How to Become a Specialist Advisor
We know that embracing a specialty can help advisors be more successful in their marketing, charge a premium for their services, and make it easier to find their ideal clients. But how can you go about choosing a specialty that’s right for you? In this episode, consultant to top advisors, Doug Rainbolt will explain how to become a specialist advisor:
- How to evaluate potential niches
- A proven process for defining your ideal client
- Solving the biggest problem facing your target market
- How to embrace a specialty you love
- How to market to your ideal prospects as a specialist advisor
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New episodes will be published weekly with various guests, including top advisors, tech consultants, and marketing machines who are excited to tell you how to use proven marketing strategies to grow a thriving practice.
Claire Akin (CA): Thank you so much for joining us for this episode of The Marketing Podcast for Financial Advisors. I’m your host, Claire Akin. Today I’m really excited to have Doug Rainbolt with us. We are going to be talking about how advisors can figure out how to embrace a specialty. What’s the right specialty for them? How can they test out a different specialty before they put a bunch of marketing dollars towards that? I’m really excited to have Doug with us.
Doug is a partner and CMO with Chief Outsiders. He has been a senior marketer for many years. I actually came across Doug when we were working with a financial advisor together who had a fascinating niche. He was doing financial planning for Intel employees. Doug, I know, really helped their firm to focus on that specialty and embrace that niche. It was really successful for them. He was a great resource on that project. We’ve kept in touch over the years. Doug is going to help us today to talk about his process and how he helps financial professionals to figure out who they should focus on. Welcome to the program, Doug.
Doug Rainbolt (DR): Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
CA: Great. Let’s start out with talking a little bit about what you’re most excited about personally this year. What’s going on in your life?
DR: Good question. I think I’ll carve this in two pieces. First is the personal side. For the second part, I’ll share some thoughts or tips to marketing growth and marketing education, which I love doing.
On the personal side, the great news this year is my youngest graduates from high school. On top of that, he got a basketball offer to play college basketball in Seattle. In fact, signs his Letter of Intent today, so that’s really exciting, really pleased about that. I wish him the best going forward.
On the business side, I would say on the marketing front, a couple of things really have been on my mind this year, as far as learning, and the application of such. The first is this idea of what we call advocacy marketing, the idea of being able to turn your customers into advocates, you know, post a sale. I think so much of the time we as marketers are so focused on the acquiring of somebody, getting a lead in, working the lead, nurturing the lead, and that eventually closes. We don’t think about, oftentimes, what happens post the transaction.
There’s a whole group of thought around how do we nurture people post the transaction to keep them focused, to keep them engaged. To have them be motivated to actually help in some ways as far as, for example, content creation, or word-of-mouth to different prospects. In doing so, the key thing is that it actually increases your referral count. As you know, Claire, referrals, as far as lead source, is like gold. It does shorten the sales cycle. It does help people self-qualify themselves. The key to this process is to really get people engaged post sales, so they can be your best advocate to increase your referral count. That’s been a top-of-mind thing for me as I coach clients.
I’d say the second thing would be, I had a CMO peer who made the introduction to a guy named Patrick Renvoise, who wrote a book called The Persuasion Code. It deals with, in a nutshell, neuromarketing and the importance of you finding balance between the logical side and the emotional side, the primal brain and its responses and its role as far as the buying process. The thing about that is when he helped me as far as how I think about messaging in a very authentic way, but being mindful of people’s emotional side as they engage, and as they work through their process of buying.
CA: That’s fantastic. Congratulations on your son’s scholarship, that’s awesome. And I agree. There’re so many opportunities from a marketing standpoint, and particularly for financial services, it’s all about referrals. It’s interesting to do that kind of work around, after you complete a transaction with somebody and they’re happy, how can you leverage them as a referral source?
That’s one thing that we do for our advisors, is that we write client profiles. We’ll profile a client who maybe came to the advisor when they were starting their own business, and they didn’t know if they had enough money to go out on their own. Then they did, and their business was successful, and now their life is better. That’s a fantastic personal client profile that you can create and have on your website. It helps people understand what you do and how you help. It humanizes the whole process. I think that’s great advice there.
Let’s talk a little bit about specialization in general. Of course, I have a very unique specialty, and people, sometimes when I talk on the phone with advisors, they can’t believe that this is all I do. I work with independent financial advisors who have a specialty. That’s pretty unique. People who have a specialty need custom content, and they need somebody familiar with our industry, familiar with compliance. It’s a very specific niche. There’s certainly a need for it, and there’s a higher willingness to pay. I encourage advisors to embrace a specialty so that they can command that higher willingness to pay. Charge a premium for their services, and make it easier to find their ideal clients, and solve the most pressing problems for their potential clients.
