For years, Al Caicedo marketed his business the way advisors have been marketing their
business for — well, forever.
He spent thousands of dollars every year mailing flyers in an attempt to get prospects to attend in-person seminars. And that worked well for a while.
But a changing world demands changing marketing. Caicedo dipped a toe in the water of digital marketing and discovered he could save money while reaching more people. And his practice expanded and grew.
Caicedo is president and owner of CKS Summit Group in Clinton Township, Mich., where he focuses on helping ensure his clients are able to enjoy their lifestyle into their retirement years. He is a big believer in using annuities as part of a plan to guard against market volatility as well as developing income options and tax-savings strategies.
In this interview with Publisher Paul Feldman, Caicedo describes his journey to digital marketing success as well as his belief in annuities as part of a comprehensive retirement plan.
FELDMAN: Tell us about yourself, your current practice and your clients.
CAICEDO: This is my 23rd year owning CKS Summit group and my 27th year in the business, so we’ve been doing this for quite a while. We’ve been working in the pre-retiree/retiree arena since 2000. Most of our clients are ages 55 and up, the bulk of them are ages 58 to 74.
We’re a very conservative firm, so over the years we specialized in very conservative investments. So it’s annuities, assets under management and, of course, life insurance.
We work with advisors and clients all over the country as well. At the last count, we had clients in 38 or 39 states.
FELDMAN: How did you get in the business?
CAICEDO: Here in Michigan, I used to work for the Department of Defense. But I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted to be in my own world and my own business.
I met a gentleman who was very successful in this business, and I said I wanted to try that. So after being with the government for more than nine years, I said I wanted to jump into this crazy world. I signed up with Northwestern Mutual, and I spent a year and a half with them and then they fired me.
I remember my general agent brought me in and sat me down and said, “You’re just not cut out for this business; you gave it a good shot, but you need to go back to the corporate world.”
That became my belly fire for so many years.
But going to Northwestern Mutual was one of the best things I ever did because of the essence of the education I got from them. It was the old school, whole life foundation that I got from them, and everything that stemmed from that. However, their marketing system at that time was antiquated. It was the three-card system and all that kind of stuff.
When I moved out of there, I found a firm that was more progressive in their marketing, and they set me a different path. It was the first time I really learned marketing. Because I had a great foundation when it came to the business itself, as far as products and everything like that. But my missing component at that time was marketing, being able to get out there and get in front of people I wanted to get in front of, and to have a consistent supply of people to meet with.
That was a turning point. Once I left the captive world and entered the independent world in the first firm that I worked with, I learned that it’s all about marketing and how you market yourself and what you’re marketing and who you are marketing to.
And, for the first time in my life, I learned a niche, and that was really important because when I started this part of my career after I left Northwestern Mutual, we only dealt with small-business owners, with groups of 20 and under.
My first mentor said, “If you’re going to make money in this business, you have to be niche — you don’t want to be everything to everybody; you want to be very good to a very few people. And you can make a very good living in this business.”
That was my first glimpse at not just marketing but niche marketing, being really focused on a particular group and learning everything I possibly could about those individuals.
FELDMAN: When it comes to marketing, you are crushing it selling annuities and AUM online. Can you share how you started and what you’ve learned?
CAICEDO: We started our online journey about four and a half years ago. The reason why I started it is because I was doing pretty much what a lot of independent advisors do. We all were doing workshops and seminars and all that kind of stuff. I was using a lot of mail to fill up all the different classes I was doing at that time.
I remember when, in order to fill a room, we would send out 1,000, 2,000 mailers. And then I got to the point where we were mailing out between 12,000 and 15,000 mailers a month. But what was happening was that we were seeing these incredible costs. And then our attendance was dropping, dropping, dropping, and our response was going down and down.
I had a brief feel for digital media and digital marketing with an FMO. They were filling up their classes for a fraction of what I was spending on mail. So I said to myself, this is going to be my way of getting control of my marketing because one of the problems we have as advisors is that we’re meticulous in so many aspects of our business. We know all the metrics of our opens and closes and everything else like that. But we are the best check writers in the world. And what I mean by that is if you say you have a marketing thing, we’ll write a check and we hope we get a return.
So I interviewed so many digital firms out there, and at that time not many of them were in our space. It was really hard to find the right one. But along the way, I met someone and I said, “You get my world, and I love the way you guys are set up.”
We started using digital media to fill up our workshops. And we were doing it for a fraction of the cost. I think our biggest ad spend at the time was $800 on Facebook advertising.
After building out our live events, we decided to put our toes in the water and market webinars to people 15 miles from my office. We started integrating webinars into our mix, but I made a lot of mistakes. We had webinars; we still had our live events going on. But I couldn’t figure out all of the digital aspects of this.
I went on a journey to find out whether I even needed a digital guy. I spent money with four or five digital firms to see what was going on out there, learning and seeing all that needed to be done. Slowly but surely, we started to get it and we started to see results. We realized, OK, this does work. And so we expanded marketing our webinars to people within a 100-mile radius of our office, and from there we began to roll out across the state of Michigan.
Along the way, we were trying to build an online process, but I found myself failing. And the reason I was failing was that I was trying to do everything I did in the live world in the virtual world. I thought, I’m successful in front of people. I’m in control; I’ve got the show. I never even used PowerPoint when I did a live class. It was just me being myself. But I slowly figured out that when we moved into this crazy virtual world, it’s a completely different paradigm shift from everything from how you handle clients to the event itself to the sales process. Once I realized that, we had the momentum and we really hit our stride.
One of the greatest things to come out of this was time management. My first appointments used to be about an hour and 15 minutes. Now they are about 35 minutes. And my clients love this.
FELDMAN: What lessons did you learn from the pandemic?
