Summary: Financial advisor seminar marketing is an attractive mainstay of many marketing plans for advisory firms big and small. And, just as many other marketing methods that rely on the advisor’s execution, seminar success depends on many variables. In this article, we walk through 9 best practices for financial advisor seminar marketing and offer several checklists, prompts, and thought-provoking questions to help you make your next live event a success.
Seminar marketing has long been a prospecting staple for financial advisors. And, despite the rise in digital marketing, many advisors are entering 2020 with a plan to host live events. After all, seminars are a good opportunity to showcase expertise and build relationships.
Every advisor who is considering hosting a seminar faces the same questions. Will it be worth the time and investment? What’s the best way to go about it? Which details make the difference — and which ones don’t matter?
Unfortunately, finding reliable answers to those questions is a challenge. Small studies (like this one by Advisor Websites) have reported that 50% of surveyed advisors have thought face-to-face events were the most effective way to connect with prospects. The problem is that the Advisor Websites study was done a decade ago with a very small group of advisors.
And yet, the last few years saw a proliferation in vendors selling services that make it easier for advisors to host live seminars. So, workshops must be working for some advisors!
In our practice, we have seen advisors have tremendous success with live workshops (25 buying units, 80% appointment schedule rate, $2M in AUM added within a week) — as well as fail miserably (2 RSVPs, both of them no-shows). Like many other marketing strategies, seminar results seem to be driven by a complex mix of the advisor’s presence, event promotion strategy, and a dash of luck.
However, there are several things advisors can do to improve the success of their seminars.
As an advisor, you get to control many important variables, from event targeting (audience, topic, time, location) to promotion strategies, pre-event relationship building, and post-event follow up. Testing those variables and getting them right takes time, and too many advisors give up on seminars before they have given themselves a fair chance to get good at it.
This article will help.
Here are the 9 best financial advisor seminar practices.
Define the objective of the seminar
This tip applies to all of your marketing efforts, and you would be surprised at how many financial advisors skip it.
It is not enough to go into a seminar to add a certain amount of AUM or schedule a certain number of appointments. The problem with these goals is that they don’t help you plan a successful event.
Instead of focusing on you and your practice, outline your objective for the event using this prompt:
“At the end of the workshop, I want attendees to do this: _________________.”
Notice that this prompt is focused on your audience. It also requires you to think in actionable terms. After all, the goal of any marketing is to change people’s behaviour. If you can verbalize the change or action you wish to see from your audience, you can then align the presentation to naturally lead your prospects there.
Know your audience – then choose event logistics
A solid understanding of the audience will help you define the topic of the seminar, your promotion strategy, and even the event location and start time.
Some general guidelines seem to work across most audiences.
- Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays work well for seminars.
- Monday and Friday tend to be the more challenging days to fill the room
- Stay away from scheduling events on the day following national holidays (Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc.)
- The 5-6 week stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year is a sub-optimal time to host a seminar, as people tend to focus on family and holidays. If you are planning to use Facebook ads to promote the event, you will also have to deal with holiday price surges. We don’t recommend running workshops during that time.
Beyond that, best practices for logistics will vary by audience, location, and advisor.
For seminars that target seniors, 4:00-4:30 PM start times work best. For Boomer-focused events, 6 PM – 7 PM start times are more appropriate. For prospect-facing events, we recommend that you stay away from daytime scheduling (some research has shown that conversion costs could be 30% higher for a daytime event than for an evening event).
Consider location options carefully. Assuming that an advisor hosts a seminar outside the office, there are two main choices for workshop location. You can opt to host a seminar in a library, local college, or a community centre, which could make it feel more “educational”. Alternatively, you could pick a food-centric venue like a restaurant, coffee shop, winery, brewery, etc.
Each option has its pros and cons. Educational seminars typically have a lower response/show-up rate. However, they can make up for it with stronger audience engagement, as attendees have come to learn. Dinner seminars tend to have a higher response and show-up rate, but lower engagement during the seminar (even despite a more intimate feel and the trust-building dynamics of breaking bread together). Think about your message, budget, and personal fit before you make your choice.
