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The Magic of Marketing

Four successful advisors and a marketing expert give you their take on credibility, centers of influence, seminars and high-tech marketing.

By Lucretia DiSanto Jones

Disney aficionados out there—or anyone who spends time with children under the age of 10—know these words. Cinderella’s fairy godmother utters them just before turning Cinderella’s meager surroundings into something pretty impressive: The pumpkin becomes a carriage; the rats become dashing horsemen; and Cindy’s threadbare clothes become the ball gown to top all ball gowns.

Have you ever thought about what’s really happening here? It’s some quick-thinking, rapid-fire marketing. There’s no other option, really. Cinderella has until midnight to snag the prince, or it’s back to scrubbing and washing for the three mean ladies back home.

  • Develop a marketing plan, and don’t let it gather dust.
  • Market your knowledge, not yourself.
  • Referrals are good; just don’t rely on them exclusively.
  • Your prospect is key; don’t overload—or ignore—him.
  • Communication and name recognition go hand in hand.

Do you often feel the same pressure? You know you’ve got to attract new prospects and generate some business, but your marketing plan doesn’t seem to be cutting it? Your marketing plan doesn’t have to resemble the launching protocol manual for a rocket, but it must be something you can get off the ground, something with manageable components, and something you’ll do continuously—starting today and ending the minute you retire.

There are as many marketing techniques as there are advisors—and not everything works for everybody. But looking at what a few successful advisors and a marketing expert are doing may serve you well as you embark on recharging your marketing plans.

Credibility marketing
Larry Chambers, a marketing expert and author of Credibility Marketing: Build Your Business by Becoming a Recognized Expert, suggests credibility marketing as a surefire technique for his clients. Through the credibility marketing process, you turn your knowledge into written articles that clearly outline a problem and present a solution. The person reading the article recognizes that you, the author, can solve problems like his, and will turn to you whenever he needs help. Chambers says it eliminates the people who aren’t interested in your services—and attracts those who are.

The credibility marketing process unfolds like this:

First, become an expert in a particular area of insurance and financial services. This means you have to be aware, informed and accurate at all times.

“Credibility marketing takes a commitment, but the good news is that not everyone is going to do it, so you’ll stand out.”
—Larry Chambers

Then, decide which market you want to focus on, and which of that market’s problems you are going to solve.

Next, write down the problem you are going to solve and your solution for it. Write clearly and simply. This step is key.

Now, develop a list of the magazines and other publications that your market reads. To do this, you can ask your clients what trade magazines they read, notice what’s on their desks and check out the stacks at local libraries.

Then, email or call the editor of the magazines and tell them about a problem you’ve seen a number of your clients struggle with and your proposed solution. Many of the publications you contact will accept articles from outside writers.

Once you receive a positive response, you have to commit time every day to getting the article done. “Credibility marketing takes commitment, but the good news is that not everyone is going to do it, so you’ll stand out,” says Chambers, who suggests that advisors try to place one article per quarter. As your articles start to circulate in publications, says Chambers, people will remember you as a problem solver, and you become the advisor they contact when their needs surface.

The biggest trap to fall into is writing about yourself instead of about a problem your reader has. “It’s not about you,” stresses Chambers, “it’s about the client.” Other trouble spots include making too many points in your article and trying to write an award-winning piece. Keep it simple, keep it concise and solve the problem. Let the publication’s editors do the rest.

Heard, but not seen
Like Chambers, Gary Thomas, CLU, ChFC, J.D., LLM, believes that creating name recognition is what marketing is all about. Thomas, owner of The Wealth Technology Group in Springfield, Mass., and a member of Springfield (Mass.) AIFA, takes a different route to establishing himself as an expert: the radio.

He has created a following as the regular guest on a weekend radio program that takes calls from listeners. While this may sound scary, it’s not far-fetched to think you can do it, too. There are scads of weekend and late-night radio programs, and many of them are starved for guests. Very often these radio shows feature segments on financial planning, retirement, college planning, charitable giving, etc.

“If you’re active in NAIFA, you’ll make more money in commission than you’ll ever pay in dues, without question.”
—Dean Meyer
Brown & Brown Insurance

Radio hosts are also experts in guiding radio neophytes through the interview, so there is no need to worry about crashing and burning when you do get a spot on a show. Because of fierce competition and ratings, the host wants your interview to succeed as much as you do, and will do all he can to put you at ease.

