Keys to Getting New Business Prospects

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Financial marketers have long found it difficult to generate new business leads cost effectively. But today's online environment provides answers - and ROI - for major financial organizations and niche firms alike.


Most financial institutions now target "high net worth individuals" as clients, seeking to gather substantial assets efficiently. The marketplace for accessing this always-elusive group is growing more competitive, particularly among firms in specialized areas such as options, futures or money management. And in this do-not-call era, many traditional prospecting programs have become ineffective.


Now part of the mix are online techniques made possible by the explosion in Internet use by an older, more affluent demographic seeking financial information.


Consider five keys to using emerging online media strategies to solve the lead development conundrum while minimizing risk and cost.


Use the medium as people use it. In the 1950s, it took television advertisers more than 10 years to realize that they were not merely producing radio ads with pictures. Similarly, early Web advertising used inappropriate or ineffective analogies from other media. But in the past few years, search-term advertising (also known as cost per click or CPC) and contextual advertising have roared ahead.


CPC advertising, where marketers bid to "own" the first listing for a word or phrase a Web user has entered, leverages the way people have come to use the Web. It is usually necessary to use a search engine to find what you're looking for.


Why not satisfy that need for information in a relevant, commercial fashion? And when a consumer reads an article, why not include links to products relevant to the topic?


But CPC advertising is just a starting point. A click is often just a click. CPC can yield window shoppers rather than consumers who are willing to enter the establishment, tell you something about who they are and what they want, then perhaps make a purchase. A more qualified prospect can be found through cost-per-lead (CPL) programs.


Balance of power. CPL programs are based on human nature. Affluent consumers recognize how valuable they are to marketers of financial services. They know they are targets. But there is a quid pro quo. The marketer offers information of value, and the consumer responds by providing equal value: personal information and permission to be contacted by the marketer. The best leads are those who opt in to be contacted because they want something in return.


Affluent investors respond best to educational offers that precede a contact from a marketer: "Send me some information on your options service or index service and let me absorb it before your salesperson calls me. I'll even tell you what I like and dislike about my current broker, what I'm looking for in a new broker and maybe how much money I'm willing to invest. Then, when the sales call comes, we'll both be more knowledgeable and we won't waste each other's time."


Hand raisers respond well to offers that respect their intelligence and their privacy. These consumers are turned off by discounts, sweeps or other blatantly promotional offers.


Request minimal personal information in your initial communication. One way we have found to garner information on prospects in a non-threatening fashion, and screen prospects in the process, is through a survey. Criteria might include current use of a category, attitude toward the product or net worth. Only those who fit are exposed to the client's offer. And only those who respond to this offer with full contact information are deemed qualified leads.


Turn media planning on its head. Traditionally, media planning centers on placing ads in media with the highest composition of your potential audience. But what if it didn't matter where you run? With CPL programs, the goal is identifying qualified prospects, regardless of source. And because marketers pay only for leads when they are generated, the media partners take the risk on the placement costs.


From the media standpoint, CPL deals are a good balance of risk and reward. They are rewarded for the actions of their audience. By contrast, performance-based deals that rely on a consumer making a purchase or investment are far less attractive to the media. Success in such cost-per-acquisition deals is out of the medium's control.


ROI and ROT. All direct marketing demands ROI analysis. The Web is at its entrepreneurial best in offering many choices to enable improved ROI. Web marketers can use a blend of CPM (cost per thousand), CPC and now CPL advertising to optimize ROI. But how does a marketer choose?


As in traditional DM, testing is vital. Test offer, test copy, test medium, test method. The proliferation of ad inventory across most sites and e-mail newsletters means that an advertiser with the budget to try alternatives often can create extraordinary deals and partnerships. This can reduce the risks of broad-scale testing.


But here's where return on time (ROT) is also key. Marketers can't take the time to try everything. Establishing relationships with media willing to partner on CPL or hybrid deals improves ROT, as does identifying companies that have expertise in improving results of search-term ads.


Continuity and consistency. Financial marketers often go through heroic efforts to kindle a relationship with a prospect, then quickly lose all the goodwill through a telemarketing, postal or e-mail barrage that is out of sync with the respectful relationship the prospect demands.


Continuity of tone and communications means a slow build.


Follow-up e-mail campaigns should continue to inform. Calls should be consultative, not hard sell. And messages should be targeted and refined based upon what you're learning about the prospect. Without refinement, it's difficult to achieve a program's sales potential.


While the Web has made financial lead development more effective and efficient for some, it has made it more necessary than ever to be flexible and knowledgeable. This is hard work. It's often risky. But the relationships that result from that work and risk can make your business prosper.


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