Ep 054

Taking Online Relationships to Real World Clients

With

Robert Sofia

Listen Here

Inside This Episode

Today, I’m talking with Robert Sofia, the co-founder and CEO of Snappy Kraken – an award-winning marketing technology firm that provides financial advisors with a complete digital marketing system to foster and deepen relationships with clients and prospects, while making it easier for advisors to fulfill all of their marketing needs in one place.

The company was named “The most innovative marketing platform for advisors“​ by Investment News, and ranked as the “Best Overall Content Marketing Company” for four years running.

Before Snappy Kraken, Robert helped grow his practice’s AUM from $125M to $650M in less than five years. His secret sauce? Merging great marketing and great systems with great advisors. After seeing the opportunity to help other teams grow, Robert made the leap and started Snappy Kraken in 2016.

3 of the biggest insights from Robert Sofia

  • #1 How to convert cold traffic into meaningful client relationships – and why video is the best way to build trust and drive in-person meetings. Plus, a simple strategy to increase website conversions by 400%!

  • #2 Hear Robert’s best advice for acquiring top talent and incentivizing performance that can unlock exponential company growth.

  • #3 The impact AI will have on financial advisors – and how you can use technology to forge meaningful connections, create a great client experience, and scale the human side of financial advice.

KEY TAKEAWAYS: 

  • Robert’s journey from finance to marketing
  • The three-phase growth flywheel
  • Turning online leads into relationships
  • How different communication formats build trust
  • How to compliantly convert clients via SMS text
  • Lessons from 15 years of entrepreneurship
  • Why to overpay for the right hires
  • How should advisors look at AI?
  • The three qualities that make FAs memorable
  • Generating organic growth
  • Defining your own success

INCREASE WEBSITE CONVERSIONS BY 400%

WILL AI REPLACE FINANCIAL ADVISORS?

TURN COLD TRAFFIC INTO MEANINGFUL CLIENT RELATIONSHIPS

SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE: 

PEOPLE MENTIONED IN THE EPISODE:

THIS WEEK’S FEATURED REVIEW

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MIC DROP MOMENTS WITH ROBERT SOFIA

  • If you strip away all the noise in business down to its very basic element, all you have left are people and relationships. So, cherish them.” – Robert Sofia

  • “The most effective way to build trust quickly and get an in-person meeting hands down is video.” – Robert Sofia

  • “People don’t want to give up their email address — they don’t want to get spam. but they will give up their cell phone number in an instant.” – Robert Sofia

  • “Being an entrepreneur is hard. Building a business is hard. And people don’t talk about how hard it is because it’s often perceived as weakness.” – Robert Sofia

  • “There’s no shortcut for good relationships.” – Robert Sofia

  • “Treat people great. Pay them well. Don’t be afraid to hire above your pay grade.” – Robert Sofia

  • “Consumers expect things fast, accurate, easy, high quality — and everything in your business needs to be looked at through that lens.” – Robert Sofia

  • “What is marketing? It’s human connection at scale.” – Robert Sofia

Brad Johnson: Welcome back to another episode of Do Business Do Life. We have Robert Sofia here with us today. Welcome to the show, Robert.

Robert Sofia: Hey, Brad. I like the name of the show, Do Business Do Life. It sounds like balanced people who understand their priorities would listen to the show.

Brad Johnson: That is the goal. You know, my prior episode or my prior show, the Elite Advisor Blueprint, obviously, there was a lot that translated to this show. But one of the things as I’ve gotten older, as a husband, as a dad, and you’ve been in finance just as long as I have, you know, we both really grew up in this space. And unfortunately, sometimes we see success and production kind of start to eat people alive. And as I thought about kind of the concept for this show, we want to build businesses, help advisors build businesses that bless their lives, that don’t become their lives. And I’ve seen the fun versions of that play out over the years and, unfortunately, I’ve seen the not-so-fun versions where people don’t get that right. So, any thoughts on that as just we dive in here today because I know you’ve worked with, at this point, thousands of financial advisors all across the country at this stage in your career.

Robert Sofia: Yeah. I have and business is great. I love working with advisors, I love the industry, but I love my life and my family more. And I think when you get out of balance and your career is everything to you, your family life suffers. If you keep your family, your health, your overall lifestyle as the priority and your business fuels that, I think you end up doing better business. So, I don’t work the crazy hours and run myself into the ground. I don’t neglect my family, I limit my travel, and I stay happy. So, I’m happy at home and I’m happy at work and I never let it get out of control. And I think that’s really important. Everybody doesn’t have the same priorities, but for me, it’s been key to staying in this industry, and to grow professionally because I don’t burn myself out.

Brad Johnson: Couldn’t agree more. And there’s always seasons. Obviously, when Snappy Kraken was very much a start-up, I’m sure you had seasons where that balance got a little out of whack but it’s basically course-correcting and not letting it go too far down that path.

Robert Sofia: Yeah. That’s everything. You know, I think about those circus acts where they’re walking a tightrope and they’ve got the big pole and there’s like weights going on each side, and they have to keep adjusting. Every once in a while, of course, something gets out of balance but you said it, course correct. And to be successful in business and life, keeping with the theme of your podcast, you have to adjust both of those things on a regular basis.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Well, we were chatting before we hit record here, and let’s take a little trip down memory lane. Younger version of Brad, younger version of Robert. So, I don’t remember exactly how we first connected. I do remember, obviously, you were working with the Fross Brothers and you had really taken some of what had helped them build their financial services firm and Platinum marketing, and you were really the guy running that, that was kind of teaching some of these best practices to advisors out there. And I remember we first connected in person. I think it was Orlando where you guys were doing your big annual conference and you were kind of emceeing it. You popped up, shared some client referral strategies, and it was really cool. Like, that was very ahead of its time, I think, because that was like I think probably 2010-ish I think when we first connected.

Robert Sofia: Yeah.

Brad Johnson: So, let’s go maybe down those that I think a lot of people today know you from Snappy Kraken but they don’t always know kind of the origin story of Robert and how he got in this business. So, would you mind sharing a bit of that as we dive in?

