easier for the advisor just to hop on the phone. If I’ve got to figure out what’s going on in my background, and I’ve got to maybe have some things to share via screenshot and things like that, then I have to be more prepared. It’s easier just to do a phone call. It’s not that a phone call is not good, it’s just that there are levels.
Michael: One of the interesting points that I think comes up as well, as you noted, virtual meetings tend to be a little bit shorter, a little bit more concise, just the conversations don’t run as long. I found this even when we were starting to do more virtual meetings with some clients 8, 10 years ago, in the early 2010s, when just Zoom and GoToMeeting and the rest were getting pretty functional, that the meetings just tend to be shorter, they tend to wrap up more quickly. On the one end, that feels like less connection with the client; we don’t chit chat as much. We don’t get quite as much into things as we do when they’re in the office. But the flip side is, it means you can check in more. You just do it more often. One of the things that has long struck me about this shift, we still only have so many hours through the year that we can spend per client or connect with each client, but if you just envision a world where instead of having one or two meetings that are an hour or two each, you quarterly check-ins that are 20 or 30 minutes each. It may still be the same amount of total meeting time for the year that you’re going back and forth with clients, but I can pretty much guarantee you that if you’re talking to your clients four to six times a year, you’re going to end up having a better connection to them than if you only talked to them once or twice a year.
Maribeth: Yeah. Absolutely.
Michael: To see just literally stay more connected and involved in their lives and what’s going on and have more opportunities to give advice for literally communicating, interacting with them more often. To me, that’s one of the cool opportunities that comes from a shift to digital communication. Yeah, it may still be nice to get to at least one lengthier, in-person meeting per year when we can do that again, but just if this gets us to a world where clients we talk to once a year or two to three times a year, and clients we used to talk to twice a year, four to six times a year, and clients who we used to talk to quarterly and I’ll get monthly check-ins, because those are basically all the same time, just broken up into smaller bites. Higher frequency with smaller bites to maintain a more continuous connection, I’d bet my money on that for depth of connection and ultimately the number of referrals that you get from that. I’d bet on that without hesitation.
Maribeth: Absolutely, but there’s another thing too. In some of the large, urban areas, clients didn’t want to come to the office because it would take forever to drive through LA or San Francisco or…
Michael: Yeah. We’re in the D.C. area here. Our traffic is awful. The joke is, the meeting has to be more than 30 minutes because that’s how long it takes for the road rage to wear off, just so you can calm down from the frustration of having been in D.C. traffic and actually focus on whatever it is you were meeting for.
Maribeth: Yes. I used to live there, and I do recall… I do recall very much. That’s another positive is clients didn’t want to come to a client appreciation event. Clients didn’t want to come in for a meeting. Can’t we just do it over the phone? There’s a better way to do it now. This way has been available, but a lot of advisors just didn’t do that, and now they’ve got the opportunity to establish better connections with some of their clients, especially like I say, in those urban areas. By the way, our studies have shown that the urban areas are going to go back to the office full-time the last. Rural areas are going back already, and suburban areas going back to the office already, but the urban areas, they’re like, it’s not going to be until next year some time. It’s just a way to connect, and I think that it’s something that advisors should take advantage of. But, we also know from our study that it’s not necessarily easy for advisors, and one of the things that we found when we did the study in May and when we did the study in June, we saw that advisors were increasing their confidence in doing virtual prospecting meetings, specifically virtual prospecting meetings. As more and more advisors started doing virtual prospect meetings, we actually saw in September that their confidence was going down as to how those prospect meetings were actually, like, “Can I actually make this successful?” The more they were doing it, the more they were saying, “Wait a minute,” because you do it once and you go, “That didn’t go very well.”
Michael: Then you do it 10 times and it’s like, “All right, maybe I’m actually not very good at this.”
Maribeth: That could be in some cases, but I think it’s just getting it down, it’s just figuring it out. The first time you did a face-to-face meeting with a client, it probably wasn’t that easy either. Now, you’re just doing these meetings differently, and it just requires practice. What am I supposed to look at on the screen What’s behind me? How do I share things? Just getting it down takes a few tries, but we realize that advisors were losing their confidence in this particular area as they did more. I think that if we do the survey again, we’ll see that the confidence will go up, but that was something that actually surprised me because I thought that it would just continue to go up and up and up and it has not.
Michael: You noticed while there are dynamics of, I guess, what you’re finding that makes a particularly good virtual prospect or virtual client meeting. What does it look like when this actually goes well? What are you finding that’s more unique or more specific about what actually makes a good virtual client or virtual prospect meeting versus what the rest of us are doing that maybe is more difficult or struggling?
Maribeth’s Tips For Improving Virtual Client Meetings [30:48]
Maribeth: In our research on this, we talked to a lot of different advisors about what are you doing and how is it working? Again, digging deeper to figure out, okay, how is this really working or not working for you? We actually – I just recently wrote a whole whitepaper on virtual prospecting – what are the strategies for closing more meetings? And the number one thing that we found was that you need to prepare differently for a virtual meeting. That’s the first mistake that you make if you don’t have that preparation. And preparation is everything from maybe a different kind of an agenda.
Michael: What’s different in practice? What actually is changing in virtual meetings from what we may have done in person?
Maribeth: One thing is there just needs to be more prep, with number one being setting the expectations for the prospect or the client. What’s going to happen, how long is this going to take, what is this going to be, because they have not done it either, right? Scheduling tools have really helped to get this down to, like Calendly or whatever that is. But, having an agenda and sharing the agenda prior to the meeting has also been – people don’t know what they’re going into. They feel as uncomfortable perhaps as the advisor does, right?
Then, preparing for a shorter meeting. When we looked at how short should the meeting be, it’s probably three-quarters to half the length of a normal in-person meeting. If you’re usually meeting for an hour, it’s just going to be less than that because people have less attention span. It’s just not as comfortable sitting back in a chair and drinking a cup of coffee while talking to somebody. It’s totally different when you’re just staring into the computer screen. The other thing is creating visuals, and the thing that we found is that you actually need more visuals when you’re doing a virtual meeting than if you’re just doing a regular meeting because you want to keep people’s attention. What’s the purpose of this meeting? It depends if you’re meeting with a prospect or a client, but having all of those things laid out in 5 to 10 slides or whatever it might be, that you’re going to go over, but having those visuals created in advance is something that you need to do.
Finally, it’s practicing – practicing, doing a run-through, a mock meeting where you test out the technology, like I did this morning with Jim in your office, right? We tested this out to make sure that it’s working and to figure all of that stuff out. But, testing it out to see, okay, what did I look like when I was going through those slides? Or how quickly was I doing that? Or what is my background? What is that thing back there? I got to move that. It’s all of those things that are really important to prepare for that really good meeting, and that’s different. It’s a different level of preparation. I know advisors prepare a lot for their client review meetings and things like that, but it’s just a little different when you’ve got to present it all on the screen.
Michael: I think it’s an interesting framing of bringing more prep materials with you, and part of me then is just listening to this, so basically all that time savings I was going to have by having shorter meetings, I’m going to lose by having more prep time and making agendas and sharing agendas and making more visuals for my meetings. On the flip side though, one of the themes that we’ve been talking about more recently on the blog, as well, are advisors that do meeting surges, where you do clusters of meetings – do all your fall client review meetings in a big cluster in November and December, where you do three, four, five meetings a day for the span of six weeks. Get through all the core clients that you needed to meet with in an intensive sprint, and then you’re done for a month or two because you just went through a whole client base in meeting with them.
