Next year will mark a quarter-century since I launched my own customer acquisition marketing business. Here is how a chance encounter set me on the path to entrepreneurship. After college, I had landed my first real sales job at a direct marketing company. In 1994, I was asked to speak at a Chamber of Commerce event. Afterward, a financial advisor approached me. He said he was looking for an effective way to attract older Americans interested in hiring him to manage their finances and assist them with retirement planning.
I understood back then that the 50+ age group was wary of advisors and guarded. They wouldn’t visit an advisor at the office, or welcome one into their home. But, I thought, some would be open to an educational seminar offered in a neutral environment.
Birthing the Social Seminar Concept
So, I hatched an idea to find new clients for financial advisors and estate planning professionals: social seminars. These could create meaningful engagements between clients and motivated prospects. As fate would have it, the financial advisor’s brother-in-law managed several restaurants for a well-known seafood chain. It would become the neutral environment I was looking for.
When I got back to the office, I developed a personalized invitation and mailed out 5,000 of them on behalf of the advisor. It not only generated 250 RSVPs, but the advisor also had to hire two administrative assistants to handle the phone calls and coordinate four events. Encouraged by the success of that customer acquisition marketing campaign, I founded Response Mail Express (RME) the following year with a few partners.
Soon, we had a client roster of 200 financial advisors, all eager to find clients age 55 and up with retirement questions to be answered and income to invest.
Making Decisions and Taking Chances
Like many people do in December, I recently found myself reflecting on the past year. Then I cast my memory even further back in time. I recalled that to get where I am today, I made my share of mistakes. Obviously, the social seminar concept wasn’t one of them. However, I made several missteps in the process of rolling it out.
First, I didn’t nail down accurate demographics for prospects in the areas where my clients were doing business. As a result, I targeted some of the wrong people to attend the seminars.
Additional miscalculations included:
- Selecting the wrong type of venues
- choosing the wrong days of the week
- picking the wrong hours of the day for clients to host events
Believing in Your Process
You don’t become an industry leader overnight. In the early days, I allowed financial advisors and insurance agents to choose what they wanted to promote. What’s more, I let them direct where they preferred to have their events, and even how to market themselves. It was more convenient for them.
But it clashed with my purpose, which was to meet the needs of their target audiences. This group enjoyed learning more about complex services and products in a comfortable setting. They preferred being among others like themselves…safety in numbers.
Trusting Your Marketing Instincts
Since the dawn of time, human beings have connected and bonded with each other over meals. So, I incorporated a social dinner into the seminar process. This transformed it into a no-pressure, relaxed evening out for the participants. Not only did it keep the audience at the venue for an hour or so after the presentation, it freed the advisor and staff to socialize with attendees and allowed the staff to schedule appointments. I came to realize this seminar marketing approach could work in other industries sharing the same target demographic. Despite our growing track record of success, though, I still could not convince some potential advisor customers that marketing is an investment, rather than an expense.
Keeping Target Audience Top-of-Mind
Here is the most important lesson I took away from the errors I made early in my career:
Put the consumer first.
When it comes to customer acquisition marketing, I found that people don’t respond to sales pitches. They prefer to be educated. As LeadingResponse grew, we tinkered with the formula, refined seminar topics, and tweaked the event marketing process. We focused on understanding the consumer’s journey, viewed through the lens of their financial needs. After nearly 25 years and 1,000,000 social seminars, we’ve accumulated a volume of response data allowing us to pinpoint who our clients’ ideal customers are.
In mid-2019, RME was re-imagined and branded as LeadingResponse. Today, the company has 160 dedicated employees and thousands of clients.
Learning From Your Errors
As you advance in your career, you’re bound to stumble at some point. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, there is scientific proof mistakes can lead to greater career achievements. It’s even documented in a New York Times article, “How Early-Career Setbacks Can Set You Up for Success.”
Look where I am today – still in the seminar marketing business. I didn’t let mistakes stop me. You don’t have to, either.
To find out more about how we help professionals in the financial, estate planning, elective medical and senior living industries connect with those interested in your services, contact us today.