The Power of Storytelling

Beverly Flaxington

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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Dear Bev,

I’ve read in the past that you encourage telling stories about clients. There are lots of compliance reasons that deter us from getting too specific when telling a client-based story. In addition, I don’t see how stories are of importance. Can you clarify?

Brant D., Midwest

Dear Brant:

Storytelling is as old as the ages. It is not only a method of communicating but also a way to have someone remember what you’ve communicated. There was a great article in Forbes on this topic, if you want to read further about how important storytelling is in business.

In the advisory business, telling stories is actually easy because it is interesting! Think about it. You are setting (and hopefully helping to meet) life goals with clients, uncovering interesting financial information clients may not have had before, helping them understand complex issues, etc. Financial advisors are tapping into primal emotions such as fear and love when talking about saving, spending and helping clients get what they want out of money!

From a compliance perspective, you can’t name names or tell specifics, but you can give overall descriptions. “One couple I worked with was hoping to retire in their early 50’s. They came to me in their mid-40s worrying about whether they were saving enough and making the right decisions. After we did X, Y, Z and more, I was able to tell them that they could retire in the next 2 years if they wanted to! Let me show you, new prospect, exactly how I walked them through the information.”

Think about descriptors for who comes to you, what obstacle or need they have, what they want to accomplish and how you work with them to solve their issues. Describe what happens once you work with them and how their lives are changed.

Once you collect enough stories and get good at telling them, you’ll find they are the best marketing tool you have!

Dear Bev,

We offer a full range of financial-planning and wealth-management services. We are very active in a couple of the networks that offer sales leads. I hear back from some of our contacts in these networks that full-scale wealth management is “too complicated” and we should focus on investments only. This seems contradictory to me. We don’t actually have situations where we offer investment only. We don’t believe it is prudent to do this. How should we respond?

Name withheld

Dear Financial Advisor:

It seems to me that these contacts are suggesting that you should be something you are not for their convenience. You didn’t say in your note which network(s) you use, so I can’t chastise them publicly. However, in my experience, most advisors are either investment-focused, financial-planning focused or a combination. It strikes me as odd that you would be asked to convey something that doesn’t fit your firm.

I wonder if the problem is really in the telling of your story to the reps. Are you clear about whom you serve, what you can provide them and how you work with prospects and clients? Are you sure your story can easily be re-told and isn’t so complicated that the reps are just trying to make it easier? Do you default to an investment-focused discussion so the reps follow along and want to learn more?

First, I suggest you examine what you are doing and make sure you aren’t making a mistake in presenting your information. Then, I would have a conversation with the channel reps. Do they fully understand what you do and how you do it? Can you tell stories and help describe what you do in a more compelling manner so they remember it for future discussions?

Remember that the folks in these networks are busy and sometimes do whatever is easiest – help them make you the easy choice by providing the right level of information and engagement.

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,, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.

Read more articles by Beverly Flaxington