CAICEDO: The pandemic has forced this industry to move five or six years ahead of where we were. Other industries have been operating in the digital world for a while now, but our industry is pretty archaic. This past year, so many people were pushed into feeling comfortable in the digital world and using it to buy everything from cars to homes.
It’s important for advisors to create the virtual experience for customers. I always like to look at 10-year windows. Between now and 2030, there will be more than $32 trillion in assets moving. Most people talk about two generations: the baby boomers and the millennials. But there is a silent, quiet, ghost generation smack-dab in the middle, which is Generation X. They’re going to be a powerful generation.
Within the next 20 years, $62 trillion will move down to Gen X. And 95% of them are on Facebook, 41% of them follow their favorite businesses through Facebook, and 16% prefer learning on video on their own time. And if you think about it, the first Gen Xer is only three and a half years away from being able to take money from their 401(k)s
and their IRAs. They’re only six years away from making their first decision on Social Security.
But you have to have the right processes in place to be able to make the switch to the digital world. You can’t just transfer the live world to the virtual world and be successful.
FELDMAN: So how do you gain trust online? What are your strategies?
CAICEDO: When you’re in the live world, it’s kind of simple. You’re in front of them. They’re seeing everything. They’re in your office, but it’s all sensory from the moment they meet you to the moment they walk through your office. In the live world, we would require a certain number of touches. For example, from the time they register for one of our events to the time we have the actual event, they’ve already been touched 11 times by us. Maybe they would receive a postcard or an invitation, or someone would call them and ask them to find others to come to this dinner or show up at this class.
We tried that in the virtual world. We started focusing on the number of touches it takes to get someone to register for a webinar, to make a first appointment and so on. We use videos, emails, text messaging, a combination of all kinds of stuff to make sure I get familiar with somebody in a short period of time.
I look at it this way. I have a favorite sportscaster or a favorite newscaster, and they’ve never sat down with me. They’ve never had a meal with me. They’ve never invited me to their home. However, I trust their word. And the reason why I trust their word is because there’s an unspoken familiarity. And that creates a relationship with that individual in the virtual world.
We had to do that same thing but in a compressed time period, so it’s a lot of face time and a lot of verbal, nonverbal, facial communication we’re having with people, because you are trying to get the same concept as you do in the live world.
But you also have to be entertaining. Otherwise, it’s easy for people to push a button and you’re gone. You can be the most boring person in a classroom, and nobody’s going to leave. But online, if you can’t hit someone in the first minute and a half, they’re going to click on something else.
That was our biggest obstacle in the beginning because when I was presenting live, I never used a prop. I was a star in my live world. But now you’re in a box and the box is the star. You can’t stay on a slide for more than 20 seconds, and you have to compress and deliver your presentation within 30 minutes.
When you are telling stories online, it has to be continuous, like a motion picture. That’s why we were failing in the beginning, because we weren’t doing it that way. People will always remember stories more than anything else.
You always have to get good at the things you can control. You can’t make someone want to schedule an appointment with you, but you can make your presentation so entertaining that they stick with you for the whole thing. When you are in this virtual world, one of the things you can control is your entertainment value. How are you delivering your message, how quickly are those slides moving, all that kind of stuff. It’s exciting.
FELDMAN: What can advisors do to overcome the reluctance and hesitancy surrounding annuities?
CAICEDO: To me, it’s conviction, it’s belief, because if you don’t believe it, how in the world can you expect somebody else to believe it? Annuities have gotten such a bad black eye. However, I can sit here and tell you that we in this firm have changed so many lives. When we use annuities as part of our strategy, we have so many people who are living a stress-free retirement, knowing that they have guarantees coming into their lives every single month.
You have a product that brings stability. That brings guarantees.
The reason why you’re seeing what we’re seeing with the annuity world today is because so many guys ran away from it. We as advisors are sucking at educating our clients and having conviction that annuities along with life insurance are the greatest products ever invented. They were put in place to give you peace of mind and to make sure that when you need it, it’s going to be there.
I have clients who are receiving payouts right now and their world has changed; I know that when all hell breaks loose, I can make a phone call to them and say, “Aren’t you glad you made this decision while everybody else is trying to figure out whether taxes are going to go through the roof, or because they’re so leveraged out in this market that is going to go through a massive correction? How do you feel today that you don’t have to worry about that?”
When you talk to your clients, do you ask them whether they expect a five-year, 10-year, 30-year retirement? Because the next question is, can you look me in the face and say for the next 10, 15, 20, 25 years, this country is not going to experience something that’s going to severely impact your financial goals?
FELDMAN: What is your biggest takeaway in working with advisors over the past crazy year?
CAICEDO: I can’t believe how many people have limiting beliefs. We’ve talked a lot about how we’re an old profession and how are we going to get young people to come into it. It’s how out of touch we are and how unwilling we are to embrace technology and how afraid we are of it. How we feel that snail mail is the way to go. How a live event is the only way you can reach an individual. You think because you have an office and all the marble up front and all this stuff is the only way somebody is going to do business.
With all those limiting beliefs, how many people sat on the sidelines last year? All they did was serve as caretakers.
My favorite stories are the ones about clients who met with me and didn’t think they were able to retire. And to have them sitting with tears in their eyes and saying, “Everything you promised happened.” And that’s because we were able to put certainty inside of their world. That, to me, is changing lives. My favorite stories are the ones in which we know that we made an impact. We went against the current of what the world out there preaches. Because everybody believes that it’s OK to go out there and lose 50%, but God forbid you ever put money into something that charges you a surrender charge. An 80-year-old woman can lose 70% of her portfolio, but God forbid we protect 100% of it.
We confuse returns and results. We don’t know what returns can be, but we certainly know results. Returns can make you broke; results help you live.