Robert Sofia: Yeah. You know, a lot of it inspired Snappy Kraken because it was a consulting business for advisors and it was fed by the financial planning practice, the strategies, the ideas. They were all tested in the field. And then in turn, that fed the financial planning practice because we built up this big agency to do all this work and content and so we would give the best of it to the practice too. And so, it was a virtuous cycle. And so, Tom and Rob Fross were business partners with me in the Platinum Advisor Strategies. It was what it was called. And then they also ran their practice, and then I ran marketing and the back office at their practice. So, we both had two gigs and they were inextricably linked. And it was great. You know, we scaled that business up to about 800 advisors at its peak. It was a good lifestyle business. It was a good coaching firm. And then I outgrew it and I wanted to go into technology, and we ultimately made the decision to split up, but I learned a lot in this business during the first, well, let’s see, I started in about 2004 and we scaled that business from about 125 million in ARR to about 650 million. And that’s funny. I said AUR. That’s ARR. See, I’m in software now. ARR is same.

Brad Johnson: Yeah, it’s okay.

Robert Sofia: AUM. There we go. In AUM. So, in less than five years, which is a pretty big leap to go from 125 to 615 AUM in a single practice with just a couple of advisors. But it was because great marketing, great systems, great advisors, and that’s what I believe in and still do. And so, now at Snappy Kraken, I work with great advisors and I help them build great systems and great marketing. And it’s just I do it at a bigger scale. Instead of doing it for the Fross Brothers and 800 advisors, now I do it for north of 6,000 advisors.

Brad Johnson: Awesome. Like, if you go back to some of your greatest hits because as much as financial services has evolved a ton from those days, there are still a lot that stays true to today. It’s just maybe delivered in a different way. What were some of those greatest hits? I know you guys were super heavy. I think the first time I heard a real not just a one-off client cloning, client referral strategy, but a very regimented like here is our process that creates predictable results. It was really from you at that Platinum experience back then but what were some of your greatest hits that are still true today that you might be able to share with advisors?

Robert Sofia: Yeah. I try to still educate about those things but I also try to automate them now. And so, the principles apply. It’s the method that’s evolved but when I think about the way we used to do it, it was bricks and mortar. The process is now digital but it’s the exact same thing. So, if you think about a growth flywheel and that’s how I frame what we do at Snappy Kraken now. There’s three phases in this growth flywheel. Phase one is the audience. That’s everybody that listens to you, everybody that opens, clicks, reads, consumes what you put out. Then that audience, the bigger it is, the more opportunities you have to turn people in that audience into clients. And those clients are the next phase. And then if you do a really great job for those clients and you set up ways systematically to harvest referrals from those clients and you create a great experience, they want to give you referrals, those clients help you grow the audience even more. And so, it’s a virtuous cycle. The audience grows, they turn into clients, they help you build the audience further. And the more you can get those cycles feeding into each other, the faster your business grows.

And underneath those three buckets, there’s different phases of the relationship you go through, right? With an audience, first you got to get noticed, then you got to get their contact information, then you got to build credibility and start a conversation with them, and so forth. So, what I remember what we did in the business was we would grow that audience by things like client events and referrals and charity events and seminars. And now we do it with SEO and advertising and social media, and it’s still building an audience. You still got to get noticed. You still got to get their contact information. But maybe registering for a seminar, they are Google searching. They’re clicking to your website and they’re opting in for a download. You’re still getting the lead. So, it’s a question of how you build that cycle in your business and for some advisors, certain strategies work better for them, and for others, those strategies won’t work. And so, we’re always trying to not only find strategies that work for individual advisors, but broadly, what works for the entire advisor community. And there are some things that do work for everybody and that’s what we try to automate and systemize.

Brad Johnson: Cool. So, let’s go to, so I remember like you did a lot of wine tasting events back in the day. So, let’s kind of hit that stage between audience where you say, “Hey, get noticed,” obviously, grab their information so you can connect with them. What are some of the best strategies you’ve seen to take it from online to offline to the in-person? I know you can do like virtual wine tastings, things like that over Zoom, and we’ve got some advisors that have done that over the years but I still think there’s nothing that quite touches the in-person once you get to that stage in the process. So, what are some of the best strategies you’ve seen there and maybe some of the best events? Because you guys did a ton of different versions of that, that you might be able to share with some advisors out there.

Robert Sofia: Yeah. Well, your question is actually really insightful because there is nothing quite like a real conversation. And when you look somebody in the whites of the eyes and shake their hand or you hear them present in-person or you’re at an event and you see them hugging their clients, those things make a deeper impression than getting to a website and clicking to download a lead magnet. So, this is where a lot of advisors get disappointed with online marketing because a lot of marketing companies will get them clicks or get them leads but they don’t have a good system for making those into meaningful relationships. And events are a great way to do that. Once you have them opted in, you can invite them to events. And sometimes because it’s not a relationship that started in person, you have to work it a little harder for a while digitally to get to that phase. So, you ask what’s working. I’ll tell you. We do a big study every year. We have data points on millions of emails and hundreds of thousands of campaigns that are running. So, actually, just this month we launched our state of digital. And just to give you some idea, there were 250 million data points, a quarter of a billion data points that we looked at. So, you’ve got 67 million emails, 38 million contacts, 600,000 campaigns.

So, when you ask me what works, I’m going to tell you based on the data. And what’s really fascinating to me is that with digital leads, opt-ins, social media messages, anything you get knowing that there’s a lack of trust there because they haven’t warmed up to you yet, you haven’t earned the trust. The most effective way to build that trust quickly and get it to an in-person meeting, hands down, is video. And just to give you an idea of how effective video is, I just opened up the data, the new opt-in that you send an introduction email to, trying to start a conversation, if it has a video, the open rate is 59.4%. If it doesn’t, the open rate is only 27.4%. If there is a link in the email to click through and watch the video, 36.7% will click on the video. If there’s not a video, only 16.7 will click on another link. So, what we do is knowing that video is the most effective. We build a nurturing sequence with a video or videos. The advisor automatically enrolls new opt-ins from their website into this sequence. It’s all done behind the scenes with technology. They get that video message from the advisor. It’s recorded once but in a way that’s personalized because on the landing page, it shows the visitor’s name.

