Marketing Corner – Thursday, Dec. 11th, 2014

Five Guidelines for Social Media Uses


Last week we discussed five best practices for community engagement. This week we are going to examine one of those practices—social media–in closer detail. Social media in business use has been the subject to many ideas and approaches in the last ten years, given the rise of several big names as well as a multitude of niche platforms. Here are five simple best practices for agents and advisors using social media.

Know Your Audience, Understand Your User Base

One mistake that many businesses make is rushing to use any and all social media in an attempt to have as much digital visibility possible and to stay ahead of the curve. This is certainly understandable—you never quite know what will break through and develop a consistent user base. But the reality is that for every big player like Facebook and Twitter, there are hundreds of platforms languishing in obscurity or being appropriated for other things. For agents and advisors, using something like Pinterest—a great platform for sharing ideas and images—probably won’t be a successful use of time and efforts. This is because Pinterest, even with it’s heavy user base, probably will not have a target market of individuals interested in life insurance, annuities, or retirement planning concerns.

Now this is not a hard and fast rule—if you have an interesting way to capture the essence of your business and business philosophy and translate it to the way something like Pinterest is used, go for it. Just understand that even with the most spectacular design and creative use of a program, your target audience may not be there. Social media is a great tool with many applications. But not all platforms are used in the same way and have the same mix of demographics. Before using a platform, look at how other people are using it, understand how interactions work, and how the community is maintained.

Good Posts

 One of the many reasons why social media is so attractive and (in many cases, with the right platform) successful at engaging with a client base, is because it allows companies to have multi-pronged communications. Posts can be advertisements, press releases, casual discussions, informational pieces, or all of these at once. So what makes a good post then? A good post—even if it is a casual, blog-like post—should communicate your core business principles and value proposition. It should offer something that your target market can use or think about.

Balance

Now that you have found the right platform make sure your posts have a balance of sales and good information. Although there is a wealth of information available online, people still value good information and the source of that good information.

For example, let’s say you were targeting Social Security maximization clients. To target this group you might provide information about recent changes in Social Security as well as an offer for a Social Security maximization review. In something like a direct mailer or an email blast, you would probably pick a few key statistics and then drive home your services through strong sales language. With a post, you have more space to balance a sales pitch with helpful information. A well-balanced post will provide useful details about current changes and at the same time be clear—but not overwhelmingly so—about services and solutions being offered.

The above paragraphs discuss balance within a single post, but it is also important to have a balance across all your public, social media communication. In this case balance means variation between posts—delivering different styles of communication that can reach a swath of your target client group.

Frequency

 Frequent posts are critical in building and maintaining a relevant audience. Although building a following base may take time, the more people see good information coming from you as a source, the more likely they will engage with you and seek out your expert services when the have a need. A regular stream of posts demonstrates your credibility.

Cross-Platform Unity

Agencies use social media to build their brands and drive consumer leads, and they may use multiple platforms for different types of communication. However, it is important that all roads are as interconnected as possible and lead back to a main hub (your website, your office). You can do this in a variety of ways. You can brand your emails and simple posts with your social media icons/links. You can, and should, provide links back your website or a certain sections of your website. Disseminate your posts far and wide, so that when you create one, it ripples through all of your digital platforms.

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Marketing Corner – Friday, Dec. 5th, 2014

Five Best Practices for Community Engagement


To open the door to your community, you have to be active in your community. Being engaged with your prospect base and your local population not only serves as a great marketing effort, it provides a human face to the type of work that your do. Here are five best practices to have more reach within your community.

Joining Your Local Chamber of Commerce

Although it may seem a little outdated, joining your local chamber of commerce is still a relevant method to network and interface with your community. The advantages of joining your city’s chamber of commerce include promotion, local directory placement, and access to things like mailing lists. Being a due-paying member of your local chamber of commerce also solidifies your identity with your city, county, or town.

Social Media

While there can be many complicated and involved technical aspects with positioning, branding, and engaging through social media, it is important that you do maintain a digital presence. You don’t have to be an expert to use social media for engagement, you just have to be committed to your online community and use the best platforms that fit your brand and philosophy. For advisors and agents, often the most useful and relevant networks will be sites like LinkedIn and Twitter, which are used by many professional types. But whatever platforms you use, and however you use them, it is crucial that you do so regularly and provide relevant content or posts. Localize you social media and engage with prospects in your area.

Charitable Causes and Events

Supporting a local charity or a non-profit organization will obviously land you good local PR points, but make sure you are supporting causes that speak to you or ones that you are passionate about. Aligning yourself with a cause can be a great way to identify you and your business to your clients and potential clients. Just make sure that whatever causes you do support—either through money, time, or space—you so sincerely.

