From the May 2007 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

May 1, 2007

Training Days

To train or not to train? That is the question -- unless you happen to be a financial advisor; then you have no choice. Training is as much a part of an advisor's job as deciphering P/E ratios and counting commissions.

Once you choose the career path of financial advisor, the training begins. You may recall the good old days when you trained to take the Series 7 exam. You may also remember the endless hours of sales training you endured, simply for the privilege of getting to make a gazillion cold calls.

Of course, let's not forget to mention all the different types of training you go through during a typical year. There's the invaluable training to maintain all your securities licenses. If you're lucky, you can be "trained" while eating a delicious lunch provided by your friendly neighborhood wholesaler. If you're unlucky, you may have to serve time in a Sylvan Learning Center, chained to a 1980s computer terminal. (Tip: Pick "C" or the longest answer.)

And then there are the broker/dealers who are constantly proving their worth by rolling out new software and other technology at breakneck speeds. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to try to stay on top of it all. Many advisors outsource this type of training to their branch office assistants. The only problem with this strategy is that you can never fire this person for fear of having to open an account on your own.

Motivational training is yet another type of training many firms provide. One of my earliest memories of this is from the late 1980s, as I was beginning my first wholesaling job. Our sales manager locked 12 wholesalers in a windowless hotel meeting room and rolled out an AV cart with a television and a VCR. For the next two days, we watched videos of a motivational sales trainer named W. Steven Brown. Did I happen to mention that the sales manager left the room once the video started and didn't come back until the end of the second day?

As you might imagine, with no adult supervision, our training session deteriorated into an Animal House-like atmosphere, sans the food fights. Having been well trained as the class clown most of my academic life, this proved to be the perfect environment for me to work my craft. When the sales manager finally reappeared, he was shocked and horrified. After he privately debriefed all the attendees, he placed me on double-secret probation -- and I remained there for pretty much the rest of my career.

I can also remember another motivational speaker named Zig Zigler. The big Z first made a name for himself selling kitchenware back when that sort of thing was a luxury item. What I took away from the Zigster was a story he told about a family member who had been seriously ill and in the hospital. Realizing that he might never meet his sales goals as a result of the time he spent with this family member, he pulled a table into the hall of the hospital and sold his pots and pans to the nurses and doctors. Apparently he was smart enough to realize that most of the patients weren't carrying their wallets and their IV drips at the same time.

Like it or not, training is here to stay. In fact, when done correctly -- as Martha Stewart would say -- it's a good thing. Unfortunately for me, I kept waiting for a close family member to enter the hospital so I could blow my sales numbers through the roof. I guess some guys just have all the luck.

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Once a mildly amusing comedian and a recruiter for a top independent broker-dealer, Bill Miller now works as an industry wholesaler; reach him at writingbill@mac.com.

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