Make the Most out of Every Conference: 5 Steps to Success
Written by: Mark V. Petersen
Fall is officially here. Labor Day is behind us and students of every age—from kindergarteners to graduate candidates—are back in school and geared up for another year of learning. The same is true for financial services professionals gearing up for the fall season of conferences, and there are a slew of options to choose from.
The FPA BE Conference is right around the corner, on September 14-16 in Baltimore. San Diego is a hotbed of activity, beginning with the XYPlanning Network Annual Conference and Bob Veres’ Insider’s Forum both on September 19-21, followed by FINCON 2016 September 21-24, then Charles Schwab’s annual IMPACT conference on October 24-27. If you’re on the east coast, NAPFA’s National Conference is closer to home, in Arlington, VA, October 11-14, and IPA Vision in Chicago on October 17-20. And in Las Vegas, the ADISA Annual Conference runs from September 26 - 28. It’s quite a list of possibilities. But whether you’re attending one or handful of events, do you have a plan in place to squeeze the greatest potential out of your time away from the office?
Everyone knows that basking in the Southern California weather and catching up with old friends can be great perks for attendees. But if you’ve ever come home from a conference wondering if it was really worth your investment, it’s time to take a new approach. Follow these 5 steps and make the most out of every conference to help grow your career and your business:
1. Make a plan before you get there.
Don’t wait until you’re on the plane—or, worse yet, standing at the registration table—to make a plan and set your goals for the conference. Print out the attendee list and identify people you want to connect with. Whether it’s a B/D you’ve been hearing about, a vendor of a new technology that can empower your business, or an estate attorney with mutual clients, there’s a huge pool of value at your fingertips. Identify a specific business problem you want to solve while you’re there, then review the agenda and speaker list and plan each day carefully. Target topics that fit your business and are aligned with your growth objectives. It’s all too easy to wander from session to session, only to realize you’ve missed some of the most valuable content—and contacts—when the day is done.
2. Get out of your comfort zone.
One of your goals at any conference should be to challenge your thinking and stretch your boundaries. To be sure that happens, don’t talk to the same people all the time. You’ll never have the opportunity to uncover new opportunities if you’re constantly engaged in conversation with old buddies. Make it your mission to meet five new people every day. Spend more time listening than talking (you have two ears and one mouth for a reason!). If approaching new people is a challenge for you, have one good question at the ready to use as an icebreaker—anything business-focused to start the conversation will do. And when you meet someone who really resonates with you in some way, take the time to build a good relationship. Immediately connect on LinkedIn and ask if it’s ok to follow up in a week. If LinkedIn isn’t an option, ask if you can snap a photo of their name badge or business card so you have the information stored right in your phone.
3. Leave office work at the office.
Ever find yourself at a conference but locked up in your hotel room on a series of conference calls? I have. Guilty as charged. While office emergencies happen, don’t allow this to be the norm. Commit to making the conference your focus. Set up an out of office message on your email and your voicemail, and only respond to items that require your immediate attention. Leave your laptop in your room and keep your phone out of reach! Think you can multi-task by listening to a session while answering email? Cognition studies show you’re doing at least one activity ineffectively—and probably both. If you’re really pressed to get something done at the office, set aside an hour or two to go do it right, then get back to the business of the working the conference.
4. Make the most of evening events.
Pick events based on how well they match your mission. If you’re invited to load onto a bus with people you’ve known for years, be sure to sit with someone new. If the bus trip doesn’t promise good value for your time, think about foregoing the fun and arranging a small, intimate dinner with new acquaintances—and invite them each to invite someone as well. It’s a great way to build your circle of influence, and the relationships you forge in a small group will likely be stronger than those made on the bus. No matter how you choose to spend the evening, always remember that relaxing with a cocktail or two can be great, but overdoing the alcohol can thwart your mission entirely. Your goal is to have conversations you remember clearly the next day, not to get the most “value” from the open bar.