Scout out the location
When it comes to financial advisor seminars, time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. As you narrow down your options, it’s a good idea to visit your top-choice locations in person. Be sure to walk through the entire space, from the parking lot to the room itself. Make note of any special directions that may be required. Some locales are straightforward. Others come with tricky parking or less-than-obvious navigation.
Be cognizant of the time that your event is scheduled for — and match your walkthrough to experience the facility in the same conditions as your attendees will. Will they have an easy time finding the event? Do you need to post directions or signs? Take notes and ask the facility staff about what’s allowed.
Build a plan to promote the event
The outcome of a seminar is driven in large part by the quality of attendees. And, if you want great prospects in the room, you need a plan to reach them and give them a compelling reason to attend!
The traditional strategy for promoting financial seminars had relied heavily on direct mail. While direct mail is still relevant, response rates hover between 1% and 2% (which is light years away from the 5%-6% response rates of the past). Advisors have had success with mailers that stand out (hand-addressed envelopes, wedding-style invitations, etc.) However, those eye-catching extras tend to be more expensive. Weigh the lifetime value of an ideal client against the quality of your typical prospect and your budget to make a balanced choice that makes sense for you.
Even if you plan to use direct mail, consider multiple channels to expand your reach and improve attendance. Here are some options.
- Run a Facebook campaign to promote the event. Facebook advertising can be finicky, but the recent iterations of the platform allow you to fine-tune your ad’s settings, reach, and audience. Start small, test different visuals and headlines, and monitor ad performance closely. Advisors can connect the ad directly to a sign-up form, or they can build a simple landing page to showcase the event’s date, location, topic, and key-value points (i.e. reasons why someone should attend).
- Send workshop announcement to your email list. Keep in mind that a sequence of 2-3 emails that highlight different value points of the seminar will have a better chance of building your attendance list. For example, if you are hosting a workshop on preparing for retirement, one email could highlight taxes in retirement, another could address paying for healthcare, and the third one could speak to the importance of estate planning.
- Call the prospects in your pipeline and invite them to attend the seminar. This may not be practical for your entire pipeline, so consider your resources and make the choice accordingly.
- Announce the event on your social media. Social media posts are easy to share, especially if your posts add value and focus on the pain points that are highly relevant for your audience.
- Consider adding event announcements to the signature block of your email. An email signature is a highly under-rated piece of marketing real estate. Change it up periodically to promote upcoming events!
- Reach out to your active referral partners and ask them to promote the seminar to their lists. Offer to provide the email they can use to make it even easier on them.
Confirm attendance — and stay in touch
When a prospect registers for a seminar, plan to send a minimum of 3 emails: one immediately upon registration, another one day before the event, and the third one on the day of the event. If the prospect registers for an event far in advance, your sequence should include 2 additional emails to be sent 10 days and 5 days before the event.
In addition to these automated emails, it’s a best practice to also:
- Call each prospect within 24 hours of registration (sooner is better). A personal phone call can solidify that they have made a good decision. It will also make the seminar more “real” in their minds, which can lead to better attendance. During the call, be sure to mention any subsequent communications the prospect should expect. It helps prepare them for what’s next while also building trust (i.e. it allows you to promise to do something and then actually do it).
- If time permits and if you get the prospect’s mailing address, send them a physical letter. It will serve as a tangible reminder of their commitment to attend.
- Call them to remind them about the seminar 24 hours before the event. Highlight that you have saved them a spot and that you look forward to meeting them.
Make it professional
A seminar is a great opportunity to position an advisor as a credible, authoritative figure. And yet, a surprising number of advisors show up at the event to project a less-than-professional image. Here are some ideas to raise your perceived expertise (some are free, others require an investment).
- Have a team member introduce you before you get up to speak. This requires minimal prep and doesn’t cost anything at all — and yet it can be very effective in setting the stage.
- Consider getting a banner with your branding. It will look good in pictures and instantly dress up and elevate the room. A simple retractable stand-up banner can cost you as little as $100, is easy to store and transport, and will last for years. Your local print shop will likely have some options to offer. Online, you can look at Displays2Go, Ace Exhibits, and Vistaprint.