One of the upsides of doing that is, aside from just there’s business efficiency of just getting focused sprints or focused surges of meetings, is that if I’m going to be doing end-of-year planning, and I’m going to be talking about what’s going on the portfolio or what’s going on the markets or what’s going on with the election and your tax planning, or whatever it is that’s your theme to the meeting. If you cluster your meetings together, one standardized agenda and one standardized set of slides of the talking point – the story, the thing that we’re focusing on right now – I might just have to make that once and adapt it very slightly for each client, and I can really get some efficiency and leverage out of the material that I’ve prepared for the meeting, rather than needing to go new prep materials for every client meeting on at a time, which becomes really time-consuming.
Maribeth: Absolutely. I think a lot of this is repeatable. When you’re meeting with a prospect, do you have a five-slide capabilities deck that just shares a little bit about who you are? Because you’re going to talk about it when it’s your turn to talk about your firm and what you do. But, having that capabilities deck, that’s not going to change. You’re not going to change that every single time you’re talking with a client, or a prospect rather. But, when you’re dealing with a client, you got to give them some of your individual material obviously, but I think much of it is repeatable and you get most of it down and then you’re just tweaking it, like you said, and that’s exactly what happens.
Michael: I was thinking in my head around just the ongoing cadence of client meetings where there’s stuff that’s at least a little more client-specific. How are they doing with their plan? What’s going on with their portfolio, etc.? But, particularly in the context of a prospect meeting, the pitch from our firm, the standard stuff that we’re doing from our firms, yeah, that’s mostly templated and consistent every client conversation. Yeah, there will be some point where we’ll get to the proposal part of here’s literally what we’re going to do for you based on your information, which gets a little bit more specific. But the story of ‘how’ that we tell of our firm and our value is often already put into physical marketing materials, a pitchbook, whatever it is that you want to call your support marketing collateral. Just make sure you have digitized electronic versions of it so you’re still doing that same conversation virtually, and if you maybe didn’t make a physical one of those before, really good to look at actually doing that now.
Maribeth: Yes. Yes. Absolutely. I think that’s one of the things that advisors have recognized that they need to have, is that capabilities deck or pitch deck, I like to call it a ‘capabilities deck’ rather than a ‘pitch deck’.
Michael: It’s a much nicer label. I like yours better.
Maribeth: It’s more about the value proposition, right? It’s not about I’m trying to sell you something, here’s the pitch. That’s the old insurance days, I think, so we’ve tried to change that a little bit. The capabilities deck, but also what’s your online presence look like? Because you know that before somebody is going to meet with you online or even decide that they’re going to meet with you, they’re going to Google you. And for prospects, they’re going to Google you, they’re going to look at you, they’re going to look at your LinkedIn profile, they’re going to look at your website and they’re going to make a decision about whether or not to have that call, or whether or not to be excited about this meeting they’ve got coming up. There’s a lot of perception that happens with your online reputation, and advisors are working on fixing that as well. I think during a pandemic, there’s no better time to improve your online reputation.
Michael: That’s the whole domain of how advisors are driving more referrals without even asking – without even asking for referrals. Client service, which these days is translating heavily into the frequency of communication, depth of communication, connection on the communication – for which maybe Zoom video isn’t ideal, but it’s way better than emails and phone calls for the actual personal connection part. I get that box.
The second one that you had said was those who are asking for referrals, either from clients or from strategic alliances. Can you talk to us a little bit more about what that looks like in a pandemic environment? What works in asking for referrals when I think a lot of us at the end of the day would tend to ask for referrals at the end of a client review meeting or over lunch with a center of influence strategic alliance we’re working on, and the client meeting is now virtual, maybe asking for referrals doesn’t feel as good or quite the same. Can’t do lunch with my CPAs and attorneys right now. How is asking for referrals working in a pandemic environment from what you’re seeing in your research?
How To Successfully Ask For Referrals In Today’s Pandemic Environment [39:22]
Maribeth: The first thing that you need to do, and what we’ve seen advisors – that they’re doing this is that they’ve actually decided that they’re going to make an active commitment to asking for referrals. The problem with asking for referrals is that most advisors don’t want to do it. It feels uncomfortable to everybody. It’s not great. But today, right now when there’s so much uncertainty going on right now in the world, like I said before, I don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be a financial advisor. What if you weren’t asking for referrals necessarily, but that you were committed in purpose to help others? And if that was the true commitment – was my purpose here – the reason why I’m a financial advisor was to help others, and if you know someone who might need a second opinion…and actually it’s funny because second opinion language for referrals has been around forever. We see it work incredibly right now. I mean, really work right now. But, you have to have that commitment to actually having that conversation, and it’s much easier to have that conversation when it’s second opinion focused than it is when you’re just saying, “Do you know anyone who might have an interest in doing business with a firm like mine?” It’s like, “Nope, I don’t know anybody.”
Michael: This would be more, if there are any friends and family that you have that maybe aren’t as happy with their current advisor or don’t feel that they’re having the connection with them that we have here, we do offer a second opinion service where we’re happy to just review their information with no commitment and just share some thoughts and ideas and see if it might be a good fit. We’d be happy to meet with any folks that you know that would like a second opinion environment like this.
Maribeth: Right. Here’s an example. “I know there are a lot of executives, like you, who are navigating their finances, investments, benefits, and future during these uncertain times. If you know someone who could use some guidance or even a second opinion, let me know. That’s why I became a financial advisor, to help – to really help people get their finances in order.” But then, the key thing that we’ve seen with the number of referrals at particular firms is when they actually…I said actively taking control of this referral, the referral conversation. But also, would you mind if I sent a brief email introduction and cc’d you? If they come up with someone. Instead of saying, “Sure, great.” But actually having an email template that says exactly what you want to share to that person, you cc the client, you send it to the prospect. You’ve got your system down and the more you do that, the more referrals will come in. It’s just, that’s just natural.
One of the things that we always say to advisors is, “You can control fixed activity, but you can’t control the variable outcome especially with referrals.” Especially if you do enough of this fixed activity. We can actually turn it so you can predict the variable outcome. You can do fixed activity. If I do this, then this happens. But, with referrals, you can have all these conversations, and it’s not going to turn into – it’s not a one-to-one situation. But, if you ask enough times, if you have a conversation, what we’ve seen works, and this is sometimes advisors go, “What?” Five times a day, having a conversation with somebody. Not specifically calling them with a second opinion script, but having a conversation with somebody that you’re already talking to, five times a day, you can predict the variable outcome based on how many referrals you’re getting in. At this point right now, we know that it can be even more successful. We’ve tracked with advisors…
Michael: That means doing five proactive existing client outreaches. “Hey, I just want to check in” and if the conversation flows appropriately, I’ll mention this second opinion conversation?
Maribeth: Right, or talking to a CPA, or talking to somebody in the course of doing business, then saying that. Now, the other thing is just sending an email to clients or maybe putting it in as part of an email that goes to clients with some second opinion language: “If you sense that any family members, friends, or colleagues are at all unsettled with this market volatility, I’d be happy to have a chat with them.” It’s just getting that conversation down so you can slip it in, your email, your phone conversations with your CPA that you’re trying to get referrals from, and all of that. It’s just a very purposed way of doing it, and we’ve seen more success doing this than in any other referral strategy, and it’s partly because of the time that we’re in. People can have that conversation with their friend and neighbor. It’s not like, “Hey, the market’s going straight up. Do you want to go talk to my financial advisor?” It’s not that way, and it’s easier to have that conversation for clients about their financial advisor today.
Michael: Is this substantially the same conversation depending on whether it’s asking for a referral from a client or asking for a referral from a strategic alliance?
