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Get Real to Get Clients

Hesh Reinfeld can help you tell your story in a way that people will notice.

David J. Drucker, 09/18/2008

Financial advising is a tricky business.

We all know that money is one of clients' most personal issues, and properly advising someone on what to do with their money often takes the advisor into clients' most personal memories, values and principles. Clients must share intimate information if we are to do our jobs well. But should that be reciprocated? This is an ongoing debate in planner circles, and the stand an advisor takes may be more a function of his conservatism than anything else.

For years, I was hesitant to tell my own clients that I enjoyed motorcycling for fear they would view my hobby as a risk-taking behavior incompatible with sound fiscal management. That all ended when, one day, one of my best clients told me her son-in-law was restoring an old Harley and asked me to buy a Harley Davidson stock certificate in her grandson's name that he could hang on his bedroom wall. Thereafter, we talked motorcycling and I opened up to her a part of my life I'd previously hesitated to reveal. Our relationship achieved a new level of intimacy simply because I'd shared something personal.

And that's what Hesh Reinfeld does...he ferrets out those most personal and unique qualities advisors possess but rarely, if ever, share with their clients. Here's what Reinfeld had to say as we explored his approach to marketing advisors' own stories.

Drucker: Hesh, tell me about your background.

Reinfeld: I've been a professional writer for four years and, for many years prior, was in marketing and sales. I started as a business humor columnist, got my columns syndicated and, from that, got into working with advisors. I'd read an article by Larry Chambers in which he told advisors to throw away their marketing brochures and tell their prospects, instead, who they were and how they'd helped their clients. Larry assumed this is what people really wanted to read. I thought this was a good idea, and now I write for advisors, helping them to better differentiate themselves and what they do.

Drucker: Can't advisors do that for themselves?

Reinfeld: Most advisors can't. My approach with advisors illustrates the power of story telling. I help them create a profile; not a bio--but a profile. It's more of a background piece. The recently televised Olympics serve as an analogy. If you watch NBC, the power of the show is its profiles on key athletes. Suddenly you're interested in weight lifting because you know something personal about the athletes behind the sport. It's all a matter of how you get it down in writing. What I evolved over the last two years is a system of helping advisors tell their story.

Drucker: What type of advisor do you work with?

Reinfeld: The process works best for independents. If the advisor works for a large organization, the compliance department will thwart our efforts. The lawyers will seldom let the advisor do anything unique. And that's the point ... people on their own can say things about themselves that an advisor at a wirehouse, for example, can't say.

Drucker: What is it you have advisors telling prospects about themselves that's so unique?

Reinfeld: One's selling point shouldn't be that he knows more about index funds than anyone else but, rather, that he has something to offer that answers every prospect's burning questions, namely, "Who are you and why should I trust you?" If you can answer those questions, you increase your probability of making a real connection with the prospect.

Drucker: So what does the "product" of your efforts look like?

Reinfeld: Most people are overwhelmed with information, so what I write has got to be the one piece people will read and that will inspire them to call you. What the advisor tells his prospects and clients must be memorable, and less is more. Anyone under 50 is automatically going to check you out on your website and, comparing one advisor's website to another's, they mostly all look the same. The one thing people will read is the advisor's bio, and most advisors' bios sound like resumes. It's laughable when a 60-year-old discusses where he went to college. I have the advisor offer the visitor to her Web site something unique that tells her story.

Drucker: And is the product of your work specifically for prospects, or for existing clients, as well?

Reinfeld: In any business, referrals are nirvana. What do most advisors send their clients? They send a newsletter, and most advisor newsletters sound exactly the same. Your clients already know you're smart so, instead of something technical, if you send them a profile, you can ask them to send it on to a friend. Now, people don't read anything but, because these profiles have longevity, your clients can send them out more than once. Maybe they do it with humor: "I know you probably threw this in the garbage the last time, so here's another copy."

Drucker: Please tell us more about these profiles.

Reinfeld: I usually interview the advisor and three of his clients. A unique story about the advisor revolves around something very specific. It can be mundane; it doesn't have to be about how they saved the world. It's a story people can relate to. It's not a testimonial, and the profile may even include something that's self-deprecating--maybe a mistake they made in their career. Whatever the story, though, it has to relate to the business; just because an advisor likes to jump out of airplanes isn't enough by itself.PAGEBREAK

Drucker: That seems pretty radical.