5. Make follow up a priority.
Once you’re back in the office, it’s time to put all the networking you’ve done to use. Make a list of everyone you met and set a plan to follow up. That advisor who was so insightful about marketing to Millennials? Proactively schedule a call to talk more about how she’s achieving success. That vendor who gave a session on an interesting new product for your HNW clients? Send him an email requesting more information and the names and emails of a couple of advisors you can talk to about how they’re using the product successfully. Remember that specific business challenge you wanted to solve? Reflect back and see if you found your answer. If not, review your new LinkedIn and other connections and consider who may have the answer for you, then follow up until you get the answers you need.
Depending on how you approach them, conferences can be extremely valuable…or a colossal waste of time and money. My own success story happened years ago: I walked into my office one Monday only to be told the firm was shutting down and I was out of a job. Already signed up for a conference beginning the next day, I decided the best possible thing I could do in my situation was get out there and keep making connections. At the registration table, I ran into someone I had connected with at numerous events over the years. “How are you doing?” he asked. When I replied with the usual, he didn’t buy it. “No, really Mark. How are you?” As I stood there, my conference badge not yet pinned to my jacket, I told him I’d just been laid off and was trying to decide my next step. His reply: “Can you have dinner with me tonight?” That dinner led to an 18-year career at his firm. All because of a conference connection and being in the right place at the right time.
As you head into conference season, plan wisely and commit to making the most out of your time away from the office. Make valuable connections. Challenge your thinking. Stretch your boundaries. By being smart about how you use your time, you can transform every conference into an opportunity to grow your business and enhance your career.
Mark Petersen has over 25 years of experience leading distribution and sales efforts in the financial services industry. His background includes managing retail and institutional securities sales as well as national accounts, and he has forged strong relationships with broker/dealers and financial advisors throughout his career. Currently Executive Vice President at GWG Holdings, Inc., Mr. Petersen is also a registered representative of Emerson Equity. His previous roles include co-president of Behringer Securities LP and executive sales and marketing positions with CNL Fund Management, Franklin Square Capital Partners, and Madison Harbor Capital. He holds an MBA in finance from Baylor University and a B.S. in business administration from the University of Texas at Arlington.
Capturing the Attention of Millennials: Be Relevant and Digital
I know Gen Y are stereotyped as being transient, digital natives who are impossible to capture, but that is just the world we live in today. Technology has caused a proliferation of advancements and the financial services industry is (or should be) feeling the pressure. We have seen the rise of the robos, fee compression, virtual advisors, and various regulatory changes, all culminating to challenge financial advisors to find ways to cut through the noise to demonstrate their value.
Developing an effective marketing and lead generation process that’s tailored to millennials is vital for two key reasons:
- It’s the only way you’re ever going to capture their attention
- It’s the only way your business can remain profitable serving this demographic
Let’s be honest; there is a bit of an over-hype and obsession with millennials right now (don’t get me wrong, I’m obviously a fan). Nearly every business is starting to ask itself, “How do we capture this next generation?” And they’re spending tons of time and resources devoted to this one demographic. So think about all the different emails, social media and digital advertising you’re competing with, even beyond just the financial services industry. Whatever you put out there will have to be niche to their needs in order to capture their attention – and will have to feel authentic if you want to build enough trust to get them to engage.
As you begin to assess your ability (or desire) to serve younger investors, the question about profitability will inevitably come up. The traditional marketing advisors do today for their HNW investors is just not an effective or profitable way to target millennials. No COIs, business networking, client events, newsletters – that takes up way too much of your time. Instead, you should take a more scalable approach using digital marketing and messaging that actually resonates with your intended target market. Serving millennials should not be a loss leader; that’s exactly why segmenting and tailoring your marketing will be vital with this demographic.
Bringing it back to our friends Marg, Chip and Drew
In order to assess what type of marketing will effectively capture the attention of our three millennial personas, we need to answer these questions:
- What are their aspirations?
- What are their problems?
- When is the best time (in their lives) to capture their attention?
Marg seems to be more reactive and short-sighted, only seeking advice when there’s a triggering event causing her stress. Chip and Drew tend to have relatively similar characteristics, which you’ll notice quite a bit throughout our research. Aside from income, assets and debt levels, Chip and Drew tend to have the same needs and preferences. This means that you can take a relatively similar marketing approach in terms of messaging, but you’ll need a slightly different approach for each party later on, when we get into fees and service models.