In the email, it has their name. The video feels one-to-one, even though it’s one-to-many. And below that video, it says, “Do you have a question about this? What would you like to talk about? What are your concerns?” They can submit a quick form and then the advisor has a basis to call and talk to them or invite them into the office. That strategy, what we call a personal connection video campaign, is what’s driving the fastest conversion from cold website or social media contact, new opt-in to meetings to actual bookings. And the combined overall performance there is about 120% better than anything else. So, video Is powerful.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. Thanks for diving in and breaking that apart. Have you had any of your Snappy Kraken clients that have inserted that somewhere into a dinner seminar sequence, and where would you put that in if it was from a mailer or maybe it’s a Facebook ad into them showing up to a dinner seminar?

Robert Sofia: Yeah. So, let’s back up for a second on core principles, which you already know but I don’t want it to get missed. Nothing builds trust like in-person. So, if you’re at a seminar or you’ve met somebody face to face, that’s going to have the highest level of camaraderie, trust, openness. You need to take advantage of that. So, if you’re at a seminar, somebody shows up there, your goal should be to book a meeting with them at that event. No doubt. You don’t need this. But where we’re using it, where our clients are using it, is the people who register but don’t show up and the people who say they’ll book but don’t or book but don’t show. So, that’s where we use this strategy because if you think about the hierarchy of trust, if in-person is at the top, you step down a level, it’s video because they can see your face, they can hear your voice. Step down another level, it’s voice. That’s your phone calls, your podcasts. You step down another level, it’s text. Unfortunately, what happens is most people just nurture prospects by text. Text doesn’t build trust as well as voice. Voice doesn’t build trust as well as video. Video doesn’t build trust as well as in-person. So, for us, it’s, “Hey, if you got a strategy for getting them in person, great.” Next best thing, video. So, no in-person strategy is complete. There’s always going to be people who don’t show, don’t do what they say they’re going to do. So, just step down one level and work it the best way you can.

So, we have a sequence automatically. It’s eight steps, eight weeks, eight messages designed to build value for the advisor and in the financial planning relationship or however this advisor is positioning what they do, wealth management, whatever it is, and then ultimately designed to book the appointment. So, if somebody comes to a seminar, doesn’t book right away, we try eight times more to get him on autopilot. The advisors can go back to business with the clients. And then after that, if they have had now nine, ten opportunities and they haven’t done anything, we just assume it’s not the right time. We put them into general nurturing for a biweekly communication after that.

Brad Johnson: Cool. Okay. You mentioned text as in text like words on an email or a piece of paper or whatever. Have you incorporated SMS like mobile messages with video drip sequences? Is that part of the data or are you just talking video inside of emails? Have you guys looked at how that plays in or I don’t know. Does Snappy Kraken even allow for that?

Robert Sofia: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. When I said text before, I meant text-based content as in what AI can generate and what third-party writers can generate that you may not have written, and therefore the trust level is low. Text messaging or SMS is a different thing altogether. And, yes, we do use text messaging primarily in two places. The number one place we’re using text messaging right now is on landing pages and websites. Here’s what’s really insane about that. When you put an opt-in on a landing page or a website that says, “Have a question? Text me,” your conversion rate on that call to action is 400% better than any other CTA, 400% better than any other CTA. So, most advisors go to their website. You know what you’re going to find? “Subscribe to my newsletter.” I would bet money, I put it on the table, I don’t know how many advisors who are listening to this but their conversion rate on that is single digits at best. People don’t want to give up their email address. They don’t want to get spammed but they will give up their cell phone number in an instant. We text so much. We’re also accustomed to blocking numbers if we don’t want to get text. We text everybody.

People don’t even leave voicemails anymore. There’s a stat that is not our stat but it says 89% of consumers want to be able to text the businesses they work with. That’s from Twilio. But we have found that to be true because that conversion rate sort of proves it. People will text their questions. And so, we set up a dedicated text line. We use the office, the actual office number, because people will text business lines to try to get through. And then that’s the first place. Let them text the business. Second place we’re using it is for client service. So, 97% response rate from text messages used for client service, appointment reminders, which is great for prospects as well. Answering questions, reminders to clients, signature collection reminders, event RSVP, seminar reminders, text message appointment reminders with directions to get to the office, click the link right to the office. So, these are the types of things that advisors are using text messaging for. Its average response time, 43 minutes on a text message, which is 100% faster than email. So, there’s definitely a place for text messaging today. I think advisors who aren’t enabling that are missing out on opportunities.

Brad Johnson: Couldn’t agree more. I heard this was years ago now, but Gary Vaynerchuk, definitely a student of him. And he was early. I feel like every social platform he’s been early on in his career. You know, wrote the book, Crush It, how he basically put his dad’s liquor store in New Jersey on the map by doing YouTube wine reviews before that was a thing. And his exact words were, I think his phrase is, “Marketers ruin everything.” And he was just talking about SMS. He’s like, “Right now, not enough businesses are using it because it’s basically a 100% open rate as opposed to email, but eventually that will get ruined.” But we’re in a very beautiful stage right now where most of the general public, you get a text. It’s read like I’m not going to sleep with unread text. I think most other humans aren’t either. So, definitely, an opportunity to have a more user-friendly business experience. So, I love that, that you’re already diving in there and I’m sure that will only expand as Snappy Kraken continues to evolve. Any other thoughts just on SMS before we move off that topic, just in general, if you were an advisor out there, what you’d be thinking about?

