Innovation | 03.10.21
From A Distance: Prospecting Propelled Into Digital Age
It has been roughly one year since face-to-face sit-downs with prospective clients suddenly ceased.
The global pandemic changed everything.
Financial services professionals, isolated at home for months, were forced to reinvent how they did their jobs.
And that meant harvesting digital leads—as opposed to hitching wagons to foot traffic. Digital prospecting is the new normal in the bank advisory channel. Industry leaders say the trend will continue long after anything resembling normalcy returns.
Forced, Fast Evolution
The financial services firms that thrived in the second half of 2020 did so by adapting quickly; specifically, by engaging prospective clients across social media outlets with narrower topical content and tailored messaging based on demographics, according to Chuck Martin, COO, Chadds Ford, Pa.-based Vigilant, an outsourced compliance, cybersecurity and consulting firm.
As traditional digital channel clogged up (i.e., “hello it’s me” barrages via LinkedIn), the process of digital lead generation "became more targeted and granular," Martin said. “In the past, the primary digital marketing challenge might be as simple as crafting engaging copy for an email campaign."
Crafting a compelling email and pairing it with a purchased list of leads does not go as far as it used to with the space so utterly crowded; differentiating from competitors, all doing the same thing, led to tech-abetted, hyper-targeted approaches.
For organizational leaders, this transformation–doing digital, doing it better, savvier–has required decisive thinking and rapid evolution to manage new administrative, compliance, and risk management challenges.
For some advisors, reinventing the role has been seamless. For others, the switch has been daunting.
Some professionals insist on in-person prospecting, traditionally the lifeblood of the financial advisory industry, will return with a vengeance in the months ahead. Other industry members predict a mix of old and new ways–a hybrid toolkit–one that becomes standard.
The methods of advisor communication largely have moved from in person to digital via social media, text message, or in some cases through websites, said John Zanzarella, vice president at marketing consultant PerformLine.
“These communication methods are typically hard for companies to oversee from a compliance standpoint, especially when multiplied across thousands of individual contributors,” he said.
Hard to oversee, yes, but warranted. Pew Research Center statistics reveal that 70% of American adults use social media in some form.
Still, until the pandemic, many relationship-driven sales professionals had resisted prospecting on digital platforms.
For old-school professionals used to real-world engagement, there’s an initial but not insurmountable hurdle: figuring out how potential clients engage with online platforms (e.g., it turns out you have to be on Instagram). This includes understanding the generational differences among social media users, particularly younger generations (25-35) who make up an ever-increasing share of affluent investors and have been on social media their entire lives.
“Initially, some of our less tech-savvy reps were reaching out to client contacts who had merely liked Facebook posts or re-tweeted links, without first securing a personal referral,” said one office manager at a retirement planning and insurance group within a credit union. “Beyond any concerns over solicitation, we also needed to walk them through how to avoid coming on too strong.”
Let’s Do (Virtual) Lunch
While the rules of engagement have changed, the process of building trust in a digital setting often mirrors real world interactions.
“When this began, one question that was asked was how to approach buying food for clients during online meetings,” Vigilant’s Martin explained.
Now, he said, a number of digital meeting services have added features, such as eatNgage.com, allowing the host to purchase lunch for attendees via the local delivery service of their choice.
When Americans stopped going to the office, many found it difficult to punch out and focus on life outside of work. Business professionals dealing with a workday without structure meant putting even longer hours, which in turn pushed conversations with financial services representatives and insurance agents to later times of day. Thus many advisory professionals found their outreach efforts were paying dividends, provided they were okay with doing a video chat after prospects had loaded the dishwasher and put kids in pajamas.
“At first, I noticed that there were more return calls from prospects coming in around dinner time,” said one New York area insurance agent. “They might call and say ‘hey, I’m watching a movie with the kids and I just remembered that my colleague referred you and that I owe you a call.”
According to the agent, prospects that run their own businesses are particularly likely to be burning the midnight oil.
“A lot of my referrals are entrepreneurs who I connect with after 9 p.m.,” the insurance agent said, adding that his long days are turning into long nights.
“Over the last year,” he said, “I learned to operate on less sleep.”