Maribeth: I think it’s essentially the same from what I’ve seen because I don’t just assume that this is what advisors are saying. We’re actually asking them for the scripts, and we’ve got a collection of them that are actually working. I haven’t seen any difference between CPAs and just the regular clients. I suppose there would be some tweaking. But, the other thing that we’ve seen that really works is we have an advisor that – and she sent me this – she sent it to her clients, and it was almost looked like a postcard but it was in a constant contact email. It basically talks about free planning services for executives facing furloughs, layoffs, pay reduction, and retirement postponed. It’s a second opinion kind of a conversation, but she works with executives, so she sent this message out to her executive clients: “If you know other executives who are facing these situations, have them give me a call. No obligation. I just want to help. I need to help right now. That’s my way of giving back.” She has gotten three new clients already from doing this because the executive got furloughed doesn’t mean they don’t have stock options or whatever else they might have going on. It has been super successful for her.
Michael: The third area that you talked about of what firms are doing that’s working for them now, is email campaigns.
Michael: Can you talk more about what does that mean for email campaigns? Is this sending check-in emails to clients? Is this sending out market commentary to talk through the market volatility? Is this something else? What’s working? What’s the driver here when it comes to email campaigns?
The Most Successful Email Campaigns That Advisors Are Running Right Now And How To Build Your Email Lists [45:48]
Maribeth: There are three types of email campaigns that we identify. The first one is targeted emails to segmented lists. For instance, you’ve got physicians and the subject line for your physician email says, “A new protection strategy for physicians.” And it talks about the volatility of the market and the uncertainty in the healthcare field and all of that. That’s just one example, but it’s a targeted email to a segmented list. The questions that usually people ask after that is, “Where do you get the list?” Sometimes advisors are collecting and amassing a list by asking their clients or just having prospects – if they did prospecting before, they might have a list. But you can also buy lists, and there are different services where you can buy lists from for really targeted, specific types of people. Physicians, in particular. Some advisors like to target physicians, but physicians aren’t hanging out on LinkedIn or Facebook, so you don’t have a lot of ways to contact them. What are the best ways to reach them? Email happens to be one. But it’s also the same for other really targeted segmented groups of the population.
Michael: Let me ask this one other quick question on that. Going further into this, how do you build the list? You mentioned there are list providers out there. Can you just – for firms that have never done this and don’t even know where to look – who are the providers that do this? Are there at least some larger ones or common ones that you tend to see that get used in this context?
Maribeth: Yes. There’s one. It’s Data Axle USA. It used to be Info USA, and now it’s dataaxleusa.com. You can parse out lists for both mailing and emailing. They’ve got access to just about everything. That’s a place that we use if you don’t have your own list. There are others that are like that, but that’s one that we found the lists are pretty accurate. You’re not going to get 100% accurate.
Michael: I’d essentially be buying an email list that I can then start sending my emails to and trying to get a message that resonates with them?
Maribeth: It could be buying a list, it could be renting a list, but yes, that’s typically how it works.
Michael: How do those economics typically work? I have no context. Is this going to cost me $10,000 to get a list? It’s going to cost me $2,000 to get a list? Is my list going to have 100,000 names and maybe 2% of them will actually ever see anything? Am I going to end up with 2,000 names, but it’s actually going to have a really high connection rate if I can make a good subject line? What should I expect in terms of cost and reach if I start going down this road as a firm?
Maribeth: I would expect to spend a couple of thousand dollars probably, but it depends. Let’s say you want to market to physicians in the United States, or you want to market to physicians in the D.C. Virginia, Maryland area. That’s very different, right?
Michael: If I make my list a little narrower and more targeted in the first place, which I may just want to do because I want to get people locally, that may bring down my cost and will bring down how many I reach, I guess?
Maribeth: Yes. It depends on the harder it is to reach particular individuals, the more expensive that list will be. The easier it is to access people, they’ll cost less. But, with this Data Axle USA, you can actually go in and do a search and figure out how much it would cost, and you could just do that all online so it makes it really easy to just play around.
Michael: I set my parameters. Obviously, I guess they’re not going to literally give me the names because then I wouldn’t have to pay for them. But I can say, “I want physicians in the D.C. metro area across these three counties that are close to the city because that’s near where our office is,” and they might say, “We have 1,722 people on our list who match that criteria, and here’s how much it’ll cost you to get that list of email addresses and start sending stuff to them.”
Maribeth: Yup, that’s exactly right. The other way to build lists is by using content marketing, which is: you’re putting information out. With physicians, it doesn’t necessarily work that well, but you put information out into the social media digital world, and you’re trying to get people to come back to your website to download the 10 things you need to know before you retire, or whatever that call to action is. As they click on that, you ask for their email and perhaps you can keep track of who is – if they’re clicking on this particular article, they’re probably interested in this, so let’s put them on this list. Then, all of a sudden, you’re creating your own list. That whole content marketing strategy is something that there are firms out there that help to do that. There are firms like Snappy Kraken and Lead Pilot that will help you with those in addition to just doing it yourself, but that will help you with pulling those prospects into you and collecting your own list by putting content out there that’s interesting to people.
Michael: I guess the challenge on my end as an advisor is I’ve got to figure out how to get the content out there so people will find my website to sign up for my stuff in the first place, and I’ve got to make some content so that there are things to put in this email campaign to set out there.
Maribeth: Right. The two companies that I just mentioned, Lead Pilot and Snappy Kraken, they have content; they have campaigns that you can plug into. It makes it a little bit easier. We also write custom campaigns for people, but for advisors, but it’s easier if somebody’s already done the work for you and you just grab into it. But they have campaigns for specific target markets, both of those providers do. I mention that because if you’re looking for that – I want to do this but I don’t know how to create this content; I don’t know how to get this content out there, and I don’t have time to spend to figure it out, there are companies that have already done that and you can plug into their systems. They’re not very expensive either comparatively.
Michael: As I’m doing this, what…I get some of these services may have some content that’s created to help me get there. But what am I sending people? Am I sending market commentary and investment discussion? “Here’s our view on the markets. If you want us to help you with our portfolio, please click the link below to schedule a meeting?” Am I saying that kind of stuff, or what am I sending that’s actually working in this environment?
Maribeth: It’s more – actually let me pull up a few – here are some subject lines that advisors have used on their email campaigns, and I think this will help with that content question. In the subject line, “Case study on protecting your money in retirement.” That’s the subject line. Obviously, the content is about what you can do to protect your money in retirement. Then, you might have a call to action at the end of that, that would drive people back to your website so that they can click, or landing page, so that they can click on that, download our report to find out more in detail of the things that you can step by step, or whatever that is. Another one is, “Isn’t it time to actually protect your investments?” Obviously, protection is a big topic right now because people are freaking out about the volatility of the market and everything else, but there could be other things that are more lifestyle, like, “The 10 best places to retire on a budget,” or something like that. Interesting topics. That is the key.
I would assume for a lot of people that the market commentary isn’t as interesting as some of these other things are. You’ve got to look at it from a marketing perspective. You’re going to send your clients market updates and all of that, but for prospects, that may not get them to open the email and take a look at it, so we have to look at what is interesting. I think that’s really the key, and that actually draws into the second kind of email that advisors are sending out right now, and it’s that email newsletter with interesting content to clients and prospects. Why does that produce new clients? People are forwarding it on. You’re sending it to prospects. It’s interesting. You’re staying in front of them and you’re building them into this funnel that you have, which is I got their name, I am now trying to build awareness and consideration and just very thoughtful way pulling them into a funnel where they’re going to make a decision that maybe they want to come in and see us because we’re putting good, valuable content out there that’s helpful.
Michael: The fourth category you had mentioned is virtual educational seminars. I guess this is our digitally adapted version of – I was going to call good old-fashioned in-person seminar marketing done in the virtual context. What are firms doing when it comes to virtual educational seminars that’s driving marketing results?
How Put On Virtual Educational Seminars That Get Results [55:31]
Maribeth: There are companies out there that help with this particular strategy to drive people that maybe you don’t have on your list to come to a “protecting your investments in volatile markets” webinar or whatever it is. But, there are a few companies, like LeadingResponse – which is a company down in Tampa, Florida – and then White Glove is another one where they’re actually helping you drive and collect from their strategies to find people online who might be interested in this kind of a topic and driving them in to register for your event.
