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A Grass-Roots Marketing Strategy Pays Off

How one adviser used fliers and candy instead of cold calls to win a client base.

C. Marie Swift, 02/07/2008

While sophisticated, well-crafted marketing strategies can serve you well, sometimes it's the simple things that really get results. I recently spoke with Dennis Davis, president of Allegiance Financial Strategies Group, who has had tremendous success with a targeted, grass-roots marketing campaign.

This soft-spoken southern gentleman from Birmingham, Ala., came to be a financial advisor in his mid-40s, as a second career. He'd had no previous experience in financial services; He held no securities or insurance licenses. In fact, he had no furniture, no computers, no clients, and no prospects. For the first six months, he had people sign a letter that acknowledged that he could not give financial advice. As he was getting his training, he tried to find a way to connect with people in an informal, non-selling way.

Inspired by his friend and mentor Rick Kent, CFP, ChFC, AIF, president of Allegiance Advantage Group in Alpharetta, Ga, Davis decided to focus on working people who were five to seven years from retirement who would ultimately be rolling over their 401(k) assets. Kent had gathered more than $150 million in assets under management in less than six years. While other advisors were chasing the high net worth, Kent had attracted a loyal following of middle-income and mass affluent clients using a system that would later be dubbed the Merit Retirement Advantage.

Davis decided to adopt Kent's system. He held informational workshops and offered free financial reviews. For the workshops, he targeted baby boomers and local companies. He didn't use any fancy techniques for getting people to attend the workshops; he simply handed out fliers in front of office buildings. Sometimes he gave out candy as well, like the Halloween he invited people to take a flier and a handful of candy from the big plastic pumpkin he had filled with candy. People liked the idea of a free workshop with no sales pitch.

After the workshops, Davis was determined to keep the relationship going with participants. His goal was to be the advisor they turned to when a financial need arose. Like many advisors, Davis hates cold calling, so this system was perfect for him. Every call he made was to people who had attended one of the workshops.

In listening to Davis speak about his experience, it became clear to me that his approach was so successful because prospects didn't feel like they were being "sold." Workshops can be an extremely effective way to connect with people who might be somewhat skeptical about financial advisors--in a relaxed environment. While not a new idea, it's one that resonates with many people. It isn't sales; it's relationship building.

But Davis took his relationship-building strategy one step further by making the workshop attendees "clients" right away. While many of these people held little in the way of investable assets, what they did have was a good work ethic and the ability to save in their 401(k) or similar employer-sponsored plans.

The Program
Everyone who came to the workshop was entitled to sign up for a free financial literacy program called Merit Retirement Pro. The program provided free financial information (both mailed, e-mailed, and online), priority invitations to future workshops, and a membership card with Davis' contact information prominently displayed.

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