(Original Article on Nasdaq: https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/cracking-the-code-to-virtual-seminars-during-social-isolation-2020-04-22)
Leading your firm through a dire external crisis, addressing the heightened concerns of your clients, and continuing a business growth dynamic all combine into a very challenging calculus. The coronavirus pandemic has thrown many organizations into rapidly navigating new ways to transition from the traditional workplace - and established ways of doing things - to a new virtual working environment. The question of the moment is: How do you re-design your firm to effectively communicate, enhance productivity and stay agile during times of crisis and uncertainty?
Exploring these critical topics led us to reach out to Dean Thurman, Mike Thurman, Jeff Grail Co-Founders and Evan Kramer, CEO of White Glove – an award-winning end-to-end premium marketing and client retention services company that specializes in the logistics of planning, managing and promoting educational seminars for financial advisors and other industry professionals. They are an excellent example of a firm whose whole business model - attracting nearly 50,000 annual seminar attendees to thousands of advisor events - had to very quickly accelerate to virtual and web-based solutions. White Glove now provides a seamless transition to virtual communication for financial professionals into Virtual Seminars and other web-based products to help advisors leverage their financial guidance during the current crisis.
Their willingness to share how they rapidly transformed their value proposition from face-to-face seminar logistics to being able to offer turnkey virtual events makes an excellent case study for everyone in the financial services industry...especially now, when Google searches for ‘webinars’ and ‘financial help’ are at an all-time high. Here are some of the best steps and leadership practices for bridging the gap between the actual and virtual world at a time when our communities need our services the most.
Hortz: In building your new Virtual Seminar and community engagement offering, what were the first main strategic management decisions you had to make before proceeding?
Dean Thurman: We started by creating a shared goal and purpose that was clear from the very beginning: our local communities need advice and knowledgeable financial professionals more than ever. With all normal physical interactions out the window and having to move the entire process to digital experiences and virtual meetings, we focused ourselves to help address these challenges with technology to smooth over some of this friction for advisors - and their clients and prospects.
Evan Kramer: White Glove, from a technology and logistics basis, has always been focused on removing work from our advisor clients so our shared goal on this new virtual offering was easy to rally around. We just applied our already existing approach to design a new Virtual Seminar and community engagement process from A-Z. Our mission has always been to make it easy for the advisor to connect with their local communities - retirees, pre-retirees, and other demographics. As a concierge business, we decided to manage every aspect of quality control of this transition in real time, and this dedicated resource can now deliver that experience even better than a live seminar.
Hortz: What were the first steps you took and what considerations did you address to position for successful execution?
Evan Kramer: I had a lot of experience in this area already. I came to White Glove from a virtual learning company where we did thousands of virtual events each year. I was able to quickly educate the company on the playbook of what we needed. This included: the ability to manage webinars at scale; the ability to consider user experience of attendees for optimal educational engagement; being able to better measure and qualify learning outcomes; as well as, the ability to better optimize length of events and scheduling.
These are all things that many companies figure out as they go, but it is imperative to master these concepts immediately for the sake of the client. In White Glove’s case, we needed to do so right out of the gate so that our client, the advisor, is accurately showcased as the knowledgeable thought leader that they are...the first time around. Mastering these areas of the playbook right away provides a top-notch consumer experience that is going to motivate them to secure their financial future and tell their peers about it.
We then assessed what we had foundationally so that we could determine what else we needed. We quickly reorganized the business to focus more particularly on our educational product experience in a virtual environment. Moving forward, this is going to become increasingly important.
Mike Thurman: We had to make some key design decisions right up front.
The biggest challenge with this crisis, we agreed, is that it will force advisors to change their habits, along with their clients’. We had to focus to make our solution as simple and turnkey as possible. There are a lot of people who really did not do much digitally because they either did not have the education or enough familiarity with how to do it. They never saw a need for it.
Also, given the lack of technical savviness on the part of older consumers - which a lot of advisors tend to target as their clientele - we chose to use a platform that does not require software. Instead, it is web-based and does not require downloading of any software. For a younger demographic, that is not a big deal. But for our older consumers, that is like building a moat between our Virtual Seminar and the consumer themselves. So that was also an important consideration early on in building out our solution.
Hortz: What did you determine are the main differences between a live event and a virtual event?
Dean Thurman: I would say that the content and the quality of the education between the Host and the learners are exactly the same. There are, however, plenty of differences in delivery.
Pros: Neither the Host nor the attendees are restricted by geography. They are not limited by the weather or parking. They do not have to get in a car for 30 minutes and drive there. All that friction goes away for both the Host and the learner. Acknowledging that and selling the convenience of a virtual meeting environment for the learners is crucial. Consumers can now learn about estate planning, taxes in retirement, Social Security, Medicare, how to diversify their portfolio, all in their pajamas. From a client or prospect perspective, that is priceless.
Cons: We do lose some of that direct interpersonal relationship dynamic we are used to developing. And so, the challenge for every one of our advisor virtual Hosts, as well as ourselves, is how to keep things warm, fuzzy and human in this digital context. And that is something that nobody has cracked the code on yet, but we are working hard and improving every day on turning a cold digital world into a connected, personal environment.
Hortz: The goal for seminars is to educate and build a connection with audience participants leading to their setting up a personal appointment after the seminar. Is it harder to attain that pivotal connection point in a virtual environment and, if so, what do you do to address that challenge?
