One of the most common questions asked by advisors looking to expand their work and engage clients is how to differentiate themselves. It’s no question that the marketplace is oversaturated with messages that may be absorbing your marketing efforts.
As discussed in a recent BEI blog about marketing goals, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will magically dub you as your client’s most trusted advisor. However, at the core of mapping out the marketing messaging for your Exit Planning practice is determining what your “differentiator” is.
Simply put, your differentiator is the unique value that you provide to your clients. Offering Exit Planning services in itself can be a unique value-add, but there are additional ways to position your value to stand out among your peers and to your clients and prospects.
According to a recent article by Hinge Marketing, a differentiator is defined as “a characteristic of your firm that separates you from key competitors and gives you a perceived advantage in the eyes of your target audience.”
Oftentimes advisors or professional firms work really hard to come up with their “wow” factor, only to find out that it isn’t hitting the mark. Hinge Marketing suggests that there are three important criteria that should be used to evaluate a differentiator:
It must be true.
Are the claims you are making about your firm and your services realistic? What policies, training, or procedures are in place that ensure the deliverability of your differentiator?
It must be relevant.
The solution that you provide to clients and prospects should be directly related to the selection criteria they value most when looking for advice. They won’t choose to work with you if they don’t see what role you play in their decision-making process.
It must be provable.
What tangible proof can you provide that will legitimize your claims? Prospects want hard evidence.
All three criteria above look at differentiation beyond great products and stellar service. Here’s what Michael Kitces, perhaps the most well-known consultant to financial advisors, says about the great service argument:
"It’s incredibly difficult to use “great service” as a differentiator. In fact, according to one recent study, 72% of all advisors differentiate on client service. And by definition, when the majority of advisors differentiate on the same point, it’s not differentiating anymore!"
Sharing Meaningful Differences
As far as Exit Planning goes, we look at differentiation in two ways. First, there are a variety of ways that you, the advisor, can use yourself and your practice as a means to differentiate. Secondly, which will be discussed in a blog post forthcoming, is an assortment of ways to use your client and their consumer identity as a means to differentiate.
The list below highlights a few meaningful differences between you and your competitors in terms of your offerings as an Exit Planning Advisor.
- Industry Specialization
Clients value advisors that know about their industry. Targeting a handful of specialty areas will help you develop credibility in the spaces that you work with. Be wary of focusing on too many industries as it could decrease credibility. On the other side of the coin, narrowing in on only one industry might backfire with changing economic conditions, so it is best to diversify, earning credibility in multiple areas.
Clients also seek relatability. Similar to industry specialization, a role-based proficiency can serve as a powerful differentiator for your practice. Who you have experience working with and what they do in their respective companies can oftentimes be important to prospects.
- Unique Connections
As an Exit Planning Advisor, you will work with a variety of professional service providers during the course of each Exit Planning engagement. This network that you’ve built can benefit your client and can be used as a differentiator too.
For example, if you have a business consultant that has worked alongside you on Advisor Teams, you can present this contact as a resource to clients who may also be seeking consulting services.
In addition, your ties to the community or other organizations (charitable or professional) may be suitable as a differentiator as well. For example, maybe your firm has deep roots in a geographical location that could draw in prospects, or, perhaps your working relationship with other firms might separate you from your competition.
- Unique Offerings
Working with business owners who haven’t yet done much planning for their business exit often have a hard time seeing the bigger picture. As an Exit Planning Advisor, it can be a major competitive advantage for you to use your planning process to stand out.
Exit Planning Advisors who are BEI Members have reported success in creating, modifying, and executing Exit Plans using the BEI EPIC software. This is because this software allows advisors to produce valuable deliverables and unique planning recommendations that are customized to their client.
In addition to being able to provide an Exit Planning Process, you can also provide a unique set of information not available to clients or prospects elsewhere. For example, as a BEI Member, you could make introductions to different advisors in the network, exclusive marketing materials, and more.
- Notable Accomplishments
In Exit Planning, expertise is what you sell. Your clients are buying your services because you are solving a problem. In addition, a strong reputation is one of the only factors that can overcome a relationship-building challenge.
As mentioned above, Exit Planning Advisors have unique offerings to provide clients. It would be doing yourself a disservice to downplay the training and education that you’ve put in to be able to provide Exit Planning.
