Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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I have received so many questions related to sales skills and business building that I will offer some basic tips for readers who want to energize their sales process and grow their firms. It’s no surprise that most advisors don’t sell naturally and in most cases think of selling as unpleasant. “I want to clients to refer on their own – I don’t want to sell them on doing so,” is a refrain I hear over and over again.
Advisors who have obtained a CFP, CFA or other designation probably enjoy planning for their clients and studying the financial markets. They enjoy investing and quantitative analysis. Selling wasn’t in the equation when they thought about a career path. And yet sales skills are imperative if you want to grow your firm consistently over time. Networking and having clients who like you can get you to a certain point, but to see consistent growth you must learn how to focus both strategically and tactically on the selling process.
After 25+ years of selling and marketing investment products in a variety of financial services venues, I’ll offer my best ideas for a consistent and productive focus on business building:
- Write a business-building plan. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? You create a financial plan for clients. You probably have a business plan for your firm. You might have performance plans for your employees. But rarely do I see advisors taking the time to create a clear, written business-building plan. What will you focus on? Increasing client or COI referrals? Finding new prospects? Where will you focus? How much will you spend on marketing? How will you gauge success? This should all be in your plan.
- Assign responsibilities that can be tracked throughout the firm. Spell these out clearly in writing. Align compensation with business-building objectives. It’s easy to be satisfied with income from existing clients. If you want growth, compensate for it and align it to business goals.
- Communicate progress and focus on growth each month and each quarter. What’s working, what’s not? Are you on track with expectations? Where do you and your staff need to make mid-course corrections? When advisors ask me how to create a culture for growth, this is my number-one focus. Communicate often and with specifics. Do post-mortems on wins and losses.
- Align your tools with the sales process. Advisors will ask what they should do once they have presented a proposal and the prospect doesn’t respond. First rule? Don’t present the proposal until you know the prospect is ready to sign it. Qualify throughout the process and have other marketing materials to give prospects. Feed them small amounts at a time. Don’t give everything away so you have nothing left. And always confirm the prospect’s process. Show them how it “should” work, but then confirm what they need before they make a decision.
- Make it easy on clients and COIs to refer you. “Just ask” is a silly philosophy. Clients are busy. So are COIs. They may like you. They may want to help you, but you aren’t top-of-mind in their daily lives. Create an ongoing communication program that makes it easy for them to pass along tidbits of information and remind their friends about what you do and how you do it. Drip, drip, drip information that is useful and beneficial and can be easily passed along.
- Ask clients and COIs what they need. Sometimes a direct conversation is best. “I am very interested in helping those who you care about; what could I do to support your efforts in introducing me?” I have lost count of the number of clients who tell me they want to help their advisor find referrals, but they just don’t know how. Instead of trying to figure it out, ask them directly. Most people will tell you if they like you and think you are doing a good job for them.
There are many other ideas I will follow up with in future articles, but this provides a starting point. Summer is a great time to get some of these things in place so you are ready to capitalize in the fourth quarter.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995; in 2008 she co-founded Advisors Trusted Advisor to offer dedicated practice management resources to advisors, planners and wealth managers. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate students Leadership & Social Responsibility. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.