In the wake of the April release of the U.S. Department of Labor’s finalized fiduciary rule, retirement advisors understandably have a heightened focus on all things compliance-related: documents, disclosures, compensation and acting in the client’s best interest.
With respect to the last task, they might also take a tip from the Labor Department and do what’s in their own best interest. Namely, employ industry-proven sales tips and techniques to build more profitable and rewarding practices.
Consider Gateway Financial Advisors President and CEO Shane Westhoelter, who presented a morning workshop at the annual meeting of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, held in Las Vegas Sept. 17-19.
Over the course of a fast-paced 60 minutes, Westhoelter offered more than a dozen ideas for upping your sales game. He also shared this key take-away: Discipline in implementing sales and marketing best practices — not government-mandated rules and regulations — will determine how well you do as an insurance and financial services professional.
“Because of the DOL fiduciary rule, there will be more opportunities than ever to bring our services to people,” said Westhoelter. “How you deliver and charge for your services may have to change … But that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed in this business.”
“Indeed,” he added, “those advisors who exit the retirement space because of the rule will be leaving more business for the rest of us. We’ll all have more clients and prospects to see.”
No. 13: Invite prospective new hires to a group interview
If you’re aiming to fill a vacant position at the office, said Westhoelter, run an ad in a newspaper or online job site, then invite all of the qualified candidates to a group interview.
When they arrive, advise the participants that some of them will be invited to second and third interviews before the winning candidate is selected for the position.
Thereafter comes the marketing pitch — about you and your practice — justifying the plug by noting that, as prospective new hires, the interviewees need to know about the business. Convey, too, that your practice may also be of assistance to candidates (and family members) who don’t qualify for the position.
“You probably can secure at least six or seven client prospects using such group interviews,” said Westhoelter. “It’s a great marketing tool.”
No. 12: Gather leads through corporate sponsorships
Westhoelter said he once offered to be a corporate sponsor for the operators of a haunted house at a county fair. In exchange for a $5,000 sponsorship, Gateway received leads via waiver forms completed by people by waiting to be admitted.
The message on the waiver form: “Brought to you by Gateway Financial Advisors. Kindly check off any services you may wish to learn more about. Please enjoy your visit through the haunted house.”
“We got 200 client prospects on the opening day of the haunted house,” said Westhoelter. “We later added a hallway to the house to feature our services; and we provided entertainment for VIP prospects.”
No. 11: Develop and hone your brand
Westhoelter said that Gateway helps clients achieve the quality of life they desire in retirement, free of “financial stress.” To that end, the company offers products and planning services that address three “what ifs”What if you “live too long” (outlive your assets)?
- What if you “leave” (as a result of death or divorce)?
- What if you “linger” (due to a disability or a condition requiring long-term care)?
“I tell clients, ‘Start with the end in mind — your legacy,'” said Westhoelter. “Transferring assets in the most tax-efficient way requires ‘quality of life planning,’ not financial planning. Your marketing message — your brand — has to underpin how you present your practice in client engagements.”
No. 10: Tell a story
Storytelling — short, compelling anecdotes that are applicable to the client’s situation — can be highly effective in helping to close the sale. During an engagement, the client prospect will (absent agreement on a plan recommendation) generally pose either a question or objection.
If the first happens, said Westhoelter, answer the question and close. If the second happens, tell a story, and close again.
Taking on the second of three common client objections (“no trust, no hurry, no money,”) Westhoelter said advisors need to “create urgency” among prospects who hem and haw on a plan recommendation (such as by citing the need for time to “think it over” or to consult with a spouse or other professional). Westhoelter’s technique: He tells a story about a frog who dies in a pot of water brought slowly to a boil: Impervious to the gradual change in temperature — and the mortal danger it faces — the frog meets its end.
“Your job as advisor is to hit the [metaphorical] pot: to make the client realize that the ‘water’ — the client’s financial condition — is getting hot and that he needs to jump out,” said Westhoelter. “Have a story to tell whenever the client raises the ‘no hurry’ objection, then close again.”
No. 9: Prospect up
Gateway characterizes advisors’ business success in terms of “5 Ps”:
“Prospecting up” is about engaging — at seminars, networking events or other social gatherings — client prospects who are more affluent than you. Many advisors only do business with people having comparable income or assets because they feel “inadequate” around wealthier individuals. To grow in their practices, Westhoelter insisted, they have to break out of their comfort zone.
