(investors) -- Salespeople who chase big accounts are sometimes called elephant hunters. They curry favor with the wealthiest prospects.
For advisors, selling themselves to a well-heeled clientele requires a coordinated strategy to court skeptics who are used to fending off service providers. Planners who combine engaging people skills with sharp technical knowledge tend to succeed.
Setting clear parameters improves your outreach. While definitions vary, some advisors seek to work with individuals with a net worth ranging from $5 million to $25 million.
"The high-net-worth tend to be pretty private," said Liz Miller, a certified financial planner in Summit, N.J. "They're always a target for business. They feel it's rare to interact with someone who just listened to them, so it's important to listen."
Yet eliciting information from them can pose a challenge. Unless they know you well, they may not want to reveal details about their finances.
Miller finds that asking open-ended questions such as, "Have you ever worked with an advisor and what has your experience been?" works better than declaring, "I want to learn all about you."
"If you say you want to learn all about them, they'll think, 'Of course you do,' " Miller said. "They'll wonder why should they give you that time" and divulge sensitive information so that you can sell to them.
Get Better Referrals
Traditional marketing campaigns can attract wealthy clients. But adding a personal touch increases your odds of success.
"The best advertising is through a client's board of directors," said Kathleen Grace, a certified financial planner in Boca Raton, Fla. "I've built close relationships with attorneys, CPAs and other experts who give advice" to high-net-worth individuals.
To meet these key influencers, Grace has served on nonprofit boards and other community organizations. In these groups, she builds rapport and introduces new contacts to her firm.
She also gains high-net-worth clients through referrals. But she prefers not to request them outright.
"If you ask a high-net-worth client for a referral, they might think that you need it," she said. "They might think you're just a marketing machine and you won't have time for them."
Instead, she positions herself as clients' "biggest advocate." Impressed, they often initiate referrals without her prodding.
From negotiating funeral costs to helping clients' children understand the impact of charitable giving, Grace looks for ways to deliver value. The more services she provides, the more referrals she's apt to get.
"(Investment) performance matters, don't get me wrong," she said. "But it's not about performance. Our clients are very educated and understand it's not just about the return."
To market to the rich, consider hosting events with an air of exclusivity. Mix socializing with stimulating activities to woo more fans to your firm.
Robert Karn, a certified financial planner in Farmington, Conn., organizes fun gatherings at his office. Examples include a seminar in which a professional photographer discussed how to use Photoshop and an antique party where each attendee brought an item for an expert to appraise.
"We include dinner and invite clients to bring friends," he said. "No products are discussed. There's no selling. We try to make it low-key and unthreatening."
When pitching your services to the top 1%, beware of trying to ingratiate yourself with them. Authenticity matters more than familiarity.
"They want a relationship where you're not a peer, but someone who understands the experiences they face on a daily basis," Miller said.
"It's not 'I'm just like you.' It's 'I understand and let me share similar situations and how I've addressed them.' "
Because vast wealth can isolate people, advisors who talk about how they've assisted others can stand out, Miller adds.
Concrete examples of how you've solved problems or simplified a client's finances can persuade a high-net-worth prospect to sign on.
'Live Cold Call'
Like Karn, Miller burnished her reputation by hosting events such as educational workshops on family legacy planning and other topics relevant to wealthy audiences. Typically, 10 to 20 people would show up, and she might convert one to a client.
"I viewed these workshops as a targeted live cold call," Miller said. "They were not positioned for sales or even to suggest my business for them."
She held her sessions — often less than two hours — in high-end retirement communities. Attendees who completed a survey after each workshop received a summary of tips.
"We also ask if they want our newsletter," she said. "We may return to the same venue once or twice a year with a different topic. To a young advisor, it sounds like a long process. But this clientele is rather private and perhaps skeptical of our industry. So you have to commit the time" to win them over.