To get yourself on the radio circuit, contact the programming directors of a few stations whose listeners are in your target market. (The advertising departments of the stations can tell you who their listeners are.) Tell the programming director your expertise, and let him know that you’re available. Here’s a hint: Let the programming director know that you don’t mind last-minute calls. The best relationship you have with a station could begin when a pleading programming director calls because the scheduled guest backed out at the last minute.

Keeping the momentum going
The radio program has worked for Thomas. “Even though we weren’t targeting a specific area or market, our name was in the community,” he says. And this resulted in calls from interested individuals and groups who wanted more information.

Thomas does not just sit back and rely on the radio show to bring in prospects, however. He keeps in touch with every person who contacts him. It’s a big job, for sure, but he doesn’t let up. He maintains a drip marketing program, using a mix of emails, newsletters and clips to keep in contact with clients and prospects. His perseverance is paying off. “A lot of advisors aren’t communicating a lot with their clients … leaving them out as fair game,” he says.

He also relies heavily on the phone. Thomas has a licensed caller who sets up quarterly phone appointments with clients and warmly interested prospects. “It’s a step in between; they don’t have to commit to coming in,” says Thomas, who believes it separates his firm from the pack. “Marketing is putting your name in front of people with a casual interest and the money to buy. When you call on them, they’re predisposed to buy.”

Centers-of-influence marketing
Sticking to a plan wasn’t a problem for Dean A. Meyer, ChFC, CLU, LUTCF. The marketing challenge he faced recently was how to switch gears without missing a beat—or losing his already hard-earned reputation.

Meyer had built up quite a property and casualty agency, which he sold in 2000 to become an independent P/C agent. Last fall, he was recruited by Brown & Brown Insurance in Ft. Collins, Colo. Meyer felt like a brand new agent because the firm wanted him to sell group health, life and disability income insurance.

He didn’t let the change set him back to square one. Instead, he used his experience, his contacts and good old Ma Bell to build his new following. Meyer knew that he needed three things: a top 10 list of centers of influence, a list of “wildest dreams” companies, and a solid referral source—his local association, NAIRA-Larimer.

To build centers of influence, he started with people he knew when he was a P/C agent. He visits with them at least once per quarter to get referrals and introductions. He recognized that he also had to cultivate a center of influence that he didn’t have from his P/C days: someone with access to the human resources personnel in his new target market—small businesses with 20 to 100 employees. He decided that staffing agencies fit the bill. “I stop in and tell them what we’re doing and talk about my ideas. I find that people are willing to give us an introduction to businesses they work with,” he explains.

Meyer also contacts a group of larger companies that Brown & Brown is trying to cultivate, which he calls his top-20-of-my-wildest-dreams companies. “I stay in contact with them once a month with a newsletter or a clipping I can mail or email,” says Meyer.

It’s smart to belong
The jewel in Meyer’s marketing crown, however, is NAIFA-Larimer. It’s a fantastic source of referrals for him. “There are agents who don’t want anything to do with health or employee benefits work. They will refer me to those clients. They know I’m knowledgeable and won’t get involved in their business. If you’re active in NAIFA, you’ll make more money in commission than you’ll ever pay in dues, without question,” he says.

When Meyer goes out on calls, he arms himself with a list of companies located where he’s headed. He uses a database that plugs him into information about businesses. The bonus is that Meyer doesn’t pay for the database. “I use ReferenceUSA. Typically we’d pay $1,000 for something like it. But we connect through our local library and get it for free,” he says.

With all of these prospects and leads in hand, he works the phone faithfully. “I set aside three days, one and a half hours a day, and identify 30 names to call. When I sit down to make those calls, I know 50 to 60 percent will get me through,” he says. They become Meyer’s warm prospects. Eventually, he gets an interview with half of them. Ultimately, he closes 25 percent of those.

Seminar networking
While working the phone is highly successful for Meyer, Richard Sullenger has fallen in love with another marketing method: seminars. “Seminars are the wave of the 21st century, if you do it right. It’s the best way to build trust with a large number of people at one time,” he says.

Sullenger, a past MDRT president and a member of the Kern County (Calif.) AIFA, has had a lucrative career since entering the business in 1963. “I was always a good producer, but I had no central focus. I wanted to make a change,” he explains.

