How to meet 900 good prospects a year and have fun doing it
By Katherine Vessenes
My favorite cheap marketing tactic, the "Birthday Club," is something I learned from my friend John McGinnis at Manulife and then customized with a few extra touch points. If you are looking for an inexpensive way to clone your top clients and build a ready list of new prospects, this could be the right idea for you.
First, think about your top 40 clients -- the A Team. The ones who are great to work with, follow your advice, and send you lots of new clients -- in short, the perfect client. Wouldn't it be nice to honor them and thank them for their kindnesses to you?
These are the clients to put in your Birthday Club, those for whom you'd be willing to throw a lunch-time party or even a surprise luncheon party. You might think coordinating such an event would be too much work. Most people believe that, so they'd never do it. But it's really not that tough. If you follow these steps, with just a little effort, you'll see big benefits in the relationships and your referral stream. Here is how it works:
Planning the event
- Six weeks before the client's birthday: Once you've decided which clients to honor this way, get your calendar set up for planning the events. You have to start about a month and a half in advance to make it work.
- Call your client's spouse to make the offer. Use this script: "Dave, I see Erin's birthday is coming up in about six weeks. Say, when was the last time she had a surprise birthday party? [Pause.] If you can get me a guest list of 12 or 15 of her best friends, with their names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and make sure you get her to the restaurant, I will do everything else."
Who would say no to such an offer? Sometimes you might want to skip the surprise part and just call the client directly and say you want to throw him or her a party. The plan is the same: The client gives you names and contact information, and you do everything else.
- Make reservations. Where you choose to host your party depends a lot on the demographics of your clientele and your budget. For most clients, I think something like a TGI Friday's or Chili's is fine -- you'll be making a lunch reservation. You might want to use a country club for a weekend brunch. However, if you are dealing with a very high-net-worth client, consider going to a high-end restaurant. The extra cost will be worth it. You want to throw a party that appeals to your client's friends, too.
- Five weeks out: Call all of the guests and let them know you are planning a party and ask them to hold the date. Let them know you will be sending an invitation. It is fine to leave this message on a machine if you don't get a live person.
- Four weeks before the big day: Prepare the invitations. It is important that these reflect your image, so don't go too cheap. My favorites would be at Crane's; however, Hallmark and even Target have invitations you can use. Put your name and office phone number on the invites for the RSVPs. Don't include your business card; it looks too commercial.
- Three weeks in advance: Mail the invitations.
- One week before: Send your guests a reminder e-mail with directions to the location.
- The day before: Call all of your guests to remind them of the party and ask if they need directions. Once again, if you don't get them in person, no problem, just leave a voice mail.
When the big day arrives, be sure to arrive early. You are the host, and it is your job to make sure everyone feels comfortable and has a good time. Make sure the room is set up properly, and greet the guests. Then make sure you have the following points covered:
- Use name badges. Although many of the guests may know one another, chances are they don't all know the other guests. Also, the name tags will help you put names with faces.
- Bring your digital camera. These inexpensive tools are a great way to make friends and increase your contact base. Use it to take pictures of every guest with the birthday boy/girl. Also, take a number of pictures of the group. Make sure someone takes your picture with the guest of honor.
- Offer a toast. Sometime during the lunch, offer a toast to the birthday person. Remember, this is a toast, not a roast. Say some kind words like: "Let's all lift our glasses to Jane. I'm sure I speak for all of us when I say you have been a great friend. Happy birthday and many more!"
- Mind the gift-giving gender gap. If this is a party for women, they are likely to bring a gift for the birthday person. Although you don't have to bring one, you might consider something small like flowers or a good book. Men may not think about bringing gifts, so I would view gifts for men as optional on your part.
- Avoid pitfall No. 1: There is a good chance someone will ask you what you do for a living. Never volunteer this information unless someone asks you. If someone does, give the quick reply: "I'm Jane's financial advisor. What do you do?" This event should never sound like a promotion or sales pitch. Steer clear of giving a commercial about your firm.
- Avoid pitfall No. 2: You might have someone who wants to ask you questions about their personal finances. It is really tempting to jump in and answer their question. Avoid the temptation! Instead say: "I would like to answer your question, but today is Jane's day, and I don't want to detract from that. How about I call you and set up a time next week to get together and talk in private?" It is very important to end on the word "private." You want this person to recognize that you value their privacy and that you are not out for a quick sale. It also shows you want to respect the birthday boy or girl.
- Leave as dessert is being served. Don't just disappear, but take a minute to whisper good-byes to the birthday person and let him or her know everything is taken care of, including the tip. Make it clear you want everyone to stay as long as they can and enjoy themselves.
The party's over, but you still have a few to-dos left on your calendar. The work is not quite done. After the event, be sure to follow up with these steps.
- The day after the event: Send a personal handwritten thank-you note to each attendee and include your business card. It can go something like this:
Dear Anne, It was great to finally meet you in person yesterday. I can see why you and Jane are such close friends. Thanks for coming, and I hope we will meet again in the near future. --Katherine
- One week after the event: Time for one last contact with this group. E-mail photos to everyone who came, including the birthday honoree. Now the whole group has a remembrance of you and the fun party.
Here are few final wrap-up tips about maximizing the impact of your Birthday Club.
- Make sure all these new prospects are in your database for receiving e-mails, newsletters, seminar invites, and so on; however, never call the prospects directly and ask them to come in for an appointment. The Birthday Club is pull marketing -- the prospect makes the first move. You never make an overt first move by calling for an appointment.
- Your total cost depends on the location of the lunch and the number of guests. It could start at $100 and go up to $300. When you divide that by prospect, it comes to $7 to $30 per prospect. This is a far cry from the industry average, which can run from $200 to $900 per prospect.
- Touch points are the way to generate top-of-mind awareness with your clients, and the Birthday Club is a great way to make touches. If you go through and count, you should total seven touches per prospect and two huge touches for your client.
- If you set a goal for 60 birthday parties per year, you should yield 600 to 900 new prospects who match your top clients' profile. Even at just a 10 percent conversion rate, you are looking at 60 to 90 new clients every year--a wild success rate by anyone's standards!
Even better than a surprise birthday party is a surprise retirement party. The great thing about a retirement party is that most of the guests will be about the same age as the retiree and have large 401(k)s that need your attention. If you're doing this type of party, keep these tips in mind:
- The retirement party follows the same general pattern above, but you may need to enlist the help of friends from work to capture all the names, addresses, and so forth. This is not a place where I would skimp. Invite as many people as your budget can tolerate. I believe the more the merrier -- 50 wouldn't be too many.
- This might be a good time to consider a couples event. To keep costs down, you could consider a brunch on the weekend or a dessert party on a weekday evening.
- Although country clubs will open their doors to parties like yours -- even for people who are not members -- you might want to consider the hobbies of your guest of honor. If this client is into history, consider a party at the history museum. If the person is fond of art, there is always an art museum that could be a fun venue for the group.
- Using the system outlined above, you will be at seven touches per prospect and two gigantic ones for your retiree or birthday client. If you could do two of these per year, even thought the cost is a little higher, you should be looking at 50 to 200 new couples to add to your database every year.
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