by Carolyn S. Ellis Kip Gregory and The Gregory Group help financial professionals improve their productivity. Using readily available desktop and Internet technology, they coach advisors and teams on strategies to maximize information gathering, communication, and relationships. From the platform of his latest book, Winning Clients in a Wired World, Kip has become a sought-after speaker at industry conferences. We talked with him about how agents are using social media today.
L&HA Features Editor
L&HA: How comfortable are agents and advisors with technology?
KG: Most successful producers are relationship people. In a sales-driven business like financial services the one who succeeds is the one who builds better rapport and can deliver. When you look across the industry at top producers you often find the blending of skill sets. The agency head isn’t necessarily a techie, but he or she appreciates the process, systems, and structure that technology offers. They surround themselves with people who can provide technology support.
L&HA: Your comments echo those of Ray Harrison of Sacramento, California, the financial planner featured in February on Page 3. Harrison credits tools like dictation software, Skype, and file vaults with making his high-touch style possible.
KG: You don’t have to be on the leading edge to maximize the use of technology in your business. Take the tried-and-true tools you mentioned. They have been around for years and are very mainstream, but few agents use them.
L&HA: Do you find social media actually boost sales?
KG: The most important thing for agents is to figure out where their audience is with respect to social media. If you work with a younger, hipper group that’s on Facebook and Twitter, join those and begin to understand them. If you deal with an older audience of professionals and business owners and executives, you are more likely to find them on LinkedIn, although you may find them on both.
L&HA: For many agents, leads have often left a sour taste.
KG: When I ask an audience, ‘How many of you have used a list broker in your career?’ invariably several hands go up and heads nod. When I ask if it was a good experience, the heads shake, ‘No.’ Lead lists are expensive, they’re stale, and they take time to work through. Pivot to today’s world. You can go into LinkedIn and using its advanced search screen as a worksheet, define what you want to find. For example, I want to know all business owners within 15 miles of downtown Waltham, in the high-tech industry, running companies with 50 or more people.
Hit the search button and within a second you can get a list that identifies those people AND prioritizes them by how close they are to you, starting with one degree away, a direct connection, through second- and third-degree connections. The list identifies your path of connection. It’s a game changer! You can contact the mutual acquaintance to get some insight about the potential prospect before you spend any time making contact.
L&HA: When you speak to industry groups, do people react positively to the possibilities?
KG: My talks at industry conferences have been very well received. Across financial services, especially in life insurance, there is a general lack of appreciation for how useful these tools are. Not what they will do for you in 1-5 years, but what you can do right now. In one presentation I cover how you can nurture your network, identify hidden connections to prospects, and raise your visibility simultaneously. It doesn’t cost you a penny.
Agents need to get on board because business is getting pulled out from under them every day by people who know the intelligence-gathering power of these tools. Life-event circumstances like changing jobs, getting married or divorced, and having a child or grandchild are triggers to make people want to meet with an advisor. These sites are dashboards for that kind of information. That said, research by the Pew foundation and others shows there’s a slice of the population, maybe 20-25 percent, that doesn’t want to participate in social media.
L&HA: Does it take a lot of time to set up and maintain your presence?
KG: How much time do you spend on the other networking and marketing activity you engage in? How do you measure effectiveness? This medium is a way to communicate, like picking up the phone, shooting off an email, typing a letter, or meeting somebody face-to-face at a business event. At LinkedIn they ask for your name, e-mail, workplace, and school, all ways people can find you. It takes 60 seconds. Uploading your contacts and building your network can be fast, but I suggest a slower, methodical effort because you want to engage with people.
Too many people overlook opportunities because they’re thinking, I want to get all 500 people in my Rolodex into LinkedIn. Then I’m going to shotgun an invite to all of them, and use the default language from LinkedIn, and I can do all of that in 10 seconds. They’ve checked the boxes, literally and figuratively, but what relationship value have they created? What trust have they established? That’s where the time requirement seeps in. In 10-15 minutes a day you can benefit from the information you find on LinkedIn. The more time you invest, the more you gain.
L&HA: What about privacy? Once you say something you can’t take it back.
KG: That is true of any Internet-based communication, like posting a review at Amazon or writing in a condolence book at a funeral home. Be judicious about what you choose to say. As a user, you control what information you want people to see. Agents often say, I won’t put my Rolodex on the Internet because I don’t want my competition to poach my clients. You control that by using a setting like Hide my Connections. However, you might not want to do that because you’re in a networking environment and people want to know what circles you travel in.
L&HA: Why would I want my LinkedIn profile on Google?
KG: Prospects are very likely to Google you before agreeing to meet. Without a LinkedIn profile, your prospect will find snippets like your golf score in a recent tournament or a political contribution you made. That might be good stuff, but it’s not your messaging. If you make your LinkedIn profile available through search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo, your branding tops the list.
L&HA: Where does compliance fit in the picture?
KG: Compliance concerns are one reason the insurance industry is late in embracing social media, but there are software tools now to monitor, supervise, and archive the flow of communication. We have oversight capabilities that weren’t in place a year ago. Companies have to recognize that thousands of agents in their employ are linked in. People in the sales and management ranks need to become familiar with these tools so they can set policy and get compliance to match.
Relationship is at the center of your success with social networking. To capitalize on it, you have to take a ‘give to get’ approach. Otherwise you are being opportunistic, and people will see you for what you are. It’s about how you can help people solve a need or meet a challenge.