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The STP Approach to Business Building for Financial Advisors

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In my work with independent financial advisors and allied institutions over the past few years, I’ve identified 5 key strategies that are working for financial advisors today. Over the coming weeks I’ll be sharing a number of advisor stories with you. Hopefully these stories of real life advisors will bring the concepts to life for you.

Last week, I wrote about credibility marketing. This week’s topic is Key Strategy #2: Relationship Marketing.


In the age of digital communications nothing beats the STP Approach – See The People. Nothing will ever replace a handshake or a personal conversation. Collaboration with other professionals, networking with friends and clients, and asking for favorable introductions is important. There are, of course, new and exciting ways to supplement your in-person communications and to automate the referral process.

“Everyone is always talking about thinking outside-the-box – but what about thinking in simpler terms: inside-the-box thinking,” says Nathan D. Bergeland CFP®, MS, CRC Founder & CEO, USAdvisors Network, LLC. “We already know what works, its simplifying it so people actually use it to create new, successful habits,” says Nate.

Nate’s no slouch. As one of the largest branch managers with Securities America, he has trained and mentored hundreds of advisors and registered representatives who work as independent contractors in community banks and credit unions. Nate’s business over the past 2 years has grown 80%. His branch is now up to 70 advisors and produces more than $9M GDC.  Additionally, he has USAdvisors Insurance agency that is up about 80% in 2011 and works with 300+ advisors. 


As testament to his “inside-the-box” thinking, in June 2011, Nate rolled out something called ReferralPod – an online system that helps advisors manage, track and build their referrals. The system can be used in a number of ways. You build referral networks or ‘pods’ and can collaborate in real time with other professionals and strategic partners using your mobile device or computer.

“The average advisor derives 80% of their revenue from referrals,” says Nate. “60% from client referrals and 20% from referrals from Centers of Influence. Most continue to rely on emails, notes and spreadsheets – none of which can efficiently track and measure results. People today are not held accountable in this essential business building activity,” he says. 

Nate says the impetus for the development of this software originates from two of the mantras.  1) "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it." and 2) "Inspect what you expect." 

The main point according to Nate is that when activity is out of sight, it is usually out of mind.  Advisors do not have a comprehensive plan for client acquisition that incorporates clients, fellow employees and/or COI's in a manner that incorporates communication, status, recording, reporting and managing referrals (the #1 client acquisition strategy). 

“Non-performers cannot hide under the ReferralPod system.  We can celebrate the success of those performing at a high level and have them help in the coaching of others,” he says.

One ReferralPod user – an advisor in Canada, is using this cloud-based software in a unique fashion. In addition to having the traditional CPA, PC agent, attorney, CPA, mortgage loan officer, etc. in his ReferralPod system, he has professionals based on their niche. His niche is working primarily in the aviation industry.  So in one of his pods, he has the avionics owner, FBO operator, aircraft sales person, aircraft loan officer, leasing agent, aircraft service manager and some pilots that are using this application to refer, communicate, track and manage their client acquisition strategy.

“This is a great way to keep everyone accountable and on the same page, so to speak,” says Nate. “They are all working toward a common goal – getting the right professional contact for the right prospective client at the right time through a favorable introduction-and-nurture process.”


Along with running a successful fee-only financial planning practice, Gordon J. Bernhardt, CPA/PFS, CFP®, AIF®, is also an accomplished author who published last winter the first volume of Profiles in Success:  Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area. The book was developed after interviewing many business owners and executives, and highlights their personal stories and words of wisdom from a diverse group of business leaders in and around D.C.

 The stories cover a wide and varied array of successes and innovations with an emphasis on entrepreneurialism and a positive spirit. Based on interviews with about 100 people, the book’s first volume includes 37 profiles. The second volume containing 40 profiles is being published now, and will serve as a special New Year’s gift to clients, strategic partners and prospects – including the 40 business leaders profiled in the book.

Bernhardt anticipates publishing a new volume about every 6-9 months, generating a hardbound set of quality books. The series is already generating buzz and new relationships for Bernhardt and his firm.

 Written to inspire current as well as future business leaders, Bernhardt has distributed copies of Profiles in Success to area universities and business schools. It is his hope that these compelling stories will illuminate potential career paths and inspire students to pursue their personal passions.

After the first Volume was published, he developed a website dedicated to Profiles in Success -- check out the nifty flipbook on the home page) where he uploads all the profiles, shares updates and insights related to the book series in the form of a blog, and offers a link to purchase the books. In a continuing effort to build relationships, Gordon also includes a link to each of the CEO’s companies on the site.


He also is in the process of developing an Editorial Advisory Board.  These are going to be people who Gordon has targeted as potential clients. It will provide another way to further develop their relationship. A page with mentoring opportunities provides another means for build relationship among like-minded HNW individuals with whom he’d like to work.

 Bernhardt is donating all profits from the sale of this book to several local organizations that benefit youth and educational programs including BEST Kids, Inc., YouthQuest Foundation and Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.

“All of this purpose-driven activity creates real opportunities for real communication. That’s always a good thing,” Bernhardt says.


So how does Bernhardt juggle his complex book project with business ownership? He says he has two secrets to success:  a fantastic support team, and an outsourcing strategy.

“I conduct the interviews, but I have writers who help me create the actual content from the interview. I pay a graphic designer to format the profiles and a production team to generate the hardbound books. My PR firm helps me promote and leverage the book; they’ve had success using the book as a door opener with journalists,” says Bernhardt, who has appeared recently in the Washington Post, USA Today and Smart CEO magazine. “That’s a great reputation enhancer,” he says.


Next week I’ll tell two more advisor success stories related to Key Strategy #2: Relationship Marketing. The following week, we’ll jump into Key Strategy #3: Event Marketing.

In the meantime, check out this series of video segments: Advisor Of The Future: The Road Ahead. Eight thought leaders in the financial services profession presented their views in a roundtable discussion following the Financial Planning Association’s National Conference in San Diego in September 2011.  I was pleased and honored to moderate the discussion. Here are quick links so that you can find the contributors of most interest to you:

- Bob Veres of Inside Information

- John Brackett of BAR Financial

- Michael Kim of Genworth

- Dave Hubbard of Exemplar Financial Network

- Stephanie Bogan of Quantuvis

- Eric Cott of the Options Industry Council

- Michael Kay of Financial Focus

- Cameron Thornton of Navigator Legacy Partners



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