Take charge of your prospecting and revitalize your sales funnel — co-written with Rosemary Smyth

This article was co-written with my friend, Rosemary Smyth, an international coach to financial advisors. The article is also posted on her website.

Before embarking on a road trip, you need to know a few important facts – not only your point of origin and your desired destination but also a detailed map of the route you want to take. Your prospects go on a similar journey on their way to finding financial services. Their point of origin is the realization that they need sound financial advice from a professional. Their destination is opening an account at your office and transferring their assets to you.

Just like a road trip is made easier when the route is laid out with precise turn-by-turn directions, your financial practice will benefit from a road map (also called a “sales funnel”) that outlines the exact activities you do to help prospects turn into clients. It doesn’t matter if this is your first year of business as a financial advisor or if you’re on the home stretch and looking to finish well, you’ll gain some surprising insight into your business when you go through this sales funnel exercise and the questions that follow.

3 Steps to create your sales funnel

On a blank sheet of paper, create the following 3 lists, which correspond to the 3 stages of your sales funnel:

Stage 1: Contact-generating activities: Start at the top of the page and list the activities you do to meet people – your contact-generating (or lead-generating) activities. The goal of this stage is to capture some information about a lead (such as their name and contact information) so you can follow up later. This might include networking and marketing activities in which you gather names and contact information. It might entail any print or broadcast advertising that you or your firm does, public seminars you offer, a landing page on your website that invites people to know more about you, your cold calling, and any networking activities where you are meeting new people and handing out your business card. A lot of online marketing falls into this category as well.

Stage 2: Relationship-building activities: Then, in the middle of your page, list the activities you do to build relationships with your leads, to learn more about them and to qualify them as prospects. Here, you are connecting with people whose contact information you collected from your contact-generating activities, or from referrals, and you are now building a relationship and rapport with them. This might include follow-up phone calls and letters, newsletters, invitation-only seminars, and so on. Some marketing, like certain social media marketing, can be used for relationship-building activities. Some professionals use credibility-enhancing activities like educational materials, brochures, a book, or a series of videos to help them build a relationship with their contacts, and other professionals who prefer face-to-face relationship-building activities might meet these prospects for coffee or participate at networking events such as a Chamber of Commerce event.

Stage 3: Closing/selling activities: And near the bottom of your page, list the activities you do to actively persuade these prospects to become clients. This might include consultative meetings or some other sales presentation. For example, you might offer to review your prospect’s portfolio and give them a second opinion, or you might uncover a specific problem that they need solved and offer to put together a plan to help them, or you might offer to help them with some of their assets so that you prove yourself to handle more of their portfolio.

This exercise should help you understand how your client-generating activities all work together: Once you have a new lead, what do you do to turn them into a prospect? And once they’re a prospect, what do you do to get them to open an account with you?

Note: These aren’t always clear-cut activities. The speed that someone moves through your sales funnel is partly determined by the urgency that they feel about how you can help them! Some leads turn to prospects quickly and can even become clients at the end of a relationship-building meeting. But not all prospective clients feel that sense of urgency so professionals should think about building a sequence of relationship-building activities.

Analyze your sales funnel

This is the roadmap that all of your prospective clients use on their journey toward becoming your clients as they move from lead to prospect to client. Look at the sales funnel you’ve just created and answer these questions:

  • Reason to advance: Why should your prospective clients even go on the journey to end up at your office? Some professionals try to rush the process, attempting to jump people from the first stage of their sales funnel to the last stage (without any relationship-building in between). So, what would the impact be if you adjusted your message – instead of convincing leads to become clients, how might you invite them to move from the first stage into the second stage, where you build a relationship with them, and then how might you move those people from the second stage to the third stage where they become clients?
  • Clarity and purpose: Do you have a clear and purposeful sales funnel? Once a prospect has started the journey, what can they expect next? Are you proactive in immediately moving them to that next stage or are you waiting for them to take action first? When you meet someone for the first time, what is your process for capturing information about them and following-up? How can you make this process faster for them and easier for you?
  • Time and energy investment: Are there too many activities (or too many time-consuming activities) in one stage, and are these activities stealing your time and energy away from better activities? Are there too few activities in another stage, and do you need to bolster this part of your sales funnel with additional effort?
  • The very best activities: Do your sales funnel activities resonate with your niche market? (For example: Will you really build credibility on social media with your niche market if they aren’t active users of social media?) Which activities were the most influential in bringing your favorite clients into your office? And, which activities were most influential in bringing your least favorite clients into your office? How can you increase the activities that tend to generate the best clients?
  • Tracking: How do you keep track of who is in each of the three stages of your sales funnel? How do you ensure that no prospective client falls through the cracks? (Another advantage of paying attention to the number of people in each stage: You can forecast your new client sign-ups more accurately). What are the ratios as people move from one stage to the next, and how can you improve your skills to improve those ratios?
  • Plug the holes: Not everyone will become clients. Some leads will exit before you can build a relationship with them; some prospects that you’re building a relationship with will simply say “no” to your offer of becoming their financial advisor. So, do you know which stage is losing the most of your prospective clients and do you know why? Do you have a way to connect with them periodically just in case something changes for them?
  • Skill up: If you want to grow the number of clients you have, but you don’t know exactly where to focus, look at the answers to some of the questions above and decide which sales funnel activities are the most effective at bringing in the best clients (while also being effective uses of your time). And, look at the places in your sales funnel where you tend to lose people. Then invest some time in developing your skills in those areas.