“I can talk as easily with someone who makes $10 million per month as $10 million a year,” he said. “You can, too.”
No. 8: Host a networking gathering
Many of Gateway’s clients and prospects are themselves business owners looking to meet people who can use their products or services. To facilitate such exchanges, Gateway hosts luncheons and networking gatherings at its offices. The financial services firm also uses the meetings to plug its own solutions for the uninitiated.
“In our business, it’s not what you know, but who you know that counts most,” said Westhoelter. “It’s not about selling, but networking. When this happens, sales happen.”
No. 7: Host a yoga class
Gateway regularly holds yoga classes for client prospects, using the occasion to pitch a component of the company’s marketing message (reducing financial stress) that aligns with the focus of the Hindu-originated spiritual discipline: reducing physical and mental stress.
During the pre-class plug for Gateway, Westhoelter has participants sign (as at the Haunted House) a waiver-and-liability release form, the document noting they will receive additional details about Gateway’s services unless they check off a box to “opt-out” of follow-up correspondence.
No. 6: Communicate the cost of the ‘free consultation’
A common practice of advisors is to offer client prospects a complementary review of their insurance and investment portfolios. Often, however, such reviews fail to translate into business. The reason: No mention of the time and expense of carrying out the exercise. That needs to change, said Westhoelter, who proceeded to recap his pre-review intro:
“‘Mr. and Mrs. Client, my staff and I spent several hours reviewing your portfolio and financial needs with our analytical data and tools. What I’m about to present is worth more than $1,000 of our time, which we’re donating to you at our expense so you’ll know where you have holes in your coverage.'”
“If you say this at beginning of a portfolio review, client prospects will feel obligated,” said Westhoelter. “But you need to make it a real number; calculate the actual time you and your staff spend doing an analysis and developing a recommendation.”
No. 5: Describe the client’s ‘life deductible’
Analogous to a health insurance deductible or co-pay, the life deductible is the amount of money that life insurance policy beneficiaries have to fund out-of-pocket on the death of the insured. The life-deductible includes two components:
- Front-end deductible (out-of-pocket costs during the period awaiting distribution of the policy proceeds.
- Back-end deductible (funds used to cover other financial assets after the death benefit is used up).
No. 4: Be a match-maker
Gateway doesn’t just offer financial solutions; it’s also leverages its extensive client network to connect people who have a non-financial need with those who can fulfill it. Example: Finding a suitable florist or jeweler for a child’s wedding or graduation party.
“I know a lot of people,” said Westhoelter. “I may not be able to provide the service, but I probably can connect the client with someone who does. Much of what I do today doesn’t involve selling, but solving problems.”
No. 3: Develop a bucket list
This list — financial objectives for the client to accomplish before passing away — is accompanied by a potted plant. The reason: to remind clients that, as with the plant, the financial plan has to be nurtured (such as by saving adequately for retirement) if the end goal is to be reached.
“When a client comes to our office for an annual review, we consult the bucket list to see if each of the financial tasks has been checked off,” said Westhoelter. “If not, I’ll ask: ‘Why not?'”
No. 2: Sweeten the client engagement
Gateway’s offices are stocked with private-labeled items such as chocolate, wine, pins and tote bags, which staffers hand out to clients.
The freebies, said Gateway’s chief, reinforce the company’s branding message and strategy.
No. 1: Take your ‘A’ clients out on their anniversary
Annual meetings with clients needn’t be just devoted to reviewing their portfolio performance and financial goals. The gatherings can also be used to celebrate one more year of doing business with them.
And what better way to celebrate than by offering them the red carpet treatment on their birthday or (if a couple) wedding anniversary? Thus, Gateway’s best (“A”) clients enjoy a chauffeured limo trip to the company’s offices for the portfolio review, then dinner at a top-tier restaurant.
“These client-appreciation events generate a lot of buzz because clients tell all their family members, friends and colleagues,” said Westhoelter. “They make a big impression.”
“Do more than what you’re paid for, and someday you’ll get paid more for what you do,” he added in closing. “Go above and beyond. Do things for clients they don’t expect; you’ll be rewarded for it.”
FOR FINANCIAL PROFESSIONAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR USE WITH THE GENERAL PUBLIC.
CP-0829 – 2016/11/17