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Why Client Prospecting Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

The journey from prospect to client requires building a lasting relationship.

In the age of digital marketing, advisors are inundated from every side with new ways to draw potential clients into their prospecting pipelines. From social media tactics to email marketing, webinars and, after a long year, the return of in-person events, there are many options for the client-focused advisor to consider. But not all marketing efforts are created equal, and the fact is that most advisors simply lack the time and marketing know-how to create a truly effective campaign.

Even those that do may be lacking in what I consider to be the most crucial step of client prospecting: data analysis. After all, how can you improve on your process if you can’t tell what’s working?

When working with advisors, I always suggest looking at client prospecting as a long-term journey. Like every adventure, engaging new clients should begin with a small step, and each subsequent action should be both thoughtful and strategic. This is a trip you need to take alongside the prospect, guiding their hand at every turn and using each new phase to build a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.

Advisors need to understand that pulling out all the stops from the start is a waste of their time, money and energy. Effective prospecting begins with thought leadership. Sharing information and resources should be the first step to engaging prospects, as well as existing clients and professional colleagues who can act as referral sources. The challenge from there is how to create that content, and then track and measure the results.

Crafting and Disseminating Meaningful Entry-Level Thought Leadership

When initially engaging a potential client, engaging content needs to come first, whether in the form of blogs, podcasts, brief whitepapers or infographics, and delivered via a website, social media or email blasts. I recommend advisors think carefully about the key themes they’re putting out to prospects, and how those topics will resonate with their target audiences. For RIAs, it can be wise to stay away from oversaturated financial services topics, as there are a lot of places people can go to get updates on daily market movements or general investment advice. Instead, set yourself up as a source of valuable information that acknowledges real life challenges and opportunities potential clients may be facing in their own lives – topics like estate planning, talking with kids about money, career shifts, intergenerational wealth transfer and divorce planning.

This content needs to be delivered in a thoughtful way, and not in a firehose blast of Constant Contact. Think about who each of your prospects are as people, and what methods of communication they might prefer. Don’t send the same material to everyone – a new parent interested in setting up a college fund for their child is going to be much more likely to click on an email, social post or whitepaper that contains relevant and actionable advice on this topic than they are to open content that speaks to divorce planning or retirement distributions. 

Recognizing High-Value Engagement and Potential Leads

When it comes to prospecting, tracking is essential. To understand what kind of information resonates with prospects, you need to know what they’re clicking on, what they’re downloading and what they’re forwarding to other people.

Advisors can use a digital marketing platform to evaluate email opens, forwards and clicks, and I recommend advisors also use social media analytics from sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to understand how many people see each post and gauge the number of likes, shares and comments for every topic, and most importantly, who clicked through to their website to learn more.

If a topic is performing well over social or email, you’ll know this is a subject people care about, and you can ask yourself: How can I build this out? The next step will be to reach out to the people who seemed interested and invite them to participate in a low-stakes event where they can get to know you and learn more about the topic at hand.

Maybe this next step is a Zoom webinar, or, depending on your target audience, an intimate client event such as a champagne reception. Whatever you decide, it’s important that the people you invite are all demonstrably interested in you, your practice and your thought leadership. If you skip the content part of the journey to go straight to event planning, chances are you’re wasting your time and budget.

Put a weight on each action a prospect takes – if someone just opens an email, they’re not necessarily a good target for deeper engagement. But if a person is consistently downloading, forwarding, commenting on, or otherwise interacting with your content, they are a hot lead who should make the guest list.

Matching the Event to the Client (and Your Brand)

When it comes to moving on from entry-level content to more interactive online and offline events, advisors need to consider how these activities are genuine to their story and overall approach to wealth management. For example, we recently asked an advisor to come speak at a larger Hightower event. After reviewing the topic and schedule for the event, he declined. Why? Because he knew himself and his practice, and the event, while interesting, didn’t align with his target audience. Knowing who you want to speak to is critically important to making good marketing decisions. Don’t waste your energy on events or content that aren’t tailor-made for the kind of client you want. Even if you love the idea, if it’s not going to help your practice grow, it’s probably not a good use of your time.

The end of the client prospecting pipeline is where data tracking and analysis becomes especially important – if you are not pulling the data, analyzing engagement activity, scoring prospects and drawing conclusions from what you learned in your campaign, you’re setting yourself up for a much bigger loss at the end of the funnel than you would have experienced in the beginning. 

Consider piloting a set of high-end, exclusive, end-of-funnel prospecting events for both clients and professional referral sources. These events are most successful when they zero in on topics targeted at a specific group such as late-career professionals approaching retirement, women executives, families with inherited wealth, entrepreneurs or individuals who are navigating life transitions. The goal of these events, which can offer networking opportunities for clients and potential clients, is to turn prospects who have walked alongside the advisor through months of social engagement, email downloads and webinars into bonafide clients.

Business development is always in investment. To be sure you are allocating your marketing dollars in a way what will deliver ROI and result in new clients, you need to understand the process. The ideal client prospecting journey takes time, because it requires building a lasting relationship with a potential client. The more carefully you tailor your content, choose the right outlet, and track the results of each marketing effort, the more likely those end-of-funnel events will yield a positive result.

Meghan McCartan is Managing Director, Head of Marketing at Hightower Advisors,

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