You know potential clients are lurking out there. But where are they? You’ve tried contacting them through lead lists that your company has furnished or those you have obtained on your own. You’ve gotten a few nibbles, but hardly the windfall you’d hoped for. You start worrying that other agents must have gotten to them first.
Is there a simple way to prospect that leads you into the fertile realm of dependable, loyal clients, eager to use your services?
The answer to this question is yes and no. No, there is no single way, but there are several. And the process is not simple. One approach claims you can get clients through a unique style of power networking. Another promises results from its turbo-charged, referral-generation machine. And some experts believe that neither way by itself is the solution. You have to combine several techniques.
The power of networking
Before you take the first step on the sometimes difficult path to acquiring clients, you must first understand the methods available for establishing contacts, says Dave Sherman, president of ConnectionPros. One such method is networking.
But networking and prospecting are not the same. “People perceive networking and prospecting as the same thing,” Sherman points out. “But they’re not interchangeable.”
Prospecting is going out and finding people to sell your product or service to. And it’s a perfectly valid way to do business from time to time, as long as the people you’re approaching--say, at a trade show--expect it. Connecting through networking is different, he adds. “It revolves around the prospective client liking you and feeling that he has something in common with you.”
PROSPECTING IS GOING OUT AND FINDING PEOPLE TO SELL YOUR PRODUCT OR SERVICE TO.
Sherman drives home several key points about the fine art of prospecting. First, most people engaged in prospecting believe that handing out a business card is an effective technique when they meet a prospect. However, according to Sherman, it’s more fruitful to establish a relationship with a person first, a connection based on trust in which this person first finds out who you are and then relates it to what you do. It may very well be how most long-term business relationships are established.
"If you want an architect, do you open the Yellow Pages or call friends?” he asks. He believes that prospectors at social events, such as a Kiwanis auction, mistakenly hand out business cards the minute they meet someone. This is not only a waste of good paper; it can also be counter-productive. Generally, people will accept a business card because they’re being polite. But if they never asked for it in the first place, it usually ends up in the trash.
Sherman advocates what may seem highly revolutionary to some: “Start off by being a valuable business and personal resource,” he says. “Do what you can to help other people reach their goals and desires and expect nothing in return.”
This last phrase catches people off guard because most believe they should get something back when they spend time going to an event to network. To counter this objection, Sherman quotes another networking guru, Zig Ziglar, “If you help enough people get what they want, they will help you get what you want.”
Networking is not a numbers game, notes Sherman. You don’t put x amount of work in and expect y back. It is almost like planting seeds. Some germinate and some don’t, but if you plant in fertile locations and cultivate often, you will get results.
He admits that networking is not the easy way to get prospects. It is time-consuming. Many advisors are so overscheduled these days that they step behind their business cards and promotional literature, and expect them to do the work for them. “Leave your four-color brochure at home when you attend a chamber of commerce meeting,” he advises. “You’ll just get calls from other vendors. Send them only when they’re requested.”
And that usually doesn’t happen until you’ve made and cultivated a connection. Every business sale has a selling cycle: a beginning, an introduction and a close of sale. Normally salespeople spend 20 percent of their time trying to create the connection and end up spending 80 percent of it trying to close the sale.
"If you reverse it and spend most of the time building up your credibility, you will spend 30 percent of the time closing the sale,”he says. “People with good connections sell more products, more often, at a higher price, and with fewer complaints.”
Sherman also recommends joining charitable organizations to meet prospects. This allows you to make connections with no immediate monetary gain for yourself. “You are seen in a more favorable light. People eventually find out what you do after they find out they share the same passion as you,” he adds.
TO GET PROSPECTS, AGENTS MUST ASK EARLY AND OFTEN SO THEY CAN GET USED TO IT.
A key point in Sherman’s approach is setting yourself apart from other advisors by changing your personal style. “When you get right down to it, there is not much difference among products. You go to an event and there are 10 other life insurance salespeople there. You then have two choices: You can be like one of them and talk shop, or you can talk about everything else. If you stop talking so much about business, you’ll be the one person that stands out.”
NAIFA-Tucson member Anil Vazirani, senior partner of Secured Financial Solutions, believes he’s found the perfect solution to the dilemma of finding new clients. He puts on highly targeted seminars, which he believes are very productive because presenters are often seen in the most favorable light. “When you’re up there speaking in front of a captive audience in a darkened room about a topic you know backwards and forwards, credibility comes across loud and clear,”he says.
