Some of you may know that in my past life I used to work as a financial advisor helping clients design investment strategies to meet their goals in retirement. It all started back in 2004 when I partnered with my wife Kim, and joined A.G. Edwards in Woodstock, Illinois. Over time, and as is common in this industry, A.G. Edwards was acquired by Wachovia Securities and then by Wells Fargo Advisors. During this time of transition, we decided to move back home and settled in Northern California.
On October 18th, 2010, we left Wells Fargo Advisors and went independent partnering with Cambridge Investment Research based in Fairfield, Iowa. There were many reasons for the move, but one of the primary catalysts was that Cambridge was pioneering the use of social media for advisors to promote and build their businesses. Within days of the move we set up our business Facebook page, Twitter handles, and fully developed LinkedIn profiles. The social platforms proved instrumental as a communication medium to announce updates during our transition and then later when we experienced market volatility in the summer of 2011. Having been a practitioner of social networking tools on a personal level and in support of the various non-profits I belonged too, I saw social networking as a natural extension of our practice. Our social platforms served as a bridge providing us the opportunity to share information and gather intelligence from the posts of our clients.
In an industry that champions transparency and authenticity social networking was a gift. Where else would clients, prospects, friends and connection so freely express their likes, dislikes and values? In my view, social networking was providing me a window into the lives of our clients and allowed me to know them better. Social became a compliment to our practice and the face-to-face interaction that is vital to the relationship. It was also very useful in maintaining a close relationship with the clients we had in Illinois, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Florida. The online connection, allowed us a more intimate glimpse on their lives, and an ability to share our own adventures, travels, and experiences. It’s something that continues to this day.
Every year Cambridge Investment Research holds its annual Ignite conference, and this year the event took place last week in Scottsdale, Arizona. Hundreds of advisors, their spouses, and home office leadership and staff gather for two and half days to learn from each other and discuss changes and trends in the industry. The conference is an opportunity for advisors and the home office to learn from each other and get a glimpse of what’s next in the industry and at Cambridge. Excellent keynote speakers are invited to teach, motivate, and inspire, and you can easily feel the energy and sparks in the room with each presentation. Standing ovations are common.
As a former advisor I understand and feel connected to the content and try to remain objective and focused on the big picture. From my 10,000 foot view I am looking for themes to emerge so that I can maintain some perspective on what to expect in the future. It was refreshing for me to see that one of the primary themes from this conference was a desire to return to the basics and a re-newed focus and commitment to build stronger relationships. This theme was reinforced time and time again by the keynote speakers and it was music to my ears given the gift that is social networking.
One of my favorite presenters was social selling and relationship marketing author/speaker Kevin Knebl who presented the value of LinkedIn. I say favorite because his presentation was SPOT ON as he stressed the importance of having an optimized profile and illustrated how advisors can derive value by participating, exploring, and sharing in the social conversation. He had us at “hello.”
He stressed that in today’s market, consumers have multiple mediums now to vet out the professionals they will work with. Gone are the days of the yellow pages and today it’s not uncommon for consumers to do a Google search on the products and services they buy. So, why would looking for an advisor be any different? The reality is that having a profile on LinkedIn is no longer a “nice to have”; it’s a “need to have.” As the most professional business platform in the world- how could it not be worth your time? LinkedIn is a “database on steroids” and Kevin illustrated just how easy it is to use the advanced search features on LinkedIn to mine new opportunities. I actually heard people gasp when he showed us how easy it is to find a primary prospect with a few keystrokes.
At its core social media IS another form of communication, albeit it a very powerful one. Since people like doing business with people they know, like and trust, how can advisors leverage social networks to build their book of business? The answer may be more simple than you think- by being their authentic self and continuing to add the very same value they’ve been adding offline…online.
Advisors have had a long history of being social by belonging to groups, associations and clubs. They understand how to connect with others through shared interests and values. It’s the reason why Investor Type A will work with Advisor Type A, etc, etc. Over time an advisor’s book of business and the investors/customers they attract begin to resemble who THEY are- quirks and all. I’ve seen it first hand with Kim, who’s built Tech Girl Financial, a practice focused on supporting women in technology. Many of her clients are very much like her- strong, independent women, working in a challenging industry, making decisions that help people and advance their industry. It’s a great fit because they speak the same language. It’s the secret sauce of differentiation that social can help reveal, and more importantly, amplify.
Social is not about the technology, it’s about the relationships and the experience behind those that use it. Anyone can build a Facebook page, get a Twitter handle or a LinkedIn profile, however, not everyone will have the business acumen, prospecting skills, and relationship building experience that matters. There has to be some substance to support the promise. This gives more seasoned advisors a real advantage- they have the experience! I’m talking to you Pat McGrath!
So as I reflect on Ignite 2013 and the lessons learned and reinforced, I continue to be optimistic on the increased adoption of social. We may still be in the early stages of development and adoption in financial services, however given the enthusiasm that followed Kevin’s presentation, I can tell you we are not turning back now. Onward!