Growth is a real challenge for many advisory firms, from the advisor who got into the business to help people (not market to them), to the advisor who’s 'great' in front of prospects (with a strong ability to sell their value) but struggles to find prospects to get in front of in the first place. Often at best, advisors find one particular strategy that works at least ‘OK’ for them, and then focus all their time and energy there… and in the process, neglect (or never even attempt) the rest of the steps of a comprehensive marketing plan and doing what it takes to build a steady ongoing pipeline of prospects for growth.
In this guest post, Amy Parvaneh, Founder and CEO of Select Advisors Institute, explains the WAVE Method, a 12-step marketing plan created to apply the concept of diversification to advisor marketing strategy by engaging efforts across four categories: 1) Wealth Detection, 2) Asking For Referrals, 3) Visibility, and 4) Emailing Prospective Clients.
The Wealth Detection category is about advisors staying informed about their communities (through local magazines), and the areas relevant to their niche clients (through Google alerts), as well as creating a pipeline of potential business development leads (by taking notes on individuals and places encountered on a daily basis to ‘detect’ who has wealth or, better yet, money in motion).
Asking For Referrals focuses on using clients and Centers Of Influence (COIs) as primary referral sources, ideally with a systematic routine of asking for referrals regularly. Additionally, more passive strategies can be used to softly ‘Ask’ For Referrals, such as including a brief message in your email signature line or adding a call-to-action banner on your website that directs clients on where to go to “Give a Referral”.
The featured areas of Visibility that can help an advisor grow their business include Social Media Visibility, in which advisors post personalized and relevant content regularly to establish a captivated audience that wants to follow them; Humanized Visibility, in which advisors are encouraged to connect with others as much as possible either in person or virtually, through activities such as attending trade conferences, volunteering, and creating video content; and Public Relations efforts, in which advisors pitch and contribute content to editors or publishers of well-known media publications for brand-name affiliation.
Emailing Prospective Clients helps advisors connect directly with generating actionable leads ready to do business, and can include ‘cold’ emails that are targeted to commercially available lists, or specifically targeted people the advisor is interested in meeting. Alternatively, social media followers, such as connections on LinkedIn, can be reached by sending them a past post of interest (perhaps one that may have been featured on the advisor’s feed). Last, the production of an original, personalized newsletter can be an effective way to reach prospective clients (and then sending it outbound via email to ensure it gets in front of them!).
Ultimately, the key point is that there are many strategies available to advisors to market their firms, but that advisors don’t necessarily have to bet everything on one strategy, and instead, similar to investing, can diversify efforts across multiple areas. Just be certain to also engage in a periodic review of performance and results to understand what’s working!
Asset allocation is one of the most important rules and strategies financial advisors can consult and educate their clients about. Investments 101 taught us all not to put all of our eggs into one basket, because when one asset class is taking a nose-dive, hopefully, the performance of some of the other asset classes will serve to protect the portfolio.
Similarly, we’ve consulted our clients on broad diversification even within asset classes. This so-called ‘asset location’ strategy has helped us select one mutual fund manager over another in the equities category, use liquid versus illiquid funds, and more.
The primary concept here is to manage risk by using broad strokes across different opportunity sets for maximum results.
Although the concept has been tattooed in our minds since day one of preparing to become a financial planner, throughout college courses, the CFP curriculum, advisor training, and licensing exams, when it comes to actually growing our practice so we can have more capital to allocate and more clients to help, we seem to have selective amnesia with respect to the concept of diversification!
How do I know? I hear these statements all day, every day, in my role as the Chief Marketing Officer to so many different financial advisors:
- We only grow through client referrals
- We have three attorneys who send us the majority of our new business
- We grow through advisor acquisition
- We already have a really powerful LinkedIn marketing engine going
- I already wrote a book that I’m going to market
- I post once a day on social media, and that’s working well enough for me
What if we applied that same asset allocation concept our clients rely on us to implement for them and applied it to our own marketing and growth strategies?
Given my own background as a financial advisor (previously at Goldman Sachs) and an investment professor at various universities, in 2014, I decided to use an asset allocation concept to developing a Marketing process, and I called this new marketing asset allocation strategy the “Select Advisors WAVE Method”, where each of the letters in the word WAVE stands for a different marketing asset class (I may also have come up with the acronym looking at the ocean, given our physical location in Newport Beach, CA!)
The 4 letters in the word WAVE stand for:
W: Wealth Detector
A: Asking For Referrals
E: Emailing Prospective Clients
There are 3 main subcategories under each of those letters that result in 12 steps advisors can take to fully diversify their marketing strategy and tune up their growth.
