All Business is Show Business
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Tom Peters wrote In Search of Excellence in 1988, and the book revolutionized business from that point forward. His observation that “all business is show business” became one of my foundational entrepreneurial beliefs. That idea drove excellence in the companies he studied for the book, and it drives the best advisory firms today.
But the idea isn’t intuitive.
Advisors are analytical and practical. They live in a world of numbers and spreadsheets and tax forms. They puzzle over budgets, expenses, and projections. Most are organized, detail-oriented, and thorough. In fact, those are entry level skills to any career in the field of finance.
It takes creativity to build an advisory business. To succeed, you must engage other people. You must draw them in, assess their needs, design practical solutions, explain those solutions, and finally convince and help them act. That’s a lot of steps. It takes more than numbers and spreadsheets to create profits!
Show business matters. Lots of people can sing, but only a few make a good living at it. The elements that make any kind of good show define an advisor and build healthy relationships. With thoughtfulness, a good show can help your client through the planning process, too.
What’s needed for a great show? Like a Super Bowl halftime, it takes lights, costumes, music, and props. You’ll need compelling actors or performers – attractive, interesting, amusing, friendly. Think Schitt’s Creek or the Big Bang Theory. Weave in a James Bond-like plot with anticipation, conflict, a few laughs, and always a dramatic climax. Done right, you’ll send the audience home laughing or crying; either way, if the show they got was worthy of the ticket, they’ll be back.
How can this work in an advisory office? The way to please people is to exceed expectations. Most people are stressed about personal finances. Expectations about a financial planning meeting aren’t very high. That’s a low hurdle to jump.
When we attend a live concert, there is deliberate purpose behind that (seemingly endless) period of dimly lit, mostly quiet, frustratingly slow, pre-concert stage activity. Anticipation is part of the show! I tell my team that our entire office is a stage; I’m not suggesting that we make clients wait, but first impressions must make a powerful statement. What should your office experience say? From parking lot to meeting room, what’s the anticipation for clients and prospects? Can you script an experience that exceeds expectations?
Meetings are about the show. They give clients comfort and allow us to guide them towards success. The client is the star, and your role is to take them where they need to go. Props? Charts, graphs, video or interactive software, only as needed, to explain or guide. They are not the show, they are props for the show.
Warren Buffett’s long-time partner Charlie Munger tells a story about people on a pier, examining a colorful display of fishing lures. One fellow yells over the crowd, “Do they catch fish?” The crusty old seller answers back in a slow drawl, “Mister, I ain’t selling them to fish.”
Stories that inspire are familiar, revealing, entertaining, and moving. Why moving? Because your job is to make people act. All stories, indeed, all efforts, are designed to move people forward on their own financial journey. No action means no success.
How about our supporting cast? Not everyone wants the spotlight, but every colleague encountered is a cast player. Don Knotts? Betty White? Matt LeBlanc? Catherine O’Hara?
What about newsletters or statement packages or follow-up telephone calls? What messages do you want to convey? How might you adjust them to improve the show? I’m picky to the point of choosing special paper to print quarterly statements. Do clients notice? I’m doubtful they notice the details, but I’m confident that ours is the best statement package they’ll ever see.
People don’t always read newsletters, either, but I don’t care. If it looks good and feels nice and they carry it from the mailbox to the trash can, I count it as a positive touch between us and them. It’s part of the client experience even when they don’t open it! I prefer they read it, but I’m okay if they don’t. The same with email blasts: I’m sharing helpful information; you can read it or not.
We carefully script phone calls to foster an impression that our office is hectic and that unavailable advisors are working with clients. Calls are routed to remote locations because no one needs to know if an advisor is in the office or working from home. Mostly, callers want help, not lengthy explanations … we painted a picture that we were big and busy long before we were!
We mail hundreds of birthday and Christmas cards, too, and I insist that each one is signed by every associate. Yes, it’s a chore. Yes, our people tire of the chore and complain about the disruption. But let me ask you this … what do you think of fake birthday cards and form letters? At my house, if something isn’t signed it goes straight to the trash bin. Do it right or don’t do it at all.
The climax? In concerts, the climax is the encore. It is carefully choreographed to bring fans to their feet and leave them with foot-tapping, ear-ringing, heart-thumping smiles from ear-to-ear. Leave them happy but leave them wanting more.
Making it in show business isn’t easy. Making it as an advisor isn’t easy, either. The basics, well, everyone knows the basics. We all passed the exams and know the numbers. We’re a bit like singers in the church choir: good, but common.
It takes a show to shine.
Dan Danford, CFP® is founder/CEO of Family Investment Center in St. Joseph, Missouri. He learned early ideas about money from his late father, Thad Danford, who charged rent on the family lawn mower while Dan cut neighborhood lawns. Danford is a practicing investment advisor and author of Happy to be Different: Personal and Money Success Through Better Thinking.