Tricks of the trade: How some advisers are now winning over prospects

Rather than focus on leads, savvy adviser marketers concentrate on activities they and clients like

May 22, 2011 @ 12:01 am

By Lavonne Kuykendall

Cold calls are dead and dinner seminars passé, so financial advisers are using other marketing tactics to attract skeptical and increasingly jaded prospects.

Lee Munson goes for the offbeat.

Mr. Munson, chief investment officer for Portfolio LLC in Albuquerque, N.M., frequently invites clients and prospects to unique events that have nothing to do with finance or selling his services.

One was a cooking class conducted by a celebrity chili expert and cookbook author; another was a trip to a shooting range. A future event will offer the necessary training to obtain a state concealed-weapons permit.

“You do have to do something interesting,” Mr. Munson said. “It's best to do something your clients also think is interesting.”

Mr. Munson and other advisers who have created highly individualized and successful marketing programs share some common traits, said Beverly Flaxington, principal at the marketing firm The Collaborative.

“These advisers are designing approaches around what people really care about instead of the latest market update,” she said.

“In some ways, it is about standing out in a crowded marketplace. You are bringing something to people that really interests them but wouldn't go and find out about on their own,” Ms. Flaxington said.

Advisers warn about focusing too much on getting prospects to attend, which they say can be counterproductive. Bringing existing clients and prospects together for a non-financial event can end up being much more effective than a sales seminar, they say.

Robert J. Blattel of Blattel & Associates in St. Peters, Mo., mixes his lifelong love of magic with client interests to create social events that build rapport.

For one of his most popular events, a classic-car show and cookout, he invites clients who have interesting cars or other vehicles to bring them to his office parking lot for an informal show. Typically, attendance at the invitation-only event is about 80% clients and 20% guests.

Although there is no sales pitch or financial focus at his events, Mr. Blattel does like to entertain with some magic tricks he has created to illustrate financial principles.

One trick he created is a two-sided card inscribed with financial factors investors must balance.

Mr. Blattel shows the audience one face of the card, which says “inflation.” He then turns the card around and shows the other side, which says “investments,” then turns it back around to show yet another word, “taxes,” on the other side of the apparently two-sided card.

Another trick consists of Mr. Blattel displaying several pieces of rope, which each represent a source of income in retirement. He ties the pieces together, and through sleight of hand, transforms the tied pieces into an unbroken circle.

Mr. Blattel also performs magic tricks at personal-finance classes he teaches at a local college. The tricks start off the class, which he said helps “wake them up,” and captures the students' attention.

“Magic is a good door-opener for classes,” Mr. Blattel said.

During class, he doesn't even hand out business cards, but his entertaining way of teaching is very effective. After a recent session attended by 19 couples, 15 asked to make appointments to come talk to him, Mr. Blattel said.

Noticing that many of his client conversations touched on health matters, Mark Singer, president of Safe Harbor Retirement Planning Inc., in Lynn, Mass., developed a three-part boot camp that combines the topics of financial and physical health.

The first session had one presentation on cholesterol and a second on the economic outlook. The next featured a Social Security expert and an expert on health trends.

Another session covered mental fitness and preserving financial assets.

GENEALOGY SEMINAR

Mr. Singer has held other events that usually spring from listening to his clients talk about their interests.

He held a seminar on genealogy after talking to a client who was a genealogy buff. For a seminar on travel, Mr. Singer invited clients to bring their travel photos.

He usually brings in outside experts, but invites clients to make presentations as well.

“I used to do one-on-one dinners,” Mr. Singer said. “These conversations are so different. We link into different passions, hobbies and interests.”

Like Mr. Blattel, Mr. Singer doesn't hawk his financial planning services at special events, though he said that people he has met there have become clients.

Heather R. Ettinger, managing partner of Fairport Asset Management LLC, understands the pressures of being a female executive and has used that insight to develop events targeted at women like her.

About once a month, she holds an after-work get-together, typically at her home — conveniently located near Cleveland's central business district. Ms. Ettinger's carefully planned guest list of about 12 to 15 women is designed for networking and interesting conversation.

“Clients tell us the people they want to meet. We never sell” at the events, she said.

“What happens is these women ask each other if they work with Fairport. We never do any kind of pitch and we always walk out with new business,” Ms. Ettinger said.

Although some of his events can get pricey, Mr. Munson said that he never asks clients to bring prospects. For example, for the chili cooking class with cookbook author Jane Boutal, he simply asked clients as he invited them, “Do you know somebody who likes to cook?”

Asking clients to bring along potential clients puts them in the uncomfortable position of having to “qualify prospects,” Mr. Munson said.

“Clients say "I don't know how much they have to invest, so I won't invite them,'” he said.

Most clients typically don't invite friends who they know aren't potential clients,” Mr. Munson said.

He suggests that advisers look to their own hobbies and passions for ideas, or pick things that they have always wanted to do.

“The rest of my stuff is as boring as anybody else's,” Mr. Blattel said.

Still, “the magician act has led to business. It makes you noticeable and they remember who you are,” Mr. Blattel said.

E-mail Lavonne Kuykendall at lkuykendall@investmentnews.com.

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