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Getting Results from Each Sales Funnel Stage

The Schwab 2015 RIA Benchmarking Study identified client acquisition as one of three top priorities; this is consistent with other adviser studies over the past few years. There’s nothing surprising about this emphasis since advisory firms are not only specialty practitioners, but small businesses, too. What business can grow without increasing its client base?

Client acquisition is the end result of a much more involved process broadly called “prospecting.” Prospecting integrates the entirety of a firm’s marketing efforts from a website to seminars to email campaigns to referrals.

Loury_Pic 1

The Adviser Sales Funnel

The Sales Funnel
A “pipeline” or “funnel” (photo, right) are the common terms used to describe prospecting. I prefer a sales funnel because it identifies the client acquisition stages and the flow from one stage to the next.

Labor Increases with Each Stage
A lead enters the funnel through a website inquiry, referral, seminar, email reply and other direct-response methods. These incoming leads contain relatively little of an adviser’s most precious commodity—time.

Once a lead enters the funnel and proceeds through each stage, the labor content increases dramatically. Therefore, each funnel stage is a component of the advisory firm’s marketing ROI.

Matters of Salesmanship and Insight
Each prospect is looking for an ROI in the relationship, too. When a prospect sees the expected benefits received greater than the cost, he or she is willing to move to the next stage. This is an especially important concept to appreciate in determining the marketing system’s value: the prospect controls the movement from one stage to the next.

Such control places the responsibility of demonstrating the benefits and their monetary and emotional value on the adviser. Proving this value is one measure of analysis and another measure of salesmanship. (For a detailed discussion, see “Clients Buy Benefits, Not Features.”)

Making Each Sales Funnel Stage Productive
The stages of sales are lead generation, interest qualified, business qualified, solution verified and ‘Yes.’ Below are tips to make each stage productive.

1.) Lead Generation. An effective marketing program uses positioning content that helps the recipient of a lead-generating message qualify its validity to him or her by concluding, “That would be useful for me.” or “I don’t need that.” Within this, focus on:

  • Efficiency Issue: Each message must drive home the key positioning elements that fit with the firm’s benefit package and its value.
  • Key Tactical Step: Provide clear call-to-action content and buttons that allow a choice of “Yes” or “No.” While a “Yes” allows the recipient to become a lead and enter the funnel, a “No” minimizes opportunity costs. (Note: my next blog will address improving “Yes”/“No” yields stage to stage.)

2.) Interest Qualified. If the marketing program achieves clear positioning, the emphasis is identifying the prospect’s decision time frame. A “Not Ready Yet” answer is a first cousin of a deep-in-the-funnel “No”; they both severely damage marketing ROI. Within this, focus on:

  • Efficiency Issue: Determine if the expressed needs are urgent enough to move to action versus a “just looking” approach that can sap resources.
  • Key Tactical Step: Develop a qualifier for the person handling lead responses and enter the results into the CRM for ongoing tracking.

3.) Business Qualified. The assigned relationship manager evaluates the prospect’s needs, their fit to the benefits the firm produces, and the prospect’s projected value. Within this, focus on:

  • Efficiency Issue: The prospect’s needs may be urgent but not be of sufficient business value given the firm’s service delivery costs.
  • Key Tactical Step: Strategically, develop a separate package for low-asset prospects knowing that such relationships will be valuable in the future through wealth accumulation and transfers.

4.) Solution Verified. Meetings have occurred and the final evaluation is at hand. Within this, focus on:

  • Efficiency Issue: Confirmations are made of needs and benefits in order to minimize (if not eliminate) delays.
  • Key Tactical Step: Provide emotional affirmation and talking points that assist the soon-to-be-client in confidently severing past advisory relationships and informing other decision influencers such as children, accountants, and attorneys.

5.) “Yes.” The relationship moves to a fiduciary overseer of the client’s future well-being. Within this step, focus on:

  • Efficiency Issue: The closing package (e.g. investment policy statement; account-opening documents; authorizations, etc.) must exist in a workflow to ensure 100 percent accuracy and a top-end presentation.
  • Key Tactical Step: Restate how the benefit package addresses needs, anxieties, and aspirations; doing so minimizes any buyer’s remorse.

ROI is the Result
The flow through the funnel actually involves substantial thought and activity to ensure that a prospect has the best chance to produce value, to become a client. Too often, there’s a sense of “let things take care of themselves” instead of establishing directed efforts designed to make each stage productive to the firm’s marketing ROI.

