Some of the most successful, honest and reputable advisers I've interviewed over the years have cited that what makes them different is that they — unlike less scrupulous advisers — actually do what they claim and truly have their clients' best interests at heart. They are tied to a fiduciary standard that goes beyond a legal statute, as they have a passion for helping clients reap the benefits of maintaining healthy financial plans. However, saying “trust us” has the opposite effect of its intent.
Trust is an intangible differentiator that financial advisers must convey in their communications with clients. While trust is built over time with a track record, clear communication and transparency can help lead the way.
So how do you convey the intangible trust factor in your communications?
Differentiating yourself as an adviser in an age where consumer options for receiving financial advice are aplenty has become increasingly challenging. Last year's Pershing study, "What do top advisors say and what do investors really think?" shows that top advisers are using the same or similar messages to attempt to set themselves apart. So how do you differentiate yourself as a trusted adviser in an environment of sameness?
If you can't clearly communicate your value, processes, planning and investment strategies, then your clients and prospects are unlikely to trust you. When your clients and prospects don't understand you, they start to doubt you. You need to have a clear, compelling story and consistent talking points and materials to support it.
Take a good look at the messages you communicate and the materials you use to convey them. Marketing your business starts with setting a standard for clear communication. Consistent messaging statements serve as the foundation for all your communication efforts.
Start by asking yourself these six basic, but tough, questions:
1. Why are in you in business? How did your firm get to where it is? Weaving some personal background and a raison d'etre into your firm's story gives it personality and history for clients and prospects.
2. What motivates you and your team? What makes for a great day/month/year at the firm? Financial returns aside, what factors make your office run like a Swiss watch and make everyone smile? Determining factors for success beyond the monetary help demonstrate a passion for what you do.
3. Do your clients understand the benefits of what you do for them? Beyond the technical aspects of your services, your clients need to understand the “what's in it for me” part of the equation. You should be able to give clear examples of the results of your services so clients have a tangible understanding of why they work with you.
4. Can you explain your investment process simply and concisely? You should be able to explain how you manage money in a few simple sentences for those who just want to hear the big picture, and have a more in-depth pitch book for those who want and need to truly understand how you manage money on a deeper level.
5. Who are your competitors? What are their claims? Know how you compare to competitors and if there is a difference between your ideal client and theirs. There may be specific points of their sales pitch that may not appeal to clients and prospects that you can address head on. Conversely, there may be pieces of your sales pitch that aren't as attractive as your competitors that you may need to amend.
6. Can you weave the answers to these questions into a story about you, your firm, your services and who you serve? Is the story consistent among your entire team and all your materials, including your website? This is the essence of your brand, and it's imperative to make sure your entire organization is on board with it.
In your next client or new business meeting, watch and listen closely to how your clients or prospects respond to you and your materials. Ask yourself and your team if there are aspects of your sales pitch that are consistent sticking points. If you perceive anything other than clear and obvious comprehension and a sense of trust from the other side of the table, then it's time to review your communications.
Amy Zimmerman is the principal of A.Z. Communications, a marketing and branding firm for investment professionals.