Robert Sofia: Yeah. I mean, there’s a few things. First of all, do it. Second of all, do it compliantly. There’s, definitely, archiving and monitoring that’s required and we built a platform for that purpose because you do it from your cell phone, you’re liable to get yourself in trouble. And you don’t have to live with your phone in your pocket texting clients all the time. That’s why we use the business line. We created an interface for responding and having conversations for the staff can do it. Set up some autoresponders for after-hours so they know, “Hey, it’s after-hours. We don’t respond to texts in the evening, but we respond first thing tomorrow,” things like that just to make it manageable. It doesn’t have to overwhelm you.

Brad Johnson: I would assume your interface is set up where the advisor, the founder, I mean, it’s basically like an online portal where different members of the team can monitor these SMSs over different business hours. Is that kind of the setup on the back end?

Robert Sofia: Yep. Integrates with your CRM. There’s a dashboard. It’s got think of it like iMessage on steroids for having, you know, sending one blast to everybody but then having individual conversations with them in a manageable way. And then, of course, integrating those text messaging steps into our campaigns. So, like we have advisors who are running television ads, they’re getting a bunch of leads off TV by text. They’re responding, “Hey,” automatically, “Thanks for requesting my ebook. Here it is. By the way, I can also send it to you by email. What’s your best email address?” Get the email address. “Super. By the way, who am I talking to? What’s your name? My name is Robert. Oh. Hi, Brad. Excellent. I’ll be in touch by email. Would you like a phone call about any of this? Here’s a link to my calendar to book something.” It’s all by text message. It’s all automated. So, getting that into a broader strategy is really important. I mean, you can get low-hanging fruit just by putting it on your website and starting to use it for client service but you can put it into a broader strategy and create conversational interactions right away with new prospects. And that’s really what people expect. You got to have that human element in your marketing to connect with people as fast as you can. And when you’re using the same channel they used to talk to their best friends and their mom, you’re putting yourself in pretty good territory.

Brad Johnson: Yeah, I agree. Do you have it set up so you’ve got integration I’m assuming Redtail, Salesforce being kind of the two big ones I hear the most about in finance already set up where you’ve got integrations for both of those?

Robert Sofia: Yeah. We do Redtail, Salesforce, and Wealthbox. It’s funny. I feel bad for the advisors listening if they’re not interested in our product but I was here to talk about the strategy but it is part of our product too. And the strategy is what drives our product. We don’t build things that don’t help advisors grow. We’re about organic growth. So, yeah, this is tech I saw a need for it in the industry. I started building this two years ago, and we finally got it to market middle of 2023 in a really effective way.

Brad Johnson: Cool. And then last we’re geeking out here but that’s okay. That’s what this is for. Are you able in the SMS then to where based on those responses, “Oh, by the way, who am I talking to?” capture first name, Brad. Are you able to just pull that right over off the SMS into like plugging it into Redtail? Or is there a manual process still at this point to kind of fill in the details for the leads?

Robert Sofia: Yeah. We have campaigns that do that. So, Snappy Kraken has the convos text messaging application as a standalone product. They’re integrated together. So, you can do all of that when you use both products together. If you just use the text messaging application, it’s only a push of list into the application. If you use Snappy Kraken for marketing automation with text messaging, you get all that bidirectional syncing.

Brad Johnson: Very cool. All right. We’ll get off the nerd talk here but it’s okay. You know, I was an IT major so sometimes I go there. As we kind of go back to your first stop at Platinum and then you saw this need out there to kind of evolve, kind of a tried and true into the digital age, any entrepreneurial lessons? Obviously, this is a show for independent financial advisors so, yes, they’re financial advisors but they’re also entrepreneurs at the same time. That had to be a little bit of a scary leap. I mean, I remember I think you were pretty dang close to when Triad was being formed. So, 2020, I feel like that was about the same time Snappy Kraken you were leaving kind of the known for the unknown. What lessons have you learned as an entrepreneur like good, bad, and ugly along the way?

Robert Sofia: Oh, man, that’s such a broad question. It’s hard to even know where to begin. I mean, I feel like I learned lessons every day. I guess I’ve been an entrepreneur now since 2009. So, I started Platinum in 2009, and then I exited that in 2016 and started Snappy Kraken. So, now we’re coming up on our eighth year. So, it’s been a while. It’s been a minute, 15 years, I guess. The funny thing about it is I thought it would be easier. I always thought both times that I started these businesses, I thought it would be easier than it has been. And that’s probably the biggest lesson. Being an entrepreneur is hard. Building a business is hard. And people don’t talk about how hard it is because it’s often perceived as weakness or something. And you just don’t go out there talking about your problems and venting. And some people do this whole build in public and they, you know, they’ll cry on camera. Most of us aren’t that type. And so, it can be a little difficult and lonely. On some days, because one of my buddies, he’s an entrepreneur, he sent me a picture of a seven-year-old boy with a new BB gun. And he immediately turned it around backwards and shot himself in the crotch with it. And my friend said, “This is how it feels to be an entrepreneur.”

Brad Johnson: So, some days for sure. Some days for sure.

Robert Sofia: It’s a lot of work. It’s not for the faint of heart and I think that’s probably the biggest like be prepared for the work, do the work. The rewards don’t come without the work. No growth without the work and the pain. That’s just life. It applies in entrepreneurship. What you see other people having success with and winning, you don’t see the grueling other side of it, so don’t think you’re alone. And the other thing I think the other big, big one is just it’s all about people, people, people, people. Who you know, how you manage relationships, nurture relationships, forge meaningful connections, be true to those connections, maintain your integrity, be honest, do things the right way, and don’t ever think that you can just run over people and it doesn’t have consequences. You know, do the right thing by people and maintain those relationships and it will propel your business. So, I think those are the two biggest things for me, right? Like, take care of people, work hard, don’t underestimate how hard it’s going to be. Those are sort of maybe generalisms but they just ring true for me every single day. And if you’re not around the right people and you don’t work hard, you will see things fall apart around you. And if you try to take shortcuts, you’ll see it fall apart. So, there’s no shortcut for good relationships.