- Staff Credentials
It can oftentimes be hard to make the quality of your team a differentiator, but suppose your firm only hires people with exceptional qualifications or training. This could certainly be used as a differentiating factor.
As far as credentials go, we have also heard of success that comes from a dedication to continued education or designations. For example, it could be framed as a unique Exit Planning value proposition to have multiple members of your staff complete the Advanced Exit Planning Series or go through the Certified Exit Planning Advisor (CExP) designation process.
- Business Model
It is common for businesses to attempt to compete on price alone. As an Exit Planning Advisor, you have the capability in defining your own business model by coming up with a fee structure or deposit structure that is different from that of your competitor.
Advantages of Differentiation:
All of the above ideas are just a few that you might be able to use to your advantage, particularly if they meet the differentiation criteria. By choosing a special characteristic regarding your experience, expertise, or offerings, your differentiator has the ability to:
- Convince prospects to work with you
- Entice a greater appeal to a larger target audience (more leads!)
- Increase loyalty from current clients
- Attract referrals
- Establish thought leadership
- Justify higher fees for Exit Planning
The Bottom Line
It is not always easy to determine a differentiator, and there is no rule that your practice has to have only one. The key is to choose an approach to differentiation that works for your team, research to identify perceptions, and validate them with the marketplace.
When you dedicate time to craft meaningful messages about your differentiators and vow to live them out in your work, that is what really separates you from key competitors and gives you an advantage.
As an Exit Planning Advisor, you’ve got a lot on your plate. When marketing isn’t your strong suit, it can be especially challenging to understand where to start when creating an effective marketing strategy. It’s important to find efficient ways to market your practice so you can spend more time planning for your clients.
When it comes to marketing efforts as they relate to Exit Planning, the marketing goals set should seek to communicate how you are an indispensable advisor to your clients and prospects. No matter your level of involvement in these marketing efforts, telling your story and setting the marketing goals will make all the difference in differentiating your practice, establishing expertise and credibility, retaining Exit Planning clients, and expanding your reach.
There are four goals that serve as a good starting point for your marketing efforts and will help to form an effective marketing strategy if used and modified as needed.
Those goals are:
- Brand Recognition
- Growing a Prospect List
- Client & Prospect Engagement
- Customized Follow-up
Goal #1: Brand Recognition
The goal of building brand recognition is really to solve the problems that are keeping your clients up at night. You want to be known as the advisor business owners turn to when they need help and be perceived as the go-to advisor for their business planning needs.
Think about what makes your practice unique. Further, what makes your customer unique?
Determining your ideal customer profile is a crucial first step in gaining the clarity necessary to know who you are targeting with your marketing efforts. Think about your practice in terms of the following attributes that can differentiate your services:
- Size of business
- Client net worth
- Age of the business and how that relates to a potential exit timeline
- Industry specialization
- Exit path expertise (family business, insider, third party sales, etc.)
Narrowing the focus of your practice based on the attributes not only points to factors that differentiate your practice, but it also defines your target client.
The next phase of brand recognition involves being clear about what it is, exactly, that you do. You’ve likely heard of crafting an elevator pitch, but to make things even simpler, start with creating a one liner that is specific to your ideal customer that you can use when you’re asked, “What do you do?”
The one liner should include:
- Your customer’s pain points
- How you solve that problem
- How do things look for the customer after that problem is solved
Not only can you use your one liner in conversation, but it can serve as somewhat of a branding statement to be used in your email signature, your marketing materials, on social media, and on your website.
You never want a prospect to see a message from you that is unclear, so taking the time to define your brand will promote clarity and recognition when it comes to clients or prospects viewing you as the answer to their questions. Overall, a focus on brand recognition will:
- Remind owners of what their life will look like after you solve their problem.
- Make it easier to stand out from other advisors.
- Give clarity of your offerings
Goal #2: Growing your Prospect List
The steps taken in goal one on brand recognition will add differentiation to your practice, which will ultimately drive prospecting activity. Now that you have your message, who are you going to send it to?
Some tips to grow your prospect list:
Consider building your network to include not only business owners you want to work with, but also other advisors that you want on your team. If it makes sense, you could also consider joining a peer advisory group, attending a networking event in your area, or getting involved in an industry association – all of which can get you in front of people who might be able to help you in the long run.
Beyond networking, after these connections are made you can then ask them for referrals. There are likely people in the networks of your clients and peers that could benefit from the work you are doing.