Just like when clients come to you with different needs, situations, time horizons, and risk tolerance levels, you too can look under each asset class and each subcategory and determine how much of each you should have within your marketing 'portfolio'.
However, we highly recommend adhering to the practice of allocating at least something to all the core ‘asset classes’ of marketing, rebalancing quarterly, and remaining ‘in the market’ at all times!
W: Wealth Detector
I once spoke at a workshop in a beautiful hotel in Florida to a group of top producers for a large global bank. I asked the question: Who here is having difficulty finding new leads?
The hands of everyone in the entire group went up!
I then directed them to look up at the ceiling, and asked: Who’s the master craftsman of that chandelier?
Look at the wall: Which small business owner’s company placed the wallpaper throughout the entire hotel?
Look at your shirts: Who patented the machine that created the buttons for your shirt? Who is the designer who selected the color for the buttons on your shirt?
All around us, there are people doing successful things, which means Leads, and they are aplenty. Running out of leads may be the silliest thing I’ve ever heard of! The challenge, though, is that advisors think there’s some major vault or treasure chest of these live leads that they need to figure out how to open. And while there may be lead generation systems out there (we’ve all heard of the main ones), they are not the holy grail of growing your practice (if only because everyone else is trying to mine them at the same time if that’s the only place they know where to go, too!).
Here are 3 methods for becoming a better Detector of Wealth, so you can find more of the leads that exist all around you, all the time:
- Google Alerts. Google should be your best friend, if it isn’t already, especially when you’re in wealth detector mode. Nearly every single piece of information you need can be found on Google. Whether your niche includes divorcees or neurosurgeons, you can set up alerts (alerts.google.com) on your google account to give you weekly, daily, or even as-it-happens news updates on that specific sector, market segment, or demographic. Be prepared to start getting a lot of email notifications, but if you’re serious about your niche market, then you should want to be constantly in the flow of news and information pertaining to your niche areas of interest.
- Magazines. When I was first thinking about moving to Newport Beach, CA, I picked up the glossy magazine placed for free in the lobby of my hotel and started looking at the lifestyles and events section. Throughout, I saw the ads of the same group of real estate agents highlighting their $15MM listings. I picked up the phone and called one of those agents to introduce myself as someone who can collaborate with them on helping wealthy individuals. To this day, I see that agent as the biggest socialite in the entire location. He is the influencer I needed to meet if I wanted to learn who’s who in town, if I wanted to go to the right events, and if I wanted to meet the right people. Similarly, make sure you subscribe to all the local magazines around your city (or if your target market isn’t local, whatever their magazines of choice are), to know who’s who, what events to attend, and who lives near you or is otherwise readily able to connect with. For advisors that focus locally, most cities throughout the U.S have a luxury and a local business magazine. If you are not reading those from front to back each month, you are seriously missing the boat!
- Lead capture. When I was in wealth management, I had a notepad and pen constantly with me, and every time I visited a client, I would jot down the names of all the other businesses in his building’s office directory, as well as write down the names of the restaurants, construction sites, real estate developers and businesses I passed along the way. Come Sunday each week, my notepad had about 100 names of people and businesses on it (who happened to also be mainly under the radar) that I could go after. You can do the same thing. Maintain a running list of names you encounter throughout your day (e.g., on your iPhone “Notes” app) and keep this list going. Don’t do anything with it until the day you have time for business development. Then, you have an entire directory of people that are most probably under the radar to do deeper research on.
We will discuss what to do with these Wealth Detector Names in the Email section below.
A: Asking For Referrals
I recently walked into a Lincoln Automobile showroom, and I was actually in the market for buying a car. Instead of trying to convince me how great Lincolns are, the lady who worked there said, “We don’t sell here; this is meant to be a relaxed environment just for looking.”
As much as the messaging and environment was meant to put me at ease (the free Nespressos and full bar made it an especially pampering experience), as a businesswoman, I started getting a bit confused when I did the math. Why do they have a $50,000 a month storefront in a luxury outdoor mall, yet have such a blurry marketing strategy? I actually was there to buy a car, and at that moment I just wanted to be sold to!
This is probably what your clients and centers of influence who are in the business world are also often expecting from you: For you to be a businessperson, asking for business!
And by business, I mean referrals.
I’ve outlined below different ways of getting referrals from different sources:
- Asking Clients For Referrals. On a weekly basis, you should be vocalizing to your clients that you are open for business. Flat. Out. Say. It. What are you afraid of? Looking desperate? Similar to my own experience in the Lincoln showroom, it may be a relief to your clients to have the clarity of knowing you are in growth mode (and that you’re ready to grow while still maintaining your existing service standards for them).