Chip and Drew tend to be a little more financially mature than Marg; they look at longer-term goals and aspirations. The only exception would be that, when it comes to how these three define financial success, they all answered, “Having enough savings to retire when I want” as their top choice.
With the goal of tailoring your marketing messaging and approach to effectively engage these different segments, here are our recommended approaches.
Marketing to Marg
Topical blog posts and social media are the way to go. Even though Marg might not be ready for or in need of your professional advice quite yet, you can still find scalable, automated ways to prospect her (with the long-term goal of eventually capturing her once she becomes more like Chip and Drew). The key is to identify those triggers that cause Marg to seek help and find a way to insert yourself into the picture through digital marketing.
Writing a blog with topical posts that address key questions or issues that Marg might Google or research in her time of need is a great starting point. Think of blog titles like: A 5-Step Guide to Building a Budget, What to Do When You Have Credit Card Debt, and How to Improve Your Credit Score. Even though blogging might feel like it takes a lot of initial effort putting together the content, once it’s written, it can be leveraged in so many ways that you can actually realize a return on that investment of your time.
One blog post can be broken down into 10-20 different social media posts, posted on many different social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), and can be used for months after the blog goes live. And, over time, that content will accumulate and improve your website’s visibility in search engines (that’s search engine optimization) to increase visitors and visits from people like Marg.
Marketing to Chip and Drew
Build a targeted marketing campaign focused on life event planning. Retirement is still a very important issue when it comes to emerging wealth prospects like Chip and Drew. Not only do they define financial success as the ability to retire when they want, they also cite retirement planning as the top financial issue they want more help with. However, big life events are the key trigger for Chip and Drew to take action on their finances. And so the key to capturing these millennials is by striking at the peak of their interest – when these life events happen.
But before you can market messaging and content specifically focused on life events like marriage, first-home purchase, first child, and change of career, you have to first address any potential branding issues. If you’re serious about wanting to engage this group, your brand and website cannot be hyper-focused on traditional financial advisor themes like retirement, investing and wealth management. Expand your current brand or create a separate brand geared to this demographic that focuses on financial planning for life events (which can still include retirement as one key component). Then build topical messaging and content that plays to each life event, like “3 Financial Musts After Having Your First Child.”
If you’re fully committed, you could even take it a step further by implementing marketing that specifically targets millennials going through specific life events. For example, you could pay to promote social media posts or ads that only target millennials between the ages of 28-30, the average age most millennials are getting married . Maybe you purchase ads on blogs or other websites like The Knot for newlyweds or The Bump for new parents. You could also identify social influencers who blog or speak about life events and other topics affecting your target market and look for cross-promotional opportunities. The more targeted your marketing and content, the more likely you are to cut through the noise and capture millennial attention.
This brings me to a key point
Marg, Chip and Drew are not niches; they are merely personas representing 3 key segments within the millennial cohort. However, niche marketing is a very powerful tool that should not be overlooked when discussing effective ways to market to Gen Y. The more niche your content and targeted your advertising approach, the more effective your marketing will become in grabbing their attention. Case in point: A 33-year-old dentist is much more likely to click on something titled “Dos and Don’ts of Tackling Debt from Dentistry School” than a generic title like “Dos and Don’ts of Tackling Student Loans.” You want millennials to feel your content to is talking specifically to them – and that you’re a resource who understands the needs and issues of people just like them.
To those advisors who still aren’t really interested in serving millennials, but are using this series as an opportunity to review industry trends – this niche thing is not just for millennials; it can be an effective marketing tactic to use with all generations of all ages. There are so many changes going on right now in financial services that can confusion among investors and muddle your value proposition as a financial advisor. Recent technical innovation has caused a proliferation of many different business models in our industry. You’ve always competed with DIY platforms, but now (whether you like it or not), you’re being compared to robo and virtual advisors who likely spend a lot more on digital marketing and targeting than your traditional advisor. That’s why niche marketing can play a key role in helping you to cut through this noise and grab the attention of potential prospects (no matter what age they might be).
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