In our previous article we talked about the importance that marketing events can play in the creation of selling opportunities. Notice that we refer to selling opportunities and not to “appointments” or “leads.” Selling opportunities are so much better than leads or simply appointments. Our experience is that you will close virtually one hundred percent of those who are health qualified with a significantly higher placement rate as well. It all starts with the relationship that you start to build when they attend your marketing event.
It is important to remember that these marketing events are really client appreciation and client development events and not merely public events. In the past week alone, my wife and I combined received five invitations to public events from financial planners or law firms interested in soliciting us as their clients. While the restaurants are tempting, we have no desire to attend these events. However, there are a great number of people who will attend these events. Some of them attend every event they are invited to, and for that reason we have good-naturedly dubbed them professional “plate lickers.” We do not want to engage with these people because with their attendance they literally and figuratively consume valuable marketing dollars and your time with no intention of ever utilizing your services.
Hindsight being 20/20, it is easy to look back on what did and did not make our marketing events both memorable and profitable. After years of conducting these events, debriefing them afterwards, and compiling a list of lessons learned, here are a few of the key learnings that we have filed away.
Key points regarding client events:
- Think outside the box—in terms of the audience you wish to draw, the variety of topics you may wish to offer—keep it fresh for your clients and yourself by varying the venue. We had one client who attended no less than seven of our events in one calendar year, dutifully bringing a different couple to each event, resulting in over $35,000 in premium (2011 dollars). In terms of topics, for whatever reason, any time we invited someone from the Social Security Administration as a guest speaker, we packed the hall. As people are nearing retirement age, they want this interaction with someone who can answer their questions.
- Invite both your clients (to show genuine appreciation) and to expose them to your strategic partner’s practice, and their friends (for potential growth) and of course your strategic partner’s clients and their friends for the same reasons. The gentleman I referenced in the previous paragraph would “talk people up” about the benefits of buying a long term care policy while they are young and healthy during the dinner portion of the event. He more than earned every meal he consumed!
- You want to conduct events that have an extended “shelf life.” While dinner events at popular restaurants will never go out of style, creating an experience for the client will pay dividends well into the future. One such event that I had to be convinced was worth the investment of our time and money was an event where all participants would be invited to learn the art of sushi making. For months after the event I would receive texts, emails, or phone calls from those who had been in attendance, telling me how much they enjoyed the opportunity to acquire the skill, how much fun they have had sharing their newfound expertise with friends and family, and how “Every time I eat sushi, I think of you guys!” Can an event have any more desired outcome? Other memorable events that we put on included sponsoring a chef’s private table, golf lessons from a professional, and of course catered events on a 42-foot Chris-Craft as we cruised Lake Michigan and/or the Chicago river, affording guests the opportunity to view the Chicago skyline. One of the more outside the box events we sponsored was an after-hours event at a jewelry store, where attendees could receive free appraisals and cleaning of their jewelry, and enjoy a chocolate fountain. To this day I marvel at the business that this event produced for us. Fishing trips, special sporting events, and anything you think would be entertaining become memorable events if you take the time to plan it right.
- In a nutshell, make the events fun and memorable so that when people encounter something in their regular life, such as eating sushi, they think of the time that their advisor team created an environment in which they learned how to make it. They will share these experiences with their family and friends, and referrals will follow. I did receive a phone call from the friend of a client who called me solely to be “put on the list” for one of our next “fun” events. They later became clients as well.
Key considerations of client events:
- They are a lot of work!
- Consistency and regularity are absolute musts.
- Use a calendar and plan your events out for the next 180 days. Reserve desired venues. Nothing is more frustrating than to have a great idea and to be frozen out of a desired venue.
- If you are conducting an event with a strategic partner, be prepared to manage the relationship. Odds are you will have to be the professional planner in the relationship.
- Establish and follow a process and timeline that you can reduce to a checklist.
- Ask your agency to help promote and support the events either financially or with personnel support. If you have five tables of eight that is forty people and probably 20-25 households when you account for couples and singles in attendance. You want a host at each table, and you want people to talk to them as they mill around at the end of the event and you are encouraging them to sign up for appointments later that week.
- To this end, I liked to do events on Monday and Tuesday evenings, so that we could encourage them to sign up for appointments over the remainder of the week. Their interest in seeing you is never going to be higher than at the conclusion of the event. You have planted the seeds, so we want to see them as soon as possible and to get them to the end of the buying cycle as soon as possible.
For agency managers and marketing leaders:
- Plan events that will facilitate the launch of new agents utilizing their Project 100 lists.
- Get involved with your local Chamber of Commerce and host events for fellow chamber members.
- Encourage agents to partner with other agents in your firm, particularly if they have complementary skills to one another.
- Leverage the success of these events to promote more events.
- Get potential new agents to buy in to these events during the recruiting process.
- Use existing resources as much as possible.
- For those agency leaders who struggle with getting their producers to adopt this time-tested business practice, remember that as leaders you must “Know it, Model It, and Be Involved.”
- First line supervisors must be able to “apply it and monitor it,” and the best way to do this is to be modeling the way with your own events.
- As always, a best practice includes tracking activity and success, debriefing events, and looking for ways to improve the process.
Additional networking opportunities through the strategic alliance partner
- Who do they know?
- Have them make personal introductions to their own Centers of Influence that can help you mutually expand your long term care sphere of influence.
- Health Benefits Brokers—the new wave. We have found that this is especially important when dealing in the business-to-business (B2B) arena, where even after you have convinced the decision maker of the business that long term care makes sense for the company and the individual employee, he will often default to “Let me check with my benefits person.” Rather than being frozen out, it is so much easier if the benefits broker is the one making the introduction and opening the door for you. We enjoyed great success by partnering with a health benefits broker and sponsoring these types of events.
Concluding thoughts on formal and informal marketing events:
- Marketing must become part of your lifestyle and DNA, and not remain just a series of separate events in which you occasionally participate.
- Just do it!
- Face and conquer your fears.
- Talk to everybody about what you do! Have fun!
- Have an elevator speech that flows off your tongue and that prompts questions from those with whom you are speaking.
- “I help people protect their financial futures…” How?
- “I am a long term care planning specialist.” What is that?
- “I educate people on their options for safeguarding themselves and their families against the ravages of long term care and of outliving their money.” How do you do that? Can you help me do that?
- “I can protect your future.” Oh really. How can you do that?
- “I help people plan for the events in life that they do not wish to talk about.”
To quote the Godfather II, “This is the business we have chosen.” Where you are right now is the business you chose for yourself. The key is to be both happy and successful in all your endeavors. In this day and age, marketing is the key to success.
Marketing does not need to be intimidating or expensive. These marketing events are fun to conduct, and it is a genuine rush when you walk out of these events with a paper calendar that contains selling opportunities in the guise of appointments that people have signed themselves up for over the next few days. Remember that in service industries such as ours, people have a choice as to whom they will work with and refer their friends and family to. For this reason, marketing is not an event, but rather a lifestyle. Embrace it, and you will enjoy tremendous success.