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Give Your Marketing a Tech Boost

A new tool can ease the pain of attracting new clients.

Joel P. Bruckenstein, 03/12/2009

It's only the beginning of March, but I've already had the pleasure of attending and presenting at some outstanding Conferences in 2009. Considering the state of the markets and the economy, the mood was rather upbeat, and the overall educational content at each was excellent.

While there was, understandably a great deal of talk surrounding the business challenges that advisors face during these difficult times, there was also a surprising amount of discussion about the unique opportunities that good advisors have to attract new business at the moment. One thing that all the experts and the rank and file advisors agree on is that a record amount of assets is shifting from one financial institution to another, and this will continue over the next several years.

Presumably, you and your firm would like to see some of those assets shift away from other and to you, and there is no shortage of experts and vendors who claim they can attract the clients you desire. Since I primarily cover technology solutions, I tend to pay a bit more attention to technology-related marketing solutions. Over the years, I've sat through many presentations and viewed many technology products that purport to help advisors attract and retain clients, but it was only recently that I can across a product with a really promising approach to leveraging the web to attract prospects and convert them to clients. The product, the Advisor-Branded Marketing Platform from a firm called Boulevard R, is geared toward helping independent financial advisors automate their marketing efforts and grow their businesses. AMP is specifically designed to help advisors identify and attract their "ideal clients" because it is not enough to attract prospects. In order to get the most out of your marketing budget, you need to optimize your efforts by converting qualified prospects to clients while minimizing the time you spend dealing with "prospects" who are not a good fit for you and your firm.

If the name Boulevard R sounds familiar to you, it may be because David Drucker discussed the firm in his column a few months back. Usually I would not revisit a company so soon after Dave discussed it, but I'm making an exception here for two reasons. First, I think that in this case I bring a slightly different perspective to the conversation than Dave does. Second, the firm has evolved in a few short months and AMP is a new product offering.

From what I can gather, the original Boulevard R idea was to market directly to consumers. About three months ago, the folks there decided to change course and develop marketing tools for advisors. The advisor would in turn use Boulevard R products to attract prospects and communicate with clients. AMP is the initial result of this strategy change.

Broadly speaking, AMP is designed to do three things. First, it is designed to help attract exactly the type of prospects the advisor is looking for. Second, it is designed to help ensure a high close rate--to ensure that the advisor converts desirable prospects to clients. Third, AMP is designed to help advisors nurture a relationship with prospects who are not qualified today, but who are likely to be qualified in the future. So, for example, if a prospect is just starting out, has little net worth, but has a high income that is likely to grow over time, AMP can provide a facility to give such a person some support and keep the person in touch so they can be converted to a client when they qualify a few years down the road.

For most prospects, initial contact with an advisor will come through the advisor page that Boulevard R creates as part of the service. Boulevard R expects most prospects to find the advisor through one of three channels: a referral from another prospect, a prospect initiated search through Google or some other Web-based link/online ad, or a direct contact (phone or e-mail message) to the advisor's office that results in the prospect being referred to the advisor's Web profile.

Once the prospect lands on the Web site, the self-directed prospecting/prequalifying process starts in earnest. The prospect can see immediately who the advisor is and what their specialties are. In addition, there is a summary of the advisor's experience, education, articles written, and press quotes. Each of these sections contains hyperlinks, so the prospect can drill down and get more detailed information on any subject. In addition, the site can include a map of your office location and driving directions.

In addition to helping attract qualified prospects, the site weeds out unqualified prospects, saving you time. If the needs of the prospect do not match your capabilities, if your minimums are too high for them, or if you are geographically undesirable, both you and the prospect will be spared an unproductive courting period.

Although the site is template driven, there is plenty of opportunity for the advisor to customize. The advisor can add pictures, logos, articles and press clippings. In addition, as part of the service, Boulevard R performs search engine optimization on the site so that it helps attract the right type of prospects. For example, if you have a niche specialty charitable giving, the SEO will be geared to makes sure those looking for a financial planner specializing in giving will be able to find you when searching the Web. PAGEBREAK

Another reason why the site helps attract prospects is through the "Tell a Friend" links in the upper right of the home page and throughout the site. When a user clicks on the link, they see a screen much like on that some social networking sites provide. This screen allows the user to access Web-based e-mail account (Gmail, Microsoft Windows Live, and Yahoo Mail) and send a message to as many contacts in their address book as they please, recommending the site and providing a link to the site.