Dean Thurman: Just like in front of a live audience, there needs to be passion. A presenter must project excitement. They need that same energy as if they were there in-person and their personality still need to shine through. White Glove has always provided seminar coaching for free from Frank Maselli of the Maselli Group. He is a leading guru and presentation coach on how to have strong openings, strong sales closings and convey charisma, no matter if it is a webinar or a live event. It is also important to make the talk simple and direct, using lots of visuals and variety. People are used to stimulation, maybe more so in a virtual environment.
Mike Thurman: Make it personal. Share stories, share experiences, and make analogies throughout the presentation - and it must be real. People know when something is contrived. So, share a personal story and experience to make that personal connection with each one of the learners listening. That is really, really important. Whether it is live or virtual, that does not change. Some things just stay the same and that is one important personal engagement truth that does stay the same.
Hortz: You already have carefully crafted very simplified and engaging content on complex financial topics. How are you addressing changes in its delivery to a remote virtual setting?
Dean Thurman: The content and the quality of the education between the Host and the learners are exactly the same. What changed is the virtual delivery. To assist advisors, White Glove created a moderator feature and full-service real-time tech support during the virtual event. And on top of that, we are now including our flagship industry standard “triple guarantee”: guaranteed registration, guaranteed attendees, and guaranteed success. This is included with our Virtual Seminars as well.
Mike Thurman: Other industries are facing the same challenges and making the same shifts. Medicine is one that comes to mind. Just yesterday, my daughter had a doctor's appointment online with a tele-doctor who practices medicine virtually. If doctors can do it well, financial advisors can do it too.
Hortz: How do you bring the right prospects to your virtual webinars? How and where do you get leads for the most motivated webinar listeners?
Evan Kramer: Finding and driving qualified prospects to advisors’ events is our expertise. We use strategic local digital marketing to find the right prospects who are searching for financial information and engage them on a timely basis. By using millions of data points on consumers - each individual consumer has 52,000 data points! - we can target and engage those who are considered a quality prospect.
We then handle the invitations, registrations, email and text reminders and outbound human confirmation calls to ensure most interested prospects show up - all with no risk to an advisor’s domain reputation. It leaves the advisor with nothing to do but show up and demonstrate passion on topics. It frees them up to have fun and connect with the audience. Our advisor Hosts also receive the contact information for those who signed up but, did not attend the Virtual Seminar.
Hortz: What do you say to advisors who have never done Virtual Seminars before, are not familiar with the technology and may be nervous to be on camera? How can you help advisors with these obstacles to succeed in a virtual environment?
Dean Thurman: We understand that not every advisor is used to hosting webinars or is tech savvy, which is why each Virtual Seminar comes built-in with Concierge support both before and during the event to manage any technical issues and answer questions. We also offer complimentary one-on-one training prior to the virtual event.
Additionally, White Glove hosts at least one Host University each year where we bring together successful White Glove advisor Hosts from around the U.S. and Canada where we exchange ideas. Our next Host University will probably be virtual and focus on best practices for a Virtual Seminar. We have engaged some of the top experts in the industry doing virtual meetings so that we can share their pro tips on what building engagement and a virtual community looks like. And I think by watching our training videos and learning from these experts, advisors are going to feel much more comfortable and be able to present themselves more confidently.
Mike Thurman: Part of this training includes providing tips and pointers for being in front of the camera and really connecting with the audience during a Virtual Seminar. It also covers how to present with confidence, use of gestures and the use of the technology with a dedicated Account Executive who ensures they are comfortable. Our team loads up the slides and has the platform set up so the Host and their team does not waste hours setting all this up. Advisors are supported with everything they would need to know in order to be successful at being a financial educational resource - a true turnkey solution.
Jeff Grail: Let me add that, at first, it may seem incredibly challenging to create this inviting environment for someone who is unfamiliar or unpracticed in the technology behind these virtual events. But like anything else, doing this for the first time feels new. It is different. It is unpredictable. But the more it is done, the more it will become comfortable and normal.
A great example is when this first started, we were doing Zoom meetings and it required some learning. Then I started doing Zoom meetings with family members and now, rather than having them come over for dinner, we are having dinner virtually. It has only been a couple of weeks and it is already starting to feel normal. It's kind of cool and fun and we got used to it. So, I think people with this crisis are going to get used to the digital format and it is not going to be as foreign as it may be now. Advisors should be reassured that they will be able to build a relationship across a computer screen with somebody and this will help then expand their reach across the country.
Hortz: Any last thoughts or points you would like to share with fellow advisors about the need to pivot your business model to have a virtual client and community engagement strategy?
Mike Thurman: Unfortunately, this is not going to be the last pandemic or other world-changing event, and everybody deep down knows that. The human race is evolving and starting to become comfortable with the idea of digital interaction with other human beings. This is an opportunity for an advisor to interact with clients and prospects when they are needed most and can contribute to society.
There was already a trend forming where every advisor is slowly becoming a FinTech and digital business. If they were not already using technology, they are now being forced to. This is merely a full-frontal catalyst. Financial advisors need to get comfortable with virtual relationships or seriously reconsider their position in the industry. At the end of the day, clients and prospects will remember the financial professionals who are able to offer connection, guidance, and reassurance during troubling and isolated times.
Jeff Grail: One of the things I love the most about White Glove is that we are innovators. We have pivoted to this virtual world very quickly and we're really excited about it. When the pandemic is over, we will be able to start doing live events again. However, I feel that we're going to continue with Virtual Seminars and we'll continue to innovate from there with other future virtual web products. I can tell you one thing - we will all need to continue to experiment to stay on the cutting edge. We were the pioneers of digital community engagement marketing with financial advisors and we will always continue to do that, whether it is live or digital.