Brad Johnson: Love that advice. You’re right. I think part of being an entrepreneur is this kind of vision and optimism but to your point, I was really fortunate myself. My business partner, Shawn, we both grew up in an incredible company and really saw that thing from employee 9 and employee 12 that now there’s thousands of team members there. And I think it’s almost this rose-colored glasses of, “Oh, yeah. No problem. We can do this.” And then there’s those days, the bb gun days to your analogy there and it’s tough some days. It’s like sometimes to the point of like why did I do this again? Why am I putting myself through this? So, I love the realness and that answer and it’s true to any entrepreneur that she talked to that’s honest. You know, not this, “Oh, yeah, everything’s perfect,” world. So, eight years into the Snappy Kraken. How many total team members do you have now?

Robert Sofia: About 80.

Brad Johnson: About eight-zero. 80?

Robert Sofia: Yep.

Brad Johnson: You’ve scaled. I mean, just knowing you and us crossing paths over the years, you bring great talented people onto your team. You surround yourself with them. What are your thoughts? I see a lot of financial advisors where it goes from a single-player game where they’re the lead salesperson and everything else to where they actually start to become a business owner or a CEO if that’s the journey they want to go on. Now, it’s like you change the rules to the game, and it’s about leading and vision and empowering others and getting out of the way. What are some tips that you would share of how to acquire and keep great talent as you build a business?

Robert Sofia: I don’t think that’s one important thing. I think that’s THE thing. I would never have scaled this business to where it is and it will never scale to where it wants to be, where we want it to be without the great people that are on my team. And great people don’t come cheap. They know their value. And if you don’t take care of them, they’ll leave you and you’ll always be on a treadmill. So, I’ve never been afraid to give up things to get great people. I’ve got partners right now that when I first started this business with them as partners and I was going to raise money, investors were like, “Why did you give away so much equity?” And I said, “Because I want them just as committed as me.” And then when I’ve got employees right now with bigger salaries than me. And when finance team says, “Why do you pay this guy so much?” I say, “Well, look at what he does for the company. How much do you think it would cost us to lose him?” And I think this is where a lifestyle creep can really be a problem. I’ve maintained a pretty modest lifestyle. If I was trying to pull down 3 million a year for myself and just buy a new 65-foot yacht and exotic cars, I’d be fleecing my business, and it would be spiraling.

But you give that money away and you have a long-term goal. You played a long game. Get the right people and be generous with them. Keep them in. Hold them accountable to reach goals that drive the value of the business and you’ll be building a really nice retirement for yourself. You’ll have a really good exit multiple. So, I think that’s it for me is like, treat people great, pay them well, don’t be afraid to hire above your pay grade, and it’s an old Jack Welch quote but, “Hire people smarter than you and get out of the way.” I mean, I don’t know how our platform works. I know enough to sell it and I know enough to make sure that we have data security. But my partner, Brad, that guy, he engineered a system. We have a proprietary marketing automation system that’s API first that has thousands of connections, active all the time, millions and millions of page views at any time in a five-minute window. It’s not easy to do. I couldn’t do it. He does it. And you know what? He’s been right alongside me for almost a decade, same with my business partner, Angel. You know, he’s a better marketer than me. He’s a better technician than me, been right beside me every step of the way.

And when I met with him, both of those guys really a few months back, and I said, “Hey, how are we doing? It’s been a long wait. What’s our outcome? How are we tracking? What does an exit mean for us now? What does it mean for us in five years? How committed are you?” You know, I don’t have to worry that they’re going to get enticed away by a better salary. But to me, that’s everything. Like, you can trust the people around you. You know they’re by your side, you’re going into battle, and things work out. And I’ve seen that. In my last business, it didn’t work out that way because my partners and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on the value of people, frankly. Now, I do see that with my partners. And I actually just sent an offer letter to somebody. That is my biggest hire I’ve ever made. I mean, he’s going to take our company to another level. Never hired anybody at this pay grade with this level of experience before. Little scary. But you know what he told me? He said, “I’ve got a lot of offers. I’m going to come work for you because I’ve met with your board members. I’ve met with your CFO. I’ve met with your president. I’ve met with your chief product officer, and you have an amazing team. And I hope you don’t take it for granted.” Now, he’s older than me. He’s like 52. And I said, “You know what? I don’t.” And I don’t. And I just think if you strip away all the noise in business down to its very basis element, all you got left is people and relationships. So, cherish them.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. One of my favorite quotes that we say a lot at Triad is play long-term games with long-term people. It’s like compound interest, except it’s relationships, right? And like what I just heard from that, Robert, was the two guys that really, Brad and Angel, were those the two guys early on at Snappy Kraken? Like, you knew those were long-term people. And I feel like there’s a shift in just the world of business right now. There was these big corporations where it was like here’s this big conglomerate with the CEO and it’s like what’s the least amount we can pay to fill this position and this position? And they look almost like cogs in a machine like, “Oh, just swap that one out. Throw this one in.” I feel like business is evolving to where we’re kind of getting to this new era of business. Shawn and I set aside a big chunk of equity because we wanted alignment with our team that it wasn’t like the two founders of the company where the guys are getting rich and flying around on private jets. But it was, “Hey, if you’re here and you believe in this, do business, do life mission and we want that for our Triad members and we want it for our team. And it’s not easy but we’re committed to that mission.

And guess what? If that’s for you and you’re in and you’re willing to come into this small company to take on these large institutions and finance, like we want you to have a seat at the table. Like, you deserve it as much as any of us.” And we’ve found that to be very different. And it’s cool. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that you kind of had a similar model with some of your early talent that you brought on but I found it to be super refreshing because there’s no guilt for me, the founder. I’m not like, you know, I feel like you’d almost feel guilty if you were there like building a business where you’re the one the proportions aren’t equal as far as the outcome and the opportunity. So, I don’t know from a recruiting standpoint if you found that to be true as well when you’re bringing talent in. Do you see it just creates a different sort of conversation?

Robert Sofia: For sure. By the way, I love that, long-term games with long-term people. It’s funny because I pontificated for like three minutes and then you said it in one sentence.

Brad Johnson: Well, I borrowed it from Naval Ravikant. So, I follow him on Twitter. He’s one of the most intelligent people out there. So, that’s where I borrowed it from.

