Category: Competitive Edge


A Gemini Evolution

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Our May issue highlights the evolution of Gemini as Kevin Hesselbirg takes the helm as CEO, true costs of mutual fund distribution, adding to your value proposition, and much more!

Click here to read the May issue of The Exchange!


7361 GFS-5/10/2017



I’ve Got All These Business Cards…Now What?

By Megan Boulter, Marketing Coordinator

We live in a digital age where technology is constantly changing how we interact with professionals. One thing that hasn’t changed much is the use of the paper business card. Depending on the sources, you can find the use of business cards, in some form or another, dating clear back to the 15th century! Nowadays, you still find professionals everywhere using the business card as a first introduction icebreaker and as a contact information tool.

But let’s face it – all of us could be a little better when it comes to business cards and what we do with them. When you receive a business card, sometimes you look at it, sometimes you don’t, and sometimes it goes straight into your wallet, only to be creased, torn, discolored or never seen again. All too often, business cards end up in a dusty pile on your desk, only to be tossed out after a couple weeks or months. You may have forgotten to follow up with an important someone and now it has been ‘too long’ and is considered a ‘lost cause’.  If you are guilty of any of these things (or all of them!), you’re not alone. In fact, according to Statistic Brain*, 88% of business cards handed out will be tossed within a week of receiving them.

But what if I told you things could be different, better even? What if you could create a more personal experience and capture information effectively, therefore maximizing your conference and networking event return on investment (ROI)? Sounds good, right? Here are some helpful habits to create.

  • Look at the card

This may seem like common sense, but oftentimes business cards are exchanged and then shoved straight into a pocket or wallet without even a glance.

  • Actually read the card

It sounds crazy, but take time to briefly read the card when you receive it. You will have a greater chance of remembering the person and their information. It also shows the recipient that you are taking an interest in them rather than just collecting their business card.

  • Write notes

It’s no surprise that note taking helps us remember fine details. After you meet someone, use their business card to jot down some notes shortly after you part ways. What conference did you meet at? Is this a warm lead or an industry contact? Do you have similar hobbies or another personal similarity? Don’t expect yourself to remember everything – write something memorable that will help jog your memory.

  • Make the time

After the networking event, set aside time to input the business card data and notes. Make this a habit.

  • Get organized

Gone are the ages of desktop rolodexes and scrapbook sheets for business cards! Your smart phone has access to hundreds of apps that can help organize business cards. And the best part is the apps are typically free or less than $10. Some apps can even connect directly to your company’s customer relationship management (CRM) software. How cool is that?

  • Follow up

Feel proud that you have made it this far! Following up is key and is where you will find the real conference ROI. Follow up within 48 hours of the event.  A phone call, e-mail, or handwritten note is even better. Keep the message short and to the point. Try and work in a personal tidbit or hobby that was unique to that person. Invite them for coffee or reach out to them next time you are in their office area.

Even though today’s technology provides many efficient ways to share information, I have a feeling that business cards won’t be going away anytime soon. It’s important that you use business cards to your advantage in order to gain a competitive edge and leverage opportunities.



7257 GFS-4/3/2017

Time for a Rebrand?

By Megan Boulter, Marketing Coordinator, NorthStar Financial Services, LLC

The doctor is in and it’s time for your brand’s marketing checkup! Over time, your company will evolve and change. External factors may have made an impact on your industry, or, perhaps it is just time for a refresh. It is important to ask ourselves questions to assess where we stand with our marketing. Are you still targeting the same market as you were last year? How has your company changed in the past three years? Do your marketing efforts reflect your company’s vision? You may need to revisit your marketing and branding efforts to make sure they still align with your company’s overall strategy. We have come up with some questions to help you assess where you are and where you need to be.


It’s time to ask some of those tough questions; have we accomplished our marketing goals? Have we generated the results that we were aiming for? It’s time to take a good look at the accomplishments as well as the faults in your company’s marketing efforts.

It’s important to think about how your brand is portrayed, both internally and externally. Miscommunication may have dimmed trust in the company or turned away possible clients. Broken promises reflect poorly on the company’s values, culture, and reputation. Companies who don’t portray their core strengths well, may be hindering new clients from coming on board. You must be able to pinpoint and successfully communicate what makes your company stand out, and be able to drive effective marketing efforts highlighting those strengths. Once you have assessed your marketing efforts, you can then move onto fixing any shortcomings as well as continue with the successful marketing efforts.


When you are going through your brand’s marketing checkup, it is important to re-examine your strategic business plan as well. Has your company’s purpose, goals, or story transformed over time? Have your clients’ buying patterns or needs changed? Are you targeting a more specific market now? Do your marketing materials reflect those changes? What new materials do you require to accommodate changes and what existing materials do you need to modify?