Kirk LouryKirk Loury
Wealth Planning Consulting Inc.
Princeton Junction, New Jersey

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When Is the Last Time You Went Outside Your Comfort Zone?

I recently went outside my comfort zone, when I biked across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Sure, I was with 100 other riders, I slept in hotels on two nights, and I knew I had the security of the SAG truck that would pick me up if I couldn’t complete the day’s ride. Still, it was my legs that peddled the 190 miles and climbed the 10,000 feet of the adventure. The resulting emotional effect at the end of the ride was glorious. It led me to ponder the extent to which we avoid going outside our comfort zone, especially as we age.

I googled the comfort zone concept and learned a few things:

  • Challenging ourselves helps us perform at our peak. No surprise. It’s like interval training for an athlete—without some difficulty, we fail to learn, grow and get better.
  • Risk helps us rise to the occasion. Although we don’t want to take risk all the time, taking some risk helps us put aside fear of failure, a fear that often leads us to settle and holds us back.
  • It is important to keep putting ourselves out there throughout life. Taking calculated risks keeps us open to experience and makes us more interesting! And while it’s true that our comfort zone enlarges over time, learning new skills improves our well-being as we age.
  • Calculated risk is the name of the game. The Yerkes-Dodson Law refers to the relationship between risk and performance. Risk enhances performance up to a certain level. Beyond that point, good stress becomes anxiety, which interferes with performance.

My recent experience made me ponder the risks I’ve taken in my life and career. It led me to think about the aging of advisers in our industry and the increasing emergence of lifestyle practices. You may need to contemplate whether this concept applies to you or not. But if it does, one is wise to do things like:

  • Find ways to incorporate challenges into daily life
  • Make a snap decision if you are a cautious, deliberate decision maker or, if you tend to make snap decisions as a norm, try taking a slower, more planned and deliberate decision-making approach
  • Find small ways to stretch yourself every day, turning it into a habit over time

Ultimately, I have realized that I need to challenge myself more; maybe you do, too. So whether in work or personally, find a way to take a calculated risk that puts you outside your comfort zone. The benefit is learning something new that will serve you indefinitely.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for webJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

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Unclog the Pipeline: 3 Ways to ‘Find Your Flow’

Recently, during one of my group coaching sessions we were discussing the topic of turning strangers into clients with what I refer to as the “9 Step Client Acquisition Process.” After I explained the details of each of the nine steps, we role-played them. After our initial role-play session, one of the advisers said, “You made is sound so natural.” He paused and added, “I need to find my flow.”

He was referring to the ability to seamlessly respond to anything a prospect or client may say in order to take them down the path of helping them understand why they would want to accept his recommendations and ultimately buy them. When you can do this—and practice it often—you will naturally find your flow.

Let’s take a closer look at how you can find yours.

  • Finding the Clog: We all have a clog (or two) in our pipeline. It may be getting a first appointment or securing a second appointment or closing the sale. In order to “find your flow” you have to be honest with yourself and find your clog(s). The best way to do this is to ask yourself, “What would need to happen in order for me to find new business?” The easy answer might be, “I need to prospect.” For the sake of argument let’s assume that you are prospecting. Then you need to figure out whether your clog is in your prospecting technique or somewhere else.
  • Unclogging the Pipeline: At this stage, it’s important to figure out specific solutions for your specific challenges. For example, if your clog is not getting the first appointment, then a possible solution is to learn how to handle objections better. If your clog confusing clients and prospects because you can’t explain your recommendations in easy-to-understand terms, then your solution is to learn story-based selling. This is the art of using metaphors, analogies or stories to help make a better connection with your prospects/clients. The point is you may need to figure out your weaknesses and do what it takes (training, coaching, finding a mentor) to assist you in mapping out a plan to turn those weaknesses into strengths and thus clear out those clogs.
  • Perfecting the Process: When my client pointed out that I sounded natural, I quickly assured him that I didn’t always sound that way. It had taken years of perfecting the process. However, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel—simply learn what has worked for so many other advisers and agents. Customize the process to make it sound like your own, then practice and role-play with a trusted peer or colleague and ask for feedback so you can make additional tweaks to smooth things out. 