- Professionally printed handouts and brochures make for nice take-aways. Get several quotes from local and online printers, and be cautious with ordering large quantities to bring the per-piece pricing down. You don’t want to get stuck with thousands of pages of collateral if you decide that they need an update 6 months down the line.
Finally, if you are planning to use a presentation deck, it’s a good idea to invest in a polished set of slides. The deck does not have to be design-forward or stunning to be effective. Opt for a clean look, well-chosen text and visuals, and clear branding. If you don’t have internal resources to handle deck layout and design, you can hire a freelance designer on a platform like Upwork. Be sure to get clear quotes and estimates before you proceed!
Have a plan to maximize your time with prospects
The time you spend in the seminar room is precious — from the moment you first walk in, and up until the last prospect walks out. You need a plan to maximize every minute. This checklist will help.
- Use a checklist to double-check all supplies beforehand. Consider setting up a special box for all seminar-related materials and supplies, organized and ready to go
- Bring extras. That goes for batteries for the clicker, pens, business cards, note pads, and a flash drive with a copy of your presentation
- Greet prospects as they come into the room. Breaking the ice can be awkward, and many advisors would prefer to escape into a conversation with a co-worker (checking email on a smartphone is another popular distraction). Resist those temptations and spend the time with your audience instead.
- Give each team member a well-defined job to do. That will help you set expectations and make the seminar more productive for everyone
- Make a plan for getting you out of conversations that don’t go anywhere. Unfortunately, seminars often have one or two attendees that are happy to chat with you for an hour — even when it’s clear that they are not a real prospect. Brainstorm with the team on some polite ways to wrap up the conversation and give you the chance to connect with others who have questions
- Decide how you will deal with disruptions. Occasionally, you may encounter an attendee who comes in just to throw a wrench into your presentation. Brainstorm some strategies that will help you remain calm, de-escalate the situation, and move on.
Commit to post-event follow up
As you wrap up the presentation, you and your staff will be inviting prospects to schedule the next step (usually a one-on-one appointment).
Our experience tells us that the show-up rate will be higher the sooner you can schedule the appointment. One to two weeks after the event is a brief enough period where the seminar will still be fresh in the prospect’s mind. Go much beyond 3 weeks, and you will likely see a drop in attendance and interest. So, it’s a good idea to clear your schedule beforehand to make sure that you will have sufficient open time to accommodate prospect meetings.
Keep in mind that you will need a separate follow-up plan to address each of the following 3 scenarios:
- The prospect attended the seminar and scheduled an appointment
- The prospect attended the seminar but didn’t schedule an appointment
- The prospect RSVP’ed but did not attend the seminar
Be sure to add any new contacts to your CRM system and tag them properly to allow for follow-up email sequences, drip campaigns, and future event outreach.
Have a plan for project-managing the event
As you can probably see by now, putting on a financial advisor seminar is a big project. As such, it can benefit from a dedicated project manager. You need someone who is committed to managing all the logistics, from venue to supplies, promotion, and post-event follow up.
The best place to start is by making a complete list of everything that must be done. From there, you can assign responsibilities and set deadlines. You will also need a plan to supervise the preparation. This is the not-so-glamorous part of the process that forms the foundation of every successful workshop.
Keep in mind that the first workshop is likely to be more labour-intensive than any subsequent events. Be sure to save any checklists, scripts, emails, and any other collateral for future use.
Best Practices for Financial Advisor Seminar Marketing
As you consider seminar marketing in 2020 and beyond, keep in mind that seminar marketing is a long game. Yes, you may get lucky and see tremendous results in your very first workshop. However, most advisors need to host a few workshops before they find their stride.
Look critically at your strengths and get help in the areas that you find more challenging. For example, some advisors can benefit from presentation coaching. Others need help refining their value proposition, overcoming objections, or getting to a comfort level with speaking in front of an audience. Role-playing, getting familiar with the presentation, and having other team members in the room can help, too. The good news is that virtually everyone can — and will — get better at this with practice.