Businesses evolve and that is the nature of the market. Product and business expansions, leadership changes, or periods of great growth or decline are just some examples of situations that may cause a marketing disconnect. Consistent marketing will build loyal customers. Sending a survey and getting feedback from clients is a great way to gauge external brand perception.


One of the most effective ways to prepare for the future is to evaluate how the industry is evolving. Where is your company in terms of trends, competition, technology, product, and service offerings? Pinpoint your competitive edge and highlight how your firm differs from the crowd. Let clients know about business and marketing changes that show you are being proactive and staying ahead of the curve.


Where is your brand today and where do you want it to be in the future? After you have completed a thorough and comprehensive marketing assessment, you will have a much better understanding of what the next steps look like. List your long-and short-term business goals and steer your marketing initiatives toward achieving those goals.  Allocate resources accordingly. Review materials and marketing initiatives. Get feedback from clients and partners to gauge the effectiveness of your marketing strategy. Set specific goals, complete with the person or team to champion each initiative and set realistic target dates. You must be clear about expectations. Finalize your new marketing plan and stick to it.




Creating Brand Loyalty

“People are looking for a connection. Tell a good enough story about your brand and people will not only be invested, they’ll want to buy it from you.”
― John Michael Morgan

We often tell our clients mutual funds are “sold and not bought.” We see evidence of this every day and are firm believers activity is a key driver for sales and distribution. However, activity is not the sole driver, marketing content plays a supporting and often a leading role in the sales process. Brand loyalty is created through multiple interactions with your audience on your product and service. The key is to always meet or exceed expectations with every client encounter. The goal is to create consistent marketing that touches on an emotional level and creates a connection.

How do you create consistent brand experiences throughout a client’s buying cycle? 

Devise a positioning statement that highlights your organization’s defining service or product characteristics. Craft a message, story that communicates personality, values and experiences in your market and connects with your target market.

Connect and Deliver
Consistency is key and delivering the same message and performance is reassuring to your target market. Brand consistency reaffirms your values as a company and gains customer trust and credibility. Consistency provides a clear distinction between you and the competitors.

Personalized Experience
Focus on building custom relationships as not all clients are the same. Of all the types of marketing touches, the personal touch is the most important. Understanding what’s important to them and how to make that connection is an art.

Marketing Through The Sales Cycle
Marketing content supports pre and post sales activity by creating brand awareness. This process may help develop a personal experience in order to create long lasting loyal relationships. Throughout the sales cycle, marketing can morph through several different stages. It creates awareness and excitement that can help you connect with an audience. Marketing can also educate and deliver consistent content which will remind the client of your core offerings.

Creating a memorable brand begins with your distinct Competitive Edge. What makes you different than your competitors? Why should a client choose and stay with you? 

Storytelling allows you to convey memorable information. Forming impressions and relating to a listener allows them to associate themselves within a product story and you. Tie in facts to paint a picture that can be easily retained and may bring an emotional reaction to your listener. Developing an emotional connection requires a little research on your end. Conduct research on your prospect and tailor your story. Draft your stories and practice your story, if relevant, repeat them to different audiences.

Content Matters
Marketing communication can be extensive or simple, no matter the form, having your message available in multiple mediums may make the difference. Consider creating the following collateral materials:

  • Print items – brochures, flyers, postcards
  • Product white papers to compliment fact sheets and provide depth to the process
  • Positioning flyer – highlighting the potential benefit of the
    strategy and process
  • Sales presentations – demonstrating the process with proof point examples
  • Web content – user friendly web navigation
  • Compliment the collateral with action plans for distributing and following up on the materials

Storytelling Fundamentals:

  1. Memorable
  2. Work facts into the story
  3. Tailor to audience
  4. Pre plan, draft the story
  5. 3-5 minutes max, practice

Digital Footprint
In a digital world, a web site may not be enough, but it’s a start. What does your website say about you, is it just the facts or does it tell your story? The website may be a personal statement to bring in a client because it inspires confidence in your ability to execute on the clients behalf.

Things to consider:

  • Choose colors that attract the eye
  • When using pictures, what story does it tell?
  • Be mindful of adding too many graphics
  • Create an “About us” section that defines your culture and history
  • Easy to navigate on portable devices

Additional footprints:

  • Blog posts
  • Quoted in industry articles or interviews
  • Industry speaking or panel participation


“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.”
― Robert McKee

Next Steps

Discover – Live by your company’s core principles to establish brand loyalty
Plan – Define your company’s Competitive Edge
Prepare – Develop a marketing strategy
Act – Create additional marketing opportunities in order to become well-known to your target market

Competitive Positioning: Best Practices for Creating Brand Loyalty by Richard D. Czerniawski, Michael W. Maloney



Responding to Due Diligence Questionnaires

Financial intermediaries conduct various levels of product due diligence to gain a better understanding of the investment firm’s Competitive Edge. Due diligence questionnaires cover two key areas; firm and product. Due diligence teams are seeking to understand the investment advisor’s philosophy, processes and operational support to best determine business viability and product continuity. The following is a general guideline, created to prepare you in responding to a due diligence team.

