Reeling them in Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2008

Bert Schweizer III set up a “pull marketing” plan at Buckingham Family of Financial Services for one simple reason: He didn’t like making cold calls.

Schweizer, one of four founding principals at Buckingham, realized in 2003 that pushing the investment firm wasn’t the best way to develop new prospects. Instead, he discovered that if the company was regarded as an expert in its field, customers would come on their own.

In the next three years, the company grew revenue to $40 million — a 151 percent increase in revenue from 2003 to 2006.

Smart Business spoke with Schweizer about how to pull customers to you by establishing yourself as an expert in your market.

Q. How do you position the firm as an expert in its field?

One technique we use for pull marketing is writing books. One of our principals authors books on investment topics. Then, those books are promoted through a public relations approach of getting the author interviewed in the print media and broadcast media, radio and television.

We do a lot of writing of articles for newspaper columns. So we do a lot of writing; then try to get those articles published.

Third, we have been successful at cultivating relationships with other financial reporters in the local newspapers but also in trade magazines in the industry. These relationships contact us periodically, if not for specific articles they want to do, at least for commentary.

Another strategy we’ve begun to develop the last couple years is creating white papers. This is original material that we develop that is designed to talk about subjects for specific groups.

Looking at niches like that and developing white papers along those niches is a way of positioning yourself as an expert.

Q. What are the advantages of cultivating relationships with the media?

The most important one is that relationship can lead to your name and, more importantly, your firm name appearing in print. By appearing in print, it develops not just recognition on a more consistent basis by potential prospects, but it also leads to our appearance to a group who may not know of us as an expert in an area in which they’re looking for solutions.

Q. How do you cultivate relationships with your clients?

It begins from the first introduction to the prospect. We initiate a program that we call ‘discovery.’ ... We go through discovery to really learn from that first meeting with a prospect of what’s important to them.

We really probe. When we first meet with a prospect, it’s all about us asking questions about what’s important to that prospect. That is the way we’ve found to be successful to immediately establishing that relationship.

That’s in contrast to what we first did when we began Buckingham. The first thing we did when we met a prospect was all about telling them how smart we were.

We’ve turned that around. In many ways, our pull marketing strategy has already established that we know what we’re talking about.

It’s like going to the doctor. When you go to the doctor, do you go there and question his ability to give medical advice very often? No, you already believe he’s an expert in health care, and he will have the answers.

What you want to do is hopefully have him ask you, ‘What’s bothering you?’ And, ‘Tell me more about it so I can help solve your problem.’

They don’t spend time telling you where they went to medical school and how much training they had in their specialty. We’re the same way. We’ve turned it around and now we approach it much more like the medical service industry would. We’ve found we don’t need to tell you that we’re smart guys, especially if someone referred you here. The person referring you probably already said, ‘These are smart guys. They know what they’re talking about.’

That’s where it begins and that’s where it differs from the strategy of how we began doing this 13 years ago. It starts with developing that relationship upfront.

Q. How do you maintain relationships with your clients?

The really important key to maintaining that relationship is contact. We have a systematic program that is designed to try to have 28 contacts a year with our clients.

It sounds like a lot, but a contact can be an e-mail, a face-to-face meeting, receiving our newsletter, having a client appreciation event, sending a card on their birthday or, if they’re going on a cruise, having a gift certificate in their cabin they can use.

Q. How does maintaining contact with clients benefit the firm?

The key benefits are that it helps accomplish what we want, which is maintaining a long-term relationship with our clients, and, secondly, it shows we really care about them, in more ways than just how their investment portfolio may be doing.

It’s that caring, that client-first attitude, that helps the client feel good about referring their friends, family and colleagues to us.

HOW TO REACH: Buckingham Family of Financial Services, (314) 725-0455 or www.bamstl.com