- Relevant Content
Be sure to put valuable content on your website that asks for contact information. For example, BEI’s business owner assessment is one piece of content that can ultimately go a long way in building an engagement with a prospect. It’s not only a conversation starter, but also lets you know what they are looking for and what needs they have that need to be met.
Goal #3: Keeping Prospects & Clients Engaged
When you are first building your prospect list and growing your network, a business owner might not be ready to move forward with planning right away. In fact, they may not even be able to articulate their pain points, therefore are hesitant to jump in. Staying in front of them with relevant content will frequently remind them of you and your brand when the timing is right.
A few content ideas you can offer to prospects:
- Case Studies
Case studies from previous clients allow you to document why they came to you for advice and what the result was. Mapping out where they were and how they got to where they wanted to be thanks to your help can show prospects that you have the capability to improve their personal and professional lives in an impactful way.
- Tell your own story
Why exactly do you do what you do and why is Exit Planning important to you? Being vulnerable and letting prospects in on your own story allows them to connect with you on a more personal and emotional level, making it easier to build rapport.
- Branded Content
BEI has branded content that you can personalize with your logos and contact information so you can have content available in your back pocket without having to write it yourself.
- Host a webinar or virtual presentation
Providing an educational webinar or a co-hosted event puts you in the position of being a subject matter expert. This credibility adds value and, by joining with another organization or network connection, allows you to expand your reach by getting your name out there to a broader audience.
- Frequently Share Content
Beyond having the content available, you want to be sure that you have a presence in the places where your client is looking for information. Having content shared on social media, though emails and on your website is important so that you meet clients where they are. Additionally, a consistent cadence is key so that prospects are reminded of you frequently.
Goal #4: Customize Your Follow-up
Lastly, customization is one of the most important processes to put into place as it will lead to the actual conversations you will have with your clients.
There are many software platforms out there that provide marketing automation to save you time and help you reach your marketing goals more efficiently. There are many options that cater to different list sizes, budgets, and the type of automation you are interested in doing.
Investing in this type of marketing tool will give you insight to email opens, email clicks, and website visits, to name a few. These statistics can show you:
- Who is interacting with your content?
- What topics are they interacting with?
- Are there trends in what is piquing interest?
Further, with many of these tools you can rank your prospects based on their profile and type of interaction. This type of functionality leads back to your ideal customer profile and can help you prioritize the prospects you should target outreach to based on the activity level and engagement they are making with your content.
For example, if a prospect clicks on a link in an email on a certain topic, having that insight would allow you the ability to not only follow up with them, but to provide them with additional content on that subject. Hence, this is why it is important to build a library of branded content featuring case studies, white papers, one-sheets and more to further engage prospects.
Finally, ask the prospect for a meeting. Once you have insight to the items they are interacting with, you should be able to start a conversation that will offer something beneficial to keep it going. Something as simple as offering a 10-minute assessment could identify the most concerning areas and leave them with a process of solving that problem.
By focusing on each of these different marketing goals, you will be able to move the needle when it comes to getting in front of the right audience. Taking the time to evaluate your marketing strategy will really make a difference to ensure that you have the time you need to do planning work for your clients and earn the title of their most trusted advisor.
Joe Markovitch is a Senior Business Advisor, BEI Licensed Exit Planner, and Co-founder of Solly’s Bagelry. Joe has more than 30 years of SME business experience in the Vancouver market. Joe’s personal business exit experience and the exit stories of many former SME business owners motivated his interest to learn more, and then guide owners to a better way of exiting their business.
Joe’s business owner experience, professional coaching practice and training certification make Joe a uniquely qualified and valuable source for information on this subject. Joe has also been a Business Instructor at Vancouver Community College for more than 10 years.
BEI: Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your practice, and how you got involved in the Exit Planning space?
For many years, I started and owned my own bakery business here in Vancouver, which is still in operation today after 28 years. After I sold my business, I gravitated into doing business advisory work because I had a lot of knowledge I wanted to share with other business owners from my own experience operating, selling, and transitioning out of business. Business hindsight is a valuable teacher. If only I had known then what I know now!
In 2016, I joined an advisory firm in Vancouver called Wardell International. I've been working with them for almost six years, helping business owners structure and systemize their businesses so that they can scale appropriately. I have found it to be extremely rewarding, but realized we only take our clients to a certain point. I felt like many of these business owners needed additional support with planning for their exit from their business. When I realized this gap and the need for Exit Planning services, I started learning about and incorporating Exit Planning into my core practice offerings.
