Do you know how to take a compliment? More importantly, do you know how to use a compliment? Most businesspeople love positive client testimonials. Imagine restaurants without 5-star Yelp reviews, movies without 95% fresh ratings, weight loss clinics without before-and-after pictures. Amazon has architected its entire business around soliciting reviews for every product in its inventory, from books to electronics to spackle. They’re a critical success driver for its business. When it comes to the financial industry, though, advisors are gun-shy about testimonials. Obviously, advisors face significant regulatory restraints to using client statements in their marketing. At times, the rules can go beyond prohibiting testimonials in marketing materials to severely cramping your social media presence, forcing you to turn off comments and limit engagement. But just because you can’t publish testimonials doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention to them. They have significant utility in opening your eyes to the real reasons why your clients love you—and they may not be the reasons you expect.
You’ve seen the stats. Women already control most of the wealth in America, and our share is only going up (1). Boomer women have started inheriting their husbands’ assets. Millennial women are outpacing men in academic achievement (2). So, if you’re an advisor looking to ramp up growth, it makes sense to target women as clients, right? Wrong. If you’re a guy, turn this around for a moment. Imagine you get a phone call from some other kind of professional advisor you might consider hiring—say, an attorney, or a CPA, or a small business IT consultant. The voice on the phone explains the offering, and then tells you, "I think you’ll definitely like our tech support, because we specialize in serving male advisors." What does that even mean? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
Do you plan to spend more on marketing this year? Apparently, your peers do. According to the latest TD Ameritrade Institutional RIA Sentiment Survey, RIAs expect to increase their 2017 marketing budgets by 27%. I wonder where all that money is going. In the survey, nearly 6 in 10 advisors say they’ll spend more on social media, and 37% plan to change up their marketing and networking to appeal to younger clients. Those trends make sense if organic growth really is slowing down, as some advisors are reporting. Some of that cash may be going to fight the robo "threat." As you may have read, Michael Kitces declared that independent B2C robo advisors are dying. Whether that’s true or not, the fact is that robos did disrupt the industry. They commoditized investment management, raised client expectations and catalyzed a new wave of innovation in response. Maybe a higher marketing spend is part of that trend. But frankly, I’m worried. All those extra dollars could go to waste if advisors make one critical mistake: trying to find a silver bullet. There is no such thing.
Right now, you should be running. At top speed. With a flag in your hand, ready to plant it in the ground. Get the reference? It’s from Far and Away, that ‘90s movie where Tom Cruise plays an Irish immigrant on a land run in the Old West. He’s running across the open prairie with a flag in his hand, looking for a little plot of land to claim. Then, just in the nick of time, right as a posse of competing land rushers comes riding up over the hill, he and Nicole Kidman plant their flag and stake their claim. It’s very dramatic. It’s also an apt metaphor for RIAs. You occupy extremely desirable territory in the market. But a herd of new claimants is coming to take it from you, if you don’t plant your flag and stake your claim right now.