Turning on the Faucet
Most advisers know that “winging it” doesn’t work. That’s why it’s so important to use the preceding steps to unclog your pipeline and build a better connection with prospects and clients. When you take the time to understand what is not working, how you can work smarter and apply what you learn, you not only help yourself but you help the prospects and clients feel more relaxed and confident because you are more relaxed and confident.

If you read this blog and need help mapping out your “9 Step Client Acquisition Process,” email Melissa Denham, director of client servicing at melissa@advisorsolutionsinc.com for our complimentary white paper on this topic.

Dan FinleyDaniel C. Finley
Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.

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Connect with Families of Clients with Diminished Capacity

MauterstockIt isn’t an easy situation when your client starts losing their mental capacity.

Author and planner Robert B. Mauterstock, CFP®, CLU, ChFC, knows this all too well. Only it wasn’t his client, it was his late mother. She was in her early 80s when she was at a doctor’s appointment. Her longtime nurse greeted her only for her to ask, “Do I know you?”

She lived with Alzheimer’s ten years, so Mauterstock came to know the ins and outs of living and working with someone with the disease. Chances are you will be working with clients who are going through something similar as 46 percent of people over the age of 85 will develop dementia, Mauterstock said.

Mauterstock presented at the FPA Annual Conference—BE Boston 2015—a session titled “The Seven Steps to Protect Yourself, Your Practice and Your Clients Who Have Diminished Mental Capacity.” In it he said one of the steps to working successfully with clients facing diminished capacity is to connect and build trust with the families.

A Fidelity Investments Study Shows that 84 percent of planners want help with clients who have dementia and Alzheimer’s. The following are the seven steps Mauterstock said these planners can refer to:

1.) Recognize the Behavior Patterns. When your clients start calling your office asking for their accountant, chances are something is off.

2.) Develop a Diminished Capacity Checklist. This includes designating a client advocate and power of attorney—somebody who is privy to all your client’s details and will be able to make decisions for them. Client advocates and your client must fill out a “Third-Party Sharing of Information” document.

3.) Learn How to Protect Your Client’s Assets. Know the ins and outs of Medicare—for example it only covers three nights in a hospital—nothing less. Research and present the best long-term care insurance for your client.  

4.) Build a Network of Professionals. This network should include an elder law attorney, a geriatric care manager, and an insurance agent.

5.) Build a Relationship with the Client’s Family. The entire family is going to be affected by this situation so call a family meeting, connect with them, and help them through it. A side benefit is that the family may want to continue working with you later on.

6.) Utilize a Single Source with All Relevant Records. Mauterstock calls this the Lifefolio—a PDF document put on a flash drive that includes all medical insurance information, usernames and password for all accounts, and the like.

7.) Create an Investment Policy Statement. This is to remind the client what your plan was and how it works. The client advocate should also have access to this.

Find more information on Mauterstock’s BE presentation here, including the presentation slides. You can also earn 1 CE credit by taking the exam for this particular presentation.

HeadshotAna Trujillo
Associate Editor
Journal of Financial Planning
Denver, Colo.

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If the CIA Can Tweet, So Can You: 5 Marketing Lessons from David Meerman Scott


David Meerman Scott takes a selfie with the BE crowd to prove the power of real time connection.

When David Meerman Scott turned 50, he was bigger, he said.

He proved this by showing a roomful of people at the second general session at the FPA Annual Converence—BE Boston a picture of big 50-year-old him, and new fit 54-year-old him.

He changed his mindset, he said. That’s exactly what you have to do with marketing in real time utilizing social media.

1) Provide Great Content. Generate helpful blog posts and Tweet links. You may be concerned about regulations, but Meerman Scott gave the example of the CIA tweeting, so you shouldn’t have any excuse not to, too.

“Yes you have regulations, yes you have to be ethical, but that doesn’t mean you can’t communicate,” Meerman Scott said. One of the methods to communicate is something Meerman Scott calls “newsjacking,” which is the art of injecting your ideas into breaking news.

2) Connect With Your Markets Via Social Media. Align the way you sell with the way people buy. A good example of this is Donald Trump. Meerman Scott emphasized he wasn’t endorsing Trump politically, but said the man is “crushing it” in terms of social media connection.

For example, when Trump’s phone number was published by Gawker, instead of changing his number Trump changed his voicemail message to be a campaign tool, driving callers to his Twitter page and his campaign website.

Trump is leading in the polls, and it’s probably no coincidence that Trump has Tweeted 27,000 times.

