When I ask retirement plan advisers about their biggest concerns, the most common answer — even in turbulent markets or amid dramatic regulatory changes — is finding new clients. All successful plan advisers have found good ways to prospect, but most ignore marketing in general and content marketing specifically.
Why? Because plan advisers don't understand it and have not developed the required skill set. But those able to do it, and do it well, will be at a distinct advantage.
The consensus among plan advisers is that referrals — whether from CPAs, attorneys, bankers, other advisers, clients or providers — are the best way to prospect. The worst way is through cold-calling, especially by third-party firms (so-called telemarking mills) that do not understand you or your business.
But content marketing is not an alternative to other forms of prospecting. It enhances all other methods. Indirect or push content marketing includes writing articles, blogs and books, while direct or pull content marketing can include educational seminars or webinars.
According to Rebecca Hourihan, founder and chief marketing officer at 401(k) Marketing, "Modern plan sponsors are going to vet a new adviser through their website, social media profiles, blogs, events, webinars, newsletters, videos and other accessible digital sources, and then make an involved decision to proactively meet with that adviser."
Small to midsize defined contribution plan sponsors are waking up, moving from being unconsciously incompetent to becoming consciously incompetent. The biggest questions they have as they emerge from the haze, especially with the Department of Labor fiduciary rule, is how to find a plan adviser and determine whether the adviser is competent.
At some point you need to meet in person with the prospect, which includes direct contact through traditional sales methods. But the manner in which you connect is directly affected by the online persona you have created with content marketing.
"Truly helpful content creates a relationship faster than a cold call ever will," noted Sheri Fitts, chief marketing officer at Sheridan Road Financial.
"Writing is a muscle, the more you do it, the stronger you become," she advised.
One common adviser mistake is to judge content marketing solely on how many leads it generates. While this metric is important, content marketing also distinguishes advisers by providing a digital profile on credible sources. There's a huge gulf between saying you care about helping plan participants and proving it through numerous articles or blogs.
A sale includes these elements: contact, credibility and trust. Content marketing helps with all three and can enable other methods of client acquisition.
Though difficult, it's better to have your posts and blogs on credible websites or be quoted in a credible source's articles. Content marketing is quickly taking over for advertising, which has never worked well when sourcing financial advisers.
So how do you get started? Getting help from experts who can help create content marketing and get it distributed is a good place to begin. One easy way to start writing is to tell stories about successes and challenges with clients or participants.
Before you begin, be sure to understand your unique core competency. Ask employees, colleagues and clients. And then make sure your messaging stays clear and consistent, evolving over time as you do.
Regardless of how you execute your content marketing strategy, know this for sure: advisers who ignore it will do so at their peril.
Fred Barstein is founder and CEO of The Retirement Advisor University and The Plan Sponsor University.