Robert Sofia: I like it. I like it. Quippy quote there. Yeah, it does change the dynamic. And I think besides the guilt even which some people don’t feel that. I think I would feel that as well. It also selfishly gives you leverage. I mean, how are you going to ask somebody to pour themselves into your business and into your clients with no real beneficial outcome for themselves, just for a W-2? How are you going to ask that? But when you’re recruiting people and giving them meaningful equity, I mean, I spent I mentioned this person I’m hiring. I spent a good bit of time negotiating an equity package with him, which is a big part of his comp because he wants a certain outcome. And I helped him model how we get to that outcome for him. Well, now he’s going to come in and if we’re not achieving our goals, who’s he thinking about? Himself and how he’s going to achieve those goals. And when I say, “Look, we agreed that we were going to do A, B, and C to get to this outcome for you and for the company. Are you going to do your part or not? That’s a different conversation. Or when you go to somebody and say, “What are your goals for next year? Okay. How much wealth do you want to build? How much income do you want? All right, let’s put a plan in place for it whether it’s a career growth plan, whether it’s an equity outcome plan.” You know, that’s the stuff that I believe makes a big difference in culture. Everybody’s suddenly thinking about the outcomes of their actions and their investment in their work every day.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. I’ve heard the phrase, “Show me the incentive and I’ll show you the outcome or the behavior.” And it’s so true. I remember I coached an advisor. This was way back when and just he was like, “Well, I wanted to do this and they want to do that.” I’m like, “Well, look at the pay structure.” You’re misaligned there. And I think at the most basic, to your point, it’s like if I can create a model to where when the company wins, so do the key team members, it actually simplifies the equation. It’s like, “Hey, look, if it’s best for the business, it’s also best for you.” And it just like takes all of these. I’m sure you’ve been in this crazy annual bonus. I remember my first job right out of college I worked for Payless ShoeSource at their corporate office, now defunct, now bankrupt. And every year it was a new random bonus structure passed down from the corporate hierarchy. And you’re like, “Okay. Here’s the new make-believe game we’re playing this year.” Nobody likes that. You know, I feel like that’s a lot of the American corporate structure that I feel like is slowly dying off. Okay. So, let’s switch gears here a little bit.

By the way, love those shares. Thanks for the honesty and realness in that. It says a lot about like who you are and why you built such a successful business in such a short amount of time. I look at you as one of the guys that is really on the leading edge of just finance and tech, and obviously, COVID accelerated that dramatically for everybody. But what, you know, if you’re a financial advisor out there right now and you’re looking out the next three, five, ten years with where this thing’s going, you mentioned AI earlier, what would you be thinking about? What questions would you be asking yourself if you were a founder out there?

Robert Sofia: Yeah. It does depend a lot on the advisor’s model. I mean, we work with RIA aggregators and we work with single practitioners. And so, those things do change what types of questions I think I’d be asking and the type of work I would be doing but I’ll try to stick with what I think applies to everybody as much as I can, which is consumer expectations are really changing and they’re changing fast and they’re very high. And most advisor’s experiences aren’t up to that level. And so, regardless of what stage of business you’re at, the technology stack that makes everything really easy for clients, the account opening process, and the reporting and the servicing, and then the relevancy of the communications, I’ll just put it in a marketing context for a minute. What if you have clients that are getting your newsletter and you’re including things that aren’t relevant to them because it’s for a different age group or for a different life stage, or for different goals? They start tuning it out because they realize it’s not relevant. That happens every day with advisor newsletters. So, what’s a simple example of how to do it better?

Well, when you have good technology that has your lists segmented and people have the option to subscribe to certain things and unsubscribe from other things, and you’re asking them for their preferences upfront and tailoring it and then you’re using AI to make that content more personalized, all of a sudden now what they’re getting is relevant. Performance is better. Or you have clients who don’t check email but they text. We just talked about that earlier. What are you doing to make it possible for them? Or they don’t want to come in and wet sign. Why don’t you have a digital account opening experience? Or there’s a myriad set of examples like that. So, consumers expect things fast, accurate, easy, high quality, and everything in your business needs to be looked at through that lens. And the advisors who don’t have that will not grow as fast. They also won’t have as much scale and the price of advice is under pressure. So, how are you going to make sure that you’re not a victim of that? Probably by figuring out how to scale your business more effectively.

And so, regardless of what stage I’m at, probably today, I’d be thinking about where am I going to get my scale from, how am I going to create a really great experience end-to-end for new clients and existing clients. And then lastly, we live in a society where human connection is threatened. People are lonely, lonelier than ever. The pandemic really created some weird consequences. I saw an article recently about the new Apple-enhanced reality goggles. I forget the name of them already. But it said, you know…

Brad Johnson: They look like ski masks and they’re all over YouTube right now but, yeah, we’ll throw it in the show notes.

Robert Sofia: Yeah. I forget the name of them but the headline was, “Bullish on Apple, bearish on society.” And so, that stuck with me of course as a marketer but I think about that. You know, people are craving real connections and the advisory relationship is a really special type of relationship. It’s based on trust. You have a doctor. That relationship has to be based on trust because they’re doing surgery on you. They know intimate details about you. Your future health is in their hands. It’s very akin to a financial advisor relationship. You’re dealing with complex emotions. You’re dealing with their future financial stability. And so, that is the edge we have, real human connections based on trust and intimacy. So, I think that’s the balance. That’s the counterpoint to my earlier comment about technology and experience at scale. How do you forge meaningful connections? How do you maintain meaningful connections? How do you scale the human side of advice? And if you can do that, what you’ll find is that people are going to respond to you because they’re not getting that in other places. Everybody’s sort of being relegated to this like cold, faceless world.

If you can create a warm, safe place for people where they feel that connection, you’re going to draw clients in. They’re going to trust you. They’re going to refer to you. And technology can make that more possible. And I’ve told a lot of people, they asked me how do you define marketing. What’s marketing? And I say it’s human connection at scale. Human connection at scale. So, those are the things when I think about the future, stronger, more meaningful connections through technology and a great experience. That’s the firm of the future. That’s the advisor of the future.