At the 1996 MDRT meeting, he attended a workshop on seminars, and returned home to radically realign the way he marketed The Sullenger Financial Group. Sullenger decided to focus his attention on conducting seminars in the retirement marketplace in his quest to make his firm a household name.

“Marketing is putting your name in front of people with a casual interest and the money to buy.”
—Gary Thomas,
The Wealth Technology Group

How it works
The process of planning a seminar has become a near science for Sullenger and his staff. They work with Response Mail, a Florida-based company that prints and mails invitations to 5,000 addresses in the ZIP codes Sullenger selects. The invitation offers two seminar options, one on a Tuesday and the other on a Thursday. Because the invitations are targeted—going to retiree-rich communities—Sullenger averages between 45 and 55 attendees each day.

On the day of the seminar, Sullenger’s staff makes reminder calls to those who have been invited. Sullenger’s seminars start at 5:30 p.m. and end at 7:30 p.m., when dinner is served. (He recommends serving more than just hors d’oeuvres.) He says it’s critical that you not talk about yourselves or try to educate attendees about products. And don’t try to present too much information either. Instead, use the seminar as an opportunity to “disturb” the attendees.


According to Richard Sullenger, of The Sullenger Financial Group, for seminar success, attention to details is critical, and the event has to be a class act. Here are other dos and don’ts:

  • Don’t scrimp.
  • Make sure the room is well lit.
  • Seat only six attendees at each round table, with everyone facing the podium.
  • Play classical music at the beginning of the seminar and during dinner.
  • Stay away from Mondays, especially during
    football season.
  • Serve a meal, not just hors d’oeuvres.
  • Hold the seminar at a high-quality place. Use tablecloths and linens.
  • Never forget: You’ve got to spend money to make money.

He also advises you to keep details in mind and dress in a suit—and for men, with a tie. While speaking, he suggests you make a “mistake” here
and there. “If you try to be too slick, you’ll turn seniors off. With this audience, you just need to be very relaxed, be one of them in a way,” he adds. It’s also important to encourage attendees to make follow-up appointments before they leave. Then, the next morning, make sure you call attendees who left the
seminar without making an appointment with you.

Lessons learned
Sullenger has some lessons
to pass on to those interested in seminar marketing. Initially, his group advertised in the newspaper. Three people showed up at his first seminar. They changed the ad, and the numbers picked up, but those attending weren’t the people he wanted to work with. That’s when he decided to go with mailing mass quantities of invitations to specific geographic areas that he knows have lots of retirees.

Sullenger cautions that seminar marketing is not for those who can’t get up in front of a group. What’s his best piece of advice? “Do it first class or stay out of it, because you’ll just hit and miss,” he says.

High-tech marketing
Keith Gillies, a member of the Greater New Orleans AIFA and the Louisiana state membership chair, says one of the keys to successful marketing is remaining flexible to changes in the economy, consumer preferences and technology.

Gillies, who is affiliated with Union Central, is taking advantage of technology. His firm creates its own multimedia business card, which is a CD-ROM the size of a business card. A friend introduced him to the idea a few months ago. He researched the auto-run software products on the market and decided to buy AutoPlay Media Studio ( The software costs about $500; each burned CD is about 60 cents. “If someone looks at it, and they’re interested, great. If not, I’ve lost only 60 cents,” he says.

Gillies spent about 40 hours during two or three weekends getting information loaded into the software. To avoid any trouble spots, his firm had a number of versions approved by his compliance department.

With all the heavy lifting and implementation done, Gillies’ firm needs only to keep the information fresh and accurate. “I like the flexibility of using a multimedia card we develop and burn in-house. We can change the contents to fit an individual or group of prospects. Navigation is just like a website. Prospects can email us or visit our website with a click,” he explains.

Gillies always carries the cards with him. “I don’t make more than 10 at a time, so they’re always up-to-date. If I run into someone who asks me what I do, I give him a CD-ROM and tell him to pop it into his computer. From a prospecting point of view, they’re curious about the itty bitty CD-ROM,” he says. Then, Gillies finds, they become very curious about what he can do for them.

No magic wand needed
Sure, it would be great if you could wave a magic wand and a high-net-worth prospect looking for a trusted advisor appeared right before your eyes. Let’s face it; that just isn’t going to happen. You’ve got to invest in, and stick to a marketing plan—a series of activities to stay in touch with your target market—to attract customers and keep the prospect pipeline filled.

Besides, magic wands are few and far between.

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