Bill Good Marketing

What’s Working/What’s Not

The original version of this story was published on ThinkAdvisor®

Lately, I’ve been starting some branch office presentations by asking, “What’s not working for you?”

Usually, the first item on the board is cold calling, which is quickly followed by seminars, which in turn is immediately followed by referrals. These channels, most everyone agrees, are not working today.

Except, I know they are, which brings me around to the “Law of Self Justified Expectations.” If you think some marketing approach is not working, you can bet your bottom dollar it won’t work for you.”

So let’s second-look at each of these prospecting channels. Clearly, there are instances where each has not worked. But if they are working somewhere, will they work in your market? To put it another way, what are the successful advisors doing that the unsuccessful advisors are not?

Cold Calling

Is working: Discipline, proven technique, sticking to it.

I recently spoke with a young man at one of the Wirehouse firms. He’s been in business about 3 1/2 years. He’s 33 years old. By all rights he should not have survived. He is on track for $500,000 this year.

How did he do it? Calling business owners in the day, and a residential list, scrubbed against the “Do Not Call” list, in the evening.

He’s using a classic multi-call approach. He kept at it until he made it work. And then he kept doing it.

In my book, Hot Prospects, I identified “The Four Basic Mistakes.”

Basic Mistake #1: Get a bad idea and stick to it. In today’s tough market, it’s a conservative bet that your first idea, your third, or the 33rd idea won’t work. Keep changing your approach until it clicks.

Basic Mistake #2: Get a good idea and change it. When you get it right, quit messing with it. When you have it right, the definition of sanity is: Keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll get what you got.”

Not Working: Tired old scripts that try to appeal to everyone.

Consider this opening line: “This is Fred Smartly with SmithWellsMorganMerrillUBSBank (the last remaining major firm). I’m calling to introduce myself and let you know of some services we have available.” (Snore)

If you are doing this, STOP. This approach goes back to the ‘70s (or earlier!). And it probably didn’t work then. And it most certainly does not work now.

Is Working: A precisely targeted approach geared to the needs of a particular list.

Consider this fact: People tend to buy what they know.

Suppose you come up with a strategy to invest in technology stocks. Who should you call? Farmers? Janitorial services? What about people at a high income level in technology companies?

You might open with, “I’m looking for a most unusual investor. This investor understands technology and likes to invest in it. Am I talking to the right person or should we part company at this point?

Or, to a business owner:

“I have a white paper that covers pitfalls of transferring management of your firm to your heirs, or to a buyer who will succeed you. It also covers an investment strategy designed to protect you in case the transfer does not go as planned. Are you interested in reading it?”

Tailor your approach to your list. And by the way, great marketing starts with list development.


How many times have I heard someone say, “My area is seminar’d out.”

Not working: As with cold calling, the “old way” does not work. You really need to think many times before throwing 5,000 bad invitations against the wall and hoping for a decent response. Hope is not a strategy.

Other factors that make seminars not work:

PowerPoint Poisoning. In my opinion, one of the reasons for low response to seminar mailings is that the investing public has been poisoned by extremely poor presentation. A slide is a visual aid. It is not the show. Standing to one side of a screen and flipping through 105 slides in 30 minutes is BORING. A decent number of slides would be three. In case you missed it, that’s 3, as in the number between 2 and 4.

Seminar is too short. I asked a group of advisers recently how long they thought a seminar should be. The consensus was 30 min. Why? Because older people have a short attention span. Both of these are false. With a well-rehearsed seminar, you can easily carry an hour and 15 minutes for a main presentation. Total delivery time should be about an hour and 40 minutes. It can, and should be broken up into two segments. An introduction of about 20 minutes.  Now serve dinner. (You don’t eat, but visit each table.) Now you have about an hour and fifteen minutes for the main presentation. You can’t bond with the group in 30 minutes. Nor can you do it in an hour and fifteen minutes with a poor presentation. 

Is Working: For seminars to be profitable, you have to control six variables. I have used the term “Seminar Success Zone” to refer to these. If just one of these statistics is out of “the zone,” one or more of the other statistics must be so high as to make profitability unlikely. Example: your mailing response is .1% on a 10,000 piece mailing. That’s ten respondents. Your show-up rate is probably 80%. So you have 8 buying units at the seminar. If you are an average presenter, you will set appointments with 2-3. Let’s say you have two appointments. You have to sell both AND generate $10,000 in first year commissions and fees to break even. An extremely low response rate requires a 100% close rate, which no one can count on.


In 2010, how many new clients were referred to you by existing clients (as opposed to professional introductions)? Four? Six? Most likely, less than ten.

Not Working: Asking for referrals manifestly does not work. I’ve know this for years. I forbid my own sales team to do it. I have just come across some hard data to back this up. 

In November 2010, Julie Littlefield, President of Advisor Impact, released a study of 1,000 investors, titled: “The Economics of Loyalty.” The study was sponsored by Charles Schwab. Managers and all financial advisors would do well to download and study it carefully.

Among its key findings: The clients who provide referrals are “engaged” clients and account for almost all referrals provided to an FA.

Why do they refer?

Just because a client is motivated to refer does not mean he or she will take action. Clients take action when there is a clear need on the part of their friend or family member. Only 2% of engaged clients provided a referral because they were asked (by the advisor) for a name, 48% because a friend or colleague had asked for a recommendation, but 57% because a friend/colleague discussed a financial problem and they were able to provide a solution.

Here is an important factor: 2% of clients provided a name. That name is absolutely not a referral. It’s a name. Very few names provided in this manner ever become clients.

Is Working: For a client to provide a referral, you must have provided good investment advice, provided great service, stayed in touch, provided written financial plan, AND let all clients know that you value and accept their referrals.

I have written up a strategy to increase referrals without asking. Asking doesn’t work, remember? And not only does it not work, but it annoys the client because it breaks a social contract. “If I like your service and have a friend or associate who needs it, I will recommend you.” Asking for referrals—preached by legions of sales executives—smashes that social contract.

Same Old Story

In my opinion, your biggest challenge is your investment strategy.

Consider this from the study, “Economics of Loyalty” (emphasis added).

Among the 12% of clients who indicated they had thought about leaving their advisor, only 16% had taken any concrete steps. The most often cited reason for not moving is a sense that the client would not do any better with another advisor (60%).

Your goal is to reach the 12% who are disgruntled. 60% of the 12% are not moving because they believe they would not do better with another advisor.

Why do they believe that?

In my opinion, they are hearing the same old story from the new one that they hear from the old one. 

What is this same old story? I refer to it as “the state religion.” Its principles are: modern portfolio theory, efficient frontier, buy and hold. 

Whichever prospecting channel you are going to use, get a new strategy.

Bill Good

Bill Good is the founder and chairman of Bill Good Marketing. His latest book, “Hot Prospects,” is No. 88 on the 96 Best Prospecting Books of All Time list and is available on Amazon. He created the Bill Good Marketing System and has been named one of the industry’s top five coaches.

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