Networking in a Virtual World — Advice for Advisors

BB Webb
17 min read
February 01, 2021

It was a mere 35 years ago when pop artist Madonna sang about "Living in a Material World." Fast forward 3.5 decades and we find ourselves living in a virtual world. If change is our only true constant in life, welcome to our new normal...for now.

My greatest lesson as an entrepreneur was realizing when life throws you curve balls, you first try not to get knocked out. You then swiftly get creative and run the bases in search of answers. And next, you say, "Thank you!"

I'll tell you why.

Can Adversity Rock?

I’m reminded that my greatest business or life lessons did not come from the wins I enjoyed, the praise, adulations, or the things that came "easy." My greatest lessons evolved (they do evolve), from the challenges that prompted me to get curious and carry on, adopting a creative solutions mindset to see how good I might become. I’ve found again and again that if we do persevere through hard times, working to find new ways to move forward, we will, in time. With that, I’ll claim tenacity and creativity as two of the most necessary attributes of any entrepreneur.

In working to traverse our new landscape, let’s not forget that both XYPN co-founders, Alan Moore and Michael Kitces, were fired from jobs early in their careers. Those firings eventually led them to places better suited to their talents, passions, and fearless personalities.

Lemons or Tequila Spritzer?

And so here we are in a new virtual world working to leverage the challenges of a pandemic, living in isolation and fear as we work to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We’ve been made aware to be mindful when in public, when we shop, if we go to a physical workplace full or part-time, to not get exposed or expose others as we watch the number of COVID infected or dying throughout the world, sadly increase in numbers. It’s the tragic stuff of horror films and none of us is immune.

With such a daunting backdrop, how do we get creative as we navigate working at home, minding little ones doing homework in our kitchens and the reality of postponing holidays and putting so many of life’s enjoyments, (for now), on the shelf? How do we twist the lemons of our current situation into a sweet and tangy lemonade or my favorite, a tequila lemon spritzer?

Staying Connected in Business

How then do we stay connected and network in business with our current and pervasive new world reality? Just as the mid-nineteenth century Industrial Revolution waned to give rise to the Post-Industrial era, shifting from a manufacturing focus to an increased importance of service industries including health, finance, recreation, engineering, and computers, so too has the pandemic necessitated shifts in how we live and work. Our emerging ability to do business from home and via video cameras has surprised us all.

What will our work world look like post-pandemic? How has Covid-19 forever shaped our world? What benefits might we realize as we emerge from our isolation cocoon? 

Elisabeth Reynolds: Executive Director with the Task Force on the Work of the Future, Massachusetts Institute of Technology shares,

“For those who can work from home (approximately 40% of US workers largely from the higher educated quartile), our daily experience of work will change significantly. Commuters will gain an hour back on average in their day and estimates suggest that post pandemic, some portion of the week will involve working from home – from one to three days a week. A hybrid model is likely to emerge that will try to balance the efficiencies gained by remote work with the benefits of social interactions and to creativity and innovation generated by working in person with others.”

From Indranil Roy: Executive Director, Human Capital practice, Deloitte Consulting

“More than half of the global workforce is working remotely and as the pandemic continues to threaten health, we are looking at a prolonged period of hybrid working – from home and office in different proportions.

Some lessons learned: we can accomplish most tasks remotely without significant drop in productivity or quality. Most employees appreciate flexibility, especially those with long commute times. Over time, however, face-to-face interaction is required to facilitate collaboration, build relationships, solve complex challenges and generate ideas. Continuous remote work extends the work day, diffuses work-life boundaries and reduces mental wellbeing.

Given these pros and cons, organisations have to rethink their working arrangements. This re-calibration will eventually settle on a sustainable new normal, likely a hybrid workforce and distributed workplace.”

(Above quotes extracted from a BBC seriesCoronavirus: How the world of work may change forever” produced by: Philippa Fogarty, Simon Frantz, Javier Hirschfeld, Sarah Keating, Emmanuel Lafont, Bryan Lufkin, Rachel Mishael, Visvak Ponnavolu, Maddy Savage and Meredith Turits).

