Is it Time to Cut Back on Our Office Space?
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.
What do you think about having a chief marketing officer (CMO) in an advisory firm?
We have been spending a great deal of time and money upgrading our website, creating a newsletter and writing blogs. None of us is good at this. It is taking hours and hours of our time. One of my senior advisors has floated the idea of a CMO. I didn’t know what this was, but we researched it and seems like it could be someone to oversee those activities and provide strategy for what we need to do next.
Times are a bit tougher and our revenues are down. I don’t want to pay a hefty sum for something that has “chief” in the title. Is it a necessary role? Could we outsource these functions for the time being? Could a marketing assistant or someone right out of school with a marketing degree help us?
I want to leverage the work we’ve been doing but I don’t see paying a huge salary with benefits when we are not doing marketing work on a large scale all of the time.
This is an ongoing dilemma for many advisory firms. You want to do consistent marketing (and you should) but it typically isn’t anyone’s strength or particular area of focus. It gets assigned to an advisor or support person. But then the reality of the time involved and the fact that you have to keep it going starts to dawn! But hiring a full-time senior person is often much more costly than is necessary.
There is no good answer to your question; it depends on the firm. Generally, for smaller to mid-sized advisory firms, a CMO is not necessary. If you make marketing a centerpiece of what you do, such as having ongoing events or coming up with new and different ways to communicate with prospects and clients, then a CMO could be kept busy. But the role doesn’t warrant the salary and investment.
Identify what activities you would need a marketing-oriented person to do. If you have recently overhauled your website, put new communication strategies in place and mapped out a plan, you might not need strategy help. Identify the tasks you need done, how much time you expect they should take and the “vision” you might have for future marketing activities. This will help you normalize the role. Once you know the duties, go out to job sites and see what title is generally given to these duties.
You certainly could outsource the responsibilities by taking similar steps, identifying what duties need to be done and what you hope would be done in the future. In today’s COVID environment, everyone is working outsourced, so try a 1099 situation for a period of time and see what works and what doesn’t.
There are a number of online sites, such as guru.com and elance.com, where people with all kinds of skills, including marketing, are available for small jobs here and there. There are also consulting firms that offer more full-service outsourced marketing. Consider hiring an intern in a marketing undergrad or graduate program. I teach at a university and am often stunned at the level of expertise and knowledge of students in our programs. Talk to your local colleges or universities about this, too.
Start by exploring external options and then determine, over time, whether you need a full-time role.
We are in shut-down mode for the long haul. Things are opening up, but will clients want to come back to our office, or have us in their home, once this is declared “over”? We are having meetings online and it is going fine. Clients are opening up more about their worries and fears in these times as they are pushed to think about their planning, their values and their mortality in face of what’s happening. We pay a large chunk of our monthly expense to rent space in a very nice building just outside a major metropolitan area.
Is it too soon to think about downsizing our space? Do you see long-term trends like this coming out of this period?
I would not have so much hubris as to think I can predict long-lasting trends as significant as the ones you are referring to. One of my longest tenured, largest clients is in the commercial real estate space. I hope, for their sake, everyone doesn’t decide working from home is the best option forever and ever.
However, we need to rethink how we interact with prospects, clients and team members. We need to consider alternative modes of communication and engagement. For many years, advisors have favored the face-to-face meeting. The millennial generation, with its bent toward technology, was already pushing everyone to think of more technology-based engagement. COVID has sealed the need for it in spades. If clients will open up via phone, Zoom or WebEx and share their fears and concerns, why is it necessary to force a face-to-face meeting? Who is benefitting from this? Time is the most elusive commodity for everyone we encounter – what if we were all able to save time by not having to drive to meetings, or fly to a different city in order to engage? Of course, outside of commercial real estate this would have broad-based implications for many industries and would mean a wholesale change to our culture.
What if advisors could use this chance to ask clients what sort of communication they most enjoy and prefer? I’ve always spoken about the “menu” of options that advisors should offer to their clients. If I don’t want to meet once a year in person, why force me to do so? If you can get me to open up over Zoom and share my dreams and desires and that helps you, as the advisor, create a clear plan and portfolio for me, what’s wrong with that? But if I am a person who needs face-to-face in order to trust, give me that option too.
With teams, we operate in what I fondly refer to as a “meeting mania” approach. Many of my large and small clients move from meeting to meeting to meeting running from one conference room to another. They are pulled in even when it isn’t necessary. Maybe in a virtual world we will think more about the necessity of attending each and every meeting. We can consider which meetings are imperative.
This struck me a couple of days ago when a client of mine thanked me profusely for just sending her a phone number to call – she said she is so tired of being on screen and attending meetings staring at her computer that having a simple phone call felt like a “break.” This scenario gives us a chance to re-imagine what we do, how we do it and what matters most.
I can’t predict what will come out of doing this. But I hope we don’t miss the chance to make necessary changes as a result.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.