I heard repeatedly from business owners that they were just not ready to exit. Many of them overestimated what they thought their business was worth, and many did not understand anything about transferable business value. Many business owners were unaware of what buyers were willing to pay for their business and did not have a clear understanding of what the value drivers were in their businesses that attracted prospective buyers. Many owners have the misconception that they can just find a buyer and sell. There is so much work that needs to be done just to prepare for a sale, not only from the business perspective, but also getting the owner emotionally ready for the sale, which is a very overlooked, yet vital step in the transition process.
I left my own company 13 years ago now, but that transition was a very profound experience for me personally after I spent 15 years starting something from scratch and building it up.
There is a lot to learn about the Exit Planning process, which I realized when I went through the experience myself. As I hoped to help others do the same, I decided to pursue training with BEI and really wanted to understand the holistic process.
One thing I love about the Exit Planning industry is the collaborative nature of it, which was very refreshing to me. These advisors are working together as opposed to competing. I thought that was an innovative approach. It makes the process run a lot smoother when advisors can work together. There is a synergy that happens that can generate some creative ideas.
BEI: Can you tell us about an unexpected challenge that you have run into in your career and how you overcame it?
I have learned a lot in my short career as an Exit Planning Advisor thus far. I have learned the importance of really focusing on my market and being able to qualify the people that are likely willing to do the work, but also those who will be willing to pay for this unique service. There are lots of people that would like advice, but when it comes to committing and paying for that advice, owners must recognize the value of someone who has experience and training in Exit Planning.
I have also learned that I do not have to limit myself to only working with owners in my local region. In this era, with the technology available, I can work with business owners across the globe. I have a client that I have had long-term relationship with that is located in Germany. However, with technology and today’s marketplace, we can maintain a relationship and work together just as if the business were here in Vancouver.
BEI: In your opinion, what qualities make a good advisor?
I think a good advisor should have a holistic view of the business and a realistic view of the future of the business. It is also important for an advisor to be empathetic and understand how the owner is feeling during a transition like this. I think the experience that I have myself as a business owner has given me credibility in terms of being able to understand what they are really going through.
In addition, being able to connect with people and build strong relationships is key to becoming a good Exit Planning Advisor. Being a good listener and really being able to understand what business owners want and need out of this transition is key as well. In building strong relationships, I have been able to help my clients build value in their business, because I understand where they are, and I understand where they are trying to go, and I can help facilitate closing that gap. Lastly, another important aspect of being a successful advisor is having resources and tools, including software, like the planning software and many other educational and marketing resources that BEI provides.
BEI: How has your involvement with BEI impacted your practice?
BEI has really been everything to me. Without the support, education, guidance, and coaching that I have received from BEI, I would not feel confident to have conversations with not only business owners and prospective clients, but other advisors. As I mentioned before, education is key. I am so grateful for the knowledge I was able to gain in the BEI Boot Camp and Advanced Exit Planning Series. I am now in the process of getting my Certified Exit Planning Designation. With this knowledge gained from this education, I now have the confidence to be able to talk about this topic in an authoritative way. Having contacts at BEI to help guide me through this process has significantly helped as well.
BEI: What is your favorite part of the planning process?
Recently, I have realized that marketing is the most valuable step of the process. My practice can only grow efficiently if I am able to connect and engage with people and educate them on the importance of Exit Planning. In this era, it has become a lot easier to cast a wider net and reach the right audience. I use social media, online advertising, my website, and educational videos that have been very impactful.
I have been making a lot of educational videos with the answers to many business owners' top concerns. Providing educational videos for business owners will enhance trust and credibility with clients and prospects. If prospects do not trust you, you will not be able to build a relationship with them or gain their business.
Education is the key to getting business owners to realize they need to take action to start Exit Planning early. Building awareness around the need for an Exit Plan and educating business owners and their circles of influence is really the first step. These educational marketing tactics have provided my clients with a better understanding of the process while also helping me to be seen as an expert on the topic. These marketing tactics have also helped me stand out from the other advisors in the industry.
If you, like Joe and so many other professional advisors, are looking for ways to collaborate and explore the Exit Planning industry, schedule a meeting with us today about how you can get involved in the broader BEI Network of Advisors.