Since the private equity business is dependent on relationships with a finite number of LPs, executives and entrepreneurs, you need to be sure you can identify every potential opportunity to engage with your target audience. With 3 out of 4 Americans using social media, various platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook have become an extremely cost-effective way for a firm to broaden its reach and strengthen its corporate relationships. Surprisingly, however, when BackBay Communications surveyed the private equity market for its Private Equity Brand Equity II report, published last fall, only 7 percent of responding professionals said their firms were using social media regularly.
I am operating out of our Vermont Office – which is really a home office looking out over the mountains of northern Vermont including Mt. Mansfield and the surrounding hills a few miles from the pristine Caspian Lake in Greensboro.
Today’s highlight includes the installation of a solar energy system to generate sustainable energy for our home. In keeping with this blog’s focus on sales and marketing, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on the sales and marketing process that I experienced with the team from SolarTech in Vermont.
So, what was the marketing and sales cycle? Actually it was very typical of a “considered sale”.
The cost (before incentives) of the Solar Trackers are over $50k – clearly an investment that requires consideration. Incentives bring this down nicely and the payback is reasonable considering the local cost of energy. So, this was a very substantial investment and a classic “considered sale” – where content and the web plays a role along with an active sales process.
1) My first step was research. Of course I spoke with my social network – others in the area that had experience. After learning that I wanted a tracker to maximize power, I went to the web to search for trackers in Vermont and quickly found All Earth Renewables. They did great work on SEO – on the first page of my organic search results. Their web presence includes Facebook and Twitter.
2) I posted to the AllSun product on Facebook – seeking to learn more from my network about options for solar power and researched forums to see whether there were any comments. I later ended up connecting with an experienced solar expert who looked over the proposal and the technology solution.
3) I wanted to discuss a solution, so I filled out a form on the web site seeking contact with a sales representative. The conversion form online was clean and simple. I had an introductory email within hours.
4) I was introduced to a channel partner, SolarTech, who managed the sales cycle. Rich Nicol engaged professionally in all aspects of the sale from feasibility to economic ROI. He handled all the objections and concerns and mapped out a solution tailored to our needs – a classic professional sales process.
In order to get this sale, All Earth Renewables and SolarTech needed an integrated sales and marketing process.
- Web visibility – organic search and social media
- Channel Management – with an effective channel website including testimonial
- Quality value proposition and product
- Accessibility in a clean, professional website
- Knowledgable and professional sales approach
- ROI and product content
- Professional service delivery leading to references and validation.
That’s the goal of NAPFA (National Association of Personal Financial Advisors) with the recent launch of the FeeOnlyNetwork.com for its more than 1,500 Fee-Only member advisors across the country. A parallel goal is to build the NAPFA brand and promote the benefits of working with NAPFA-registered investment advisors (RIAs) for comprehensive financial planning and fee-only compensation.
This comes as Fee-Only Registered Investment Advisors (RIA) have surged and changed the way Americans invest. This in a climate where investors are more risk adverse, want to be involved in the investment process and, for all generations, increasingly use the web to “self-sell” before engaging. Having a strong web presence — including a dynamic web marketing hub, social media significance, thought leadership content and digital marketing programs — is not an option, but an imperative for advisors to be relevant and competitive today.
With FeeOnlyNetwork.com, Individual NAPFA members receive a free, search optimized profile and those who wish to pony up $250, receive a more sophisticated profile with more content, enhanced optimization and linking features. The value proposition seems solid: members can piggyback on the broader branding effort around “Fee Only” with NAPFA and generate leads and SEO value at a reasonable cost per year.
There are a number of things for members to consider in maximizing the value and effectiveness of their profiles. (See FeeOnlyNetwork mockup)
- Differentiate the message beyond “Fee-Only”
Use the bulleted specialties adjacent to photo and paragraph beneath it, to provide more depth and breadth surrounding resources and investment options offered, akin to what you might get from a broker dealer.
- Choose messaging carefully
Avoid “generic” messages like “specializes in financial planning and investment management”; be more sophisticated.
- Align Profiles & Links
Make sure your profiles line up across all your channels – LinkedIn, Website, Facebook, Twitter, FeeOnlyNetwork, etc. – including key words, messaging and positioning.
- Include Links
- Differentiate the message beyond “Fee-Only”
- Complete all of the Profile Features
This includes links to all of your social media profiles, recent articles, media mentions, welcome video and the like. If you have more than one location, be sure to include it as well. Also complete the company profile tab. There will be an ability to cross-link with other NAPFA members in your company.
- Show Bench Strength:
The network is very “planner” and individual based rather than the firm… some investors may want to see that they can engage a firm with a broader set of expertise and specializations within the firm. This can be done with the company profile tab, but perhaps you can influence the site’s positioning if you want to highlight both you and your company more strongly.
