How are you different, and what resources can you call on, he asked at a panel at the 2012 PLANADVISER National Conference in Orlando.
“Everyone has a brand,” said Ty Parrish, director of key accounts at RidgeWorth Investments. But the crucial difference is keeping on top of your message. If you don’t take control of your brand and distinguish yourself, you’re going to be judged on price, he cautioned.
Quoting Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead musician he admires, Chepenik advised, “You want to be known not for being best at what you do, but known as the only one who does what you do.” Even the language you use should be different, he said.
Jonathon Schultheiss, retirement plan adviser at Oak Ridge Wealth Management, pointed out that conversations might open with human resources or health care benefits, or something else that is of interest to the sponsor. Another way to build relationships with a sponsor can be spending time with them at interesting event or volunteering time with a charitable organization that is meaningful to you.
“Deliver your message,” Chepenik said, “but get in the door.”
“We use lead generation services to keep prospects coming in the door,” said Michael Kane, managing director of Plan Sponsor Consultants.
Kane’s firm went through a rebranding process seven years ago, he said. “We knew the outcome we wanted but it was a journey to get there,” he recalled. “You have to decide who you are, and what you are. We decided we wanted to focus on retirement planning. We wanted to be known as an elite retirement planning consultant.”
Among the projects they embarked to achieve their goals were writing more articles and posting them on their website, and having them published whenever possible. The company’s wholesaler gave them an idea to use at seminars, and they began holding regularly scheduled Breakfasts with Benefits using ERISA attorneys to build relationships. “You have to develop yourself as a resource through these people—accountants and attorneys—so they will want to recommend you,” Kane said.
The financial services industry seems reluctant to use social media, an audience member said, and asked if there are appropriate ways to use the networks. Chepenik called social media extremely valuable. “Forget about the others,” Parrish advised. “LinkedIn: Use it. It’s one of the most powerful things out there.”
Kane agreed, mentioning that he has used LinkedIn to start discussions in groups with HR representatives, chief financial officers, attorneys and accountants.
Asking for referrals can be tricky. “The best referrals happen when you’re not there,” Parrish said. The way to make this happen is by creating what he calls psychic real estate in the minds of the contact so that they have a solid understanding of the value you can bring to clients: “They should be able to articulate what you do and its value.”
Chepenik advised networking and discussing best practices at conferences. “There are top producers here, and most will share marketing ideas,” he said.