Brad Johnson: Let’s rewind a little bit. You said something I think is spot on, which is almost the customer experience. Let’s say 1 to 10. Let’s say ten is like, I don’t know, you hear like the Apple Store experience where they’ve thought about a lot of these friction points of like going to a cash register, for example. You don’t have to do that in an Apple Store. What do you think is driving that in finance, which is always lagged when it comes to technology because of all the compliance and suitability and regulations? But what do you think’s kind of something that advisors could get away with back in the day where they’re just like clients aren’t cool with it anymore? What do you think is driving those behaviors?

Robert Sofia: More than anything, I think it’s nearly two decades with the iPhone. The expectation for fast technology, intuitive interfaces, the ability to do things like load up E-Trade and be trading in seconds, the research that you can access. Advisors used to rely on sort of being the source of you come to me for my market commentary. You come to me for access. You come to me for insights you can’t get anywhere else. You come to me to place those trades for you, and I’ll charge you $20 for every trade I place. And now, knowing that all of that is so commoditized and so accessible, I think people have just got a different expectation now, and I think that’s a lot of where it comes from.

Brad Johnson: Hey, you summed that up really well because I couldn’t agree more that the iPhone did completely change the game. Like, you look at all of the businesses that were born, the billion, multibillion-dollar businesses that were born because of the iPhone. Uber, prime example. I remember the first time one of my buddies was like, “Dude, like you can order a car.” Back in those days, it was black car only right from your phone. And we were out doing some financial event. I was like, “Dude, this is a game changer.” I’ll never have to like hunt down. Remember how hard it was to get a taxi back in the day? If you weren’t, like, in New York City, you’d have to like get a phone book and go to the bar and like call them and it was like the most annoying thing. But I think that’s spot on. It’s like all of the businesses born out of the convenience of an iPhone. It’s just become the expectation now. All right. So, we haven’t gotten to the book yet. And so, I want to hit that. We were joking before we went live. I didn’t even realize like you cranked out a book the last couple of years. So, let’s get to that.

Blend Out is the name, From Ordinary To Irresistible: How Advisors Can Market Like The Greatest Brands In The World. First off, I think I know the thought process behind the title but give me the concept of the title. And then maybe like we pluck a couple of ideas out of the book that we haven’t hit on already.

Robert Sofia: Yeah. Sounds good. The concept is that the world is crowded, there’s a lot of noise, especially online. And how do you get noticed and be remembered? You have to blend out. You have to be different. You have to stand out. It’s just a play on words, a little bit of marketing. And the greatest brands in the world do that really well. They’re in the right places where their audience is, and they show up in bold and memorable ways. So, I take essentially three qualities that make that possible. I use actual examples from big brands, and then I apply them to financial advisors. And those three qualities are boldness, uniqueness, and memorability. And each of those is different, little nuanced. Boldness, standing out, getting that attention, getting the eyeballs on the brand, on you. Second, making sure you have a different position, a different angle, different packaging using either who you are or how you do business as that uniqueness so that they don’t just notice you but then they recognize that you’re different. And then third, how do you get remembered? And that’s where the emotional component comes in. How do you create lasting memories and claim some mental real estate for yourself, so that when people think financial advice, they think of you?

Brad Johnson: Because you mentioned like some of the greatest brands in the world, do you have some case studies or examples in the book that might be a brand that it hits either the boldness, the uniqueness, the memorable?

Robert Sofia: Yeah, I do. I break down a lot of different examples of everything from, let’s see, like we talk about Red Bull and how they show up where their audience is and how they go about their marketing. And then we talk about certain ad campaigns that have been done by highlighter companies.

Brad Johnson: Cool.

Robert Sofia: Yeah. There are examples in there from actual financial advisors who’ve done a really good job, some sports franchises. There’s quite a bit. It’s not a short book. So, we do take examples in each of those areas and show how they work and how they stand out. Like, I’ll go back to the Red Bull example because I haven’t read the book in a couple of years but that one’s at tip of my tongue here, which is basically, if you think about Red Bull, they were started over in China and it was a very unknown small brand. And as an energy drink brand, they had to figure out where to create brand exposure to basically blow up. And that’s what they did. They brought in a very seasoned advertising executive to work there and he started going to, you probably remember back in the 90s, all of the thrill sports and extreme sports competitions. And that’s where they started showing up because they were an energy drink brand. And all of a sudden, Red Bull became synonymous with peak performance and high-energy sports and still is to this day. Even though there’s lots of other energy drinks, you can see Monster kind of use the same play out of the same book. But Red Bull was the first and they did it well.

Advisors, it’s similar. You have a totally different market, totally different approach. But where are your clients showing up? And what are they interested in? And how do you create an emotional connection to your brand with those clients? And then I break down examples like for advisors who have a charity that is near and dear to them, how do they show up at charity events in a visible way so that an emotional connection is formed with the audience who cares about that charity which they also care about and their brand is connected with. That’s one example. And there’s lots of other ways too to accomplish that. So, we take those examples, we break it down, and we apply it to the financial advice business.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. I just had a real-life example of that. Actually, an advisor out of Florida and during COVID, you know, typical 80s kid, I collected sports cards growing up. A lot of people in COVID get bored, just like me, no sports on TV and so I dive back into my old sports cards and then went like really, really hard where I started like looking at it like an asset class. But anyway, there’s a company called PSA that basically grades the quality of the sports cards. So, you submit the sports card, they slab it. Like, a perfect ten is like a flawless card. Well, so they put out a monthly magazine. There’s a family office, an advisor in there who’s a big collectible and sports card guy, like a multimillion-dollar collection. And right there, he’s got an ad that says, “Hey, I’m a collector. I’m also an advisor that runs a family office. If you have a seven-figure plus sports card or memorabilia collection, I’m your guy.” Only financial advisor in that entire magazine. And so, I connect with hum. We have a great conversation. I’m like, “Dude, this is great marketing. Like, this is your target market. It’s a hobby, but it also applies to what you do for a living.”

