Prospecting or Marketing—Which Is Right for You?

Nov 23, 2021 / By Bill Cates, CSP, CPAE
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Like many advisors, you may have learned to prospect but never learned much about marketing. Let’s understand the difference between the two and how can you make your marketing way more effective.

I just listened to a podcast where the two hosts debated the merits of prospecting versus marketing, and which was most relevant for financial professionals. They each took a side and argued accordingly.

Knowing I wanted to write an article about this topic, I did some light Google searching and came up with this absurd statement:

The only difference between marketing and prospecting is that prospecting is ACTIVE rather than PASSIVE. With marketing, you have a message, you put it out there and you wait for someone to bite. With prospecting, the actions are very ACTIVE: You are talking to people, picking up the phone, meeting people and stepping out of your comfort zone. Prospecting requires your constant attention.

Finding myself on the verge of going on a rant, I will simply say what my high school basketball coach used to yell at us when we did something wrong, “Horse manure!”

While I certainly agree that prospecting is active. So, too, must your marketing be. A good marketer is always testing and refining the message, the medium, the timing, and all of the other key ingredients in marketing. Passive marketing is a recipe for poor results.

Prospecting = Active Pursuit

Marketing = Active Attraction

As represented by the rough graphic below (yes—I did this myself in PowerPoint), I believe that most financial advisors should aspire to become increasingly less dependent on prospecting and more skilled at marketing—drawing Right-Fit ClientsTM to them with the right strategies and tactics.

Most financial professionals receive at least some training in prospecting, on topics such as cold calling, working their natural market, pursuing mail or Internet leads, and even asking for referrals/introductions. Yes, I view asking for introductions as a form of prospecting (the best form!)

However, over my 30 years in this industry, I’ve observed that most financial advisors know very little about marketing.

Prospecting will always be a part of your client acquisition process. Even with the most interested prospects, there often remains the dance of mutual qualification—determining the right fit. And even highly interested prospects often need a nudge from time to time to keep the process moving. There is absolutely nothing wrong with prospecting.

The main advantage good marketing has over prospecting is that it is less time-consuming and usually yields more qualified prospects, who have held up their hand to say, “I’m interested. You have my permission to tell me more.”

6 critical elements of an effective marketing campaign

Planning a marketing campaign? Make sure to consider the following critical elements of effective marketing.

  1. Target the right market. Generally speaking, the narrower the target the better. This allows your messaging to be more relevant and compelling. The right target market for you will have the financial capacity to maximize your value. It’s a plus if you like working with the folks in the target market—and that you appreciate the work that they do.
  2. Target the right clients.Your Right-Fit Clients are the bullseye, your perfect match, and usually most profitable. A target market can have more than one bullseye. For example, your target market could be a large company. One bullseye could be those in the accumulation phase of their life and another bullseye could be the employees five years from retirement, beginning to think about decumulation.
  3. Solve the right problems.The best type of market already has the awareness of the problems you solve and the opportunities you provide. You don’t need to work hard to uncover these. With that said, sometimes you do have to probe and educate so that your prospects become fully aware of their potential problems and the need to solve or prevent those problems.
  4. Deliver the right product/service.Your product or service is the perfect match for your clients’ problems. If you know that you don’t offer the solution that is truly the best for your clients, then partner with someone who can. If you always do what’s best for your clients, everyone will always win.
  5. Use the right medium.Find the right vehicles to carry your message—social media, print, online, radio, T.V., email, text, podcast, etc. Where do your ideal prospects “congregate”? Where are they most likely to notice your message? Since my expertise is in relationship marketing—specifically referrals and introductions—I believe that getting your message in front of prospects through other people (your current clients and centers of influence) is always the best medium to carry your message. The shortest, most direct path to relevance with a prospect is through an introduction from someone they already trust.
  6. Employ the right messaging. Does your message resonate with your prospects and clients and then compel them to take action? The human brain scans its surroundings six times per second to make sure it is safe. The brain also scans three times per second for opportunities to gain, grow and learn. The human brain is built to take action to solve problems and maximize opportunities. Make sure your messaging capitalizes on both frames of reference. Showing empathy for their challenges and then showing the opportunities that arise from solving those challenges is usually the best messaging. Only focusing in on the problems or the opportunities may not compel your prospects to take the action you desire.

Use the above list as a planning guide for any marketing that you do. And…do all of these items apply to prospecting too? Yup! These elements are universal principles of prospecting, marketing and selling.

Action steps

Review one or more of your past marketing campaigns that didn’t perform as well as you would have hoped to see where it may have fallen short of the six critical elements above. What can you do better next time? I also offer a free guide that reviews some of the strategies I view as important to your success.

Bill Cates, president of Referral Coach International, works with financial professionals who want to build their practices by fully mastering the referral process and tapping into the lifetime value of their clients. You can connect with him on LinkedIn. Bill is offering Horsesmouth readers his latest Strategic Guide that focuses on the important topic of cloning your best clients, which you can get here.

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