- Generate Leads:
Currently, the “Contact Me” button generates an email, however there are plans to enable a form. Be on the look out and perhaps influence its development. For example if it were a “Learn More” link instead of “Contact Me”, that could lead to a landing page on your website where they can further “opt-in” to learning without feeling the need to email you right away. Many “buyers” want to self-sell and learn about you (and others) without converting immediately to an email or meeting.
NAPFA says it has made a significant investment and allocated considerable resources to the FeeOnlyNetwork.com, a partnership with Advisorology, LLC, the parent company of the FeeOnlyNetwork.com and FinancialAdviceNetwork.com. The partnership promises to continue to enhance the FeeOnlyNetwork.com. Members would do well to actively participate in its evolution.
Thérèse Byrne is a Client Partner & Digital Strategist with Revenue Architects specializing in helping clients take advantage of modern marketing approaches to projects from the vantage of creative, innovative and agile solutions to growth. She works with a number offinancial advisor clients developing strategies and implementing compliant marketing solutions enabled by technology and inbound marketing.
Below are some interesting facts and opinions about Facebook curated from the current Economist article.
“Last year the company had sales of $3.7 billion, a little below recent estimates, and made a net profit of $1 billion.”
“The network boasts 845m users, which, were Facebook a country, would make it the world’s third most populous, behind China and India.”
“Every day 250m photos are uploaded to the site. One out of every seven minutes spent online is on Facebook, according to comScore, a research firm.”
“Facebook accessible to ever more people. (The Boston Consulting Group reckons that around 3 billion people will be online by 2016, up from 1.6 billion in 2010.) The second is the rise of the mobile phone. Already more than 425m people are tapping into Facebook on these devices and in future most of the social network’s growth will come from the mobile web. Together, these trends could propel the number of users beyond 1 billion.”
“People are now spending far more time on Facebook than on rival web services such as Google (see chart 2) and why it has benefited from strong network effects. ”
Another interesting perspective- will a new hot social network take over? Tumblr? Twitter?
“One is that people stop using Facebook, either because they lose interest or because they are put off by its behaviour. As News Corporation discovered to its cost after it splashed out $580m on Myspace in 2005, network effects can also go quickly into reverse. Once large numbers of people started leaving the service, which became more cluttered than a teenager’s bedroom, it proved hard to stem the tide. Last year, News Corp sold the business for just $35m.”
Social media is not just for reconnecting with former classmates and sharing photos from this year’s family reunion; websites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook and now Google+ can be valuable professional tools when you develop your social media presence with certain relationship building goals in mind. Taking advantage of the possible connections that social media provides and working to develop relationships with potential clients, peers, and competitors can benefit your business in ways that were not possible prior to the age of social media.
Rather than using social media for direct marketing, which is more likely to turn people away, it is most effective to indirectly promote your firm by developing your own individual online presence. Regularly publishing, posting and tweeting on related issues shows that you are active and engaged within the business community, which will in turn reflects positively on your firm. The two dimensions for measuring social media impact are reach and influence. With regular, if not frequent, substantive updates and a large network of followers will help drive the velocity of your practice and give you the benefit of positive name recognition.
One of the most effective ways that you can take advantage of social media’s networking opportunities is to collaborate with both peers and competitors in order to learn from their business practices. Join an industry group on LinkedIn and start a discussion to share tips on anything from best investment practices to which software to use. Collaborating with peers online also allows you to gain a better understanding of what they deal with, which will help you to be better prepared to work with them offline.
You can also use social media to your advantage by developing closer personal relationships with clients. Friend clients on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. You will develop a better understanding of your client as a person, which will allow you to plan better for them and therefore increase their overall satisfaction. In browsing their profile you might discover a mutual interest that could influence investment plans, and responding to their posts will show that you are engaged and attentive. Conversely, your clients will get to know you better by following your updates, allowing for a more personal and natural relationship. Advisory firms that want to draw in younger clients and investors will need to tap into social media. Of course, you must weigh your own public persona and determine how visible and transparent you want to be. Each channel has unique characteristics which may make it more suitable for personal use rather than business use. Compliance considerations are always there – but increasingly managable with a combination of tools and policies.
There are certain limitations to keep in mind when diving into the social media world. Posts are typically best kept brief – mandatory on Twitter – and nuance is easily lost, so tread carefully. There are also certain rules that regulate advisers’ public communications in order to protect investors. The SEC has not yet established any rules or guidelines specific to social media, which has allowed advisers working at small firms more room to move when working with social media. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), however, has issued rules for the use of social media, requiring broker-dealers to be more formal and deliberate in their social media communications.
Provided that these rules and limitations are managed, social media networks can be a highly effective tool to benefit your business through relationship building. Be active and engaged in the online community and your growing online network will benefit your business offline, too.