In the meantime, within the financial advisor hemisphere, when the post pandemic ‘dust’ settles, with in-person chats being swapped for video calls, the way we interact, part-time or full-time, will change forever. How then do we embrace and nurture best practice evolutions and create positive ways to connect with prospects, stay tuned in with clients and collaborate with colleagues to the benefit of all?

Staying Connected in a Virtual World

Let’s explore 5 strategies and some new framing on how to stay connected with your prospects and clients in a virtual world. Showcasing your brand and how you can help others has never been more important than in these current pandemic and politically turbulent times. With uncertainty gripping people in unprecedented ways, being a visible part of the solution for others is how you’ll stay ‘top of mind’ to the folks who need you more than ever.

Our new ‘normal’ is quickly becoming video platforms for what once was in-person meetings. A few things to consider as you engage in this format.

  • Be strategic with a professional background in your online video setting. You might have your logo in the background, certificates on the wall or books relevant to the work you do. Consider, what do you want your background to say about you as an advisor? Photos of your family? An inspirational saying? A snapshot of your dog?
  • Consider too how you dress. Does it represent your brand? Do the colors show up well against your backdrop? You may consider a photo backdrop though be aware that often when you move your arms may appear to go in and out of view.
  • Be sure to have great lighting. Record yourself and see how well you do at speaking to the camera. If you do need to refer to other screens, be sure to let your prospect or client know so they understand when you need to glance away. Eye-to-eye contact is always preferable and more engaging to the listener, just as it is in person!
  • Assure too that your computer is at a level where you are not seeing too much ceiling in the shot, but that you are framed appropriately to make the best connection with whom you are speaking.
  • Invest in a good microphone and monitor the sound and how you look on screen ahead of time.
  • When you engage with someone, do your best to put them at ease. Note that you understand this new setting can be challenging and if you have a dog, they may bark and if your prospect or client has challenges in the background, kids or spouses, to not stress, it’s all part of the new world we’re living in. Do your best to bring humor to the situation knowing that we’re all managing these new circumstances as best as we can.
  • For folks less confident or less experienced using technology, consider sending a video ‘to do’ accompanied by a sheet that goes through key steps for setting up a new platforms. Remember that everyone learns differently. You might engage in a short pre-meeting call to help someone anxious around this new medium, to help them navigate with confidence. This goes for assisting clients with electronic signing documents. Doing a screen share to help a prospect/client explore a new and possibly scary technology can go a long way in helping someone to feel considered and cared for without judgement.

Strategy #1: Referrals Still Rock the House

In XYPN’s 2020 Benchmarking study, the stats continue to point to the efficacy of referrals as the number one way to grow your business.

From XYPN’s 2020 Benchmarking Study:

“Referrals are a great source of momentum and leverage. Every time one of your clients prospects a new client for you, the cost and time you would have spent sourcing that prospect is saved. There are also more clients than there are of you, so your clients can reach a broader network than you could on your own. Of course, your clients do not promote your business as a full-time job, but the utility of referrals should nevertheless not be overlooked.”

Asking for referrals from key centers of influence (COIs) or from your ‘raving fan’ clients is still one of the highest ranking statistics in our XYPN 2020 Benchmarking survey for acquiring new clients. Keep in mind as well, that any client you close has no doubt seen your other brand images through social media, on your well-crafted and positioned website and through other business development efforts which we’ll review shortly. 

Personalize Your Client Engagement - Serve, Delight, Invite 

One of the workflows we created at XYPN is called, ‘Ongoing Client Communication’. This workflow works off of a 6-month timeframe where we recommend monthly communication with your client in three key categories, serving, delighting and inviting your client to take a specific, meaningful action relevant to their goals and desires.

In the SERVE category we recommend that you serve your client in one of the various areas within your designed service calendar, possibly a focus on taxes, estate planning or investment strategy. You’re touching in and working with your client in meaningful and expected ways in the ‘serve’ category of this model.