Sponsorships

Like supporting charities, sponsoring events and organizations is a great method to increase your brand awareness, especially if what you sponsor is particularly relevant to your target prospect pool. A good source of sponsorship opportunities will often actually be your chamber of commerce, which may have list of local sponsorship opportunities and benefits.

Look Outside Your Chamber of Commerce

In most communities, networking and club opportunities start at the chamber of commerce but do not end there. Your area may have things like the Rotary Club or other business organizations that provide space for interaction and networking. The best way for community engagement is to be visible and participate in local events or meet-ups. Having trouble finding the organizations or events that speak to you: start one up.

It is important to remember that doing just one of these will be insufficient to properly engage with your community. You should look at all of these practices, as well as any others, to build and maintain your community presence. Whatever methods you practice, also remember that engagement is supposed to be an extension of you—your services, business philosophy, professionalism, and friendliness. The more you see these as opportunities, rather than duties of running a modern business, the more value you will get out of them.

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Marketing Corner – Thursday, Nov. 20th, 2014

Retirement Planning: Building A House


In last week’s Marketing Corner, we discussed how advisors and agents can use stairs to illustrate the planning process for consumers. In the same vein, this week we have another yellow-pad illustration concept that can be used to quickly demonstrate the importance of a financial plan and how the pieces of a sufficient wealth and retirement plan fit together.

In explaining the financial planning process we often use the three phases of protection, accumulation, and distribution. This simplistic breakdown of the financial planning process is easy to digest, and more importantly, allows for emotional and logical resonance with most prospects. There are many ways to present these phases, but one we like, and one that often connects with prospects, is a house.

To build a house you first need a foundation. In our model, the foundation is long-range instruments, such as life insurance, long-term care insurance, or disability insurance. This gives our house stability, covers important things like providing a death benefit and protection during illness or a chronic condition. This correlates to protection.

Next we need the framework; the walls and windows. In our model this includes things that help you build on your foundation and help you toward your goals. Many types of financial products can satisfy this; cash value life insurance, annuities, securities, etc. The framework also includes how a client’s retirement program is structured. This correlates to accumulation.

Finally, we have our roof. Upon retirement, through a strong foundation and sturdy framework, the house now has robust roof to weather economic changes and protect the lives inside for many years. This correlates to distribution.

 

The house is now complete and the client is on their way to enjoying retirement.

 

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Marketing Corner – Tuesday, Nov. 13th, 2014

Marketing Corner – Tuesday, Nov. 13th, 2014


Illustrating the Planning Process: The Stairs


Most of us are familiar with the basics to establishing a financial plan. Your client or prospect might be likewise somewhat familiar. But as we know from sales and marketing, just because a person is aware of the key point you are explaining does not mean that you have their buy in, so to speak. That is why we like yellow pad concepts so much, because they quickly illustrate that key point or idea and make an emotional connection that much more likely.

One of the best simple, quick-to-draw, illustrations for a client to understand the planning process is The Stairs. Within this model we see the initial step as establishing financial goals. The second step is to prioritize these objectives. These steps, as we know, are made easier and completed more efficiently with a financial advisor that can see above these two steps. Step three is to develop a plan. The fourth step involves implementing the plan, and the fifth step is regular review. After this, we arrive at the top, having successfully reached financial security.

1

The nice thing about this particular yellow-pad concept is that it also can easily illustrate the importance of starting early with financial planning. In the image below, we see the same basic stair structure, except each step has become steeper, making reaching the top all the more difficult. Waiting to implement a plan doesn’t change the goal it just makes it much more challenging to accomplish. This is a great way to give your clients and prospects an “a-ha” moment and convey the consequences of waiting to plan.

2

The Stairs can also be used to demonstrate the three basic phases of a financial plan: accumulation, preservation, and distribution. The initial step can still be to set financial objectives, and the last step can still be financial security in retirement.

3

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Marketing Corner – Tuesday, Nov. 4th, 2014

The Three Outcomes


When it comes to retirement, most people are aware of three basic and important outcomes: a person will die, get sick, and potentially exhaust their money. Although these are uncomfortable truths, they are still important to discuss in retirement planning because they convey the critical nature of planning ahead and as early as possible.

Consumers are likely to recognize that as they ease into retirement their main expenses reduce. The kids are out of the house, college education paid for, house payments lowered and completed, etc. But at the same time, income earned from work is reduced or altogether zeroed out. The following are quick yellow pad concepts to illustrate the three outcomes with retirement to drive home the importance of a long-term financial plan.

