Fall is when leaves turn colors and kids head back to school. It's also the time when you--having worked hard all year--often decide to push even harder. You realize that time is of the essence if you are going to meet your goals before the year is up. So as you stand on the cusp of fall, review the marketing strategies other reps use to make the most of the fourth quarter.
Bill Good of Bill Good Marketing, South Jordan, Utah, points out that many brokers, especially those working toward quotas or bonuses, typically do the most marketing in the final few months of the year. "Gear up during the summer. Test your seminars and your direct mail pieces," he says. "If something works in the summer, it will work better in the fall."
A specific challenge this season relates to Y2K jitters. Good says that brokers need to be sensitive to clients' fears regarding the new millennium. "Stay in touch with what your firm is doing and keep your clients informed," he says.
However, be sure to move beyond the millennial bug to schedule events that bring clients together for fellowship or prepare them for the year's end. Says Bert Whitehead, president of Cambridge Advisors, a fee-only financial planning firm in Franklin, Mich., "Fall means marketing opportunities for brokers."
Plan Social Events Whitehead suggests planning social events for clients and their guests in the fall--after everyone is back from vacation and more available. "You don't have to market yourself," he says. "Your clients do it for you." At the dinners he hosts, about 25% of the attendees are guests, and about half of them become clients.
Such occasions can center on seasonal themes. To many, fall means football. So some advisers find client appreciation events fit well with loyalty to the home team. Among them is Gary Hoebelheinrich, vice president and managing director of the private client group for Dain Rauscher in Lincoln, Neb. "In Lincoln, football is king," he says. The town is home to the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers.
For 16 years now, his office has held a brunch for clients, their families and friends. "Our families have grown up together," Hoebelheinrich says. Also, clients can meet sales assistants so they can put faces with the voices on the phone.
The brunch started small, but it is so popular that clients ask about it before the invitations go out. Attendance in 1998 was about 700 people. Eleven of the 15 brokers in the office participate, hosting their own parties in different venues, tailoring them to their clientele. There are no speeches or sales pitches, but referrals come afterward anyway.
Tailgate parties are relationship-builders, too, according to Gayle Bowmar, former quarterback for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, now first vice president and branch manager at IJL Wachovia in Chapel Hill, N.C. Before and after every home game, Bowmar gathers clients, office staff, families and friends for home cooking served on tables with Carolina blue cloths in the stadium parking lot.
Bowmar's two sons play on the team and often stop by after the game. "My clients have seen my sons grow from little boys to playing major college football," he says. The personal relationships he has forged help keep his clients loyal.
Focus on Education Funding Fall sends students back to school. And Mary Bennett, an investment executive with U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray in Stillwater, Minn., swings into action by discussing how to pay for advanced education with clients.
Whether they are executives with young children or grandparents who may foot college bills, clients need to be aware of the education IRA, Bennett says. It enables a parent or grandparent to put $500 a year per child into an investment that grows tax-deferred and is tax-free if used for education before age 30. Bennett also covers establishing UGMA and UTMA accounts. "When you do this kind of planning, you can talk about all the important issues," she explains.
Many firms offer marketing materials on education planning that can help. College funding is the topic in the summer edition of the online newsletter Linsco/Private Ledger brokers send their clients, says Kandis Bates, vice president of corporate marketing for LPL in San Diego. The firm provides other seasonal marketing materials as well.
"Fall is a time to get serious," Bates says. September's online newsletter will focus on long-term care insurance.
Discuss Taxes, Develop Referrals Anita Chalmers, principal at The Sterling Group, a financial planning firm in Glendale, Calif., says fall is the best time to initiate tax-planning discussions with clients and to develop closer ties with allied professionals.
"Both individuals and business owners respond to chances to reduce taxes," Chalmers says. "And the year end is the deadline for tax planning. People respond to deadlines."
In addition to meeting with clients, Chalmers makes time to network with estate planning attorneys and accountants. "It may be the only time of year CPAs are accessible," she adds.
Chalmers does more than conduct casual meetings. Her company is licensed to provide continuing education courses for CPAs and attorneys. From 20 to 35 professionals attend each session, and she hosts about 10 sessions each fall in an elegant facility. "It's a very professional environment, as opposed to being on the golf course," she says.
Remember that after Labor Day life and work get progressively busier as December 31 approaches, so you'd be wise to use the remaining weeks of summer to prepare for the new season. Concludes Whitehead, "With crispness in the air, most people get energized." Make sure you're one of them.
1) Plan a client appreciation event that matches the interests you and your clients share. It could involve football, music, theater or food. Encourage clients to bring guests and make it a tradition they'll look forward to each year.
2) Use the end of the year to create a sense of urgency in clients who need to take steps to reach their goals.
3) Use education funding or tax planning as openers to address clients' overall financial strategies.
4) Double your efforts in fall with seminars and mailings you've tested during the summer. Do mailings the last week in August to arrive just after Labor Day.
5) Make contacts with professionals such as attorneys and CPAs. Do more than just network. Plan effective ways of working together.
6) Be aware of clients' nervousness about Y2K, and be more accessible as the year draws to a close. Find out all you can about your firm's Y2K compliance to reassure clients. Keep your own money invested and tell clients that it is.