Making the Most of Seminars in the 403(b) Market

By George Webber

When I was a younger advisor looking for any way to build my business, I’d try just about anything — working the table at a trade show that had nothing to do with my target market, for example. While I think this is a suitable frame of mind for an advisor just starting out, I now believe that the single best way to market is through seminar presentations.

The trend toward seminar marketing offers one of the best opportunities for building a high-quality 403(b) (or any other investment vehicle) business. There are several reasons why seminars make sense for anyone looking to grow his or her business. I’ll highlight reasons to use seminars and, more important, how to execute a plan successfully to maximize your seminar experience and help you grow your business.

Why Seminars Work

Generally, seminars are pre-planned events specifically tailored to your target audience. If you’re targeting the K-12 marketplace, then you’ll likely be organizing your event within a school and usually working through the school administration office. A seminar can put you directly in front of the very audience members you want as your clients. Seminars allow you to maximize the scope of your marketing efforts as you share your knowledge with more people in your target 403(b) market.

A well-executed seminar marketing initiative can be extremely fruitful for your business; consider these numbers:

  • A well done seminar can yield about a 40 percent positive response, meaning the participant has requested further contact with the advisor beyond the seminar.
  • If you happen to be an 80 percent closer as an advisor, eight out of 10 people you sit down with would ultimately do business with you.
  • A competently executed seminar with 20 attendees will bring you approximately eight appointments with prospects.
  • With those eight prospect appointments you could bring on six brand new clients in your chosen target market!

Plan Your Seminar

Your seminar will run smoother if proper thought and planning are put into to it. Without planning all facets of your seminar, you stand much less chance of hitting your 40/80 goal. So let’s start with the basics…where, when, and how.

Where your seminar takes place is key. While there are really two schools of thought on this, you may have better luck with one over the other. The first is to make it as convenient as possible and conduct the seminar at a location where the participants are already going to be so it’ll take them little or no effort to attend. While this may be ideal to ensure you’re in front of some of your target market, it can have its drawbacks.

Let’s assume the set-up is that you’re presenting to teachers at a “lunch and learn” session that will include other speakers as well. First, you have to consider that there could be some unwilling participants in this type of arrangement. They could not only create negative energy in the room, but they may also distract the attendees who want to see you after your seminar.

Also, you’re speaking to a group of people who are trying to eat; you won’t have their full attention as you compete with their tuna sandwiches and pudding. So while you may accomplish the goal of being in front of your favored market segment, you’re missing the goal of getting eager and willing people interested in your subject matter.

The other choice of forum is offsite, away from their work location. This can be tricky due to the level of commitment you’re requesting of them. You’ll be asking them to take time out of their busy schedules to come to a designated location to hear about financial information that, while they know they need to hear it, wouldn’t be their first activity choice. So there has to be a “carrot” involved to attract your audience to an offsite location.

For many advisors, this carrot is often an invitation to a restaurant. Yes, inviting 40 people to a restaurant will require a financial investment on your part, so you have to work the numbers and make sure it’s a worthwhile investment. On the basis of your target segment and your typical closing ratio at this type of event, it could well be a great investment in growing your 403(b) business.

Make sure you plan out all the logistics with the venue’s management to ensure your event runs smoothly. This includes basics like the room set-up and table placement, audio and video availability, and a schedule for when everything is supposed to happen.

Also, try to personally greet everyone in attendance before your presentation. If you’ve had a chance to socialize with your attendants they’ll view you more fondly when you give your presentation. My suggestion is to start your presentation immediately following the entree and keep the content to between 30 and 40 minutes.

Strive for Competence

There’s no substitute for executing a competent presentation when it’s finally show time. Here are my suggestions for helping you hit your 40/80.

1. Try not to read off of your screen.

This is often one of the major pet peeves when presenting to teachers. They spend their careers knowing their lesson plans and communicating informally with children. Know your material and be conversational about presenting it. No one in your audience wants to be read to while they’re watching your PowerPoint presentation.

2. Dress for success.

Like it or not, financial advisors are expected to look a certain way, so you’re making a mistake if you don’t dress like a professional. Making that first impression could go a long way toward the point of managing all of their assets. This is not the time to make a statement by wearing that Tommy Bahama shirt you think looks so great on you. Err toward the conservative; business suits are best.

3. Tailor your presentation.

The success of your presentation will have more to do with how you engage your audience than with your actual presentation. Most great seminar presenters are dynamic and energetic, enthusiastic about the subject matter no matter what it happens to be.

Be sure to spread out the “impact” or “call for action” slides so they deliver the maximum punch. You want these slides to create urgency and the need for participants to speak with you one-on-one. Make sure you’re well-rehearsed on these slides, deliberate and well-paced, because they’re the ones you need to leverage those extra couple of appointments.

4. It’s how you begin AND how you finish.

Audience members will make an immediate judgment on how engaging your presentation is and whether you’re competent enough for their business. If you lose them in the beginning, it’ll be tough to get them to think of you as a worthwhile resource.

Even so, finish strong. Sometimes errors or missteps can be corrected with a strong finish and a properly laid out call to action, right before they fill out their evaluation cards and request to see you after the event.

Seminars are an excellent tool for getting in front of your target audience and demonstrating your value as a financial advisor. It’s a perfect forum for explaining why, if they want to retire with peace of mind, they need to plan accordingly. If you can deliver as outlined above, you can get 40 percent of your attendees to request a meeting with you and turn 80 percent of those into your next clients!


George Webber, CFP is general sales manager and director of financial education with Kades-Margolis Corp. in Wayne, Pa.

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