Meerman Scott also emphasized following the “Sharing More than Selling Rule,” which is 85 percent of your activity on social media should be sharing and connecting, 10 percent should be original content and 5 percent or less should be promotional stuff.

3) Real Time Is Key. You should be operating in real time. Planners know about real time when it comes to markets and the news, but when it comes to marketing, they tend to look to past information to make plans for the future.

“If you’re spending all of your time in the past and the future, you’re not spending any time in right now,” Meerman Scott said. And that’s a problem because potential clients are looking for right now.

He used the CIA as an example here, too. The agency answers questions and interacts with its followers in real time, often making comical statements like, “No, we don’t know where Tupac is,” referring to the famous 90s rapper whose death involves numerous conspiracy theories that he is alive and well.

“If the CIA can do it, what’s you’re excuse,” for not doing it, Meerman Scott posed.

4) Bring Humanity to the Organization.  Don’t ask your potential clients to first fill out a form before you give them access to your content. Make your content free and encourage followers to share it. Take a lesson from the Grateful Dead, who shared their music for free and were tremendously successful.

Also, don’t describe your firm in technical, hard-to-digest terms. Eliminate stock photos and hire a real photographer to take pictures of you and your firm.

5) Manage Your Fear. The best way to manage your fear is to change your mindset. Think of it in terms of fitness, Meerman Scott said, and be diligent and consistent.

“If you want to get fit and run around a stage like I do,” Meerman Scott said. “You can’t dabble, you have to truly become fit.”

Same thing with marketing and sales, he said.

For more on Meerman Scott, check out this recent Journal of Financial Planning article.

HeadshotAna Trujillo
Associate Editor
Journal of Financial Planning
Denver, Colo.

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Closing the Knowledge Gap: Findings from FPA and AARP Social Security Research

SSSocial Security is a complex thing for your clients. At what age should they start benefits? What are the rules?

Turns out, Americans surveyed by the Financial Planning Association (FPA) and AARP aren’t very knowledgeable and they’re not going to planners or other experts for help. Read the full report here.

“The survey sends a clear message,” Jeannine English, president of AARP, said at a press conference Sept. 28 at the FPA Annual Conference—BE Boston 2015. “Most future beneficiaries lack the knowledge they need to make good decisions they need about Social Security.”

This knowledge gap could cost future beneficiaries many thousands of dollars and it not only affects them but their loved ones as well.

“I know from hands-on experience that Social Security is the cornerstone of any retirement plan,” said FPA President Ed Gjertsen, CFP®. “If it’s not addressed properly, beneficiaries and families can really miss out.”

They think they know Social Security, according to the research. Nearly a half of those surveyed said they are “very” or “somewhat” knowledgeable about how their benefits will be determined.

The reality is that most Americans can’t afford a financial planner, so how do we close the knowledge gap for them? That’s a question Sharon Epperson, senior personal finance correspondent at CNBC, posed to a panel of professionals at the closing general session at BE.

“Financial planners are key in helping your clients and consumers know the information about Social Security in order to make the best decisions for them,” said Gary Koenig, vice-president of financial security at the AARP Public Policy Institute.

While planners won’t be able to give all the goods away for free, Koenig suggested they get involved with virtual and in-person “town halls” AARP is planning to host across the nation for consumers who don’t have access to a planner.

The key takeaways when combining the data on what consumers said and what CFP® professionals said regarding Social Security:

  • CFP® professionals expect that Social Security will be a lower percentage of retirement income for their clients than consumers estimate, reflecting the data showing that those who used a professional financial adviser are more affluent than those who had not.
  • Consumers think they are more knowledgeable about how their Social Security benefits are determined than CFP® professionals believe their clients are; 9 percent of consumers say they are very knowledgeable compared to the 1 percent of CFP® professionals who believe their clients are very knowledgeable.
  • CFP® professionals are twice as likely to say they are very confident that the Social Security system will provide their clients with benefits at least equal in value to those received by today’s retirees (14% versus 7% of consumers).
  • CFP® professionals were far more likely to correctly identify 10-20 years as the length of time the trust fund would remain solvent (50% vs 27% for consumers), whereas consumers thought it would be exhausted earlier.
  • Nearly three in 10 (28%) CFP® professionals recommend to clients that they wait to claim benefits until age 70, but only 13 percent of consumers plan to wait that long.
  • More than 90 percent of CFP® professionals recommend that clients check their estimated Social Security benefits at least once every couple years, yet only 64 percent of consumers have done so in the past two years.