Walk us through why is it so important to choose a specialty, and how can advisors go about evaluating potential specialties?
DR: Sure. First of all, let me just say as a premise here, as I walk through this, I’d like the listeners to understand, first and foremost, my conviction, my visceral belief is you’ve got to be passionate about people to start with. There’s nothing phony or make-believe about marketing, it’s about doing the right thing to help people, and help people solve problems. So you’ve got to have that, you’ve got to love people, which most of your listeners do, I assume. But you’ve got to have that as a foundational piece.
Let me read to you a problem statement I see when it comes to financial advisors, and the problems they solve. We all know that there’s a need out there. The need is immense for people who need support and guidance and tips to financial planning. Part of the problem I see, a foundational problem, is that when I look at messaging on websites, or listen to presentations, not yours, obviously, others, they all sound the same to me. There’s no differentiation as far as the messaging. It’s logical. It all comes down to, I should say their approach seems logical. That the idea that people need this, and you’ve got a plan, and we build a plan, and the plan is bulletproof, and we have all these methodologies to really test your plan, make sure it’s rock solid, and you have us as a, really, your trusted advisor.
The problem from a listener is that it all sounds the same. It all sounds the same, so therefore, it’s really hard to respond to something that’s so homogeneous. That’s the first part. The second part deals with this, and it ties back into this idea of neuromarketing, right? We think about why people do things. We think about why the approach. Let’s face it, oftentimes when an advisor says, “Let’s meet,” and it’s fairly soon in the sales process, you get this visceral “No, I don’t want to do this.” It’s almost this fear of response, even prospects can’t explain because the money piece is so emotional, it’s so deep. Yet what oftentimes happens is that people won’t respond unless there is that emotional response. We tend to almost genericize this messaging, and we’re not really hitting the key pain points around why they should meet, and what’s going on.
That idea about specialization really is to provide a unique messaging that really addresses a pain point. A pain point is bigger and deeper than perhaps this need for a financial plan. They all know that, but something deeper. The problem, if you become very general, as far as even the messaging, and you reach out in a very general way, you get very mediocre response. You’re much better off finding your wheelhouse, the area that you’re really passionate about and unique in, where your superpower is exercised, to be able to really be pinpoint and accurate around trying to appeal to people’s emotional state, backed by logic. To motivate them to engage, and to keep the conversation going, to a point where they feel comfortable, based upon the merits, and your credibility to extend to a meeting and going forward.
It may be a longer sales cycle. You do it that way and do it right, with meaningful information around positioning, how you solve their problem. Then they move along the process, and then if you do it right, you find a group of people who are so satisfied, post that, that they’re your greatest referral source. From there, it does begin to accelerate the sales process.
Specializations are about really pinpointing the right people, the right message to engage them. Then having them be your best advocate going forward to help you build more leads and bigger funnel, in a much more accelerated way.
CA: That’s great. That’s great advice. It’s so funny because this morning, before our recording, I was on the phone with an advisor who pretty much exclusively serves interior designers, which is pretty cool. He works with and gets a lot of his clients from a CPA who serves interior designers, and the CPA firm is called Interior Design CPA. It’s all over their website, they have a cool, hip logo, that I’m sure was created by one of their designer clients. That’s what they do. It’s interesting because in my conversation with this advisor, I said, what about rebranding to the design financial planner? He said, “No, no, no, no, no. I couldn’t do that. I don’t want to alienate anyone who isn’t a designer.”
Well, you just told me that everyone you’re working with is a designer, and everyone that you want to work with in the future is a designer. So, if you were the interior designer financial advisor, it would be a lot easier for people to remember you and to refer to you, and to feel at home with you. Yet he was really reticent to do that because the fear of alienating people that don’t belong to that group. And it’s interesting, because I’m not even sure if interior designers have specific needs when it comes to their CPA, that they need to be that familiar with the interior design business model. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But maybe it’s just a memorable way to get new clients. “My CPA is the interior design CPA, you should go to him, he’s great.”
So it’s about both embracing a specialty because you serve them best, and also to make it easier to refer and more comfortable to refer. And so I do always encourage advisors to really take a leap of faith and make the jump and embrace your specialty; if it’s the people that you love working with, you won’t be disappointed.
Let’s talk a little bit about, as they’re evaluating, maybe of a generalist advisor that right now will take anybody with a heartbeat, or who casts a shadow, but they know they need to specialize. What are some ways that they can evaluate different specialties to figure out whether or not it will work?