And I love that because you’re talking about Red Bull. So, how does that apply to financial services? There’s like a real-world example of a real-life advisor that’s doing very well for himself that just found that niche and then market it in a way that, you know, we call it dog whistle languaging. It stood out to the right people. So, yeah, that’s where my head went just from that example.

Robert Sofia: Is that Tom Ruggie, by chance?

Brad Johnson: It was. Do you know him?

Robert Sofia: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I interviewed him at Jolt! Conference. So, we do the big marketing conference.

Brad Johnson: Did you really? Oh, yeah.

I interviewed him about that because it is a perfect example. And it’s not like every advisor can go rip that off. He’s a real collector.

Brad Johnson: Oh, yeah, a real collection like 1952 Topps like multi-million dollar collection. That’s cool. Was he in The Villages? Because I know you guys were in The Villages, one of your offices. Was he in that same? Oh. That’s cool.

Robert Sofia: He was, yeah. We used to compete with him in the financial life so yeah.

Brad Johnson: Really cool. Yeah. Was that last year’s Jolt? Because I’m upset I missed that. I was at…

Robert Sofia: It was. Yeah.

Brad Johnson: It was? Oh, my gosh. My loss.

Robert Sofia: Always come to Jolt! Conference.

Brad Johnson: Hey, on that note, we should touch on that before we wrap here. So, yeah, for those that we obviously have hit a lot of Snappy Kraken. You guys do a big live event, live experience every year. The last year was in Vegas, which I was fortunate enough that you gave me an invite out there, Robert, so I appreciate that. And it was done first-rate, actually. I took some notes. I don’t know if I told you this or not, just some of the cool things you did. I think it was on May 4th, right? Because you have the stormtroopers there like you played off that. And so, I took some notes and shared them with our Experiences team. And I was like, “Hey, the Snappy Kraken team did this really well. We should replicate some of this stuff.” But is it always in Vegas? I know it’s an annual thing. Or does it move around?

Robert Sofia: Yeah. So, it’s going to be, actually, not this year. We are doing it next in 2025. So, June 9th through 11, and it’s going to be in Nashville. So, June 9 through 11th Nashville 2025.

Brad Johnson: Nice. Like, if it’s like, hey, here’s the purpose, here’s why we put this thing on. You’ve got a bunch of advisors listening. And so, who are the advisors that should go? And why should they go?

Robert Sofia: Yeah. Jolt! is about how to generate organic growth. Everything is about either brand, marketing, automation, events, anything that drives organic growth and we bring in the best experts from around the industry. It’s not a Snappy Kraken show. We even have our competitors there. Anybody that’s really a leader in any area of marketing is invited. And we invited them to speak and exhibit. We have video experts, podcasting experts, direct mail experts. They are all on stage. They’re all there. And it’s a great place to come and get inspired. It’s also a very creative atmosphere, lots of energy, and come and network with advisors who care about growth as much as you do and learn how they’re doing it. That’s what it’s all about.

Brad Johnson: Yeah. You’ve got a great, I remember literally walking in within five minutes there were like 15 people that I’m like, “Dude, haven’t seen you in a while. How you been?” And a lot of former podcast guests and I ran into, like, Jason Lahita, Taylor Schulte like a bunch like with them like the first, you know, people that are doing cool things in finance. So, I highly recommend it. So, this is not a paid advertisement. I was there. It’s definitely worth checking out for your advisors listening in. So, cool. Well, as we wrap, Robert, this is the Do Business Do Life podcast. I know we touched on it right at the beginning of the conversation but I would love to hear your definition. Like, what is Robert Sofia’s definition of what it means to do business and do life?

Robert Sofia: I wish I’d known that was going to be the last question earlier because I would have thought about it more. Everybody’s definition of what success looks like is different. So, for me, do business, do life means I’m living my personal definition of success. And that’s both in my work and in my life. So, there are things that I love that enrich me. They are sometimes in my work, the things I create, the people I create them with, the outcomes I can affect. And I get out of bed in the morning, I get a message from somebody that says, “My clients just emailed me and said, ‘This is the coolest website they’ve ever seen. I’m getting more leads than ever. I’m getting more referrals than ever,’” and I feel like I’m accomplishing something. I’m really helping the industry. That fires me up on the business side. To me, that’s success. My employees tell me they finally made so much money, they need a financial advisor. That’s success, right? They’ve got so much equity, their retirement is set. That’s success to me in business. But that’s not total success. Business success alone is not everything. So, that’s where the life comes in, right? I get emotionally drained. I should be able to walk out my back door and go for a hike. I can.

There’s hundreds of thousands of acres of national forest behind me and hundreds of thousands of acres in front of me, and I can hop on my four-wheeler and shoot off in the woods if I want to. And for me, that’s part of it. My son, I have lunch with my son every single day. I get up and kiss my wife goodbye every single morning. And I’m back at home without a commute. That’s success for me. I built a business that’s 100% remote. I can live wherever I want and work from wherever I want. So, I think we live in a time where technology gives people a lot of choices. And so, to me, I guess do business, do life means you make good choices, so you can do work that you love and live a lifestyle that you love and that’s really enriching.

Brad Johnson: Well said. Hey, dude, off the cuff, I don’t think you need a prep, man. You nailed that. So, couldn’t agree more with your sentiment. So, Robert, man, it’s always fun. We don’t talk enough but every time we do, I just enjoy every minute. So, thanks for hopping on here, sharing your wisdom with the audience, and truly look forward to the next time we get to connect, whether it’s via Zoom like this or in person. So, thanks for carving out the time.

Robert Sofia: It was my pleasure, Brad. Thank you for inviting me.

Brad Johnson: All right. Take care.

Disclosure

These conversations are intended to provide financial advisors with ideas, strategies, concepts and tools that could be incorporated into the advisory practice, advisors are responsible for ensuring implementation of anything discussed is in accordance with any and all regulatory and compliance responsibilities and obligations.

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