Michael: These firms, Leading Response and White Glove, will do the marketing for me so I just have to have my expert presentation, whatever it was that maybe I used to do as an in-person seminar event already. I go and say, “I’ve got a webinar on this. Can you help me get some virtual prospects to show up for this thing?” Then, they’ll go help execute that.
Maribeth: Yes. Absolutely. The other thing that we found is that because of that whole second opinion thing we were talking about before, you’ve got an educational event, your clients maybe aren’t going to attend because they’ve already gotten some of this stuff figured out through your great advice and all of that. But why wouldn’t you send it to your clients? Because you asked them, “Hey, if you know someone who’d like to attend this,” and referrals for educational events have also been something that’s very successful. You’re not going to get as many people on a virtual call as you will – at least that’s what we’ve seen – as you will in an in-person when you’re giving them dinner and everything else. But we’ve seen that the closing ratio is much higher on a webinar because they’re not coming for the dinner. They’re not coming for all of the, “I really want to go to that country club” or “that steak restaurant” or whatever. They’re actually coming because they want the information, and it’s not a bait and switch. It’s just they want the information. We’ve seen the closing rates to be higher than in those larger dinner seminars, and the cost is much less.
Michael: What do firms do in practice? Is this just literally I’m going to run a webinar? Buy a Zoom subscription. Send invitations out to this event. Hopefully, some people show up and then just screenshare my PowerPoint and talk, and that’s the deal?
Maribeth: In very simplistic ways, that is the deal, but there’s a lot of things that need to go into, how do you conduct a good video meeting like that? Because you won’t use your same exact slides as you did before, and the reason for that is because you’re going to want to use more slides than you did when you’re in an in-person meeting. Because in an in-person meeting, you might have one slide up, and you’re walking around, and you’re talking about that one slide for a while. That is not the way to do a virtual education seminar because you’re going to lose them. You’ve got to have lots of things changing, interaction, polls, all those kinds of things. How do you figure out how to do that? If you go, “I’m just not confident in doing all of this,” you can hire somebody to help you. You can hire a firm like White Glove who will give you all the tools you’ll need. There are firms that will do this for you, and like I said, we’ve seen higher rates of closing in these than in those other standard dinner seminars.
Michael: Fewer people come, but you only show up for an online webinar because you actually want the information, so they will tend to be more qualified prospects and therefore more likely to actually close and follow through because you’re not filtering through extra people who came but weren’t really actually serious in working with you. They just, as you said, wanted the dinner or a peek at that country club.
Maribeth: That’s exactly right.
Michael: For firms that are doing this, just again, I’m trying to understand what are my expectations? You noted it’s cheaper to do events online because we don’t have the space rentals and food and catering and a lot of other ancillary costs, but I’ve still got to build my list or get my list or buy my list, and I may have to buy a presentation if I’m not so PowerPoint-inclined in the first place. What does it cost a firm to do this? And what should I expect out of it?
Maribeth: As an example, with White Glove, they do not charge unless somebody actually shows up on the webinar. It’s an interesting model – only pay if somebody shows up kind of a model. Then, you pay per person and it’s several hundred dollars per person that you pay when they actually come to the event. If you get 30 people that come to the event, then you’re going to pay whatever that is, but if you get zero people to come to the event, it’s totally free. We don’t want zero people to come, but we also don’t want to pay if zero people are going to come. It’s a pretty good strategy. But we have advisors that are using other services, they’re doing this on their own, and it literally is not costing really anything. You have to have your subscription to whatever service you’re going to use, Webex or Zoom, or whatever it is, but it doesn’t really cost that much. If you’ve got an email list, you’ve got clients who are willing to refer, and you don’t care if you have 10 or 15 people on this – you don’t need to have 50 people to make this successful – just a few units, as they say, can make a really successful event. I’ve had an advisor who did it when one person showed up, and he closed that one person.
Michael: They got very specialized attention in the webinar.
Maribeth: That’s exactly right. It doesn’t matter. It’s a meeting, and it’s really not costing you very much. There’s a lot less stress. I know a lot of advisors back in the days of dinner seminars, spending $7,000, $10,000 to do a series of dinner seminars. That’s a pretty large outlay of cash but for these virtual, you have some risk but you don’t have nearly that kind of a risk.
Michael: I guess that makes the interesting point, well, of there are things you do in the short term for marketing, like let’s run an event, let’s do a referral campaign, whatever it is because we’re trying to move the needle. Then, there’s also some of the stuff that you do that builds a little bit more for the long term. To me, this highlights there’s basically three pieces of what you’ve got to do and pay for. You need some system to run the webinar. You need to create the presentation and you need to be able to get people to show up. The ‘run the system’ part is actually rather inexpensive because just web conferencing software is not terribly expensive. The ‘build the PowerPoint’ part, I guess may vary. There are folks out there that will just do outsourced PowerPoint presentations – make your stuff really pretty. It’s very Google-able and you may be good at that or have someone in the firm that’s good at that. Then, the hard part is the ‘get a list of people to invite’ so that you can get a list of people who actually show up and participate in the webinar, but for those firms that have spent time doing things like building email lists, this is suddenly where you get the ROI on that email list you’ve been building for the last 3 months or 6 months or 12 months or 3 years or 5 years or however long it is. It’s the drip marketing newsletter list of old that, if you built up this list of people you’re sending stuff to who look at it and pay attention to it when you’ve actually got an event or something you want to run, like a webinar event, lo and behold, you’ve got people ready and waiting that you can send to. If you eliminate that part of your cost structure, this actually gets really cost-effective.
Maribeth: Yes. Absolutely right. Absolutely.
Michael: What is the format and the structure? What do people do for online seminars of this nature? Am I doing an hour event? Do I have to make it a shorter event in the same way that client meetings are shorter? Are there particular topics that firms are doing that seem to be working? What do I actually do when I say I’m ready to do an online educational event?
Maribeth: They are typically shorter. Anywhere, what we’ve seen is anywhere from 35 to 45 minutes of content, but hopefully some interaction in between there, and then question and answers towards the end. But it really has to be shorter. You’re not going to do an hour and a half probably and keep their attention. But, the topics that have been working – according to our research we’re asking advisors – I don’t know what everyone’s doing, but ‘protecting your investments in volatile markets’ is one. Retirement income strategies, just retirement income strategies, the general stuff that you talked about before. Taxes in retirement is a hot one. Even social security is still…advisors are doing these seminars and attracting people to come to them. As a marketing person, I always think, “We know what’s going to work.” We don’t know what’s going to work. We’ve got to try a few things out and then we’ve got to be able to look at what others are doing that’s actually having some success, and maybe we can do it a little bit like that. Those are the ones. But also, interviewing a money manager has been one that’s worked, if you have a money manager that has an interesting bend to their product or whatever, but that’s more specific but it works.
Michael: That’s fine even if you’re interviewing the money manager? Now it’s not me showing my expertise up there. I’m interviewing someone else’s expertise. That still works for me trying to get creditability and get clients?
Maribeth: It does. It depends on how you set that up, of course. But, if you set it up as this is just one of the resources, and I wanted to bring this money manager…as if it’s like a benefit to hear from an actual money manager who’s managing some of the investments that we have investigated and found and are continuing to research, and this is one that we really like. I want to have the money manager talk about it. I don’t think it takes away as long as you’ve got a good intro and a close to it, which talks about a little bit about what you do and why you would do a meeting like this. I don’t think that anyone today expects their financial advisor to know everything, right? I think that it’s good to bring in other resources and show that you’re bigger than just one advisor or one firm.