Our first image tracks the decline of earning power and the reduction of expenses preceding retirement:

fig1

The second image demonstrates the first outcome: death. In this image, retirement is broken by this event. The death of a spouse can cause a decrease of income in retirement as well as an increase in expenses. Which can throw a retirement plan completely off track.

fig2

This image demonstrates the second outcome. We see that a large medical issue can spike through the buffer space between retirement income and expenses tapping into reserves. The consumer in this situation could face exhausting their funds.

fig3

The next image demonstrates the third outcome, outliving money during retirement. We see that, due to inflation, taxes, reduction or marginal increases in things like social security, a consumer’s baseline expenses eventually intersect with their retirement sources of income.

fig4

This image demonstrates the solution. Through specific and tailored strategies developed with a financial advisor, a consumer is able to put more buffer in between expenses and their income during retirement and create a consistent positive arbitrage. Their money is able to last longer, and more importantly, the consumer is able to maintain a quality of retirement where they are not worried about finances.

fig5

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Marketing Corner – Tuesday, Oct. 28th, 2014

Asking for a Referral


You have just provided a great service to a client. Perhaps you built a long-term retirement program for them from the ground up, or you helped maximize their existing retirement instruments. Whatever the case, you’ve satisfied your client’s planning needs. Now what?

Ask for a referral.

Referrals are a simple, low-impact way of generating qualified prospects and it’s a shame that more advisors don’t ask for them. Why do so many advisors avoid asking for a referral? There are probably many reasons, but it could have something to do with the potentially awkward request—you have worked hard to capture this client and after an involved process you may not want to spook the client with more pitches and sales language.

Asking for a referral should neither be pitch, sales, or marketing (or at least seem like these things). It is an understanding and evaluation of the relationship you have created with your new client. With that said, we wanted to provide advisors with some general guidelines for asking for referrals.

Demonstrate Your Value

The easiest way to prime a client for a referral is to do the best job that you can. Be comprehensive and leave the client with a positive feeling about their financial future.

Don’t Be Afraid To Ask

Value yourself and value the services you provide. If you are confident in your abilities, your mission to help consumers, and your expertise, you should be able to ask for a referral.

But Don’t Be Too Confident

Asking for a referral should be a sincere, genuine request. Being too confident and aggressive in approach can not only close you off from a referral, but also sour the advisor-client relationship.

Don’t Badger or Pester

If the consumer has expressed some hesitation with a referral or dismisses it politely, don’t press too hard or become too desperate.

Be Quick

Don’t make asking for a referral take up too much of your time with your client. It should be a quick transaction.

Don’t Make it About You

Some advisors will express that the reason for a referral is to help their business grow, etc. While this may or may not be truthful, approaching a referral this way can turn it into something too self-serving.

Target Your Referrals

Ask about anybody that would fit within the spread of products you facilitate. Ask about other individuals that may be nearing retirement or others that have gone through a life event, such as a birth or change of job. Be specific in your request.

Follow Up

Be prudent when you obtain a referral and follow up promptly. Above all, maintain a professional and respectful approach.

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Marketing Corner – Tuesday, Oct. 21st, 2014

Going Beyond the Elevator Speech: Key Questions For Advisors to Answer


Creating a sound elevator speech is almost a requirement in the financial services industry. While most advisors have this down, many don’t plan for the questions beyond that initial elevator speech. A few weeks ago, we discussed good questions advisors should ask their potential clients to start the conversation and keep it going. This time we want to explore key questions advisors should be prepared to answer. It could be in anticipation or offered up rhetorically. However these questions are broached, they are crucial in the lead conversion process because they present a level of transparency about your role in the financial planning process. They go beyond your elevator speech and are opportunities for you to strengthen your value proposition.

Key Questions:

Who are you?

Not an existential question; rather a chance for you to explain who you are to the consumer and give a summary of your expertise. You want (and need) to know who your consumers are—it’s important for them to know who you are.

Do I really need an advisor for this?

Drive home the value of an advisor in the planning process, then establish the value of you filling that role for the client.

Why should I do business with you?

This might be an uncomfortable question and rarely would it be stated this bluntly. But a straightforward answer is a good way to reinforce your value proposition.

How are you different from others that offer similar services?

It is important to differentiate yourself from the other options available to consumers. What gives you an edge over other financial advisors or agents?

What are your commissions? How are you compensated?

Compensation can be an awkward area to discuss. Some advisors may leave this until later in their presentations, some include as part of their initial pitch. However the question comes about, a straightforward and concise answer is the best way to deal with the discussion of fees, especially if you have already established both the value of an advisor and the value of you being that advisor.

 

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Marketing Corner – Tuesday, Oct. 7th, 2014

How Much to Save for Retirement


Individuals often focus on their ultimate retirement savings number. However, most consumers don’t understand the impact outside forces can have on their retirement plans; how preparing for retirement is not as simple as reaching a savings threshold. The process of accumulating capital for retirement and beyond is not always easy and clear-cut. Those in the personal financial services industry know that it is best to establish retirement programs that offer steady growth and adaptability, to anticipate change as much as possible, and to implement strategies that can arise over the challenges of accumulation.

