Eileen Price and Lisa Miller have found chocolate is the way to a woman’s heart—and her purse strings.
Instead of hosting lecture-type seminars to build their businesses, the two financial advisors with AXA Advisors, Syracuse, N.Y., have been successful doing something different and less intimidating.
Their events—limited to 10 people at a time—are held in a relaxed atmosphere such as a spa, salon or photography studio where women get their financial questions answered while being wooed with goodies such as chocolate and cocktails.
Price and Miller don’t come up with topics in advance. Instead, attendees submit questions anonymously, which are answered during the session. They’ve found this format more effective than lecture style as a way to open dialogues with prospects and continue them. “There are so many spectrums of finance. How would we know what they need if we don’t ask them?” says Price.
This out-of-the box strategy is working. In a recent six-month period, the pair got more than 75 client relationships directly from events they hosted. The new business came from people who attended the events as well as their family members, friends and colleagues. “It’s kind of like a tree. There are roots and they take off in every different direction,” Miller says.
There are, of course, many ways to use seminars effectively to build business from existing clients and prospects. However, seminars also can represent a missed opportunity if they aren’t well-planned, are too big, boring and don’t get an advisor’s message across without sounding like an all-out sales pitch.
Whatever you do should be fun, engaging and “something that’s going to really drive participation and not be seen as strictly a sales type of meeting for those attendees,” says Matt Matrisian, director of practice management at Genworth Financial Wealth Management, Pleasant Hill, CA, an investment management and consulting firm.
Planning also is really important. Too many advisors think they can throw these events together without really thinking about the message they want to get across and who the proper audience should be. That can be a recipe for disaster.
When looking to host seminars, Matrisian suggests that advisors first determine their passion, such as art, golf, wine tasting, sports or cars. Then they should determine who the audience is—clients, prospects or both. Next, advisors need to determine the content of the event. For example, if the market is going through a lot of turmoil, you might consider getting someone to talk about risk management. If there’s a big concern from clients about future health care expenses, you could have an expert come in to discuss this topic, he says.
According to Bill Zimmerman, account executive for the individual life division of The Hartford, there are two key elements to conducting a successful seminar: client interest in the topic and finding people who have the financial wherewithal to follow through. The number of people should be small—20 to 25 at the most. And consider having clients invite friends. “Bring-a-friend seminars are, by far, the best way to fill the room with qualified prospects,” he says.
Well-run seminars do not have to be expensive. “You can definitely do it economically,” says Matrisian. Also, for more elaborate events, you can look for partner firms, such as mutual fund companies or insurance companies, to help offset costs.
Ron Lomangino, managing partner of Dynasty Advisors LLC, Iselin, N.J., got so tired of spending $5,000 on mailings for seminars that were generating little to no business that, in 2009, his firm hired an event planner and seminar coordinator. The firm’s partners now develop the topics and the event coordinator plans three to four workshops, seminars or networking events each month.
“We had a lot of knowledge to pass on and we weren’t getting to all our clients,” Lomangino says. Now that there’s a process in place, however, the return has been positive. Indeed, the firm generates 20 to 25 percent of its new business from these events.
By contrast, Carl J. Macko, president of Synergy Capital Management LLC, Atlanta, GA, plans and prepares his seminars himself. He finds this doable because he only does two seminars a year and makes them low-key group discussions on various financial planning and investing topics. Macko invites outside experts when he wants to provide attendees the opportunity to hear more in-depth information.
Over time, Macko has built up a distribution list of friends and colleagues to whom he advertises the seminars. He also posts information about the seminars on 24 community-event-orientated websites as well as his own website.
To cut down on time and costs and to reach a national audience, James Holtzman, an advisor and shareholder at Legend Financial Advisors Inc., a registered investment advisor in Pittsburgh, PA, hosts monthly webcasts. He chooses topics based on common questions he gets from clients, and has found these events a popular and effective way to bring in new business. “The ability to communicate in a live webcast shows that you don’t have to be in front of people to have a solid relationship,” he says.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to conduct seminars every month to effectively build your book. Say, for example, you do three events a year. If you target 10 clients and 10 prospects for each event, that equals 30 new prospects a year. “That’s a pretty healthy pipeline to build your business around,” says Matrisian.
You do, however, need to follow up with attendees in order to maximize the effectiveness of your events.
“The follow-up process is, by far, the most important piece of any seminar. If you don’t take the time to follow up with each audience participant, then you’ve just wasted the entire process,” says Zimmerman.
Zimmerman suggests that advisors give every participant an evaluation form that includes questions that help determine how effective the presentation was and whether or not the person would like to have an individual consultation or more information. Always follow up with a phone call to clients, asking what they (and their friend) thought about the seminar. Ask your clients, too, whether they think the friend would be amendable to a follow-up call, he advises.
Remember that attendees may sometimes say they aren’t interested in meeting with you at first, but a month or so later things could change. While too much contact is a turn-off, it is usually okay to follow up once or twice, or even three times in the year following the seminar, says Matrisian.
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