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What Happens When An MBA Student Researches 30 Investment Advisory Marketing Firms?

MBA student Jonathan Poyer contacted me in late June for help with a research project on investment advisory marketing companies. I vaguely remembered Jonathan contacting me five years earlier when he had an internship at Orion Advisor Services, but don't know him. Advisor Products tries to be transparent and behave nicely, however, so  I directed him to our website and offered to connect him with our marketing and sales department.

A month later, after completing his research, Jonathan contacted me again to thank me. In an email, he told  me how difficult it was to get straightforward answers from marketing companies specializing in serving investment advisors but that  Advisor Products was different.

Because he was indpendent and unbiased, I asked Jonathan to summarize what he learned in doing his research. Here’s what he says.   

This summer, as an MBA intern at Brigham Young University, I chose to work for Gemini Fund Services; a company I worked for previous to business school.  I worked on a great project putting together a business plan for a new entity that Gemini has been looking into.

A major portion of my project this summer was to obtain market research on third party marketing firms in the investment advisory space; especially those that provide marketing services for mutual funds.  I spent over a month working on this project; speaking with over 30 firms as I wanted a comprehensive understanding of the industry.  Since I had been in the business a number of years, I obtained information through contacts at the major custodians.  In addition, I found a number of firms through Google searches, marketing events, and others through references on marketing collateral or websites.  All told, I was able to interview almost 30 different people that focus on assisting investment professionals with their marketing initiatives.  The two major questions that I sought to answer included: what key services do you provide and what is the general pricing for those services. 

I discovered there are ample resources available in the investment advisory space when it comes to marketing.  I had great conversations with some very impressive people. The breadth of services offered is equally impressive: website development, marketing collateral, branding, logo development, drip content, newsletters, outbound email, outbound calls, third-party wholesalers, etc.  Many of these firms have people with great experience in the industry and can see things from both sides of the table.  I did not speak to a single firm that I questioned whether they could craft an advisor’s story into an effective marketing plan.

However, in regards to the second question that I sought to have answered; I found direct answers much more difficult to obtain.  Only a handful of firms were straight forward with their pricing.  I specifically asked for a “high level idea of your pricing”, so I could put something in place for my pro-forma documents and outline.  I heard many vagaries but very little specifics.  There were a couple of companies that I spoke with that provided detailed pricing.  Among them was Advisor Products.  I was extremely impressed with their transparency and willingness to outright share detailed pricing directly on their website.  They did not shirk at all from their expertise.  It was clear that Advisor Products stands firmly behind their services and is confident that a better solution cannot be found elsewhere; to the tune of complete transparency before one even begins to work with them.

It seems to me that in our industry, there is a fear of sharing information about fees and pricing.  I think that this is a mistake.  It is frustrating and disingenuous to see a firm unable to commit to how much they charge for their services.  If one is proud of what they do, one ought to stand behind their expertise and that includes standing behind pricing.  After all, you are worth the price people pay for what you do!  Advisors do not have the time to fill out forms and take the time to have conversation after conversation while marketers “figure out” the appropriate fee.  It should be provided up front for the sake of time and out of respect for potential clients.

I spent a lot of time speaking with marketing firms and clients to understand their marketing needs and what type of message they are hoping to present to their clients and prospects.  I found that with so much competing for peoples’ attention and time, those on both side of the table are seeking transparency and an understanding of what “bang” they are getting for their “buck”.  When it feels like one party is holding something back in a conversation, it puts me on the defensive and I almost immediately put that firm to the back of my list.  Whereas firms that are open and willing to share as much as possible, move to the front of my list and become trusted partners.

Jonathan Poyer

BYU MBA 2011

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