The DELIGHT section of this workflow model encourages you to delight your client with something unexpected. It might be as simple as sending out an article relevant to a personal interest your client has, or a note of appreciation for being your client. It might be a swag bag of small gifts expressing gratitude for the opportunity to serve them. (Axxel Marketing is an often-used gift resource company). This activity is prescribed for 2 times within a 6 month period. Or, more simply, it might be an article or podcast you heard that is relevant to what you are working on together or something of personal interest.

The INVITE phase of this workflow prompts you to invite your client, one time within a 6-month period, to take meaningful action on something they have expressed as important in their lives. You might reach out to invite them to enroll in an online painting course they expressed interest in but didn’t feel they had the funding for or the time. Your invitation might be, having reached certain financial goals, to invite them to a favored vacation they expressed interest in.

Knowing the progress your client has made, your invitation is a way to both recognize and celebrate good work done and for them to reap the benefits of that diligent work.

Offer Yourself as a Resource to Your Clients for People They Know

With 18.6% of the average XYPN advisor business coming from referrals from existing clients, let’s explore some best practices for engaging in a referral process.

If you are staying tuned in regularly with your client, you can recognize the progress you are making together, either getting past challenges or working toward key goals. This is a ripe time to:

    • Share with your client that you are elated to see the progress you’ve made as a team and to ask if they would be willing to suggest you as a guide and resource to anyone else in their network of friends and colleagues.
    • You have an opportunity to highlight that you went into this entrepreneurial ‘fee only – fiduciary’ world to help people live their best lives and that you love what you do and want to help others.
    • Additionally, you may suggest that if your client knows people who might benefit from your expertise or who simply want a second option on work they are doing with another advisor or on their own. Share that you want to help and would be happy to take the time to do so at no cost. This strategy works for many advisors, allowing their clients to hopefully make worthy recommendations that communicate your value, encouraging these referrals to consider you as their advisor.
  • Have key language to share with your client, i.e. 

“if you know of colleagues or friends who are struggling with the loss of a job, market volatility or who are in fear of upcoming changes in their personal and financial situation, I’m happy to take a look at things and see if I can help. That’s why I went into this work, to help others!”

Offer Yourself as a Value-Add Referral to Professionals in Your Network 

Though the percentages for client acquisition through professional COIs in the XYPN network went down from 18.3% to 10.8% in 2019, this form of client building is still high and worthy now more than ever given our current socio-economic climate and virtually easy to engage in via a video platform such as Zoom. Whether engaging with a current client or a professional in your niche network, an attorney or CPA, consider the defining a process that will work in engaging with someone who might need your services.

If you and your COI are doing cross promotion of candidates for your business growth and theirs, be sure to agree upon a process that will help the prospect know why they are recommending you or you recommending your COI’s services. You might provide a templated email on how to introduce what you do, asking for permission to put you in contact with the lead. You might share a relevant electronic handout that talks about your services, guiding the referral prospect to your website and a key article. Build a repeatable process and as with any sales strategy, as you engage with more people, you’ll begin to get prospect candidates coming your way.

Be sure as well to follow up and share with your COI the progress you are making with the prospect they referred to you. If you engage their referral as a client, consider a note of gratitude and possibly a small gift, a token of appreciation for your COI or client playing a significant role as a marketing/sales agent to your organization!

Strategy #2: Networking and General Business Development

Ranked the highest in our 2020 Benchmarking study for attracting new business is ‘Networking and General Business Development’. How might we do these activities in a nearly total virtual environment? Let’s look at some options for building business and how you might adjust best practices in an online environment.

Social Media

A large part of your brand image can happen through social media. The more your prospects see your messaging and educational contributions through social channels, the more you are established as a leader in your core business niche. Whether you share regular advice through tweets, or build your brand reputation through LinkedIn or on your website with podcasts you host on YouTube, social media makes a difference to the audience you want to get in front of.

