Everyone says there are few guarantees in the financial services industry. Here is one scenario that is guaranteed to make your office manager go ballistic: Holding a high-profile event for clients and prospects that attracts few attendees.
Imagine renting out the banquet room at a prestigious hotel and booking a keynote speaker for the evening. The room comfortable seats 200 people. But on the day of the event, you have just six confirmed reservations. The only thing worse than an empty room is paying a small fortune to plan the event! So, how do you attract clients to firm sponsored events?
Here are 10 strategies for filling the room. Different strategies are appropriate for different events.
1. Hold a client recognition event
Clients want to feel appreciated. They like events that feel like a benefit for doing business with the firm. The event takes on added significance if it is held only once a year and clients get at least six weeks’ notice. Advisors can be responsible for sending out invitations, but the firm could also do it at the office level.
2. Pitch as ‘It’s not a seminar, it’s a briefing’
This isn’t my idea. A manager who ascended to the senior ranks at a major firm came up with it first. Agents and advisors hold public seminars. The president of the United States holds press briefings at the White House. The word “briefing” has special qualities. Very important people give briefings to other important people. Briefings sound like the speaker is sharing insights. This can work well when you have a headline industry speaker with name recognition.
3. Hold the event at a college
When you hold a seminar in a hotel, it feel impersonal. There may be two other events happening simultaneously. Your guests might walk into the wrong room by accident. When you hold your event in a college lecture hall, it takes on an educational vibe instead of a sales aspect. You may increase the validity of your presentation because there is an unspoken assumption the college has vetted your presentation beforehand. In reality, you are just renting the room.
4. Select a must-know topic
Clients and prospects know there are certain subjects they absolutely must come up to speed on. Changes to the tax code are a good example. They could call their CPA, but they always worry there is a taxi meter on the accountant’s desk and they will get a “consultation bill” in the mail. If the prospect feels they will get the knowledge they need without paying, that can be a big draw.
5. Awards continuing- education credits
Several professions require licensed practitioners to keep learning to keep their registration current. Lawyers, accountants, teachers and engineers are a few examples. Your firm likely has compliance approved topics that qualify for CE credits for certain fields.
6. Select a location comes with bragging rights
Have you ever attended a wedding at a country club? Or a seminar at an exclusive private club in the city? These are examples of locations not accessible by the general public. Everyone has heard of the Plaza Hotel or the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. Anyone can walk through the lobby or enjoy a drink at the bar. Two of New Yor’s famous private clubs are the University Club and the Metropolitan Club. You cannot walk in off the street because admission is for members only. If the event is held in a private club, attendees are entering someplace off limits to the rest of their friends.
7. Serve food
Everyone has to eat. Bars know that happy hour brings in the crowd because reduced price appetizers become dinner for many people. If you hold a dinner seminar, getting a free meal is a powerful draw for many people. Those of a certain age often receive dinner invitations from retirement planners! A dinner paid for by someone else is one less dinner a prospect needs to cook!
8. Make bringing a friend ‘the price of admission’
Holds the event at a nice restaurant. Invite clients with a caveat: The price of admission is bringing a friend. A good expression is, “someone you think we should meet” or “someone you think we might be able to help.” Your current clients bring your next round of prospects.
9. Let clients choose the topics
I met a Pennsylvania advisor who used this strategy, but added an additional feature to generate “buy in.” She held a client appreciation brunch. As people left, they passed a big flipchart with several speaking topics listed. Examples included, “how to buy jewelry” and “real estate trends in the county.” Clients were asked to pick up a marker and place a mark next to the topics they found interesting. She then invited clients (and guests) to her next event: “the most popular event topic chosen.”
10. Rent a movie theater
Parents with young children have an endless need for activities. An advisor rented out a theater “module” for a filmappealing to younger audiences. He invited clients and their families. He let them know they could invite neighbors too. The advisor provided an introduction before the firm, thanked people on the way out, and handed each parent a literature package. He let the parents know he’d repeat this event the following month. This allowed the advisor to grow his audience geometrically, since the theater has plenty of seats to fill.
Notice the advisor is not giving a talk. The film is the star. The theater is likely filled with young children with short attention spans! The advisor is getting clients to bring their friends for an afternoon out to entertain their children. The client is likely telling the advisor’s story. Since the invited parents want to be asked back, they should be receptive to a call from the advisor, especially if that call invites them to the next screening. Your firm should be able to determine if an attendee can be contacted as a bona fide prospect under the Do Not Call rules.
There are many ways to fill seats at a firm-sponsored event. It takes advance planning and an approach that fits the event.
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. He provides HNW client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book “Captivating the Wealthy Investor” is available on Amazon.