In reviewing surveys on the challenges advisers face, client issues consistently top the lists. Servicing, managing expectations and attracting new clients rank highest.
Saying “clients” is not enough when considering the phases of the client lifecycle: acquisition, proposition, pricing, segments, services and delivery. So what does this have to do with a column on unleashing adviser potential? Everything.
Leadership research suggests success is 20% methodology and 80% mindset. With this in mind, let's explore the first phase of the client lifecycle: acquisition.
Many advisers no longer actively market the way they did when they started. Instead, firms rely on client referrals and markets for growth — a workable strategy, albeit a passive one that does nothing to maximize growth potential.
If advisers genuinely believe in what they do, what could possibly stop them from feverishly spreading the message? When I ask advisers wishing to grow why they aren't doing more to market, common answers include: “I don't know how,” “I don't have time” and “I don't want to look like a slick salesperson.”
Advisers with successful firms claiming they don't know how to grow? What they usually mean is they don't want to return to dialing for dollars or hitting up every friend and family member with a pulse. Advisers hesitate to take action because the old way isn't attractive and the new way isn't clear. The resulting uncertainty ensures advisers take little, no or inconsistent action.
When I ask what can be done to market, I've yet to meet an adviser who couldn't come up with a decent starting point. How then can the feeling of not knowing how persist as a reason for not doing so? Mindset.
Marketing now requires advisers to step out of their comfort zone and into new behaviors. That's not to say the comfort zone is comfortable, usually it is not. But the catalyst for improvement is change. No small task when our brains perceive change as a threat, and actively work to thwart change, even when it is good for us.
Next comes “I don't have time to market.” While a true statement for many, this is not about time. It's about creating boundaries. Not an area of strength for the average adviser. The culprit once again: mindset.
I'm working with a firm that is overwhelmed by the demands of client service. When discussing why changes can't be made, I am told, “We can't make clients wait to talk to someone; clients are used to getting us directly. They have our direct line, and we answer when it rings.” These advisers believe this serves client interests and their own.
This isn't about how they manage their time, because they don't. Their environment manages them, leaving them little control over their time or attention. It's no wonder they suffer from persistent feelings of stress and being overwhelmed. Nothing is more draining than a problem you tell yourself you can't solve.
The following is a discussion that helped them break through these limitations, challenging whether their beliefs were really true:
Me: “When you take on a new client, do you tell them they can expect great service?”
Adviser: “Absolutely. Nothing is more important to us.”
Me: “Do you tell them you'll work on their case intermittently, beset by distractions, interruptions and incoming client phone calls? That you'll do your best to focus on their work, but will finish it at the last minute, but not to worry because they can still expect your very best?”
Adviser: “No. And when you put it that way, it doesn't sound like great service at all.”
Me: “Agreed, because it isn't great service. But as you described it, this is what you are doing.”
Then remains the “I don't want to look like a slick salesperson” concern. Are you? Do you care about improving client lives or just want to make a quick buck? Do you want to help more clients and grow your firm?
You've invested time, money and sweat equity into building a client base so that you can make a difference. Yet many advisers are afraid to tell people they can help for fear of being mistaken for a used-car salesman. Is this a real risk or a perceived one? The underlying belief system is that selling will cheapen credibility and come with judgments reserved for those staffing the corner car lot. In my humble opinion, advisers should be shouting their message from the rooftops, not hiding it under a bushel.
Upon review, none of the rationalizations cited for why firms aren't growing stand up. It quickly becomes clear that there isn't a business case for any of them, or the behavior they represent. These are leadership issues, driven by what's happening inside of us. Fear, uncertainty and doubt are driving many advisory firms, even the most successful among you.
Stephanie Bogan is preparing the launch of her second firm, Educe Inc., a business consulting firm that helps successful entrepreneurs build wildly successful businesses and lives they love. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.