DR: That’s a good question. Let me just share an example, what I’ve done, and add some color to it. And much of this stuff I learned from my working in Silicon Valley, where I worked for years and years and years, this idea of testing, testing value propositions, testing markets. I’ll start by saying that oftentimes people just guess at something, go at it full blast. I think that’s wrong. You should do some testing up front to make sure you’re in the right place. Oftentimes what I do with my clients, we’ll sit down and I’ll ask them, what are you passionate about? What really causes you to get up in the morning and just have great enthusiasm and passion for your work each day? What kind of people would you like to serve?
I’ve seen some businesses where people will serve clients who they’re less enthusiastic about, and maybe for good reason. I think it’s a recipe for disaster, or people’s lives not being enriched, being a provider of the service. Sit down and just think about what would you like to do? Who would you like to serve? It’s not just the who, but what kind of problems would resonate with that group? What we would do is put together a list of potentials and then applying some what we call lean principles for startups. Begin to describe that group from a demographic and cyclographic standpoint. Who are these people? Begin to fill out a form and say, this is what we think they are, this is what we think they do, this is what we think their problems are.
The important thing up front is to recognize, oftentimes, that these are what I call, without being too nerdy, hypotheses. We think about these. We think these things might be true. We weigh them and say, gosh, given these different groups that we can market to, and given our hypotheses around who they might be and so on, and the problems they might have, how do we test this? We prioritize that list. And then the idea is to what we call “leave the building.” Oftentimes we tend to look behind our laptops and make phone calls, but we sometimes are reticent to go out and actually meet people and talk with them. I really encourage people to go out to those spaces and meet people.
The way I do it is, be really careful to present to these people that this is not a sales call, I’m trying to learn something. I’m trying to understand something about the market. I’m testing something. It may help that being the marketing person, and not as much the analyst or the advisor, might help. But what was surprising to me in the financial sector, how many people, I should say the advising sector, how many people said yes, they would take a call with me. I would slot these calls for 30 minutes, and the first part was what I call the problem statement hypothesis, first meeting. I would say something like, “I know you work in this space, let me just read to you a narrative that describes what I think your life is like and where you’re at as far as your business and your personal life, even your finances,” which became quite personal.
By doing so, I put something on the wall. I put down an assumption that could be tested. And what they would say is, as far as recipient goes, “That’s not my problem. It’s not that, it’s this.” I was then able to really use that canvas to be able to uncover what the problems were and ask questions about what really was going on in their lives. It was surprising what kind of feedback I received. It was surprising as well to uncover things I hadn’t thought about.
For example, I’ll share one area that really struck my heart cord was, in talking to people about financial services, there was one specialty that really stood out to me personally. It was families with disabled children, such as Down syndrome, or something else going on, but which they just felt so isolated relative to support. Their financial plans were in shambles, or close to being, and needing help relative to getting through that. Getting help in some ways was more than just the financial advisor, but an ecosystem of people around them that the financial advisor be part of to really facilitate a plan that was well thought out and connected.
My point is that these interviews yield different things and ideas. You came into it, what you think might be true, is not true. What you thought might be, the ideas you had about where to target are different. So then you come back in the group, you say, gosh, we learned all these great things, what do we think about this? Does this make sense? Are we missing something that we don’t understand? If that is the case, you go back and test some more. But you get to a point where you think, gosh, given that focus, what would be the appropriate solution for that? Do we have that today, or do we need to make some adjustments?
Next, you do a powwow around that, and just come to terms with that, and then you go out again for a second series of interviews, and you test that with people. You say, gosh, we have again these hypotheses about these problems, and by this time, you have enough data by which, by and large, these people say, yes, that’s true, that is my problem, that is real. Then you say, given that, we’re thinking about this solution to that problem. Next, they’ll tell you again, that’s on or that’s off. And so you do the same process again, refinement around that, to a point where you know where to target, because you have the data, and you know what solution is required.
Then it comes down to a process by which you say, we’re going to target these people based upon this messaging framework, that’s very pinpointed, around pain problems that guides them through this process in an incredible way. Make them aware, to educate them, to help them compare consideration, different offerings, as they investigate, even to a point where they feel comfortable asking for a meeting to engage in terms of sitting at a table, discussing it. So all that content is laid out. Then from there, being able to lay out the right acquisition channels and lead nourishing programs, everything else. It all follows. My point is, this clear, up-front research that’s based upon observation, iteration, and testing. It really does, like I said, deploy some Silicon Valley-type processes. I think it’s equally applicable to financial services and many things.
CA: Absolutely. I agree. It’s interesting because a lot of times advisors don’t necessarily have a long-term view on their investment when they’re getting to know their target market, or they’re trying to paint the picture of their ideal client. That’s why I do my free 30-minute marketing brainstorm calls, is because I love to talk to advisors, hear what their pain points are, hear what they’ve tried, what’s a waste of money, what has worked in the past, what are they thinking about doing? That’s how I get my market intel. The same thing should be true for advisors listening.