The beauty of these channels is that you can repurpose your original or outsourced desired content. Similarly, you can host relevant content from other sources on your social channels, sharing other key niche best practices and be a contributor to other advisor’s social platforms. It’s a force with the power for exponential growth opportunities.

During our pandemic is a great time to strategize your social messaging, assuring that you have consistency throughout when sharing content through podcasts, blogs, tweets or articles to post in LinkedIn or in regular or periodic blogs.

This is an area I recommend outsourcing if writing or producing podcasts is not in your skillset or a passion. The money saved to allow you to focus strategically on your business or engaging in referral opportunities can easily be leveraged by targeting your financial resources on getting professional help. Two favored advisor outsourced marketing resources are Snappy Kraken and Lead Pilot.

Strategy #3. Educational Webinars

Educational seminars have become all the more relevant as a marketing/ networking tool since the pandemic. Leading best practice content sessions establishes you as a leader in your niche market and gives prospective buyers a taste of what working with you might be like. Research has shown that to encourage the most engagement with audiences in video platforms, a few key guidelines prove beneficial.

Keeping core content to 35-45 minutes is recommend as is adding a robust ‘AMA’ (Ask Me Anything) offering in an open setting or through a Slido technology which allows participants to anonymously (if desired) ask questions or to vote certain questions higher so the most relevant questions get answered in the time provided.

Adding in breakout rooms or time to tally polls taken from your audience is an excellent way to keep your listeners involved and to avoid screen fatigue.

Adding in more slides with fewer words and a mix of images has been cited in numerous studies to engage listeners more effectively.

Dean Thurman and Mike Thurman are the co-founders of White Glove, a marketing webinar service for financial advisors. Their original business model relied on pulling together advisors eager to share their information at live events. Their job was to create key marketing to attract prospects to dinners and luncheons where the advisor would share information the audience was eager to hear, i.e. about retirement planning or how to get the most out of their 401K, or help with college planning. 

Dean and Mike found they spent most of their time on the logistical ‘event planning’ aspect of the engagements and less on attracting the right audiences and assuring the content and follow up at the end of the webinar happened. They relied on the “old school” method of seminar marketing until discovering the efficiency and cost effectiveness of promoting online webinars to their advisor clients.

Fast forward to 2020 and in particular our pandemic environment, due to the cost savings and the scalability of the format to their advisor clients, their online webinar service model is growing in popularity. Engaging candidates eager to listen to relevant content without the need or cost of booking a banquet hall, order menus or as the listener, navigate through traffic, are all positive changes with this new format.

Strategy #4: Email Marketing/Newsletters

A continued and cost-effective way to get in front of your key audience is through target email marketing and sharing a regular newsletter in a ‘drip campaign’ to current clients and prospects in your funnel.

In Michael Kitces's podcast, Building A Successful Business By Giving Away 99% Of What You Do For Free with Michael Kitces, Michael shares how in the early days of building his early practice and online persona, he gave away 99% of his content to attract clients eager to benefit from his expertise and savvy. A few things to consider as you build your content and audience.

  • Many ‘contact us’ sections within websites encourage you to share your name and email address and optionally, but not required, a phone number, reason for your inquiry with your firm and if interested, a Calendly (or other scheduling link) to engage in a complimentary ‘Introductory 30 minute meeting’. The intent of this short first meeting is to learn about the prospect to determine if a deeper dive investigation is warranted.