In fact, a study by Advisor Impact found that 40% of clients who provided a referral in the past 12 months did so after being asked for a referral by their advisor. So 40% of your clients may be waiting until you actually ask for them to give a referral. Think about how much has yet to be uncovered in your existing network!
Another reason why clients should expect you to ask for referrals? If any of them have been in any type of business development or management role themselves, they know that revenue and growth is the key to success and they will want to be part of a growing practice (because it means your services will sustain them, too).
Make an effort to track how many 'asks' you and your team make. In fact, you should probably have a field in your CRM system about when a client was last asked for a referral. Then periodically run a report on that field and see who’s overdue for the next ask.
What is a good way of asking? The same study by Advisor Impact showed that 72% of clients who provided a referral in the last 12 months did so after being asked for their feedback. That can be an excellent way of taking the hopefully positive feedback that your clients provide you to the next level.
You can start with checking in and asking how you are doing for them, and if they provide positive feedback, that can be a good time to say “That means a lot to me and our business, Jane! We’d really appreciate any referrals you can send our way so we can continue to provide this level of service to others you care about as well!”
Also, it’s okay to ask more than once! Just like we forget what we ate for lunch two weeks ago or what news we watched a week ago, clients will forget about your desire for more referrals, too. Don’t take it personally. I suggest every client to be asked every few months, at least, and you and your team can track your ‘asks’ on your group CRM system.
If you have multiple people at your firm working on the same client, you definitely want to document this in your CRM system so the same client doesn’t get asked multiple times in the same month, as that can overwhelm and potentially frustrate them. There’s an art and a science to this process.
A while back we did a podcast interview with Michael Kitces about Referralytics, our coaching and research methodology for finding out who clients already know. If you are able to utilize this methodology, such as seeing which charity events clients have held, who else is on their board, who is on their team at work, or who is part of their extended family, who was their college roommate, etc. you can arm yourself with more direct questions when inquiring about a clients’ circle of friends and connections as referral options.
Instead of asking “Who do you know?” which can sound very broad and difficult for the brain to focus on, you can change the conversation to “I saw you know Mary Smith. I’d love to meet her if you can make an introduction.”
- Asking Centers Of Influence For Referrals. Many advisors keep a tally of how many referrals they have given to a Center Of Influence (COI), and how many have come back. Instead of just sending opportunities out and keeping score of which ones (hopefully) come back, consider more proactively building new Centers Of Influence relationships so you have a wider network who can be good referral sources to you.
Also, as a few attorneys have shared with me, the referrals you send their way and those that they send to you aren’t typically 1 for 1, because a client to you is an annuity (for years to come), versus to them it may be a $5 to $10K, one-time contract or document. So they don’t necessarily see your referral as worthy as sending you an equivalent client type.
Instead of quantifying the number of referrals, qualify the relationship with the COI. Opening up the conversation with how you can help them versus the other way around is a great way to start a new potential partnership. Once you meet (in person or virtually) make mental notes of their background, their kids’ hobbies, their favorite foods, or sports team. Utilize the time of bonding (best on the second or third meeting) to also bring up how important it is to get from them a referral.
The conversation can go something like “When you consider making referrals, what do you look for? How can my firm be on your roster of referrals?”
I hate to say this, but it really doesn’t matter what you say if the rapport hasn’t been built. If the rapport has been built and it’s very strong, though, how you ask isn’t really that important. This COI will want to help you.
People do business with people they like… period. So make sure this person knows you personally and then work on enhancing the relationship. If you feel that not too many people are sending you referrals, you may benefit from some relationship development coaching to improve your ways of deepening relationships to get new referrals.
- Asking All Around You Without Asking. Asking for referrals doesn’t just have to happen verbally and in person. There are multiple indirect ways to let your clients and centers of influence know that you want more referrals and are open for business.
For example, add a “Give a referral” call-to-action banner to your website or include a message in your email signature that might say something like “As featured in ABC Magazine, since 1985, XYZ firm has prided itself on growing through word of mouth and referrals. Your introductions and referrals help us grow through our journey with you.”
As you become more visible on social media (see below), your messaging can serve as an indirect way of telling your followers (which may include your clients and COI’s) “I’m open for business and I welcome your referrals.”
I once read a very interesting quote that resonates with me to this day: “Work until you no longer have to introduce yourself.” Think for a minute what that means to you and your practice.
It’s hard not to recognize Michael Kitces if he is walking around a room at a conference. We all recognize his blue shirt, his glasses and goatee, and his way of educating advisors.