It should be your hobby to learn more about your target market. You should be offering a free brainstorming session, or a free Q&A session, or a free sounding board workshop for your potential clients, where they can ask you questions. They can tell you about their frustrations, their goals, their fears. No one ever came to a financial advisor because they thought that their investments were paying too much in fees and not getting a high enough return. That may be what you think you do for them, but that’s not why they come to you. Understanding why they come to you, what they’re interested in solving in their lives, what’s going to help them sleep better at night, what are they excited about moving forward with you to address? That is the key to your marketing.
It does take work, and it takes listening. You may spend a lot of time on the phone and not make any money. It’s all an investment in your future and in honing your expertise, to grow your business. I really appreciate all of your insights, Doug. Why don’t you close it out by telling me a little bit about the mistakes you see people making from a marketing perspective. If you could recommend them doing one thing, what would you recommend?
DR: I think the mistakes I see, I’ll say there are probably three that come to mind. The first is, as I said before, generic messaging, about who and why. Being really focused is really important. Knowing your passion, knowing the problems out there and creating really custom messages that move people, that stand out, make you different.
The number-two mistake I see quite a bit is people trying to accelerate their process, the sales process, the gates. As I said, too quickly saying, “Let’s have a meeting.” It just rocks people sometimes, like, I’m not ready to have a meeting. Oftentimes, you try to too prematurely, and the door’s closed, or people stop returning phone calls. Being patient, I think, is really key. Having that really mindful, heartful approach to where people are, and nurturing them along. In some ways, helping them self-qualify themselves, and move through the process. Because that trust is really earned.
I think the third thing I would say is not asking good enough questions. We tend to already listen. We tend to give the pitch and we’re so eager sometimes to say, here’s our pitch, as opposed to taking the time and taking three breaths, and saying, hey, I have some questions for you. I always thought the idea of an ideal sales call early on is when the prospective client talks two-thirds the time. If you can do that and be disciplined at that, you’ll learn so much more and be able to really come back with a precise answer to help guide them through.
Those are the three things I see happening. My one advice for people as they go through this is to know your superpower. Know what you’re really good at, what you’re really passionate about. I was reading a book by Seth Godin, called This Is Marketing. Maybe some of the listeners have read it. It really made an impact on me. The idea is that people, because people who want to hear your voice, they really want to hear what advisors have to say, believe me there are. But it’s almost like this, what we do in marketing is we change lives for the better, like we change lives for the better. And there are people out there, we have to believe that you could help change their lives in the area of financial planning; you can, right? The key is to find them.
What Seth says in his book is, if you don’t do that, you hold your voice back from helping somebody, that their life could change for the better. It’s equivalent to stealing. You have a duty and an obligation to support them. So if you do that, it really motivates people to, this is my duty to serve these people, how do we do that? So that’s my one advice to really help guild advisors in their prospecting and support efforts.
CA: I love that. I think it comes from a place of serving people. I love that idea of not being afraid to serve people and to help people. I know all the advisors listening love to help people. But what if you could put that into your marketing? I’ll give you an example. I work with a business coach that his onboarding process is, he does two free sessions. A lot of people do one free session. I do one free session for advisors on their marketing. My business coach does two free sessions because you can’t experience the positive impact of business coaching unless you actually have two sessions.
The first session, you set your goals, and the second session, he holds you accountable for achieving your goals. After your two free sessions, you’ve actually seen the results, you’ve accomplished something that you wouldn’t have otherwise accomplished, in your business or in your life, as a result of his serving. I think that there’s a way that advisors can bring that into their marketing. Instead of offering one sounding board session, maybe you offer free recommendations that people can implement, and they can get a sense of the benefit that you are giving through your financial planning practice. They can feel better about their life, about their future, feel more confident about their financial plan as a result of your introductory process.
To give them a taste of what you offer is often more powerful than any sales pitch in the world. I just encourage you guys to think about that, think about how you can incorporate it for your own practice. Don’t be afraid to give away 90% of what you know because when people understand how much you care, and how much you can help them, they will come back, and they will hire you.
Thank you so much, Doug, for being a part of the show. I hope it was really valuable for the advisors listening. We really appreciate your help.
DR: My pleasure, thanks.
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Claire Akin runs Indigo Marketing Agency, a full-service marketing firm serving financial advisors. It’s her mission to help independent financial advisors help more people through their incredibly important work. Claire is a former Investment Advisor Representative who holds her MBA in Marketing from the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego as well as a BA in Economics from UC Davis.