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CMO Close-Up with John Wernz, Exec VP-CMO, Wealth Enhancement Group

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Wealth Enhancement Group is a financial services company based in Minneapolis that focuses on service providers and retail clients in the Midwest. The company's marketing department, headed by Exec VP-CMO John Wernz, is responsible for client acquisition, with sales playing a much smaller role. Its multiple marketing channels focus on awareness and brand-building, which in turn support an aggressive direct marketing program. CMO Close-Up: How have you structured your marketing team to drive leads and sales? Wernz: We're a marketing-driven organization, with marketing the focus on the front end. The person responsible for client acquisition is me, not the head of sales. We do all the prospecting, lead-gen and qualifying, and schedule appointments for our advisers. The advisers will have a role in closing business, but they actually do very little prospecting. Our financial advisers are full-time employees, and it's a great model. Usually, financial advisers are independents, lone wolves, who don't offer a unified experience. Here we have a tight sandbox, with an integrated brand approach. We have a group of about 20 marketers, whose skills range from branding and PR to direct response, interactive, direct mail and social. Our internal sales team functions more as a teleprospecting group, qualifying and advancing leads for the advisers. CMO Close-Up: Financial advice and asset management is a crowded field. What makes Wealth Enhancement Group different? Wernz: We use the acronym TIP. The “T” is for team, meaning we have estate and tax planners, insurance experts, core advisers and distribution experts through what we call the “Roundtable.” The “I” is for independence. We sell no proprietary products of our own. We only use third-party products and actually don't even hold our clients' assets. We believe that avoids conflicts of interest. And the “P” is for partnership. We believe in what we call “behavioral finance,” meaning we must understand clients' values, not just their goals. Goals change but values typically don't. CMO Close-Up: Tell us a little about your marketing channels? Wernz: It's a mix of two worlds: branding and direct response. We have a financial planning radio show, ”Your Money,” which is on 10 stations in the Midwest and which has been on the air with the same two hosts for 15 years. That creates awareness and credibility. We've also published several books and have columns in local newspapers. Our direct response team harvests that awareness, using direct mail and newspaper ads to drive response. We mail 2 million pieces a year. And we do seminars, online banners and search. To me the magic mix is making these all work together. You'd be shocked how many people who respond to our direct mail say they also listen to the radio show. We do most of our creative in-house, but for direct mail and targeting we use agency Paradysz, Minneapolis. CMO Close-Up: How does your customer-facing outreach impact your b-to-b business? Wernz: We have a couple of divisions that focus on b-to-b. Institutions come to us with their pension plans, for example, asking for help. We also have a division that does 401(k) retirement savings account management. That area is a nightmare of compliance, assuring that they're set up in the best interest of employees. We manage hundreds of millions of dollars in these assets for companies. We did start as a retail shop, but with the strong brand we've created in b-to-c, we see continued opportunity to leverage that on the b-to-b side. We do our b-to-b prospecting more through our teleprospecting team, as well as targeted direct mail. We see quite a bit of expansion coming here. CMO Close-Up: What new initiatives are you planning? Wernz: We are investing heavily in our CRM system, Microsoft Dynamics, which is all about lead nurturing and segmentation. Step two for us is marketing automation. We're looking at a number of vendors, in particular HubSpot. And of course we want to do more with social. That's hard in the financial services industry because there are strict limits on what we can say. But we already have Facebook and Twitter presences, and are launching our radio show on iTunes. That's a great channel in which to attach content.
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