Michael: Then talk to us about virtual client appreciation events. What is a virtual – I guess I know client appreciation events. We’ll do a concert or entertainment event, or a lot of advisors like to do things at vineyards. How does a client appreciation event work in a virtual environment?
How To Hold A Virtual Client Appreciation Event [01:06:19]
Maribeth: It’s actually been successful in that when we ask advisors, “Okay, what are you doing and how is this working?” Here’s one. We have a financial advisor who said, “I want to do a virtual event for my clients. I’m going to do virtual Bingo because a lot of my clients used to go play Bingo and now they can’t play Bingo, so I’m going to do this virtual Bingo.”
Michael: Virtual Bingo. Good old-fashioned Bingo, okay
Maribeth: Virtual Bingo. I’m thinking, “This is not going to work. This is definitely not going to work.” Not only did it work – again, I don’t know what’s actually going to work. I think Bingo sounds really boring, but this particular advisor’s clients found it very not boring, loved it. He’s doing it weekly now because his clients are coming on to do the Bingo and bringing their friends. He’s gotten referrals. He’s expanding his market by doing virtual Bingo, which I just think, “Oh my gosh.” He just uses a free app. I think it’s called bingomaker.com or something like that, and there’s a bunch of them online.
Michael: I was going to say. Is he the Bingo ringleader? How do you set this up? No, of course, there’s a website for that. There has to be a website.
Maribeth: Of course there is, and I’ve actually participated in the Bingo, and I was surprised at a couple of things. Number one, it was actually fun – laugh out loud fun. And two, I’m really bad at Bingo. I don’t think you need any skill to be good at Bingo.
Michael: I was going to say, isn’t there…
Maribeth: Really bad at it.
Michael: It’s been a long time since I played Bingo, but my recollection is you kind of go where the card tells you to go. Can you be good or bad at Bingo?
Maribeth: As it turns out, I’m not very good at Bingo. We played multiple, multiple games, and I didn’t…I never called Bingo. I’m like, “What is going on?” But anyway, it was a lot of fun and people interact with one another. This particular advisor, all he did was invite his clients, and it’s taken off.
Michael: And he’s doing weekly Bingo.
Maribeth: Weekly Bingo.
Michael: I’m just imagining generally running a weekly client appreciation event. Frankly, I can guarantee anything you do for your clients on a weekly basis that they will actually show up for on a weekly basis, I can pretty much guarantee you is going to result in new business. Because just for the level of connection and interaction you’re having with your clients. If you’re engaging with them weekly, something’s going to happen.
Maribeth: Yup. There are others on the game – there’s probably seven different categories that we’ve uncovered for virtual events, but on the game side, there’s also virtual trivia. There’s again – there are companies out there and people who will do virtual trivia and run it for you on an event. Triviahublive.io is one of them and the advisor that we know that did this virtual trivia event sent out emails and did a promotion on Facebook and got 30 clients in attendance, 12 prospects, and did a virtual trivia event.
Michael: Did you say Facebook ads or just promoted on their Facebook page?
Maribeth: Yeah, just promoted on their Facebook page.
Michael: Okay. We’re doing a virtual trivia night, so hey, you’re locked up in a pandemic and didn’t have anything going on anyway, perhaps, so come hang out with us for our virtual trivia night. What else have you got going on?
Maribeth: Yeah. And just build a little competition into it and that’s something that – I mean, these are things – I laugh because I just never thought that these kinds of things would work. But everything has changed. Literally, everything has changed in marketing, and what we thought wouldn’t work, and what I individually thought wouldn’t work is definitely working. We’ve got to go with what’s working right now and how we can…like you said, how can we reach people weekly? If you do Bingo, maybe that’ll do it. Depends on who your clients are and what they like to do.
Michael: But, it sounds to me, and again, this is the point of client appreciation events – a lot of this is very social sort of stuff that we’re talking about, it seems.
Maribeth: It is. The advisor – but in some categories, the advisor doesn’t need to be super social. The advisor just needs to set it up and say, “Hey, why are we doing this?” But you mentioned before, virtual entertainment or shows. We’ve had advisors that have done virtual concerts, so they’re not entertaining anyone. The person who’s doing the concert from their garage is. Then, there has been a lot of the virtual comedy show, like Second City will do a virtual event and then at the end, you can talk to the actors and stuff like that. The advisor has brought everybody together. The advisor introduces it, but the advisor isn’t in the entertainment business. The event actually is.
Michael: Interesting. What are some of the other categories? You said overall, seven categories of virtual events that you’re seeing. We’ve got virtual Bingo, virtual trivia. What else are firms doing that’s working in this context of virtual client appreciation events?
Maribeth: Virtual games, virtual educational events, because you can do those in a fun way, like it’s been done for a long time. You have an actual live event, and you bring in a money manager, you bring in somebody, but it’s still a fun event. The virtual educational events can be that same way. Virtual entertainment and shows are number three, and that’s – I was mentioning the comedy show or concert or something like that. Virtual tastings are number four.
Michael: Virtual tastings, I was going to say, like wine tastings?
Maribeth: Yeah, wine tastings, but also we had an advisor share with us that they did a virtual cooking class. It was really interesting. It was a female advisor. She called four of her clients and said, “Would you want to do this cooking thing? I’ll send you the food, and then we’ll have the chef on, and he’ll share with us how to prepare it, and we’ll have wines that will be paired with it. But, would you bring somebody?” There were four couples that were the clients and attendants. They brought four of their friends who were referrals, and they did this and they did it through – it’s in North Carolina – Asheville Wellness Tours, and they did this tour cooking class. It was super successful in that they got those referrals on, and I think that she has closed two of those referral units that have come on. I think the cost of this is about $75 a person or something, so this is not outrageous to get two new clients.
Michael: I mean, that’s a monster of – getting one client, for a lot of us, could be thousands of dollars a year, some of us even larger numbers. I’ll take $75 events into multi-thousand dollar clients all day long.
Maribeth: I keep saying super successful, super successful. I’m not sharing any of the things that – I’m only sharing the things that do work because I think that’s what advisors want to know. What did somebody else do that’s actually working? Another one is virtual tours. Do you want to take a tour of the streets of Tokyo? Yeah, I can’t really go to Tokyo or anyplace else because I like to travel, so that’s one. We had an advisor do a virtual 360 tour of climbing Mount Everest because he likes to climb, and he’s never climbed Mount Everest. But there are things that you can get online where you can actually take a walk up or a hike or whatever you do to get up to the top of Mount Everest without dying, and he walked his clients through that. Virtual tour, Tokyo online, tours of cities of the world, the Vatican, all sorts of different things.
Even a tour of a vineyard. It’s not the tasting, but let me show you what this vineyard actually looks like. There are all sorts of things like that that are also working. Then, the final category, number six, is virtual informal meetups. What does that mean? I didn’t even know anything about this until an advisor shared that that’s what they were doing. But, send out an email and made some phone calls to clients and, “Hey, would you invite a prospect if you know somebody? We’re going to have a surprise guest on.” Now, it could be a money manager, an athlete, it could be their spouse. But we’re going to have somebody on who you are going to want to talk to. That’s one that sounds like outrageously that can’t possibly work, but it did. The other is, come out and meet the team. We’ll have our team on. We’re going to all be available from 6 to 7 at this particular time. Come on, join us and…
Michael: You’ve emailed with them forever. See them for the first time.
Maribeth: That’s right, and clients develop relationships with team members, and sometimes when a team member leaves, it’s like, “What? You can’t leave. You’re my person.” They really have built these relationships up with the team, so that definitely is one. There’s another advisor who does Zoom birthday parties. Every month, he does a birthday party, and he’s done this for the past three months. Everybody who has a birthday in June, come on to this virtual. We’re going to send you a piece of cake to your house, and we’re going to celebrate your birthday online. If anyone else wants to come on and celebrate the June birthdays, feel free to do that. But, just things to get people to kind of have a little meetup and be able to see them and not have it all super formal, but doing a virtual birthday party. That’s interesting.