Michael has worked extremely hard at getting his name out there. In fact, I follow how many times a day he posts, how visible he is on YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, newsletters, conferences, and more.
The man no longer has to introduce himself; we all know him. That has taken a lot of work.
Similarly, if you want to be known as the go-to financial advisor in your town, you have to be visible. The whole ‘being discreet’ strategy only works if a) you are now a multi-billion dollar firm with so much recognition that you have to remain under the radar for more exclusivity, or b) You actually really don’t want to grow at all.
If you are not one of the above two, most likely you are not doing enough to be visible. And visibility takes work. It’s not easy. And if you’re not willing to do it, you won’t grow at the rate you want to.
What are some of the top ways to be more visible?
- Social Media Visibility. Never has social media been more relevant and significant to our growth than today. Social media is the hub that grabs people into knowing you and sends them back out to see your website. With hundreds of millions of websites out there, the chances of someone stumbling on your website on their own are quite rare. You must be more active on social media. How would this work?
Step 1 – Establish a captivated audience. Your followers are an audience that has become captivated by you. That’s why they follow you. And they will remain with you for a long time (as long as you remain relevant and continue to captivate them… or at least until you anger or bore them to the point that they decide to unfollow you.) In fact, unfollowing on social media is much rarer than unsubscribing to a newsletter. People feel connected to you. So you need to maximize that.
Step 2 – Post regularly. It’s an effective practice to post at least twice a week, once about your expertise and once about your passions and interests. As you’ve probably read thousands of times, if you are posting canned topics that many firms tend to post, you will also be seen as a ‘canned’ person. Personalize everything you do on your social media, as much as you can.
How do you find time to post good, personalized content? Two ways: 1) Post any time you’re in a good mood. I’m not sure why this works, but my best posts have been when they haven’t been scripted and I’ve wanted to share something. Not timed, not pre-scripted. So any time you’re having a good day and want to share what’s on your mind, what your audience wants to hear, or anything else related to your audience, post!
Also, take advantage of the weekends, when you’re not actually working. If growth and business development is a top priority, you can plan out what your weekly personalized posts should be. Remember, time is not what we have, it’s what we make!
I work with many advisors at large wirehouses whose firms have strict social media rules, and what I’ve noticed to this day is that if you raise your hand and explain what you’re trying to do, the firm will be more flexible. If you just say “I want to post things” and have no plan, most likely you will be shut down by your own management and compliance team. Have examples of your ideas and work with your compliance and social media team. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
- Humanized Visibility. As much as you may love to hide behind your computer and keep posting, at the end of the day, we’re in a people business. People want to meet you. So once we’re no longer in pandemic lockdown, you should absolutely try to make it to more live events and conferences, board meetings, volunteering events, and more.
When we’re still in lockdown, though, and/or if you’re a researcher (as we discussed in our past article on sales personality assessments) or just want to be more efficient with your time and not be away too often, you should get your face out there with more video content. You don’t need a fancy camera; in fact, I find that sometimes just using Zoom and a webcam, you can create some great video content. Make sure you are helping your target market put a face to a name!
If you are not a natural with what to say, here are some simple rules:
- Tell them what you’re going to say
- Say it
- Tell them what you’ve said
- Use the ‘law of three’; for example, here are three key ways you can reduce your taxes, here are three ideas for gifting to your children, etc.
There are a lot of great apps and programs to help you edit video content on your own. For example, iMovie is great for editing video, adding stock images, creating text overlays, and more. But there are so many other options; go to the app store and search “video editing”, and you will see all of them ranked in order.
- Public Relations. If you don’t have a famous brand or backlinks to your firm (i.e., other websites that send people to your own website), you may be losing a lot of credibility with your audience.
The minute you have a CNBC, Barron’s, or other household name writing about you on their website, you have gained yourself some massive visibility. So try to have editors and publishers as your centers of influence as well, pitch them ideas around investments, gifting, and more to help you gain more opportunities to be published and visible.
What is a good way to get the attention of editors and publishers? Refer your 'pitch' to them by sending them an article they’ve written about already. For example, if they have written about gifting strategies, your subject line could say “Following up on your article in June about gifting strategies,” then introduce yourself, and explain your pitch. Keep it short, no longer than 1 paragraph for the background, and no longer than one paragraph for your pitch.
E: Emailing Prospective Clients
If you look at all of the above methods as part of a well-diversified investment portfolio, I would say the steps above (Wealth Detector, Asking for Referrals, and Visibility) are like bonds. They are slow and steady, reliable but slow in working.
