All Career Insights

Niche-marketing: Climbing the ladder with top execs

How to specialize your practices and become the go-to financial expert for your audience

There are thousands of financial professionals out there who know the basics of retirement savings, why would someone work with you?

With niche marketing, you can use fewer resources at a lower cost to build stronger relationships with greater referrals. What’s not to like?

The only con with niche marketing is that you really need to know what you’re talking about.

If you claim to be the Twin Cities’ go-to financial pros for physicians, you better have the ultra-relevant resources and market expertise to back your claim.

In our latest Advanced Advisor Insights email, we talked to three advisors who narrowed their markets to see exponential growth, including Joe Burgess:

Joe Burgess, CFP®, AIF®, CLU, ChFC

As a founding partner at Moxie Wealth Management, a fast-growing firm in Minneapolis, Joe works with top executives at Fortune 500 companies.

When did you decide to market specifically to this group of people?

I was doing volunteer work for the St. John’s Alumni Board. I was speaking to the parent committee talking about how embarrassed I was at how SJU was handling a situation. It was a 15-minute presentation, and afterward, one of the parents ran me down in the hall and said, “I want to work with you.”

Turns out, that parent was the president of the most profitable business unit at Cargill. He eventually moved up two or three more positions to the corporate leadership team—which represents the top seven individuals in the company (including family members).

What specific needs does this group have that you are prepared to address?

For starters, at a certain level within the organization, you start qualifying for their long-term incentive program (LTIP). This is a combination of stock options, stock grants, restricted stock units, performance shares, and cash bonuses. For many Cargill employees this is the first time they start to look for a financial professional.

As part of this process, many of these clients have specific tax questions that play into their decisions. So, we have done a good job of including Ann Elliott, North Star’s tax expert, and other CPAs to assist in tax planning (not just tax preparation) when it comes to managing these assets.

North Star financial professionals have access to our subject-matter experts in disability insurance, financial planning, investments, and more, who will serve as a resource to them and their clients.

And then, of course, many of these clients have at least a state estate tax issue. So, we also try to control the relationship with the estate planning attorney. The attorney will help us determine how assets should be owned and how beneficiaries should be written. Very often, we are trying to even out the estate between the husband and wife to add flexibility to their estate plan. Further, in several cases, we have created ILITs where the attorney drafts those documents.

How did you build a client base of these people?

One would think that you try to set up seminars and knock out as many new clients as you could in short order. However, with the guidance of Joe Fox, senior partner at North Star, who has spent a career embedding himself in corporate environments, we chose to go at it slow and methodical.

Early on, I asked for a list of all the VPs or higher in each business unit from clients. As I would do reviews, I would prompt clients to see who they knew. My language was something like, “John Smith has come up in conversations with our clients at your company a number of times. We were thinking he might be a good fit for us. Do you know that person?”  If they did, we would ask for a favorable introduction. If they didn’t, we’d just say it was no big deal and we’ll get connected through our other clients.

The benefit of a deliberate, methodical approach is twofold: First, we did not hit the radar of a large corporation. Meaning, if we tried to do a seminar, their HR would likely interview three companies to determine who would offer it. We didn’t want to have a big enough “program” that someone else would have an opportunity to nudge us out.

The second benefit is picking and choosing who we wanted. If we did a seminar, we would have to meet with every employee who showed up. Most people at each organization know who has a tough personality and would be difficult to work with. We wanted to avoid those people.

When we were going through a prompting list, we would ask things like; “It this person cool? Would you have a beer with them? Are they eligible for LTIP? Do they have legs in the organization?”  We essentially had people looking out for us and kind of gave the impression that you had to be a certain caliber to both monetarily and personality-wise to get into the “club,” so to speak.

How has your practice grown since you specialized?

Long-term incentive programs tend to involve a lot of money and are incredibly stressful for executives to manage on their own. Once the word gets out that you are an expert at an organization, the executives that receive those benefits seek you out. Many of our new executive clients are call-ins looking for that advice.

In addition, the nice thing is, when you figure out one company’s program, is that the other Fortune 500 companies offer very similar programs. So, not only have Joe Fox and I become known experts for the high-level executives at Cargill, but I have separately transferred that knowledge to work with top executives at 3M and Best Buy.

Advice for others looking to enter the high-net-worth executive market?

Partner with a senior financial professional. What I have learned about this business is that you can’t fake it. It’s obvious to your clients when you are over your head, and as Todd Bramson, North Star senior partner, puts it, “You don’t even know what you don’t know.”

It was about 2006 when I partnered with Joe Fox to begin marketing with Cargill. At the time, I had 10 years of experience at North Star with very few clients you would call “high net worth.” Joe took years off my learning curve. I received first-hand experience (even as a joint advisor) with clients whose net worth are in the tens of millions.

Now, when I meet with high-net-worth clients on my own, I can draw on that experience to guide the planning process with total confidence. And like everything in this business, the more success you have, the more success you have. There is a larger and larger niche of high-net-worth executives who know that we are specialists and seek us out. It’s a long journey and a lot of work to get here, but it’s a great place to be.

Joe is an investment advisor representative of Cetera Advisor Networks, LLC.

Financial professionals do not provide tax, legal or real estate advice, and this should not be considered as such. Please consult with a tax, legal or real estate professional for advice regarding your specific situation.