Developing business through traditional networking is a grind that Bill Black is happy to have left behind.
Black is a financial advisor who knows all too well the routine of taking an accountant, banker or other well-connected professional to lunch each quarter in the hopes of developing a pipeline of referrals.
"What happens is that they send you one referral and then they forget about you," says Black, who is president of Exit and Retirement Strategies, Inc., in Orange, Calif. "Traditional networking is just drips and drops — it's very difficult."
Black has had much more success over the past two years by organizing workshops with potential clients. Workshops are an old idea, but Black, who specializes in helping business owners with transitions, uses an unconventional approach.
He invites certified public accountants, bankers and other influential individuals to what he calls co-hosted workshops, and he asks them to bring four to five business owners. The approach results in good turnouts because no professional wants to be the one who couldn't muster a few attendees, says Black.
Within the workshops, Black serves as more of a moderator than a presenter. He shows a series of six brief video vignettes that address real-life financial scenarios, and then audiences — because of Black's method of using a networking strategy to compile his invitation list, there are usually about a dozen business owners — react to them. The attendees then discuss possible solutions, with the financial professionals joining in the discussion.
"I take myself out of the 'blah-blah-blah' presenter role," says Black, a 28-year financial services veteran. "I show these videos and get the discussion going." He organizes about 15 presentations per year. For every 12 business owners who attend, Black routinely gets two new clients for his "exit planning" services, he says. "It's been significant."
The method of business development last year accounted for about $250,000 of the $1.2 million of revenue earned by Exit and Retirement Strategies. And the business from the new clients is not a one-shot deal. Black's firm advises clients and helps them to implement exit strategies, typically over a five-year period. That translates into new revenue which comes in as each piece of the work is done.
Black's referrals also generate business for a law firm, Barth Berus & Calderon, LLP, also in Orange, Calif., which has a strategic partnership with Exit and Retirement Strategies. Barth Berus & Calderon focuses on practice areas from art law to trusts and estate planning to asset protection.
Black's video content is part of an educational process produced by Selling Technologies, in Langhorne, Pa. The company's video dramas aim to simplify complex issues, educate end clients and motivate them to act by connecting on an emotional level.
"We are basically disturbing people by seeing scenarios acted out by actors playing business owners, staff and so on," says Black. "Clients have told us, 'I felt like I was eavesdropping on a (hypothetical) conversation that I don't want my business partners or family to ever have.'"
Selling Technologies aims to get the advisor away from the product-sale approach and give them a methodology to connect with their clients, according to co-founder Michael Mainardi.
"These insurance advisors, financial planners, et cetera, are very, very knowledgeable on the product-information side of the table," says Mainardi. "But when they lead with product information, there is no point of differentiation in the perception of the client or prospective client."
Mainardi and his brother and partner, Jerry Mainardi, have a background in the advertising world, where they directed and produced ads and direct marketing communications for television, radio, online and print campaigns.
They started Selling Technologies in 1997 and after a few years entered an exclusive relationship with Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., which lasted 11 years. The company now has about 300 clients, including MassMutual producers and advisors at banks, broker-dealers and elsewhere.
Selling Technologies' tools are meant to drive revenue and assets under management to insurance producers, as well as help them establish their reputations with centers of influence, according to Michael Mainardi.
Black's firm, meanwhile, has achieved its success by focusing on Baby Boomer business owners who typically want to exit their businesses within five years.
Financial professionals such as CPAs or attorneys aren't geared toward advising those clients, says Black.
But exposing their clients to the workshops and to Exit and Retirement Strategies is a way for them to add value without directly offering such advice, Black says.
Black started his company 12 years ago. His background includes 15 years at the Principal Financial Group, where he was an advance strategist in the insurance an investments marketplace.