Schedule time regularly to review your sales funnel and explore other ways to find new leads, build relationships with them, and invite them to become clients. By now, you should have a clear roadmap for your practice – one that will empower you to lead more of your prospective clients on a journey that culminates with them sitting in your office and opening an account with you.

Rosemary Smyth, MBA, CIM, FCSI, ACC, is an author, columnist and an international business coach for financial advisors. She spent her career working at leading investment firms before pursuing her passion for coaching. She lives in Victoria, BC. Visit her website at www.rosemarysmyth.com. You can email Rosemary at: rosemary@rosemarysmyth.com

Aaron Hoos, MBA, has worked in the financial industry since 1997. Formerly a stockbroker, insurance broker, and award-winning sales manager, today he writes for the financial and real estate industry as an educator and marketer. His first book, The Sales Funnel Bible, helps advisors master their sales funnel. Visit his website at AaronHoos.com and follow him on Twitter @AaronHoos.

If you match your competitors’ prices… STOP

Price match guarantee“.

I see that advertised frequently by stores proudly proclaiming that they will “gladly match all regular competitor prices”.

The thinking is: Mr. or Ms. Consumer will see the flyer for one store but bring that flyer to your store to get the same deal.

Or on larger ticket items, Mr. or Ms. Consumer will shop around and get a great price at one store but then go to your store to have you match it.

But why would they?

It doesn’t make sense to offer a price match guarantee. What’s to stop them from going to the original store that offered the flyer? What’s to stop them from hanging up from the company offering them one price to call you up and get the same price.

More effort for no extra benefit. People won’t do it.

Price matching only works when you are already the last store they’ll visit or the last salesperson they’ll call on. You can say “well, you’re here now so I’ll make it easy on you and just match the lowest price so you don’t have to go back to that other store.”

But you can’t use price-matching as a way to entice people to come to your store in the first place. There is no reason for someone to come back to you to get the same thing they can get somewhere else… unless you have some other competitive advantage.

I frequently say that you shouldn’t compete on price, although I realize that sometimes you may have to. So, if you are going to compete on price, don’t just match prices because people don’t have a reason to go to your store.

You have to beat the price. “We’ll beat the competition’s lowest advertised price by 10%” is what one price-beating advertisement says for a store near my house. 10% isn’t huge but it’s something. I’d love to see more than that but that’s just a pipe dream.

Yeah, I know margins are razor thing. I get it. So maybe you have to beat the price more creatively. Or maybe you have to find some other innovative competitive advantage. This is especially true if your competitors are already advertising a price-beating offer.

So stop price matching. It’s costing you.

The one sentence that will make you more productive immediately

When I tell people that I’m a writer by profession, one of the things people commonly reply with is “I’m going to write a book someday.” Although I grin and nod enthusiastically as if to say “wow, that’s amazing!” I secretly think in my mind: “Sure. Whatever.” Many people say they will write a book but never do. They say they want to write a book but, in reality, they are content to watch So You Think You Can Dance every week. What’s important to them? I can tell you that the book is not as important to them as relaxing in front of the TV.

Of course, this is not the only time this happens. Here are a couple of other scenarios that might be familiar to you:

One of my clients works with aspiring entrepreneurs to educate them about how to start a business. He offered a webinar recently and I sat in as a silent observer to do some background research on his target market. I was fascinated to see the interactions of the many attendees who aspired to start their businesses but, when pressed by the host about why they hadn’t, provided a series of excuses about being too busy with work or trying to find a job. They say they want to start a business (and certainly some people from that webinar will) but most of them are content with the security of a regular paycheck.

Another entrepreneur I know is working on her business plan and asked me about how she can get unstuck on a particular section of it. Since the information was very specific to the municipality she was lives in, I gave her the website, phone number, and address of the government agency she needs to visit to get her answer. Months later, she is still stuck and hasn’t visited because she feels she can’t take a day off of work to do it. She says she wants to finish her business plan to start her business but she really just likes the predictable daily routine of her current job.

I’m not just picking on other people here. I’m equally guilty of this same “disease”: Although I’ve ghostwritten books for others, my first and second books took a LOOOOOOONG time to write because I was busy with other things. And although I did a lot of work in the real estate investing industry and desired to invest in real estate myself, I took a LOOOOOOONG time to pull the trigger. I said I wanted to write a book and invest in real estate but I loved the cash flow of serving clients instead of giving up that time to focus on these other goals.

We all have goals and dreams and aspirations but only some people will achieve some of those goals/dreams/aspirations.

Why?

Why do people desire to write a book or start a business but never cross those things off of their bucket list? Why do people set the goal of working out daily but fail to do so? Why do people commit to dieting but gain weight? Why do people set resolutions and dream dreams but never see those things come to fruition?