Then, seven is sponsored events. Sponsored events are meetings that are already happening. Maybe you find someone who’s already doing a yoga class or something and you sponsor it. You come on in the beginning and say, “Hey, I’m a financial advisor, and we love that you are taking some time for your health, and here’s a little bit about us and we are sponsoring this yoga for you today.” Virtual yoga is something that advisors are sponsoring. We have an advisor who sponsors their local church service, and what that actually means is that he figures out how to get this thing videoed, because a lot of the church services have not been successful in being able to get it up online. He does that, and he’s the sponsor of doing that, and he’s just responsible for doing the videoing and making sure that the word is getting out about it. That’s the seventh idea – to sponsor events of things that are already happening, which advisors have been able to do. Then, you can invite your clients and other people.
Michael: Right. Then you get in front of the clients, the yoga studio, because you’re sponsoring it. The yoga studio gets exposure to your clients so they may get some business opportunities. A mutual benefit opportunity for the two of you. But, I guess notably, we’re not necessarily talking about let’s do a joint educational event with an attorney in the area where we’ll talk about advanced state planning strategies for complex client lives. Which I guess you could do in the virtual educational…
Maribeth: You could absolutely do that.
Michael: …event area, if you wanted. But, just the context here, when you’re talking about things like virtual yoga classes, I think we’re in a different category of events than what I think most advisory firms are used to co-hosting or sponsoring or meeting up with.
Maribeth: It’s a little bit different. That’s exactly right. There are seven different things that we found, and I suppose that there are many, many other things that would and are working today, but we just did a collection of the research and asked advisors and got the actual resources and who are you using for this, because we wanted to put something together so that there was a way – because advisors, it’s not an easy time for anyone and especially a financial advisor who’s dealing with all sorts of things that they never had to deal with before. Then, I’m going to put on this virtual event, and I have no idea how to do it. We wanted to make sure that we gave as many resources as we could so that advisors could take that and use it and do some things with their clients and have some fun and get some referrals and new clients.
Michael: It strikes me for all of these as well, that they’re not complex fancy things. I’m not trying to put them down or anything at all, but just, I feel like, historically, for client appreciation events, we tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves, I think as advisors. I’ve got some fairly affluent clients, they have certain fairly high expectations, so nice vineyards, nice country clubs, nice events, nice catering. Not inexpensive events because we don’t want to feel like we’re unprofessional or low quality, particularly if we’re doing this for our top clients. I feel like historically when you talk about client appreciation events, these tend to be higher polished, nicer-end events – is what I see most firms run. It just strikes me that a lot of what you’re talking about here is much more on a simple social level than a professionally produced, high-finish executed event, all the way down literally virtual Bingo or virtual trivia, but even just virtual Second City show, virtual wine tastings, and cooking classes. let’s do a virtual video tour of Mount Everest or even just literally a virtual meetup. Come meet the team. You’ve emailed with them for three years. You meet them in person and hear what they’re doing in the pandemic.
What you’re talking about here is a much simpler lower-stakes version of just creating social activities and social and community connection points, which I guess gets easier to do because we’re in a pandemic environment. This is not a complex planning process for the client. This can just literally come down to if you didn’t have anything else going on on Thursday, which you probably don’t because there’s a pandemic, so you may not be able to go out and do anything anyway. Instead of doing whatever you’re going to watch on Netflix, why don’t you come hang out for our virtual trivia night? It’s going to be fun.
Maribeth: That’s exactly right, and I think that the pressure for those big client appreciation events and all the money that was spent on those, I think what advisors might find is that some of these things are just as entertaining for the clients. It’s different than it used to be, but I think that in a lot of cases, just like business travel, that might change forever. There are a lot of things that I think might change forever, and unfortunately, the hotel business probably is not going to be that good because we used to go and do these events at a hotel or something and we’re not doing that anymore. But I think that we can change our perspective right now because everything has changed. There are some higher-level things, like taking a tour of Tokyo with an online guide or taking a tour of a museum with an online guide. These are not average things that you would do, but it’s very different than having some gourmet meal at a fancy country club or whatever. I think that this is more entertaining, and I think that’s what people need also, is just a little laugh and everyone is in the same position in a lot of ways of just being cooped up.
Michael: Maribeth, share with us a little bit of just your story and background. We talked a little bit at the beginning of you have a marketing consulting practice called Red Zone Marketing. You’ve talked a lot as well along the way about doing a lot of research and gathering a lot of data, which don’t always see from some marketing consulting firms. But you clearly enjoy collecting some data and trying to see what advisory firms are doing in practice. Help us understand a little bit more. What is your story and background and what exactly does Red Zone Marketing do?
Maribeth’s History And How She Got Started Working With Financial Advisors [01:22:43]
Maribeth: The interesting thing is people will ask, “How did you get started doing this?” I wish there was some big business plan that I had created, and this is exactly what I thought I’d be doing. But in reality, I started my marketing consulting firm, and my fifth client just happened to be a financial advisor. I met him at a chamber of commerce networking event. I didn’t know anything about the financial services business, and I said, “I think I can help you with your marketing.” At the time, he had $10 million of money under management, so he was just getting started. He said, “I don’t have any money to pay a marketing person.” I said, “Okay.” He goes, “But, if this really works, then I’ll pay you based on performance.” I go, “What does that mean?” He said, “It’s called sharing commissions,” and he said, “What we’d have to do is you’d have to get licensed.”
Michael: So you can actually be on the policy along with him for a split rep code or a split commission.
Maribeth: Right. Then, he said, “You could get your Series 6 and 65 and Life and Health,” and I had no idea what he was talking about because I didn’t know anything about the financial industry. I had investments, but that’s as much as I knew. And because he was my fifth client, I didn’t have very many clients or any kind of revenue for the most part coming in, I thought, “You know what? I think I’ll do it.” I went and got all my licenses – just the 6, I didn’t get the 7 – but I got my licenses and we started marketing.
Michael: Marketing song. You got your Series 6 and your life and health license just so you could get paid by a client.
Maribeth: Actually, just to the hope of getting paid by a client. We still had to make this stuff work.
Michael: Oh, that’s true. You still actually had to get some results to actually get anything going. But it’s a good reminder. No matter what industry you’re in, whether it’s financial advising or marketing consulting, starting a business kind of sucks for everyone and we all do what we’ve got to do to survive the first few years.
Maribeth: That’s exactly right. We started marketing for him and he had a couple of niches, and I thought, “The easiest way to do this…” because he doesn’t have any money to spend on marketing, but we’ve got to get in front of people. He had a niche, one particular company – he ended up having three, but the first company he had several clients from the same company. I got on the phone and I called the clients that he had from this particular company, and I said, “What about if we did an event on how to retire from this company without making big mistakes? We did kind of a seminar, would you tell other people about it?” And they’re like, “Oh, sure, sure.” The two clients told other people about it. I sent them some fliers, invitations, and they passed them along. We go to the very first event, we’re all ready to go and nobody shows up. I’m thinking, this is really bad.
Michael: Welcome to seminar marketing.