    The ‘carrot’ to get your viewers to add at minimum their name and email address is your promise to send them a complimentary piece of content that they desire. “The Ten Best Practices to Consider Before You Retire’, or if your niche is a teacher market, ‘Best Practice Tax Strategies for Educators and Pension Considerations’.
  • Another ‘call to action’ on your website that’ll help you build your email list is to ask if viewers would like to receive your ‘periodic’ or ‘monthly’ newsletter chock full of retirement, tax, college savings, estate planning, stock option…you name the headings, content that is relevant to your key audience.
  • Lastly, there are services such as Data Axel USA where you can purchase targeted groups within your area, segmented throughout the United States, etc. to target key email campaigns to work to drive prospects to your website.
  • With regard to suitable content, this is something you’ll need to ascertain from your key audience. What are the main pain points, goals and challenges experienced by the people to whom you serve?
  • Consider bringing in a guest contributor to your newsletter or to inform your email send outs. You might also include a Podcast in your email or newsletter to let your audience get to know you, your style, to witness and frame key topics and to share relevant and easy to follow concepts. 
  • You might share in your email or newsletter the relevancy of requesting to serve folks especially hurt in our current economic/social climate. You might make special note of a complimentary/no obligation ‘giving back’ service you have to assist people most hurt in the pandemic, people facing layoffs, a reduction in pay, furloughs, etc. to help get a second opinion on their situation.

    This is a slightly different ‘call to action’ in your communication and one that can help serve others in great need while building your business virtually.

Strategy #5: Virtual Client Appreciation Events

One other terrific way we’re seeing advisors engage with prospects and clients is through virtual client appreciation events. Advertising to clients with the suggestion to ‘bring a friend’ online, is growing in popularity. As a way to both show appreciation and to bring folks together virtually, some of the following events were inspired by XYPN to their employees.

  • Consider a virtual ‘do it yourself’ class offered to your client. This idea requires you tune into the interests and demographic within your key niche group. If your chosen ‘do it yourself’ session is around wreath making, cheese making or painting (all recent XYPN offerings), consider the invitation, what you’ll need to purchase and send out ahead of time to your clients and the follow up to gather feedback on how your clients felt about the offering.
  • Another XYPN favorite has been Virtual trivia. With smaller groups consider taking the time to have each person take one minute to say their name, where they live, their interest in the session and possibly their biggest financial new habit or win since joining with you at your firm. This brief sharing can be a powerful motivator to prospects at the virtual appreciation meeting and a way to showcase your unique value as an advisor.
  • You might send out a beautiful beverage glass and coupon for your client and a guest to purchase something to fill their glass and share in a virtual ‘happy hour’. At the event you might toast your client’s in a special way, individually or as a group. Consider breakout sessions to further engagement around a topic of interest, i.e. first place they plan to travel post pandemic, or new skill they’ve learned in 2020! 

In short, consider both sides of the communication you intend to send out to prospect and clients. You might ask:

  1. How does what I’m doing virtually with my communication reflect my firm and how I can serve this person?

  2. Do I have a ‘call to action’ with each piece of virtual networking or communication?

  3. How might I follow up with a next step when someone has engaged in my online or virtual communication?

  4. Where might I consider asking for feedback on any blog, podcast, educational webinar, social media post or client appreciation event to better understand how what I sent was received. 

Consider this great read/listen, a recent Michael Kitces podcast ruminating on similar topics with Maribeth Kuzmeski, founder of Red Zone Marketing, a marketing firm that focuses on independent financial advisors:

Adapting Financial Advisor Marketing To The Pandemic By Sticking With What (Virtually) Works, with Maribeth Kuzmeski 

At the end of the day, what we’re talking about is communication and serving people at the best and highest level in a new virtual environment. Remember foremost to be authentic, try new things, map what’s working, take your time, and give yourself and others grace as our world shifts in new directions. Turn your lemons into a favored lemony drink! And lastly, forget "perfect"—just do your best and know that in working together, we are better.

BB Webb

About BB Webb, XYPN Sales Coach

XYPN Sales Coach BB Webb has a background in both the arts and as an entrepreneur. She first learned about sales while touring her one-woman play across country and later through successfully growing her award-winning Atlanta based special event venue, selling it 14 years later to make a move to Bozeman, Montana.

As XYPN’s Sales Coach, BB’s primary goal is to assist XYPN members in building great relationships, plans and processes for selling their services as Financial Advisors. With a focus on consultative selling, BB’s programs and resources are developed to guide members in creating their own systems and conversations for selling their unique services, fearlessly and with joy.

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