by Mark Singer, CFP®
Baby boomers are being bombarded with retirement planning messages. It seems that every financial planning firm, every financial institution and every insurance agent is courting boomers concerned with the transition into retirement. How do you stand out in the crowd? How do you become the retirement expert?
I have spent 25 years building my retirement planning firm, and I believe I have more knowledge and resources than the majority of my peers. But a few years ago I was frustrated with my inability to generate the amount of introductions I felt was reflective of my level of expertise. Why weren't my clients bringing all their friends to me?
Then I had a breakthrough. I realized the problem was not my clients, but me. I was delivering so many different messages to my clients that I failed to equip them with the necessary information to turn a conversation with their friends into an opportunity to create an introduction to my firm.
Here are a few steps I have taken to earn the title "retirement expert" and boost referrals.
Build a Consistent Message
First, I worked with a consultant to help build a consistent message. I had an inventory of stories I had not leveraged properly. People relate to a well-told story much more than to numbers. We drilled down on what exactly I wanted my message to be, then developed the appropriate stories to support the message. We consolidated 25 years' worth of messages into one very succinct message and one great supporting story.
My firm's message is: "We talk to people who don't know what they don't know." I tell clients the story of my 15-year-old daughter, who was to go on a northbound train-by herself, for the first time-to a chorale rehearsal. She got on the train and the conductor took her ticket and told her he hoped she had a good time in Boston. Unfortunately, Boston was the wrong direction; she had gotten on the southbound train instead of the northbound train. She did not even know she was headed in the wrong direction. The moral of the story is that we are all headed toward a destination (retirement), but do we really know if we are on the right track?
My clients not only smile when I tell this story, but many then share with me their own stories of being on the wrong car, plane or train. They will forever remember the message we are trying to convey.
In addition to that story, we've created a series of vignettes that combine real-life experiences with the concerns most people face when they enter retirement. Each vignette is aligned with a story that illustrates the issue and the corresponding solution. In this way we are able to highlight what we do and for whom.
We then built a system of delivering this message on a consistent basis. In the past I sent out a message of the day, week or month. Nothing was coordinated. Now I send messages that emphasize what we do and for whom via our monthly newsletter. Interestingly, in the stories included in our monthly newsletter, I do not directly ask for introductions. I am planting seeds in my clients' minds so when they are in front of someone who has experienced something similar to a story I have told, the clients will be equipped to say, "Hey, my financial planner just shared with me a similar experience and how he resolved it for a client of his. Would you mind if I introduce you to him?"
Focus on the Stories, Not the Numbers
We developed new brochures that focused on our concise message and told the big-picture message. During client reviews, we told clients that we recognized how difficult it was to talk about money to their friends, so we focused on the stories and the experiences, not the numbers. Now our clients can tell our concise message to a friend, not talk about money, and provide the introduction.
Create a Comfortable Way to Make an Introduction
Sometimes it is difficult for a client to refer a friend directly. This is when we need to provide other forums to help clients with introductions. The forums we create typically revolve around the issues or passions our clients have.
One such forum was a client event focused on travel, specifically travelling to the past and the future. The "past" was a conversation about digging into history and building a family tree. We had two clients talk at the event who were intimately involved in genealogy research. The "future" was a conversation about where to travel to, and we had three clients share their stories of unique trips they had taken.
This client event was a success on several levels. We created a platform to acknowledge clients who were experts in particular areas. I'm sure that by recognizing them in this way we have created even a stronger client-adviser bond. A couple of clients brought friends to this event, and we have been able to convert these friends to clients by tapping into their passions. We created a forum to make the introductions we were looking for. And we gained local recognition for the firm by creating a unique event.
Another client event we created is the retirement boot camp. It is an effort to tap into what our clients are truly talking about-maintaining their financial and physical fitness.
We partner with several local resources to present a series of seminars focused on Social Security, money management, estate planning, heart health, eating better and aging well. At each event we combine a financial topic with a health topic. It has been a smashing success. We are touching on topics our clients, their friends and members of the local community are thinking about.
Because of these retirement boot camps, we are now perceived by clients and the community as addressing the hot topics of the day, not just the typical retirement stuff. Another element that will help elevate me as the go-to retirement resource in my community is the book I recently wrote, The Changing Landscape of Retirement-What You Don't Know Could Hurt You. The book includes many of the stories I put in the new firm brochure, reinforces the message I now consistently tell my clients and complements the educational message of the retirement boot camps.
In this age of media blitz and in this time when retirement is the buzz, we have to be creative if we expect to capitalize on the aging of the baby boomers. Take the time to give clients the proper tools to tell your story to their friends and family to create the introductions needed to grow your business.
Mark Singer, CFP®, is president of Safe Harbor Retirement Planning in Lynn, Mass., and a registered representative with Commonwealth Financial Network.