Getting seminar attendees into your office, Pt. 1

By Katherine Vessenes

Vestment Advisors

Probably the most crucial part of any sales process is getting your seminar attendees to commit to coming to your office. You may be the best speaker in town, but if you can’t motivate your audience to meet with you, you won’t be in business for long.

Here are a few things I have learned over the years that will increase your chances of getting your seminar attendee to meet with you for a personal consult:

1. A dependable, repeatable, predictable process

The entire sales process is much like manufacturing — we do the same thing every time. We never “wing it." This is how we become efficient and more profitable. It is also how we can test what is working and what is not. Your process needs to be so predictable that you can forecast how many new clients you will capture from every seminar or dinner meeting.

As I tested out a new seminar process over the last 18 months, I found that I usually got a 90 percent to 95 percent positive response to our dinner meetings. That means that 90 percent to 95 percent of the attendees indicated that they wanted to come into the office for a private, initial meeting. Sounds promising, right? Unfortunately, clients saying they will meet with you and actually meeting you are two different things.

I also discovered that a significant number of those who said yes would never get around to coming in — they were just too busy, and over time, they lost the motivation to make changes in their financial lives. Of the ones who came in, some were not good candidates for our services and others not a good fit for the firm. A few others were shopping around or just wanted to bounce a few ideas off of us and then do the work themselves.

Ultimately, I found that about 50 percent of those who initially attended would eventually become clients. This means if there are eight units at every seminar, then, on average, I would capture four new clients. Some meetings, the numbers would be higher and some would be lower.

Having these figures allows me to do some great revenue forecasting over the next year.
Here is how the math might work out:
    Seminars per month: 1
    Months doing seminars: 10
    Units per seminar: 8
    Gross closing ratio: 50 percent
    Average Annual New Client Revenue: $7,500
    Estimated total NCR: $300,000
One seminar per month, times 10 months per year (we don’t usually do them over the December holidays or in August), times eight units per seminar, times a 50 percent closing ratio, times the average annual new client revenue comes to $300,000 per year in new gross revenue.

Obviously, if you want more income, then do more seminars. Two seminars per month would give you about $600,000 in new client revenue in our example. We wouldn’t be able to do this kind of forecasting without doing the same thing during each step of the way.

2. A limited number of attendees

We limit these meetings to a number that is manageable, where we can stay high-touch and personally connected to each guest. I actually found that hosting fewer people gave us better returns and a higher closing ratio. It also saves money on expensive dinner seminars.

If it is a dinner meeting, I prefer about 12 to 15 people, max. Any more than that and the prospects don’t get the TLC they need to connect and bond with you. Larger numbers also have a tendency to start talking among themselves, which is distracting to the rest of the guests. Without a warm connection, it is more difficult to get them to come to your office. With smaller numbers, it feels more like an intimate dinner party with friends, not a sales event.

The other problem with larger numbers is it becomes difficult to follow up in a timely manner and give them a wow experience. Unfortunately, they may be hot at the dinner party, but by the time you get in touch with all of them to schedule a meeting, they are lukewarm, or even cold.

For straight educational meetings, I like 20 to 25.

3. Assistance

I have found it is almost impossible to do these meetings well without someone else from your office to assist. I spend so much time focusing on the needs of the audience that it doesn’t leave me the bandwidth to take good notes on their issues and concerns, or to give them the personal attention they need to feel warm, fuzzy and connected with us.

Your co-partner could be your spouse, another advisor or your client service manager. The duties of your “assistant” are to help you press the flesh, make sure each guest feels loved up and welcomed, and take notes on the personal concerns and background of your guests. These notes are used later in the follow up and debrief.
It is key for both of you to make personal contact with each attendee. This also helps you get a higher conversion from prospect to client. More than once, I have seen the key advisor — the speaker — not show up until the last minute, do the presentation and then leave immediately after his remarks are done. The “star” would leave all the follow up to their assistant. I never liked this technique because it makes the speaker look haughty and unapproachable. This is contrary to the impression that we want prospects to have: we are warm, approachable and personally interested in you.

Both you and your co-partner need to look every guest in the eye and have a meaningful conversation. I always ask the guest about themselves, their family and their business. Then I ask this key question: “So tell me, what brought you here tonight?” This tells me their biggest pain point and how I can best help them. Later, I will make notes about this conversation on their evaluation form.

Note, I never talk about myself unless they ask me a question. In fact, in all of the years I have been doing this, I can only remember one occasion when a guest asked me a personal question. These meetings are all about the guest and what’s in it for them.

One of the things that helps us later is to draw a map of the table. As we go around the table and have the guests introduce themselves, your assistant will be taking detailed notes on who is sitting where and the topics that are of interest to them.

You may also want to take notes on what they were wearing and their occupation. This is crucial when it comes to the debrief. If I have trouble remembering someone’s name, my assistant will say, “Don’t you remember, he was sitting to your right? He was wearing a plaid shirt, just got back from visiting Jamaica and spoke with a stammer?” This helps my recall an individual for months after the event and can even give me something personally to talk to them about when they come into the office. “So, how was your trip to Jamaica?” This is another subconscious way that you convey the message that your firm is more high-touch and concerned than your competition.

4. Introductions

Another reason it is important to have a co-partner at these events is that they can introduce you. I found it was more powerful for someone else to say: “You are in for a treat tonight. We have Katherine Vessenes, one of the most well-known and respected financial advisors in the country. An author, attorney and Certified Financial Planner®, she loves to help. I have never seen a case where she couldn’t improve their financial situation in some way. Here’s Katherine!”

No matter how I introduce myself, it doesn’t come across as well if I say I was legal counsel to a former president and on the CFP Board of Ethics. Inevitably, a few people in the audience will think I am bragging or trying too hard. On the other hand, if my introducer says: “Just Google her name and you will find 12,000 hits," it becomes an informal endorsement and starts to build trust.

The more enthusiastic this introduction, the higher the conversion rate. The best conversion rate comes when I invite an existing client to come, and they introduce me and also talk about their experiences with the firm. This can dramatically increase the number of people who want to meet with you.

For dinner meetings, we also do guest introductions around the table. I will ask each guest to give us their name, their occupation and a topic they want us to cover. This really personalizes the presentation and makes it feel more like an informal discussion than a formal briefing. During these introductions, your co-partner should be taking extensive notes.

In the second half of this installment, I will touch on the last four keys for getting more derrières in your chairs.