Maribeth: This is the worst thing that I’ve ever done. Nobody shows up. And the advisor, super resilient, the best implementer I’ve ever seen, he said, “That’s okay. I’ll just stand and do the presentation for you. I need to practice anyway.” He did the presentation for me, and I went back to the office the next day and really, really worked hard to get another one going. The second one we did, we had eight people show up. Meanwhile, we’ve spent $0 on this. He’s doing it at the community center in town, so he’s not paying for any kind of rent. He served Chex Mix that he got at the local Sam’s Club, and we called people and then sent out some invitations. There was no cost, really. But this turned into – this started, and then we found two other niches where we did the same thing. We ended up doing them weekly at some point. He went from $10 million of money under management to over $200 million in under five years. That put me on the map and that also meant that I finally started to get paid, but it was a while before I got paid. But now, I’m fully invested in this thing, right? I got to get something going here. But he was willing to not worry about that first one that didn’t work at all, because some advisor would just say, “This is a disaster. I told you this wasn’t going to work” and that would be it.
Michael: Did one, literally got no one, moving on.
Maribeth: Yeah, right. This doesn’t work, obviously. But he didn’t have a lot of other ideas or strategies or anyone to do any of these things, and so we did it again and we did it again and again and again. And we would do them at shift changes for when this particular company got off, so we would do one at 3 and we would do one at 6, and it just turned out to be that it was the simplest thing and it was so popular because if you’re working at this company and you’re getting ready to retire, you’re going to come to this seminar. You’re not going to come if you’re 15 years from retirement, or you just started, you’re coming if you’re actually qualified. It worked, and that put me on the map.
Michael: I’m presuming just it was a large – we’re talking about a fairly large company corporation just to have a sheer, enough volume of people that you can start doing…
Michael: …local events on a monthly and down to a weekly basis and just have enough people that there are people to show up on a regular basis?
Maribeth: Absolutely. It’s got to be a bigger company, and it was a bigger company, and like I said, it went into two others. Because we just took that model and just worked in different places. And it’s the simplest model. Sometimes the most complex of marketing is just too complex for its own good. Sometimes the most simple marketing is what really works because people can hear what the benefit is going to be and decide that they want to do it.
Michael: And this really came down to there are people in town at a large business. There are things they deal with when they retire, so we’re just going to make a webinar about that and keep telling people about it over – again, not a webinar – a seminar about it, and just keep telling people about it over and over again going through the few clients who’ve already got there, and you just keep repeating it and eventually it builds some momentum.
Maribeth: That’s right. It’s the simplest thing, but that’s what it was. And I’m grateful for that because that led me into the industry, because people said, “If that guy can do it, I want to do that same thing.” But what I found out pretty quickly, I went and spoke at his broker-dealer, which led me into speaking and doing some other things. And by the way, as an aside, when I went down to talk at his broker/dealer, I had never spoken publicly before. And I did probably a 3-hour presentation in about 40 minutes. I just rammed through this presentation, and I have no idea why…
Michael: Anything to get off that stage as quickly as you can.
Maribeth: Just talked and talked and talked and…done. That led me into getting more clients in financial services and then there was a wholesaler in the room that said, “Hey, we’re doing this rollout of our new product next year. Do you want to come and speak? We’re doing 20 events around the country.” That led into me being more into financial services and really then eventually focusing solely on financial services. But then speaking all over and doing that. But it started off with one thing and it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t like, “Oh yeah, this will be great.” No, I didn’t get paid for almost a year. That was really dumb if you look back at it. But, at the same time, I remember the first check I got from him, the first decent-sized check, and I brought it home to my husband and I said, “We could maybe buy some furniture for the house.” He’s like, “What room?” I said, “The whole house.” He said, “What are you talking about?” I’m like – because when it started to go, it started to go. It was like this ball that was just rolling and the ball kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger, because as we had more clients that were from that company, we had more access to them to tell their friends, “Hey listen, you should come to this event.” It was surprising and amazing, but if you look back and say, “Would you work for free for a year?” Who would say yes to that?
Michael: But we do what we got to do in the first few years of just trying to survive. I think it makes an interesting point, though. The nature of how these niches and specializations evolve. You ended out with what is now a full specialization and focus in the financial services industry as a marketing consultant, but it came just because one of your clients happened to be in this industry and you had a good result with them, so it led you to do a little bit more in the industry, and then it compounded. His niche was he had a whole bunch of clients in different places, but hey, we’ve got a small concentration of clients at this particular firm and there’s a large market opportunity there. Let’s just focus on that one and do more there. Couple of years compounding later, the firm goes from 10 million to 200 million. I feel like sometimes we try to overly mastermind, “What is the magical niche that I can pick that’s going to make my business huge and amazing and wonderfully successful?” and don’t recognize that so often these really just come from, I did a thing for a person. It went well, so I tried to find another person like that, and then when I got a few of them like that, I did more for them and word-of-mouth spread. And yada, yada, yada, niche.
Maribeth: That’s exactly right. It’s so simple that it almost sounds – that can’t possibly be what you did. Yeah, it was just really simple, and it was two that turned into four that turned into eight that turned into – and it just kept amassing. That’s what happened. You might say, “Maybe he was lucky.” I said, “I don’t know if he was that lucky because I think he was – persistent is what he was.” Then, he gave me credit for his persistence, because I didn’t close any sales, he did. It was a win-win for me.
What Red Zone Marketing Looks Like Today And The Services That They Offer [01:33:04]
Maribeth: We do a few different things. One of the things that we do, and we do a lot of it for transitioning firms – if a firm is at one place, and now they need to get a new name, and they need to get a logo, and they need to get a website, and they need to get this whole – so we have a branding package that we’ll do for firms that are transitioning to become an independent firm.
Michael: Okay. I’m going from wirehouse to an independent model and I’ve literally never had any of my own marketing materials because I always had to use what the home office sent me. You’ll do that rebuild. Or even I guess, if I’m going sometimes from one independent to another, if it involves something that has to rebuild my marketing my back end, and I just essentially have to build all my marketing material over from scratch. You do those kinds of overhauls.
Maribeth: Yes, we do that. In fact, we’re doing two of them this week where the advisors, on Friday, are going to be leaving their firms. We have to make sure that the website is on, that the letter’s ready to go, whatever their situation is, whatever’s within the rules. We like doing that because it’s fun because we get to build the whole thing and the value proposition and the name and the logo and the collateral and the website and all of that. The branding package is one of the things we do. We also do strategic marketing now. We opened up this call by talking about we don’t do super long-term strategic marketing planning, but we work with a lot of large firms that will say we are doing so much stuff in marketing. We’re not sure what’s working. We don’t have our analytics down. We need someone to pull this whole thing together, and so we do that and put together an entire action plan which suggests what you should be doing or what you should stop doing, what you should continue doing, and then helping them manage all the analytics so that they can look at that themselves and say, “This is working or this is not working.”
We put together an analytics model for people to track their social media, their website, their events, what’s your ROI on all of these things. A lot of advisors don’t necessarily know what their ROI is. They’re doing it because they know that it’s going to do something, but what is it actually doing and how can we improve it. We work with firms to do that. We also work with firms that just say, “We don’t know what to do with marketing,” and we’ll put together an entire marketing strategy for them. But, our marketing strategies are one year – they’re one year at a time. Some of the things might, of course, last much longer than a year, but one year at a time. Then, we also do just one-off projects like rewriting the messaging on a website or redoing a website for an advisor or helping put together their content marketing plan. We also do a lot of writing – some of the larger broker-dealers, we’ve done all of their content. A year’s worth of content in their content libraries that then the advisors use. We do a lot of content writing for firms and practice management for mutual fund companies and things like that, so that they can have more resources to go take to market for the advisors.
Michael: You’re not solely living in, I guess, the advice consulting-only end of things. You’re actually a little bit more of an agency model to implement and do – like we won’t just give you advice on redoing your website. We’ll literally redo your website.