If the prospect passes the initial screens, the next step is to go through a goal setting process. This can be initiated through the Web site. If a prospect has been prequalified through a meeting or a call to your office, a link can be sent via e-mail that takes the prospect directly to the goal setting pages. Here, the prospect goes through a quick questionnaire where they place their major financial goals on a timeline and offer some information about their current financial condition (age, marital status, occupation, retirement plans, income, assets, savings, projected retirement date, debt, homeownership, etc.).

All of this information is captured in a few screens that are nice-looking and interactive. The user then clicks through a screen agreeing to terms of use and the privacy policy. In sort, the terms say that the site can collect and use the information provided. This means that the user agrees that Boulevard R can automatically collect the information the user provider and then transmit it to you; and that's exactly what happens. You get to see all information provided, including the prospect's e-mail address.

Next, the prospect sees a summary page that is nothing more than a basic simulation indicating whether or not they have enough money to reach their goals. If they do not, the can play with some sliders to indicate they will save more or delay their retirement date.

If the information provided is not sufficient, they can then sign up for a free "RoadMap" that provides some additional details, but in order to do so, the prospect has to provide additional information. The advisor receives all this information through an advisor dashboard and a "RoadMap is automatically generated and emailed back to the prospect after it is reviewed by the advisor.PAGEBREAK

While the site can provide some basic but real guidance to prospects, the real power is in what it does for the advisor. First, it automatically captures and transmits relevant prospect information to the advisor, and it does so without the advisors investing any time to acquire this information. Once the data is captured, it can be stored and used in various ways. For example, the most obvious use is the capture your ideal prospects and converts them to clients through live follow-ups. In addition, you can sort others in various ways. Those that do not qualify as clients today, but who are likely to in the future, can say engaged using the online tools. In addition, through the dashboard, you can create drip marketing campaigns (Boulevard R is in the process of creating some materials that can be used in drip campaigns). You can tag prospects by their interests so that the materials you send them are targeted and appropriate.

The advisor dashboard also offers controls that allow you to customize some of the assumptions the online calculators use to arrive at results for prospects, so, for example, you can change the default retirement age if you do not like the one that Boulevard R has selected.

While I've only scratched the surface of that AMP can do, I hope I've conveyed how some of the technologies employed, including SEO, well designed online calculators, the social networking aspects, and the automated data capture can really leverage your prospecting efforts. More importantly, I believe that Boulevard R may have only begun to leverage the full potential for AMP. In fact, I expect that future enhancements will significantly extend AMP's value proposition.

What types of enhancements might Boulevard R offer? Well, an obvious one would be to link the AMP Advisor Dashboard to leading CRM programs that advisors use. By doing so, they would allow advisors to transfer the data that they collect through Boulevard R and port it automatically into their CRM systems. This would be advantageous for a number of reasons. First, some advisors may already have extensive drip marketing systems in place through their CRM applications, so they might want to bring prospect information into their CRM and drip market from there. Second, once a prospect becomes a client, almost every advisor would want to automatically bring the data captured by AMP into their CRM program. Rumor has it that Boulevard R has already approached Redtail and perhaps others in the hope of providing this sort of integration, so it could appear relatively soon.

Integration with some financial planning programs might also be interesting. Firms such as EISI, MoneyGuidePro and MoneyTree are perhaps better qualified than Boulevard R to provide "financial planning calculators." EISI's Financial Profiles software already has capabilities similar to what Boulevard R offers, and tools created by MoneyGuidePro and MoneyTree, to name just two, could easily be adapted to this task. If advisors could integrate any planning advice with programs they already use, and then "graduate" clients to their full planning programs without re-entering data, advisors and their clients would benefit greatly. In addition, if Boulevard R could concentrate their efforts on continuing to help advisor attract and convert prospects, as opposed to creating financial calculators, everyone would benefit.

Currently, the full Boulevard R AMP package costs $295 per month. At first blush that may sound a bit steep in these tough economic times, but if the system helps you to attract just $500,000 in new assets per year, it will more than pay for itself, and if it helps you attract millions per year, with less effort, which I believe it has the potential to do, it could turn out to be the best marketing investment you've ever made.

Boulevard R's new AMP is an interesting and promising example of how technology can be leveraged to improve your marketing campaigns. Boulevard R is not the first firm to apply technology to marketing in our industry, but they are the first ones to do it in a way that appears to be particularly effective. Check them out here.

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