One thing consumers could do—your clients included—is sign up for a My Social Security account on the Social Security website, said Dr. Thomas Hungerford, the associate commissioner for retirement policy at the Social Security Administration.

This is where consumers could find answers to common questions about benefits, have access to their Social Security Statement (as the SSA isn’t sending out paper reports anymore) and find out if there are any errors with their earnings so they can figure out how to fix them.

“The people who are approaching retirement are probably more computer savvy, so we do have a lot of web-based resources,” Hungerford said. AARP also offers a plethora of helpful calculators and tools on its website.

According to Jeannine English, now is the time to fill the knowledge gap for tomorrow’s retirees, because “many people don’t realize how much they will need Social Security.”

HeadshotAna Trujillo
Associate Editor
Journal of Financial Planning
Denver, Colo.



Editor’s Note: Watch the full press conference here:

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Managing Client Anxiety beyond Market Volatility

A remnant from the Great Recession is ongoing financial anxiety about the future. The recent global market turmoil highlighted how this anxiety sits as a strong influencer across generations and wealth strata. Consider the following from recent studies:

Overemphasizing Market Volatility
The Jefferson National/Harris study identified market volatility as the No. 1 issue for both the macro environment and investment execution (noting the concern is actually downside volatility; investors are fine with volatility in rising markets). Volatility’s prominence in investor consciousness speaks to an important truth: when markets decline, wealth is lost; and, when wealth is lost, anxiety increases.

However, market declines are an overemphasized contributor to financial anxiety since any dollar lost has the same wealth affect. Dollars are also lost due to overspending, changed priorities, financial mistakes, unprotected property, tax inefficiency and excessive investment product fees.

Each time a dollar is lost unnecessarily, its compounding value is lost too. Wealth preservation must minimize the loss of dollars from any source, and each dollar not lost allows the remaining wealth to compound from a higher floor.

A Plan’s Wealth-Protecting Actions
Beyond a diversified portfolio to minimize the impact from market downturns, a comprehensive wealth plan protects against many other losses such as:

  • Reducing taxes through tax-loss harvesting, gains management, income shifting, and asset location
  • Lowering expenses for core asset classes with ETFs or passive mutual funds.
  • Avoiding waste by setting spending priorities and budgets
  • Eliminating financial mistakes by using an adviser’s expertise
  • Protecting property with new appraisals and resetting coverage
  • Avoiding probate using a Revocable Living Trust

Something is Clearly Missing
After the wealth plan is executed, attention shifts to the portfolio’s investment performance, thereby excluding the important value secured from the other wealth-protecting actions.

Whereas market declines are infrequent and unpredictable, overspending, taxes and high fees degrade wealth day after day. Preventing these other wealth leakages have absolute monetary value that, in total, can exceed the value generated through portfolio design.

Consider if the S&P 500 declined 50 percent over a few weeks, wealth would clearly be impacted at that moment; paper losses would result with clients’ anxiety spiking. The above IMCA data point highlights that clients value an adviser who keeps them calm in a downturn and prevents paper losses from being realized in a panic. Over time as markets rebound, the paper losses would be washed away by a new bull market—i.e. bull markets last much longer than bear markets.

What’s missed in the reporting task is a high-income client’s largest single expense every year is taxes, at a marginal rate exceeding 50 percent in high-tax states. This annual wealth erosion can far exceed the impact from a single, even severe market decline.

At the typical client meeting, the adviser’s tax alpha production—increased after-tax returns resulting from tax management tactics—is nowhere to be found in the report package.

Not Just Performance Reporting, but Value Reporting
In a performance report, a low-basis investment is shown with a large unrealized gain; a paper profit that may not be realized for years to come. The client’s financial anxiety is reduced knowing this asset exists should it be needed.

In the same vein, the adviser’s wealth-protecting actions have value even though some remain unrealized at a particular time—like a property loss or probate.

An adviser’s value is accentuated when all wealth-protecting actions are illustrated side by side in the performance report package. Seeing the wealth plan’s total value—not just related to portfolio returns—reduces anxiety from headline-grabbing market declines. When anxiety is reduced, a good portion of those 475 hours spent worrying are left to more inspiring thoughts. How could an adviser’s value to this client be more evident?

Kirk LouryKirk Loury
Wealth Planning Consulting Inc.
Princeton Junction, NJ


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