Marketing beats prospecting

Thirty years ago, on my very first day in the financial services industry, a sales trainer told me: “In order to be successful, you need to see everyone as a prospect.”

This trainer went even further by saying everyone is a “suspect” until you learn enough about them to know whether they have the financial resources to be considered a “prospect.”

The idea that every single person I met should be viewed through the lens of whether I could sell them something seemed predatory and manipulative. I remember questioning whether this industry was a good fit for me.

Most people in the advisory sector have received similar guidance, along with training on how to make those dreaded phone or in-person cold calls. Further, many of us were asked to complete a “Project 100,” which is basically an exercise where you identify 100 people in your life that you may be able to convert to clients. (Of course, the list starts with family and friends.)

Even that first day on the job, I knew there had to be a better way.

Think about it: Most other professional services don’t market themselves this way. The neighborhood orthodontist doesn’t pitch you during your child’s soccer practice, nor does the marriage and family therapist. They’ve mostly found a path to patients and clients that doesn’t require them to solicit everyone in their social circle.

I soon left that company to start my own advisory firm. Instead of prospecting for clients, we made the decision to use marketing strategies to build our business. We determined that rather than cold-calling prospects, if we created loads of meaningful educational content that helped people, we’d have potential clients cold-calling us.

So early on, my business partner Pat McClain and I targeted two large employers in our town and began offering educational workshops around investment and retirement topics. It was certainly no coincidence that both companies had older workforces in industries that were in decline.

By targeting just two employers, we were able to become experts on the benefits each company offered, including their stock and retirement plans. Twice a month we conducted workshops at a local hotel, and we soon became known as the go-to resource for the employees (and even the HR departments) of those two companies.

For me, one of the biggest benefits of marketing to a targeted group was that my list of “suspects” and “prospects” was limited to that group of employees, who had complex retirement plans with lots of different pension and retirement plan options.

From a business standpoint, this targeted approach propelled our firm, Allworth (formerly Hanson McClain), into one of the largest advisory firms in the country.

I realize that some people enjoy prospecting. That’s fine. But for those of you who loathe it or are finding that your growth has stalled, I recommend a marketing approach that appeals to a targeted set of potential clients who will actually benefit from the education and services you provide. 

[More: Podcasts and prospecting]

Scott Hanson is co-founder of Allworth Financial, formerly Hanson McClain Advisors, a fee-based RIA with $8 billion in AUM.

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