Reinfeld: When you read a bio of someone today, nothing ever went wrong in their life or career. Yet, if you're talking to a businessman who founded his business 20 years ago, you know there was a time when he was worried about making his payroll. I will touch on some of his emotions about those ups and downs rather than saying he did everything right. People don't believe that anyway. To say you learned something from a mistake can be very powerful. But it can also be a big risk. The biggest fight I get from advisors when I work on their stories is my recommendation to talk about their mistakes. I sometimes lose that one.

Drucker: Can you give us an example?

Reinfeld: The first profile I ever wrote was about my own advisor who used to be an Air Force pilot. We talked about his having to deal with turbulence, about having a gameplan and being able to change it as necessary. We had photos of him in his Air Force uniform. As I learned more about him, he told me he'd always dreamed of being an astronaut and that his whole life had been geared to that. One of the drafts I created was about him growing up as a kid in Nevada with photos of John Glenn on his bedroom wall. When he was 12, his parents took him to visit the Air Force Academy, which he entered five years later. He was ultimately accepted into the astronaut program but, after a year, a cardiologist heard something in his heart and they grounded him for good. He considered leaving the Air Force, but his wife convinced him to stay in. So, bottom line, he flew fighter jets for many years, but never had his dream come true. I wanted to write about that, but he was uncomfortable with it, so I lost that fight. I learned that the stories I tell must be stories my clients feel comfortable talking about.

In another case, I'm writing about a 28-year-old advisor who says many prospects think he's too young, even though he works with this father. He also drives a Corvette. Says the client, "I drive a Corvette and all my clients know it. It doesn't mean I'm some young kid. I know my stuff backwards and forwards, but I want to be who I am." If he worked in a wirehouse or a big firm, they might tell him not to drive to see clients in the Corvette; take a Taurus instead. People do judge others by how they dress and the car they drive. That's very real; I don't discount that. But the power of what I'm saying is it's necessary to tell your story to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. Let's face it ... most advisors have the same body of knowledge. If they try to differentiate themselves on technical aspects, it doesn't mean that much.

Drucker: What compels people to read what you write about advisors?

Reinfeld: I explain to my clients that their story needs to have a beginning and an end, and needs to contain something unexpected so people continue reading. If you've got 1,800 words, people need to want to go to the next paragraph. Yet, most things aren't written that way; they're written almost like bullet points. The advisor's profile needs to be read ... people have to wonder what's coming next. The power of stories is they hold the reader's interest.PAGEBREAK

Drucker: You've been doing this for four years. Are you doing anything differently now after having experimented with the process for a while?

Reinfeld: The challenge for me now is I want the people I work with to put more time and energy into writing their stories themselves. Most of them still view what I do as a PR piece. They ask me, "How much does my service cost and how much time will it take?" Many think they'll spend a hour on phone with me and then I'll send them a finished piece. But I'm looking for much more of an interactive relationship. Sometimes, I'll put stuff into a first draft that I know is inappropriate just to get them to react to it.

Drucker: Is all your work one-on-one?

Reinfeld: I'm also looking at doing more workshops where people can learn from each other and learn to communicate about what's important to them. They can be risky, though. I did a workshop where it was suggested to one advisor who worked with small business owners that he reveal his own bankruptcy a number of years earlier. The advisor and other attendees were divided on whether that was even appropriate to bring up.

Drucker: What was the lesson there?

Reinfeld: It tells me there are lots of advisors in this business for the technical side of it. They love putting together financial plans. But they're hesitant to really connect with clients, and my ideas don't ring true with them. Then there are those who've come to understand that it's important to work with clients they like. One advisor told me he wants to play a round of golf with each new prospect because that's how he finds out how they deal with life. Another advisor who heard that said, "That's how Dwayne thinks." I considered that a compliment; I had captured who he was.

Drucker: It seems advisors must understand and agree with your marketing philosophy before they'll pay to have their story told.

Reinfeld: Exactly. My first client, the pilot, paid for my services himself. Neither his boss nor his company's marketing department at the small regional bank where he worked would approve or pay my fee. But once he went through the process and began getting new business, the bank reimbursed him.

Reinfeld is now branching out to work with advisors through other avenues, such as coaches, "boutique broker-dealers," and other organizations that do workshops and training for advisors. He can be reached at hesh@heshreinfeld.com or www.heshreinfeld.com. If you would like to see examples of his work, visit the websites of several of his clients here and here.

Do I endorse Reinfeld's marketing approach? Absolutely. Being discreetly candid with clients is certainly part of what I have attributed my own success to in this industry.

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