“The strongest steel is well-founded self-belief. It is earned, not given.”
– Coach John Wooden


Question Why does the
due diligence team
ask for this information?
How to highlight your
Competitive Edge
Present your firms overview, including history, inception date and key members Learn the origin of the company, who started the firm and why the firm was founded.  Looking for evidence of industry and investment strategy management experience. Express what makes the organization unique – your history, story and reason why you manage money.
Outline your current ownership structure To find interested parties that may influence accountability, company liquidity and may provide potential investment in the firm’s future growth.  For example: private ownership, employee owned, public, corporation or LLC, LP. Validate alignment of all interested parties that will continuously support the firm and the investment management goals.

Key points:

  • Decision making hierarchy
  • Past growth and future growth opportunities
  • Succession planning
Provide the total number of employees and detailed descriptions of key personnel, including number of years of experience and average tenure for each professional in their respective roles Investigate the organization’s supportive infrastructure and determine ability to sustain and manage long term growth.  (Ratio of personnel to AUM, complexity of the strategy and client sales support may influence a due diligence team’s rating). Key points:

  • Total number of firm employees
  • Total number of investment professionals (analyst / traders / portfolio managers)
  • Sales, marketing and client service
  • Administrative: legal, compliance, risk management and operations
Are investment professionals compensation tied to performance of the investment strategy? To learn the compensation structure allows the due diligence team to gain insight on the collaborative nature of the organization to drive consistent results. Focus on competitive and performance driven environment to best demonstrate alignment with the shareholder. Provide insight to how compensation is determined and processed (i.e. options, equity, bonus, etc.)
Provide firms personnel turnover over the past five years and rationale for the turnover Determine the stability of the firm personnel and the consistent implementation of the firm’s core philosophy.  For investment professionals, low turnover is a key factor in determining the validity of the historical track record and tends to demonstrate product continuity. Proving team stability and continuity by demonstrating:

  • Years of experience
  • Number of professionals that contribute to the investment strategy
  • Rationale for any turnover of research and investment management team
  • Provide succession plans – cultivating and advancing talent
View firms assets under management (AUM) for the past 5 years Exhibit the scalability of the firm and the strategy to determine potential risk to the investment strategy implementation and sustainability of the business development opportunities. Key items of consideration are product/firm capacity and liquidity constraints.  Describe components of your firms AUM:

  • Total firm
  • By vehicle; LP, SMA, Funds
  • Discretionary vs. Advisement
  • If low assets or high turnover, describe the fluctuation and what is being done to minimize potentially large swings.



Question Why does the
due diligence team
ask for this information?
How to highlight your
Competitive Edge
Illustrate your investment philosophy Recognize the overarching core beliefs that will impact the strategy and investment process implementation. Present your firms core beliefs that drive the strategy implementation. For example: top down or bottom up viewpoints, quantitative drivers or qualitative fundamental factors, macro or micro viewpoints and or market trend followers.
Detail the firm’s investment process Explore the process for portfolio construction, with emphasis on key decision makers and buy and sell disciplines to ascertain replicability of the strategy to drive consistent performance. Outline decision making hierarchy and provide detailed security selection process that influences portfolio allocation decisions.
Include portfolio allocation rationale Discover the guardrails for minimum/maximum holdings at the security, sector and industry level with emphasis on risk management tools. Emphasize the consistency of the investment process by highlighting how the firm generates alpha, i.e., when there would be underweights and overweights in the portfolio, any benchmark considerations and provide rationale for cash holdings.
Showcase your performance history Seeks to understand how the investment management team has performed vs the benchmark and designated peer group since inception and for key time periods: 1, 3, 5+ years. Highlight respective vehicle performance and history managing assets in the investment style.  Provide examples of “stressed” time periods and how your strategy performed.
Define risk management policies and procedures To understand the firm’s risk controls for three key areas:

  • Operational and trading support
  • Books and records / information security
  • Succession planning


Illustrate disaster recovery plans.  Provide procedures for safe keeping of all sensitive information and how client privacy is protected and monitored against cyber security attacks.  Discuss contingency plan should key decision makers leave the firm.  Highlight succession plans with emphasis on cultivating the next generation of talent.
Portray the sales and marketing support that will drive sales growth opportunities Seeking to understand how the firm will grow the strategy assets over time. Feature your short term and long term marketing plans that may impact your sales over time.  Emphasize on what circumstances would increase your sales efforts.  Focus on target market, distribution activity and personnel.


DISCOVER – Gain a deeper understanding of how to highlight your Competitive Edge in the due diligence process

PLAN – Create an off the shelf due diligence questionnaire for your firm and strategy

PREPARE – Work with your Strategic Relationship Manager to determine the intermediary opportunities

ACT – Proactively provide the questionnaire when soliciting new opportunities