Skip to main content

Three truths about using marketing to generate leads

February 16, 2023
clock 5 MIN READ
Shauna Mace, CHPC

Head of Practice Management

In 2005, I landed my first job, a full-time marketing associate at a RIA firm in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Over the next 15 years I spent a lot of time focused on how marketing could help firms grow. When I launched a growth consulting and coaching business in 2020, I put my marketing skills to the test to grow my own small business from scratch.

I chose a content marketing strategy based on my ideal client, strengths, and goals (three critical components to building an effective marketing strategy), and generated over 40 qualified leads in the first year.

Years later, I still consider myself a marketer. I’ve seen firsthand many marketing successes and failures, and believe full-heartedly in its power and role in sustainable growth. However, it’s rare that I come across an advisor or advisory firm who feels like they are successful marketers, which frankly baffles me.

Why do so many advisors struggle with organic growth and specifically marketing?

With referrals driving the majority of organic growth, I understand why many firms are hesitant to spend too much time and money on marketing efforts. If you’re getting enough leads through referrals, great. If not, there are some realities to understand before diving head first into the marketing pool.

There is no right approach to marketing

According to the "InvestmentNews 2022 Advisor Benchmark Study,"1 which SEI sponsors, the most “effective” initiative—community involvement—worked for less than half of respondents. There was no clear approach that respondents reported as consistently “effective.”

The top three most effective marketing initiatives are:

  • Community involvement (46.5%)
  • Website design that allows for digital lead nurture and conversion (41.2%)
  • Hosting networking events, e.g., seminars or client appreciation events (32.5%)

The bottom three (the least effective) marketing initiatives are:

  • Newspaper/magazine/online content (4.4%)
  • No marketing activities undertaken (3.5%)
  • Direct mail campaigns (1.8%)

Interestingly, what I’d consider traditional marketing—including direct mail, content (blogs, podcasts, radio shots, and digital content), paid advertising (digital and print) and SEO—were largely not effective according to the study.

Should we disregard these tactics? No! If done well, they can be very effective in generating awareness and leads. There are a number of advisory firms using these tactics, and others, with great results. They aren’t luckier or smarter than their peers. The tactics simply make sense for them and they are doing them well.

Remember, marketing is a competency, just like financial advice. Those who do it well typically have some knowledge and skill, or are getting help from an expert. 

Expect to get what you pay for

If you want to do marketing well, I would recommend investing in it. My colleague Gabe Garcia and financial marketing expert and CEO of FiComm, Megan Carpenter, discussed this topic in depth.

While it may not pay for itself right away, advisory clients (especially fee-based) and AUM clients are often profitable for many years, making that initial investment worthwhile with even one or two new clients. 

Does that mean hiring a full-time marketing professional? Likely not, especially if you are a small to mid-sized firm. If you’re a large ensemble or enterprise firm, maybe.

According to the "InvestmentNews Benchmark Study,"1 only about 8% of solo firms and 11% of ensemble firms employed a marketing manager in 2021 when the data was collected. The median total compensation for this role was $73,457.

The average revenue firms spent on marketing, not including compensation to marketing staff, was a measly 1.6% according to the benchmark study. For context, the average U.S. business spends over 9% of their revenue on marketing.

What’s going on?

Skepticism. Many advisor firms haven’t experienced marketing working and I imagine it feels too risky, uncomfortable, and foreign to go for it.

If you’re serious about wanting to generate more leads, do the pre-work using the SEI generate leads toolkit. You’ll uncover your potential marketing weaknesses, define your marketing goals, and desired return on your investment, and go find a marketing partner to help you.

Once you’ve figured out what works (it can take time, rarely do you figure it out right away), it may eventually make sense to hire a part or full-time marketer.

Even if you don't lean into marketing, your digital presence matters

Our strategic partner, Snappy Kraken, provides digital marketing (including website services) for financial advisors. They developed a guide, How to Personalize Your Online Presence for Your Target Audience, to help you personalize your online presence.

Remember, we are all trained to go online as part of the buying process. Even if you’re getting referrals, they are likely visiting your website or searching for you before scheduling a meeting with you. We know that conversion rates increase significantly with a meeting.

Search for yourself and your firm: is your digital presence (website, social profiles, business listing) hurting or helping your development efforts?

Remember, the second most effective marketing approach in the InvestmentNews study was website design that allows for digital lead nurture and conversion.

If growth is on your radar in 2023, consider the role marketing plays.

If you’re serious about improving your ability to generate leads through marketing, we are here to help with practice management tools, marketing partners, and peer-sharing in our growth community (note, we will be talking about generating more leads in a couple of upcoming community sessions. If you’re an SEI advisor, sign up to join). 


  1.  "2022 InvestmentNews Adviser Benchmarking Study" (fee required to view report), InvestmentNews,

More ideas from the lab