The last step of the WAVE method, Emailing Prospective Clients, can be equivalent to the equities portion of your portfolio. It is direct, it has the possibility for fast growth, and it can be done either through a passive or active portfolio!
Why are high-impact emails important? Without getting the attention of your target market through customized email messages to them, you may be visible on social media and through beautiful videos, but you won’t be likely to get many meetings.
I know so many advisors who get 1,000’s of 'likes' on their social media posts, but the phones are simply not ringing with any of those people looking to schedule a meeting.
Who are these high-impact emails to? As mentioned, you can write them through passive or active strategies.
What are the types of high impact emails?
- Cold emails (that are warmed up). The number one way of getting brand new leads is through cold emails that are warmed up. By emails, I’m also talking about InMails on LinkedIn (if your compliance officer allows it). You avoid any intermediary to make that introduction, and it allows you to flat outreach to the person who you want to be working with. Cold emails expedite the process of getting to exactly who you want to be talking to.
As amazing as this sounds, it is probably the most challenging and humbling task you can take on. However, if you can become good at it, your business can skyrocket.
Who should you email? If you are passive in your thinking, then there are ways you can get lists. Lists of thousands of prospective clients. Alternatively, a more active strategy can involve picking out specific people you want to meet and then customizing very selective and extremely well-written messages to them. These people could be those you sourced through your Wealth Detector exercise and jotted down in your Notes app.
What are the components of a fantastic email?
- Subject line: If your subject line is not powerful, your chances of someone opening your email is quite low. Your subject line needs to be so catchy that it draws the attention of the opener. I like to use a well-known person, event, or industry that this person would definitely recognize as part of my subject line.
- How much you know about the person: The more you can show how much you have followed this person, how much you admire and respect them, the more you can have a chance of this person caring and not thinking of you as a robot.
- Why you are so special: Here, you need to brag. Anything that’s unique about you, features, assets, pedigree. Unfortunately, if you are leading with “We are fiduciary trusted advisors,” you may as well just close down the computer and walk away.
I've written a sample email that you can download here.
- Resend a post. One of the things I like to do is to take a post I’ve already featured on my feed (or that I’ve seen on someone else’s feed that I believe would be of interest) and reshare it with my followers through individual emails or LinkedIn InMail messages.
Advisors who can’t post original content to their own social media feeds, given their compliance restrictions, may find this particularly appealing. Because, typically, they can share something that’s already been published by their marketing division and send it as an individual email. The content has already been approved!
- Oh, good old-fashioned newsletters. Gotta love them, and they should be another part of how you reach out to your prospects directly. What should your newsletters look like? I’ve received my fair share of newsletters from advisors out there, some good, some quite bad. Sometimes I get the same exact newsletter from five different advisors! Talk about ‘canned’!
One of the top pieces of advice I have for newsletters is to lower the number of articles and images on them. Why? While there is no definitive proof that email goes to the junk folder because of the image-based content, there are some challenges with making your newsletters too ‘magazine-like’ with glossy images and big text:
- Spam filters can't read images, so they suspect that there are some secret links or content hidden in the image-only newsletters. This is why your email campaign may go into spam.
- Subscribers can filter and block illustrations and social emails (or such emails could be blocked by default in the clients’ company privacy settings). So, instead of the bright email, they’ll see incomplete or completely blank messages.
- Visual content takes more time to load. People don’t like waiting. It can lead to lower conversions.
Instead, simply write 1-2 paragraphs, use hyperlinks, and have people click to go to your website. Isn't that the point anyway?
So now that you know all the “Asset Classes” included in a standard marketing strategy, how can you allocate your time and resources effectively?
Here’s what a sample Weekly Select Advisors WAVE Method allocation might look like to help to identify and organize the relevant tasks for your practice that cover each component of the WAVE method. You can set up your own worksheet to print out every week and assign yourself goals that can be achievable and possible.
Wealth Detector: Check this off if you set up your Google alerts, reviewed 1-2 magazines, and mentally jotted two company leads while walking or driving down the highway.
Asking for Referrals: Track the number of client asks, the number of times you get asked for referrals, and how many people saw your email asking for referrals
Visibility: Track how many people viewed your LinkedIn profile, how many people you spoke to about what you do, and how many public relations transactions/conversations you’ve had.
Emailing Prospective Clients: Track how many LinkedIn InMail messages you’ve sent and received, how many people received your re-posts, and how many newsletters you’ve sent.
As you can see in the list above, some weeks one asset class will do more than the other. Keep everything diversified and as the old adage goes, “Never put all your eggs in one basket!”
To learn more about Select Advisors Institute, please visit www.select-advisors.com/wave