His first step is defining a target demographic. He provides this information and ZIP codes to his mail companies, which then send out his well-designed invitations. In Vazirani’s case, he focuses on retirees. For each seminar, he sends out 5,000 invitations and gets about a 2 percent attendance rate. What turns these prospects into customers is what he talks about. “We charge no fee,”he stresses. “We don’t discuss products, only concepts, such as how they feel about losing money in the stock market, protection from creditors and probate. We believe in educating and motivating consumers to take proactive steps in managing their lives.”
At the end of the presentation, he passes out evaluation forms that ask the attendees if they want a complimentary consultation. If they say no, they are deleted from the system. If they say maybe, the firm stays in touch with them, with their approval, via email and hard copy mail. They become part of a database, receiving quarterly articles just like the regular client base. “But we don’t call them,”he points out. “We leave the responsibility to contact us on them. If they say yes, we make an appointment to talk about our products. After this initial appointment, most prospects become clients.”
Warren Negri, a District of Columbia AIFA member and an independent consultant from Arlington, Va., takes a different approach to prospecting--he uses referrals. He says that the traditional method of prospecting taught by his former employer is “making a list of your 100 best friends, neighbors and relatives and asking them: ’Who do you know that would benefit from my services?’”
This approach produces frequent rejection, which is especially discouraging for people getting into the business, according to Negri.
His method involves identifying the market he is comfortable with, such as small businesses with fewer than 30 employees, health-care workers, etc.
After getting a satisfied customer from that market--let’s call her Mary--Negri recommends a soft-sell approach to getting referrals from her.
His typical statement to a satisfied customer goes something like this: “I was thinking about you the other night. I decided I want to work with people similar to you.”
He then draws a quadrant featuring the following components: work, family, play and passion. He tells Mary he wants to meet people in each of these spheres of her life. Here are the quadrants and the questions in each of them:
Work: “What do you do for work? Who are your colleagues?”
Family: “Would your mother, sister or cousin appreciate a call from me?”
Play: “Do you play golf, tennis or racquetball? Who’s in your foursome?”
Passion: “Do you do charitable work for an organization, such as the Elks?”
START OFF BY BEING A VALUABLE BUSINESS AND PERSONAL RESOURCE TO PEOPLE YOU MEET.
Negri then asks Mary if she has the type of relationship with that colleague, family member or volunteer that would enable him to speak with that person for a half hour. Most of these people would say yes and they would say it often. Using this quadrant approach, Negri believes the typical advisor will find a dozen or so people who are receptive to a meeting.
This form of “endorsed networking”uses various ways to fend off rejection. Under the best-case scenario, according to Negri, Mary calls the person while Negri is there and they set up an appointment. If that’s not possible, he gets her to write a note that he can take with him to the person. The note would read: “Warren’s a great guy with great ideas. Spend half an hour with him for me.”
A new twist
Eric Roth, LUTCF, New York City AIFA member and vice president of investments at New York’s Smith Barney, uses variations of these techniques and many of his own in his presentation on the referral process. For him, referrals are the best way to prospect for clients because, “they are more strategic. We’re dealing with the ’clone effect.’ When we get a referral from a senior vice president making seven figures, we’re getting people like her. Also, it’s a more professional way to get clients because you don’t need to sell yourself as much. You are presold.”
He also suggests reasons why agents avoid asking for referrals--they fear rejection and don’t want to appear pushy or desperate. Yet these reasons evaporate when they realize that if they’re doing a good job, the client will be happy to refer them to a colleague.
Fear of rejection can be minimized at the beginning of the sales process. “I let people know right off that I get paid in two ways,”he says. “The first is in commissions. The second is in referrals. So that sets up a sense of obligation on the part of the client. If I do a good job for them, they owe me referrals.”
To get prospects, agents must ask “early and often, so they get used to it,”he says. “I ask after they sign on the dotted line, while talking on the phone in a follow-up call and over lunch.”
The right way
Here is a method Roth uses with particular effectiveness: In the course of signing up a client, he visits her in her office. With each visit, he notes the names on offices and cubicles near the client’s office. After becoming her agent, he tells her that he will be contacting Joe Smith and Martha Jones. “Can I tell them we’re working together?”he would ask her. This is called “name feeding.”
He doesn’t ask for referrals; he simply says that he’s going to be contacting the people. If she’s wary, he reassures her: “I realize you don’t know the needs of people close to you. I take a very soft approach with referrals. I will contact them once or twice and never hound them.”
Peter Bates is a contributor to Advisor Today.