Taking the time to plan a marketing strategy could mean a world of difference for businesses. Andy Chapman explains the mystery behind achieving successful sales figures
If every intermediary in the UK were asked whether they write enough protection business, what would be the most popular response? Experience suggests 'no' would be a common answer. Perhaps not the most taxing question, but surely many would agree with this simple hypothesis.
The next question, not so simple perhaps, but more important, is how does the industry ensure that all advisers write as much protection as they would like? The answer would of course go a long way to solving the £2.3trn protection gap.
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. The problems with protection products, particularly income protection (IP) and critical illness, have been well-documented in the press, with issues such as complex underwriting and too many exclusions repeatedly cropping up.
With regard to providers, they have to hold their hands up and admit to some of the wrongdoings. Product design within the protection arena needs a re-think. For too long providers have churned out complex and consumer unfriendly products, and have expected intermediaries to sell what in some cases can only be described as the un-sellable.
However, there are ways intermediaries can help increase their sales of protection products - whether this is through successful marketing or promotional strategies or by examining the support that is available from outside sources, such as marketing agencies and even providers themselves.
As any good marketing consultant will confirm, a successful marketing strategy should be at the core of any profitable business.
However, intermediaries should not simply rush for the Yellow Pages to book their nearest or cheapest consultant. They should instead follow a few rules and examine several simple initiatives so that they are able to find an appropriate marketing solution.
The first thing advisers should do is resist the temptation to dive in at the deep end and start undertaking promotional activity. It is vital that they sit down and devise a marketing strategy for their company.
Marketing strategies should begin by establishing a series of objectives that the company should aim to achieve over a period of time. These objectives should be SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time constrained.
For example, a company could set a clear objective to write 100 IP policies during 2006, worth £X in commission.
Although this is a laborious task, once defined, these objectives will provide advisers with a framework within which to build the rest of their marketing strategy - they now know where they are going.
However, how are they going to get there? Each activity within a firm's strategy should set about answering one or more of these objectives either in part or in full.
When planning how best to achieve the marketing objectives, several different approaches should be explored. It is a case of establishing a mix of activity that will suit the company and its budget. Also, it is important to remember that not everything will work for everyone and sometimes the only way to find out if something works is to give it a go.
It is vital at this point to underline the need to record information. When analysing if a campaign has been successful in achieving its objective, it is important to have all the facts, including costings and timings. This way, when advisers plan their next marketing strategy, they will have a good idea what was cost-effective and what was not.
Often employed in small businesses as the sole method of lead generation, direct mail can prove an effective promotional strategy.
However, careful planning over both message and target audience is needed to ensure maximum response rates. For example, it is important to note the amount of mail-outs that the average household receives on a daily basis, to understand the relatively high chance that your message is lost among the many.
It is far better to use this method to communicate with existing clients than to view it as a method of generating leads - remember, it takes more to gain a new customer than to keep an existing one. To minimise costs, one tip is to ensure the email addresses for clients are accurate so that emails can be used to communicate with existing clients.
The internet is also vital when it comes to marketing a company. Love it or loathe it, the worldwide web is here to stay and it has changed the way businesses and consumers operate.
Finding a financial adviser is no different than before the rise of the internet, so a visible web presence can be a crucial aspect of a business. As an integral aspect of an adviser's marketing strategy, a strong web presence should be made a priority.
This does not have to be in the form of a complex website, in fact, often the simpler the better. However, it should outline the expert service they provide, and the best advertisement is often the testimonial of another satisfied customer.
Hand in hand with an improved web presence, businesses should not neglect to sign up for one of the many 'find an adviser' search sites, which are often an excellent source of leads - especially so if consumers can click direct through to an adviser's website.
Seminars also prove to be a cost-effective way of promoting expert, impartial advice, and would be well worth considering as an important component of a marketing plan.
Along with the obvious efficiencies associated with speaking to a group of clients or potential clients at one time as a speaker, intermediaries will automatically gain kudos from the audience, perhaps adding even more value to their advice.
A seminar can be used in several ways for different audiences. For example, a firm could invite its existing client bank to solely discuss their protection needs, or it could invite members of the public as a more generic introduction to its services, prior to discussing their individual needs in more detail at a later date.
When it comes to advertising, most budgets will not stretch to 30 seconds at half time during the World Cup Final, but there are several less costly, potentially cost-effective options available. Local or regional newspapers often have excellent readership figures, and advertising represents a good opportunity to promote services to a wide range of potential clients.
Advisers should do some research, buy a selection of local 'rags' and see who and what is being advertised, give the advertising department a call and get a breakdown of rates.
When designing an advertisement, advisers should remember to highlight their expertise - they are selling their skills, so they need to make sure the reader is left in no doubt about how good they are. Alternatively, intermediaries should try to build relationships with the local press with a view to gaining some free press coverage.
When designing, intermediaries should obtain the advice of a professional to help with their design work. It is a false economy, for example, to pay for an advertising slot and then waste the opportunity with a poorly put together, unprofessional advertisement. As well as failing to attract the desired attention, this is more likely to give the consumer a poor first impression of the company.
For general marketing support and training, advisers should also turn to their protection providers. Several insurers are starting to offer support and training to intermediaries in order to increase their sales, as it is in the best interests of both parties.
Andy Chapman is chief executive of Pioneer Friendly
Marketing tips for advisers
Businesses should remember the following:
• A marketing strategy is not just for major corporations, it should be at the core of every profitable business.
• Setting objectives is key - companies will only know if a campaign has been successful if they have a benchmark to measure against.
• Investigate the full range of options and analyse what will work best to answer a company's objectives.
• Sometimes the only way of finding out what works for a company is to give it a go.
• Support is available from providers - it is in their interests that a company's protection sales increase.
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