3 Strategies for Thriving After the DOL Rule

In our previous post on the upcoming DOL rule we presented massive new threats for RIAs. You will have thousands of new competitors and your best sales pitch – unbiased advice – will no longer be differentiated. We suggested you start communicating with existing clients to get ahead of these competitive threats.

We’re begging you – please wake up

After we published this post I had a quick email exchange with our friend Michael Kitces. Not only does he agree with our opinion, but he has been making the same point for years.

Too many RIAs are sleepwalking into 2017 believing business will continue as usual. It won’t. The DOL rule accelerates changes already underway: fiduciary, lower fees, transparency, and technology.

Our mission is to make advisors better and we won’t stop fighting such complacency. We will keep challenging you to rethink your practice.

Strategy 1: Fight Madison Avenue with personalized campaigns

Big firms will use the DOL rule to change their conversation with prospective clients. Merrill Lynch is already committing to a higher standard for retirement. No doubt they are also budgeting for big advertising campaigns in 2017 and beyond. Expect them to aggressively seek market share to compensate for lost commission revenue.

Is it fair? Not at all. Some of these firms have been dragged kicking and screaming into aligning their interests with clients. Nonetheless they will compete for your current and future clients and you need to prepare.

Take advantage of inexpensive channels that you’ve developed and control by delivering consistent, personalized messages to prospects and clients. Email, phone calls, social media, and live events are examples of channels you can use to compete against bigger firms.

Here are a few best practices.

Make it personal

You’ve got a secret weapon advertisers can’t copy: you. Your voice, your experiences, your point of view. Let it show in everything you write, say, and do.

Don’t copy big firms by investing in glitzy graphics and expensive design. It costs too much and undermines your message of personal attention. Send plain-text emails and write in second-person like you’re writing to a friend – just like we’re writing to you right now. The world’s most successful investor writes with a casual tone – so why can’t you?

Focus

Large firms will run advertising campaigns for a general audience. You should respond by emphasizing your customer niche or expertise.

Does your practice focus on teachers? If so, tell teachers how the Trump administration’s proposed tax changes will impact them.

Use many channels

Have you heard of “the rule of seven”? It is one of the oldest concepts in marketing. A prospect needs to hear a message seven times before buying. This is true for getting current clients to take action or understand a message as well. A current client needs to hear your advice seven times before it sinks in.

Big firms will keep running the same ad until their message sticks. You don’t have that option to throw money at this problem.

Since it takes too long for prospects to hear your message seven times through a single channel (like a quarterly newsletter) you need use many channels. Add new channels like social media, phone calls, emails, or meetings to your marketing. Plan campaigns around your message and drive it home through every available channel.

Achieve leverage through marketing automation

Let’s face it – we all struggle to keep up with communication commitments because it takes so much time. Wherever possible send regular, semi-personalized messages with marketing automation. An example is sending clients automated, weekly financial updates.

Our testing has shown that 86% of clients read emails containing consolidated financial updates of their full balance sheet. This is an incredibly high level of email engagement and the most cost-effective way of engaging your clients. These updates also help your clients counterbalance media noise and get them thinking longer term.

Strategy 2: Reduce sales friction

As you know, one of your toughest challenges is closing new clients. Going from handshake to turning over assets is a big psychological commitment. It takes an RIA anywhere from 1 month to a couple of years to close a qualified prospect.

The DOL’s rule change will create thousands of new competitors in the fee-based market. Prospective clients will be considering you along with many other options. Advisers who can close faster will be at an advantage.

Measure and improve your closing rate

Venture capitalists track the sales velocity of companies to measure sales effectiveness. Although this overkill for RIAs, you do need measure steps and duration of your closing process. Once you have a baseline you can begin identifying areas of improvement.

Does it take too long to setup the first meeting? Go from “yes” to signing the client agreement? Fortunately most of your sales closing challenges can be eliminated with a single change.

Show. Don’t tell

Nothing communicates value faster than actually having your client experience your value proposition. Give prospects an experience similar to your existing clients and you will eliminate much of their apprehension. Our research has shown that advisors who give a prospects “try before you buy” experience close 94% of them within a year.

Use a reporting system or portal that can accommodate prospects and invite prospects to experience working with you. Make it part of your standard sales process and you’ll close and qualify them faster.

Many advisers try explain their value with dummy data and canned reports. This isn’t as effective because prospects cannot imagine the benefit of seeing their accounts on a personalized report.

Give them a free report … free analysis … review … anything showing how you will create value for them. Demonstrate how your expertise applies to their situation.

Strategy 3: Get referrals by continuously reselling your value

Technology is commoditizing much of what financial advisers traditionally did for clients. For instance, you are no longer a simple broker of information. To stay relevant you need to liberate information for clients by putting it into context.

Commoditized information also reduces the barriers to entry for thousands of new competitors in the fee-based market. They will try to close your prospects with a simple value proposition: charging less than you. Referrals from happy clients are the best way to change the conversation from “price” to “value”.

But to get referrals you need to stay top-of-mind by continuously reselling your value to clients. Sending them a traditional quarterly report is too infrequent in an era of 24×7 financial news delivered in 140 characters.

Take the opportunity to update them every time you do something on their behalf. Did you evaluate a new financial product today and decide not to add it to your practice? This work goes unnoticed unless you tell clients about it – so remind them about what you do for them, especially those things they won’t otherwise see.

Send them regular updates about their financial situation and alerts when things change. Are they on track to achieve their goals? Why or why not? Have you told them?

Reinforce your competitive advantages by emphasizing your expertise in their situation. If you’re the “financial adviser for entrepreneurs” make sure you reinforce that value so a generalist can’t easily muddy the waters.

You can prepare for these changes. Right now.

Most RIAs won’t prepare for these changes and their practice will suffer. Don’t be one of them.

You’ve invested years building your practice and creating an asset for your financial future. Will you use your practice’s cash flow to fund your retirement? Sell your practice and spend your days playing golf? Regardless, you need to takes these changes as a serious real threat to your asset’s value.

When faced with such uncertainty it is tempting to … delay. After years of helping practices like yours we’ve learned that big changes are easier to manage by taking a first, simple step – and we have a suggestion.

Send automated, branded updates to clients and prospects via email.

If you’re not sending clients and prospects automated weekly updates about their finances you’re missing an easy way to inoculate your practice from the most dangerous threats from the new DOL rule.

Take ownership of your client’s email inbox as a free communication channel. You will lower sales friction by sending prospects a regular reminder of what it feels like to work with you. And you’ll get more referrals by always putting your practice at the top of your clients’ minds.

If you can’t do this on your own, Blueleaf can help. See how by starting your free Blueleaf trial today. Prepare now and your practice will thrive in 2017 and beyond.

 

Photo credit: Becky Johns


Also published on Medium.

John Prendergast John Prendergast is the co-founder and CEO of Blueleaf. He serves on the board of WiredTiger, a developer cloud optimized databases. He is also the founder and organizer of the Lean Startup Circle Boston. In addition to his decade and a half as an entrepreneur, John spent nearly a decade as an investment banker and financial advisor.