Pursuing a goal with intention is more effective than approaching it without a plan. If you want to run a marathon, you won’t get there by running a few miles every so often. If you want to lose weight, trying a different diet each week likely won’t yield the desired results. And if you want to optimize your workflow and attract your ideal clients, accepting any clients that come your way may hinder your success. That’s where intentional prospecting comes in.
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I had the opportunity to moderate a session (at the Commonwealth Summit for Women Advisors) with advisor Janel Cross, AIF®, of Align Retirement Plan Advisors in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who sets the bar high when it comes to prospecting and success. We spoke about driving growth with intentional prospecting—a topic that might sound simple but isn’t. Intentional prospecting requires having a strategy in place, a clear idea of whom you want to work with, and compelling reasons for doing so. You need to define what you can give clients that someone else can’t. Only then can you begin developing a plan to attract your ideal clients to your business.
Cross’s story demonstrates just how powerful intentional prospecting can be.
Focusing for Success
Many advisors built their business by taking anyone who came their way. They may have an ideal client, but their business model enables being all things to all people. You can be successful working this way—in fact, many advisors who do so are very successful—but you can also waste a lot of time and energy on clients who aren’t a good fit.
Cross is crystal clear on whom she wants to work with. She enjoys partnering with business owners, specifically manufacturers, on 401(k) services and feels that’s where she adds the most value. She focuses almost exclusively on retirement plan clients and, when appropriate, will refer new clients looking for wealth management services to her partners. That’s right—Cross turns away people who aren’t a fit! This focus helps her grow her business organically and encourages referrals from other advisors who aren’t retirement plan experts. As an example, Cross shared her experience with a large RIA in Philadelphia that doesn’t handle retirement plan business. When the firm comes across a business owner who needs help in this area, Cross’s proven expertise ensures that she receives the referral.
Solving Pain Points
Cross practices in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where there are roughly 3,000 manufacturing companies. Working with a few clients in this space came about naturally. Then, as Cross’s business grew, she began to understand that manufacturing companies make great clients. Once she decided to expand this base, the next step was discovering the industry’s pain points. Cross quickly learned that the manufacturers’ biggest problems were in human resources. They couldn’t get enough skilled workers for their plants, so they couldn’t grow or expand.
This insight led Cross to join SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management. As a member of and contributor to this organization, she gained an in-depth understanding of key human resources issues. Applying this knowledge to her practice, she saw how she could link one solution to two client problems.
Two problems. On the one hand, Cross had wealth management clients taking money from their retirement savings to pay for their children’s college education. In many cases, these children didn’t know what they wanted to do in life, but their parents were paying up to $50,000 a year because “you need a college diploma to get a good job nowadays.” On the other hand, she had business owners who were willing to pay good salaries to fill open jobs but couldn’t attract young people to careers in manufacturing. Cross realized she could facilitate a win-win situation.
One solution. And that’s how Manufacturing Day (MFG Day) in Lancaster County was born in 2016. As organizer and chair of the MFG Day Lancaster Steering Committee, Cross began working with CEOs, human resources directors, school principals, and school boards to develop MFG Day curriculum and events. To engage the manufacturers, she relied on the relationships she’d developed over the previous three years. Cross knew the key decision makers at firms in her area, and they knew her strengths. They saw Cross as a trusted advisor who understood their needs, and they welcomed her to their team. Far from trying to avoid Cross’s phone calls, the CEOs made time to speak with her.
Due to a tremendous response, MFG Day became a regular event. Every October, high schools coordinate field trips to manufacturing companies in their area, so students can gain firsthand career information. The companies arrange tours and presentations that are helping overcome the stigma associated with trade and technical careers in manufacturing.
The Results: Win-Win-Win
For clients and the community. In 2016, 2 Lancaster companies hosted 100 students. In 2017, 1,200 students toured 41 local companies. In 2018, nearly 3,000 students visited 52 manufacturers, and the governor of Pennsylvania issued a statement about MFG Day’s impact. This year, in addition to tours for high school students, events are planned for students in grades 7 and 8 in five local school districts. As for the student response, 84 percent of attendees said they were convinced that manufacturing offered careers that are interesting and rewarding, and 64 percent said they were more motivated to pursue a career in manufacturing.
For Cross’s practice. For her ongoing MFG Day leadership, Cross has received tremendous media recognition and is highly visible in the communities she serves. Having developed deep relationships with more than 50 manufacturers in Lancaster County, she is seen as a thought leader and friend to this major local industry. And, oh, yes, she’s already converted some MFG Day host companies to 401(k) clients. Her growth is 245 percent since 2012, and with the goodwill gathered and relationships built, there are no signs of a slowdown in Cross’s future.
Be Like Cross
Could you be more intentional in how you prospect? Start with identifying your ideal clients. Brainstorm the characteristics you look for in potential clients, and identify similarities between the clients you most enjoy working with. Notice any patterns, whether it be in their professions, demographics, philanthropic interests, or education? Once you’ve narrowed this down, you can determine what services this niche needs most.
Next, look inward to tailor your messaging and marketing so that it appeals to this audience. Write a one- to two sentence statement that tells the clients all they need to know, and let it be a part of your brand. It should address the challenges this niche faces and define how you intend to help them overcome them. Where do you provide the most value? What sets you apart from other firms?
If you feel you’re spending too much time juggling different services for a wide range of clients, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and see where you can have the most impact. Saying no can feel counterintuitive, but by right-sizing your client base, you can hone your focus and services—and better serve the clients you keep.
How have you been driving growth with intentional prospecting? Has your firm found success with a particular niche? We’d love to hear from you!