Because of this one sentence.

“You invest in the things that are important to you”

You invest your time, money, attention, focus, and effort on the things that are truly important to you. Forget what you say you want to do or what you dream of achieving. That investment of time, money, attention, focus, and effort is where your real desires are.

This sentence encapsulates everything about productivity, goal setting and achievement, time management, and success. It optimizes every single time management system or process ever devised.

This is a grim wake-up call to… well… every single one of us. We all HATE hearing this sentence, especially when we realize that our words and our actions do not always line up. We might say we want to get out of debt but we’re buying grande mochachinos at Starbucks everyday. We might say that we wan to write a book but the TV is on every evening. We might say that we want to start a business but we’re not willing to get out of our comfort zone or risk our regular paycheck.

(The critiques will read this and say: “But my family is important to me so I can’t give up my paycheck, which means I have to pursue my goals in my spare time”. This is true. In this case, family is important to you — more important than your other dreams, apparently. There’s nothing wrong with that. But now it’s time to take a very clinical look at how you spend your spare time and how you can get more of that time to help you pursue the other goals you claim are important).

The people who we hail as successes — whether in business or in life or as someone who has achieved a goal or dream that we share — they gave up something and invested in the thing that was truly important to them.

Remind yourself daily that you invest in the things that are important to you. If your investments of time, money, attention, focus, and effort are not on the things you desire then they aren’t as important to you as you claim they are.

Ask yourself these questions hourly: What did I invest in last hour? What do I want in life and how can I invest the next hour in those things?

Learn more, faster, with this Tim Ferriss learning hack

I’ve always loved to learn about learning. It’s my Kryptonite. (Bacon is my other Kryptonite).

In high school and college I avidly studied speedreading, teaching and learning processes, mindmapping, heuristics, mneumonics and memorization, and I did some tutoring on these subjects. (Nerd alert: I also designed my own notebooks with the best of what I learned, which included space for mindmaps, questions to be researched later, etc.). It’s not learning for the sake of increasing knowledge that I’m drawn to. Rather, I’m fascinated with how we can find information, retain it, and recall it, and (most importantly) make it useful… and how we can do that more effectively. From those years of study, I still have a sort of “thinking playbook” that I use everyday to help me learn and strategize in my business.

So it’s no surprise that I was magnetically drawn to this TED talk about learning by Tim Ferriss. I’m not a big Tim Ferriss fan but I do particularly like his learning methodology, which makes a lot of sense and can be applied across multiple disciplines. Check it out for yourself, here. And I’ve given some notes below on Tim’s key thoughts with the DiSSS acronym he uses throughout his talk.

VIDEO NOTES on “DiSSS”

Deconstruction:

  • Take a large topic and break it down
  • Identify why you might fail before you even start. Ask: “What are the reasons I have quit in the past?” What are the reasons that other people have failed?” << Avoid those problems for the first 5 sessions. Once you practice for the first 5 "sessions" (even if those sessions are short) you can turn it into a habit.

Selection:

  • Apply the 80/20 principle. Try to find the 20% of the techniques that produce 80% of results.

Sequencing:

  • What if I did things in the opposite order?
  • What if I omitted what people tell me are best practices?
  • Do “no stakes” practice that won’t hurt or cost.

Stakes:

  • Build incentives and disincentives into what you do.

Keep things simple and try to remove things rather than add things.

What do you want to learn to do better? Can you use Tim Ferriss’ learning hack to help you learn that skill more effectively?

What I’m working on this week (May 20 – 24)

I’m kind of like a kid just days before Christmas — I can barely get through the day because of my level of anticipation: I’ve got a bunch of projects that I’m really eager to start. There are a couple of client projects, a couple of joint ventures, a couple of my own projects…

… but…

I’ve got a half dozen projects that are almost at the finish line but not quite there yet. And I have to finish those first. My tendency is to say “good enough, let’s move on” but I can’t do that. I need to wrap these other projects first and clear them off of my desk.

And what has raised my level of anticipation lately is that a couple of these nearly-done projects have taken slightly longer than expected (although that’s not out of the ordinary) so I’ve had to push the new stuff off for a bit. Can you image what your kids would be like if you told them Christmas had been moved back by a month? I’m that way now.

The other thing I’m working on this week isn’t really business related but it’s top of mind for me: I used to do a high intensity workout 3 days a week (usually Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). Last week I decided to challenge myself to push harder so I decided to workout daily. (Clarification: I’m now doing 2 different high intensity workouts — alternating them each day). And just to see if it was even possible, I decided to try daily workouts for 7 days. I ended up only doing 6 days because yesterday I spent part of the day in bed with a migraine.

Last week’s daily workout was hard but fun and very doable. I felt the effect of the daily workout but it wasn’t that. Now I want to take that 7 day challenge and do it every day from now on. I think it could be more challenging because I’m not fueled by the “I only need to push through for 7 days” mentality. That light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel is possibly something I’m going to need. Looking forward to this new challenge!