Maribeth: That’s right. Some consultants will just say, “Here’s what you need to do. Pay me a bunch of money to tell you that.” And you go, “How am I going to get this done?” We actually help with the implementation. We have some retainer agreement where we’ll be with an advisor or an advisor team for a long time. But, most of the time, we come in – the firm already maybe has a marketing person, somebody that is part-time or full-time or maybe several people. But we come in to fix, readjust, and give a streamlined plan to what you should be doing for the marketing, and then we step away and let you do it. But, in order to get that done, we’ve got to do some work on the upfront, which is, what’s the value proposition? We’re going to write it. What’s the website messaging? What’s the website design? We’re going to do that for you because then you’ll be set with a proper foundation to be able to go out and actually implement some of the other marketing strategies.
Michael: As you look at this for now having worked in our advisor world for 20-plus years of seeing all this play out, what do you think is the thing that most advisory firms can miss or don’t understand about what it takes to actually market an advisory business well?
What Advisory Firms May Not Understand About Marketing [01:37:35]
Maribeth: I think there are a couple of things. One is I hear from advisors all the time. “I don’t do any marketing.” I say, “What do you mean you don’t do any marketing? How are you getting new business?” “Mostly referrals.” That’s actually marketing. It’s a different way of looking at marketing, but that’s actually marketing, and you could get more if you had more activity related to that. That brings me to what I think the thing of it is, is that a lot of advisors are really good in sales and communication and reaching out to clients, and they have all these great ideas to do marketing, so they either say they don’t have any marketing, or they do a bunch of stuff in marketing. But the key is implementation. Whatever you’re going to do if you actually take focus.
Like that advisor I talked about, the first advisor I worked with, he was an implementer. He just did whatever we came up with and he didn’t say no, and he did it even if it wasn’t working, and then he figured out how to make it better. But it’s the implementation of the strategies that you know are working for others. You do it once; it doesn’t work; it doesn’t mean it’s never going to work. Sometimes, we have to tweak and do things like that. It goes from not having any marketing, when you really do have marketing that you could take control of, to doing a whole bunch of stuff because you’ve got all these great ideas and you’re a real creative person and joining it in to say, “What am I going to implement that’s going to be the most successful and how am I going to implement that on a consistent basis?”
Michael: There’s a theme to me of just this whole discussion of don’t make marketing more complex than it needs to be. A lot of the strategies that you talked about at the end of the day are really just digital versions of things that we’ve already done for a long time, like client appreciation events, but we’ll take them virtual, seminar marketing, but we’ll take it virtual. We’ve adapted to a virtual environment, but most of these are things that firms have already done for a long time, and it’s not necessarily a mystery of whether they work. It’s just they work. You still have to do them and do them consistently and do it for a period of time, and recognize that it takes a while to get known or trusted or build some momentum to these, as you noted, like the strategy that got the advisor from 10 to 200 million literally got zero turnout on their first marketing event.
Maribeth: Thanks to me.
Michael: Repetition to a thing that’s got decent odds of working if only because it’s an industry standard and works for others, so it’s probably going to work for you as well. And sticking with it is, it might take me a lot more powerful than what I think we spend a lot of our time on, trying to figure out the perfect best marketing strategy for us and win on it the first time we take a swing.
Maribeth: Marketing is an art and a science and unfortunately, we’re not sure how much art and how much science in any given event that we do that’s going to make it work. If we could just rely on the science of it, the advisor down the street got 16 clients from this particular thing, so I’m going to do it and I will get 16 clients. Not true. You might get 20, you might get 0, but it’s the art and the science and the combination of that and the tweaking to get it right, and sometimes it takes a little patience. I don’t know that advisors have a lot of patience for waiting for things to work. I mentioned we’re Red Zone Marketing; we want things to work really quickly too, but sometimes it’s going to take one or two shots at it to make it work. We’ve got to have some patience to get strategies going that we know are working in other places that are similar to us.
Michael: Having been through this journey yourself, I’m always fascinated, the journey that a lot of industry consultants go through in building their businesses, giving advice to advisors is really quite parallel to how we as advisors often go down our journey, including the crazy things you say yes to in the early years because you’re just trying to get clients and revenue going. I’m wondering, what was the low point for you on the journey of building your own consulting practice?
The Low Point For Maribeth On Her Journey And The Marketing Advice She Would Give New Advisors [01:41:38]
Maribeth: I think 2008, 2007, was the best year that we had ever had up until that point. 2008 rolls along into 2009 and the bottom falls out, and I really – we had a whole bunch of team members that were on staff at that time. We were doing lots and lots of implementation and all of a sudden, the business was not there. And we all of a sudden, had some cash flow issues, and it was not easy. I know that advisors had some of that same thing going on, but it was the hardest time that I had ever had. But what it did for me is it made me change the model of our organization. When we went into this pandemic, I thought, “Uh-oh, here we go, 2008, 2009. I’m going to have to figure out cash flow, and this is going to be hard, and it’s going to be miserable.” But we had a different model set up, so we have a lot of go-to contractors that we use every week, all the time, but they’re not on our payroll. We still have a bunch of people on the payroll, but we don’t have as many as we had before, and it just made things a little bit easier for this time. That was a change that I made because I can’t control what’s happening with the industry, with the stock market, with the ability to bring on new business in a lot of cases. I know what to do to bring it on, but if everything changes, we’re not going to be able to do that. We changed the model.
Michael: Just getting really focused from the business management end of what really do you need to do with your own permanent staff, which means you have to be prepared to pay their salaries or terminate them if there’s a nasty pullback, versus what can you do with contractors and outsource to externally simply so that as a business you have more flexibility in being able to scale back your business expenses if there’s a slow down.
Maribeth: Exactly. And we had so much revenue coming in. I never had to worry about any of that stuff. Now, talking to a bunch of financial advisors, we have more in savings. We have a line of credit that’s open that we don’t use, but we have it open in case we need it. We have all of these things that we implemented because it was so bad at that time, and I just never thought it would ever be bad like that because it was always just this constant huge revenue source of working with advisors and helping them, and it was all great until it wasn’t, and then it really wasn’t.
Michael: What advice would you give for younger and maybe just newer advisors, some of us, career changers in a later stage? What advice would you give to newer advisers that are getting started or are launching their firms today and trying to figure out how to get started on the right foot with marketing?
Maribeth: I would pay attention to what’s working for others and pick one or two things and just implement it. Now, you want to pick probably some of the lower-cost things because you don’t have a lot of revenue coming in yet and you don’t want to get in that position. But, I would say pick one or two things that really seem to be working for others right now, which by the way, right now is not the same as it was seven months ago, what’s working, but I would figure that out. What’s working, and then do one or two of those things, and that’s it. But the other thing that I would suggest and I talk before about creating the foundation for advisors, is to make sure that you’ve got that foundation. Do you have a decent – you don’t need to have the best website in the world, but is it a decent website with good messaging that truly describes and differentiates you? Do you have a good LinkedIn profile? Those things where you know people are going to be able to find that, make sure that that’s good. You got the foundation and then pick one or two strategies and move.
Michael: As we wrap up, this is a podcast about success and one of the themes that always comes up is just the word, success means very different things to different people. Someone that’s built objectively a very successful marketing consulting firm working in the advisor community, I’m just wondering now, how do you define success for yourself?
How Maribeth Defines Success For Herself [01:45:57]
Maribeth: We don’t define success in revenue. I know that that’s typically a way that you define success. But we define success in our clients having success. If we implement a strategy for an advisor and they bring in 50 new clients over the span of X period of time, that’s success. That’s what makes it feel good. Also, when I speak, when I used to speak in person, but now I speak online, having somebody say, “Oh my gosh, I took an idea that you had and I put it into practice and this is what happened.” That’s success to me. Yes, we get paid for what we do, but if it works, that’s success.
Michael: I love it. I love it. Thank you so much, Maribeth, for joining us on the financial Advisor Success Podcast.
Maribeth: Thank you so much for inviting me and for having this nice conversation.
Michael: Absolutely. Thank you.