It is important, as you converse with your clients and prospects, to discuss these challenges. This establishes that the financial planning process is not as straightforward as purchasing an annuity or life insurance policy and that it requires an expert hand in shaping a plan that responds to your client’s needs as they get older.

A diagram, such as a funnel, is a simple but powerful way of illustrating this. This yellow-pad concept shows sources of income and assets on top feeding through the funnel. This can be specific to what an individual has or generic. The funnel itself indicates the collected resources. The smaller opening at the bottom shows the distribution of retirement income and, the smaller arrows on the side illustrate what can reduce this collected value—such as inflation, taxes, saving to spend, asset withdrawals, and cash needs after death.


funnelretirement


The funnel is an uncomplicated method of demonstrating the input-output system involved in financial planning. You probably have access to detailed, complicated illustrative software, but at a pivotal moment in your conversation with your client or prospect, the funnel is a casual, simple, and potent way to catch your client’s attention as you delve deeper into the planning process.

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Marketing Corner – Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014

Starting the Conversation


Getting the conversation started on the right foot can be the difference between a new client and a missed opportunity. We know that for advisors constantly going through the lead generation process, conversations and value propositions can become rote and dispassionate, despite all best efforts. Or pitches may not convert for a variety other factors, indicative and unique to the prospect. You could be giving the most logical and emotional presentation of your life and it could still not secure that client.

In just about any ideal business situation, it all begins with that initial conversation. It begins with enough time for the consumer to not only hear the logic and practical value you are presenting with the products you carry, but enough time for them to accept and visualize that value; to not only make an emotional connection with you as the helpful and expert guide in the financial planning process, but to connect emotionally with their own long-term goals.

With that said, we have compiled a list of engaging conversation starters and probing questions.


  • “I want to figure out if what we have is the right fit for you. Can you tell me about your [business] [retirement plans] [family] [assets]?” etc.
  •  What’s driving you to explore financial planning?
  • What is preventing you from reaching your retirement/financial goals?
  • What keeps you up at night about your financial plan?
  • Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and your financial priorities? I need to determine if the planning I provide is relevant to your situation.
  • What concerns you most about your finances?
  • What is your way of dealing with…(mitigating taxes, stock market volatility, etc.)
  • What do you have in place to deal with…(loss of job, disability, death, etc.)
  • What does financial independence mean to you?
  • How well is XYZ(investment strategy, savings strategy, etc.) working for you?
  • How has XYZ(tax changes, stock market volatility, life change) impacted your financial plan?

Asking the right questions can set the tone of the conversation. They serve a practical purpose—you need to know what the consumer’s goals, priorities, and investable assets are—but it also establishes a sense of intrigue for the consumer. It conveys that you are engaged with the prospect, interested in them, and determined to provide solutions to their planning concerns.

Of course, if this is a prospect that has contacted you they already have the solutions on their mind. But by presenting engaging questions in this way, you are able to make them hold that concern in their head while you move from general, relationship building discussions, to specific information that you can use to illustrate how their financial goals are possible.

Obviously there will be other questions that factor into your conversations with clients, such as technical, transactional, and simple yes-no questions. But the important thing is to create an exploratory space, one that is open and comfortable to the consumer and one that naturally creates a feeling of collaboration. This is their life, their money, their retirement, and their legacy—if they could have figured it out, they would have.

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Marketing Corner – Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014

Spenders vs. Savers


Most individuals, even those without a large amount of investable funds, recognize the value of saving money. It’s a common sense idea that many people learn early in life from an allowance or a part-time job as a teenager.

If only we had the same concerns we had when we were younger! But now there are bills, mortgages, car payments, utility expenses, education costs, and a whole host of other things to worry about. If we’re smart and able, we might try to partition whatever is left at the end of the month into a savings vehicle. This demonstrates a “spend first, then save” mentality. In this mindset, savings become an afterthought, coming after key expenses and discretionary income.

But flipping this mindset proves to be a successful model of personal finance. Obviously not everybody is going to be in a position to exhibit a “save first, then spend” shift in their current income situation, but the mindset is useful for any consumer of any age to adopt, because it tempers them into accumulating larger sources of income that can be used for efficient and steady vehicles like annuities and cash value life insurance.

It doesn’t even have to be a “save first, then spend” mentality that allows consumers to build the personal capital they need to participate in long-term retirement programs. It could be a simple shift of factoring saving into the straight-line expenses of their households.

How can this simple, common sense financial philosophy be used to market yourself as an advisor? How can “save now, spend later” be used to convert leads? As you meet with consumers initially identifying whether the prospect is “spend first, save later” or “save first, spend later”.


An easy way to start this conversation is with a simple visual on a notepad.

SAVESPENDCIRCLE (1)

There are generally 2 types of people. Which category do you fall in?

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