Seminars: The hard truth

By Brandon Stuerke

Winning With CPAs


I, like you, wanted to grow my business with fewer but higher-net-worth clients.

As an advisor today, there is no shortage of gimmicky marketing programs and ways you can spend thousands of dollars very quickly trying to market your services. What I hope to point out and make clear is that most of them are in some way, shape or form flawed — and in many cases very costly to you as the advisor.

I’ve been there, so I know. For the past 10 years, I’ve tried all kinds of different marketing strategies to promote my practice. I have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, all with the hopes of finding the high-net-worth clients I needed to grow my practice. A lot of what I’m going to share with you is from my own personal experience. However, I’ll also be sharing multiple stories and insights from other advisors that I have coached in building their own strategic relationships in hopes that you’ll learn from their experiences as well.

I thought we’d kick off this series by tackling one of the biggest marketing challenges that is front and center for many producers today – direct mail seminars.

We’ve all been there. At some point in your not too distant past, direct mail seminars were it. Like me, I’m sure your business thrived off of the large numbers of retirees flocking to free dinner seminars in search of answers from a trusted advisor.

I can remember one of the first direct mail seminars I hosted. I mailed 5,000 invitations and had 112 people show up. Not a bad turnout.

In following up after the event, I moved close to a million dollars in new assets and earned somewhere in the neighborhood of $80,000 in commissions. I was hooked. As painful as it was to write that check to the direct mail company, it sure beat cold calling and all the other less successful approaches I had tried.

But in hindsight, such a great turnout and response may have been the experience that ultimately set me up for so much frustration. I made the mistake that many of us have made. I built my entire practice around the concept of marketing through direct mail seminars. I say I made the mistake because in business, just because something works today, doesn’t mean it’s going to work forever.

In my case, I began by holding 5-6 seminars a year, working no more than 40 hours a week and making a nice mid-six figure income as a result. The problem I had was that just three short years later, every other advisor in my market also jumped on the seminar bandwagon. In 2008, I found myself hosting more than 30 direct mail seminars a year just to keep my production where it had been three years prior.

I went from 1 percent or 2 percent response rates down to 0.5 percent. And worse were the types of prospects I was attracting to my events, many of whom were more interested in a free meal than getting help with their financial plans.
During the last direct mail seminar I did that year, I remember showing up, and five minutes before I was supposed to begin, I looked out on the “crowd” to see only eight people sitting in the room I had set up for 30. I decided at that moment that I was done with seminars.

If you’re still reading, I’m sure it’s because you can relate. The good news is that you, too, can find your way out of this perpetual downward cycle. I decided that night that I was either going to find a smarter way to work this business, or I was going to get out of the business. I knew I couldn’t afford to keep doing things the way I had been.

For me, the hard realization was that attendance was going down, costs were going up and commissions were being cut. I knew it just wasn’t a viable way to do business going forward. What’s more, I, like you, wanted to grow my business with fewer but higher-net-worth clients. As I began to research the best ways to reach this group, I quickly realized two things:

1) High-net-worth clients are not do-it-yourselfers as a general rule, which means they aren’t going to seminars to learn the latest and greatest planning techniques. They pay the other professionals they work with lots of money to stay up on these things for them.

2) High-net-worth clients don’t want to meet their new advisor through a cold direct mail piece. Rather, they prefer to be introduced through another trusted professional. So I made the decision to find a way, no matter how long it took, to build successful strategic alliances with CPAs and attorneys. It was that committed mindset that helped me turn the corner and ultimately develop an approach to building these relationships. This approach enabled me to go from 30 seminars a year, to zero, and save over $60,000 in marketing costs my first year while at the same time see my production begin to increase.

In closing, let me share one final flaw I saw in the direct mail seminar approach and other mass marketing efforts. Statistically, if you study marketing, you’ll find, as I did, that at any given point in time there is only about 3 percent of the market that is actively looking for what it is that you have to offer. It’s this 3 percent that these marketing approaches are intended to reach.

What I realized is that means the vast majority of advisors are competing with each other for 3 percent of the market. Very few of us as advisors are targeting the other 97 percent.

That 97 percent that may not have an immediate need today, but most likely will at some point in the next 24-36 months. I’ve found that it’s much more profitable to let everyone else in your market fight over the 3 percent and to focus your time building proactive relationships with the other 97 percent.

It’s through strategic alliances with other professionals that you can position yourself among their client base as the go-to advisor and ultimately gain their trust. So then when the time does come, you’ll naturally be positioned as the advisor of choice.

As you follow the series of articles I’ll be posting in the coming weeks, I’m going to be sharing with you my blueprint for doing exactly that. It’s my hope that by following my outline, you’ll discover the keys you need to unlock your own successful strategic alliances and free yourself from the frustrations of cold mass marketing.