Are seminars becoming extinct?
By Jason Ryan
It's been a tough road lately for advisors who have relied primarily on the traditional public seminar to build a business. In recent years, financial professionals have watched their results plummet as fewer and fewer viable prospects attend their seminars. Their businesses are stagnating and new client acquisition has stalled at many firms.
The heavy use by the financial industry of direct mail and the public seminar has reached the point of oversaturation in many cities. In most Sunday newspapers, you can see multiple advertisements for free seminars, many of them offering the bonus of a free meal. Unfortunately, quite a few of these seminars are merely disguised sales pitches, and many consumers have become skeptical. As a result, a higher percentage of attendees are there only for the free food.
While mass-mailing invitations for a public seminar can still be an effective tool for marketing to the mid-tier retiree market, new approaches may be required in order to maintain effectiveness. For the majority of other markets, public seminars in their traditional form are beginning to experience a rapid and expensive death.
Advisors must begin to change their marketing strategies because the prospecting challenge has become more difficult. People are growing increasingly reluctant to refer family and friends. Also, there is a loss of trust due to both extreme market volatility and recent financial industry scandals. To prosper, advisors must excel at using a broader range of referral strategies, as well as a more refined client acquisition approach.
Financial professionals must now become proficient at leveraging referral events and creating methods for clients to introduce them to new prospects in a risk-free, easy and personal way. A name and a phone number are no longer enough to secure an appointment.
In-person introductions are the key. Advisors must find a way to involve the client more personally in the introduction process, and referral events can provide the vehicle to make these personal introductions happen.
Referral events are typically less expensive than public seminars because there is no need for the massive mailing of invitations. The advisor can decide who and how many to invite, thereby managing costs more easily.
Also, referral events offer many advantages over the traditional public seminar. First, you don't have to spend nearly as much money getting people to attend. Instead of mailing out a huge number of invitations and hoping that 1 percent actually show up, your clients will drive the invitation process after consulting with you about who they should bring.
Second, referral events allow you to control the quality of attending prospects. You can target precisely those prospects to whom you want to be introduced.
For example, consider hosting a retirement party for a client that is a long-term employee of a large company. If you set up the invitation process correctly, you can pack a room with other long-term employees who will either be retiring soon or have recently retired. Or, perhaps you have a client that will celebrate a milestone birthday this year. Consider hosting a surprise birthday party for them. Contact their spouse or family members to help you with the guest list. If your clients are passionate about a charity, work with them to host a fund-raising event where they invite the donors and you provide the food.
All of these ideas are a great way for your client to introduce you. These types of events can also provide a great pre-step to either conducting a future private financial seminar for, or scheduling an initial appointment with, the invitees.
Third, referral events are a risk-free way for clients to introduce you. This issue becomes critical when you seek introductions to people with high standing, such as a manager or corporate executive. Junior physicians or mid-tier executives may not feel they have the standing to recommend you as their financial advisor, but they can feel comfortable inviting their boss to a great event that you happen to be hosting. Referral events create opportunities to distinguish your business and to do "fun stuff." Hosting a dinner cruise or a private tour of a traveling art exhibition can create exclusive opportunities to get introduced to your ideal prospect.
Referral events have begun to replace the traditional public seminar as the preferred vehicle to generate introductions to business owners, working professionals and high-net-worth prospects. The good news is that referral events generate more comfortable introductions to higher quality prospects. The bad news is that advisors will need to develop a proficiency in the creation of referral events or a referral event and seminar hybrid. It will take creativity and possibly some new skills.
Where do you begin? Start by identifying those clients who are uniquely well-positioned to introduce you to dozens of quality prospects. Look for event ideas that are both fun and have personal meaning for them. Ask your clients for event and or venue ideas. However, take care in inviting the right client to the right event, and be sure to have clear goals in mind when you plan your event -- party with a purpose.
Times have changed. Advisors need to recognize this and update their marketing tool kit. By doing so with referral events, you can save money, better control the quality of prospects you attract and provide your clients a comfortable risk-free way to introduce you.
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