From the June 2008 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

June 1, 2008

What Kind of Teams Will Work?

When Research magazine made its debut in June 1978, the No. 1 song on the Billboard chart was "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" performed by Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams. Just a month earlier I had edged into the financial services industry with a public seminar, "Telephone Prospecting."

Today, Johnny and Deniece are still performing. Research, of course, is still publishing. I am speaking, writing, have a new book due in August (Hot Prospects) and am in all other respects going strong.

The Team ConceptGil Weinreich, editor of Research, asked me to focus this article on team development because "you are identified with that topic." Identified is correct, but let me go further. In all modesty, I was the first kid on the block to see the coming decades dominated by teams.

I saw it because I was driven there by forces then (and now) in the marketplace. In the early to mid-eighties, I sold training seminars to firms. We literally trained tens of thousands of rookies to cold-call.

Beginning in 1982, the industry consolidation started. Kemper started buying regional brokerage firms. Shearson took over Hutton. Drexel imploded. Bache bought Thompson. Watching this was far more than a spectator sport. As the bigger fish ate the smaller fish, my marketplace was shrinking, providing a guaranteed income reduction plan for yours truly. I made up a name for the firm I imagined would be the last standing: AGMerrillWebberWitterBros. I will refer to this mythical firm hereafter as AGMWFB. (If I had called it Wachovia, I would now certainly be at the head of the prognosticator class.)

As I researched what I could sell to individuals, I discovered that FAs were worth $1,000 an hour in gross revenue while meeting with and talking to clients and prospects. That figure ultimately led to the "team concept." That was 1985.

I got it right 20-plus years ago. So I'll stick my neck out and say: the future landscape will be dominated by large teams, especially partnerships as the boomer advisors move into retirement years. As they fade to black, the new generation will embrace virtual teams.

To understand team evolution going forward, you should understand its origin and the natural laws that govern its successful operation. Sadly, the original version of this article was too long for the space allotted, so I cut this vital material and added it to a white paper, "Surefire Team Development." It's available at www.billgood.com/surefire.

Age Wave and Team DominationThe domination of teams and partnerships, and the rise of the virtual team are almost inevitable given three undeniable conditions.

Condition one: The age wave is forcing aging boomer FAs onto teams with younger FAs.

The demographics of this industry are a mirror image of our society. As in society, there is a huge bubble in age distribution of financial advisors; these are the boomer FAs.

When my team and I were teaching rookies, the major firms were sometimes hiring as many as 1,500 brokers a year. Many survived and are now fifty-something FAs. You needed a desk, phone, script and a list of rich people to call.

Frequently, when talking to a boomer advisor, I ask, "When do you plan to retire?" The usual answer is, "No plans. I love what I do. One day, I will just be carried out feet first."

That may be true, but what I am observing is that many are engaged in thoughtful planning for the survival and eventual buyout of their biggest asset. They are bringing in junior partners, or merging with a younger practice and, yes, planning to keep a few clients. The value of their businesses depends not only on its revenue stream but its survival potential after the founder departs. A team helps ensure continuity.

Those now truly intent on building continuity are also intent on converting to fees, if they haven't already. This roughly doubles the sale price of the business.

The boomer FAs need the younger generation.

Prospecting DifficultyWhen the "Do Not Call" laws went into effect in 2002, the world changed. No longer could a rookie with no cash make 200 calls to people at home and create a decent business in two or three years.

Consider the plight of the rookie today. How does he or she prospect? Referrals? From which clients?

Seminars? Big bucks required.

Direct mail? More big bucks.

Cold calling? Still works, but you better be one tough cookie.

Networking? Hit and miss. Realistically, the assets are with fifty-somethings, retirees or widows. How is the twenty-something going to network with them?

I'm thinking of a team in Salt Lake City, a three-way partnership. They are Bil Jeppson, Ernest Hathaway, and Thom Hall. Each is a partner in Financial Strategies Institute. They have $150 million or so in assets, and are pushing $2 million in revenue. They have Class A office space, beautiful conference facilities, a great-looking website and a highly professional staff. One is in his sixties, another in his fifties, one his thirties.

Let's say you've been a captive agent with one of the big insurance firms. You set up an office in your spare bedroom. When you have an in-office appointment, you provide the address of your "executive office suite." You get there barely in time to stick your shingle on the door.

If that prospect is shopping around, and then visits Ernest, Bil or Thom, how are you going to fare?

Suppose you have a tiny office in an AGMWFB branch along with 70 others. Some of the other private offices are much bigger than yours. Your view is a brick wall, theirs of the river front. Don't the people who come to see you wonder, "Are you practicing on me? How come I'm not talking to one of them?"

Condition two: The aging boomer FAs need younger partners. The younger FAs need to get on a team. Interesting how sometimes "nature" provides.

As for solo operators, I'm not saying fortune won't strike, and that none will survive. But it will strike the big teams first. The rich get richer, don't they?

Possibly the only exception to the "get on a team" rule is to start in a bank. The banks won the "Do Not Call" wars. Bank FAs can call the wirehouse clients at home. This is perfectly legal because you are allowed to call at home if that person has done business with your firm in the last 18 months. Sadly, for the rookies at AGMWF, they cannot cold-call randomly at home, which is a great protection for the bank FA.

But as is always the case with a new generation moving in, there are those who will survive on their own. Some will innovate in ways we cannot anticipate. Some of these will build the teams they need virtually.

The Virtual TeamWhat if you need 50 percent of a service assistant, 30 percent of a sales assistant and 20 percent of a computer operator?

Most will hire one assistant, whom I refer to as a "dog-cat-bird." Let's say you've got a critter sitting on the couch beside you. It barks. You say to a visitor, "This is my dog-cat-bird."

You can call it anything you want. You can call your one assistant a "sales assistant/service assistant/computer operator." But you do not have a modern marvel of genetic engineering. Calling it something does not make it so.

Condition three: With a virtual team, you can have as little or as much of a given service as you need.

Definition: A virtual team is a group of geographically dispersed individuals, united by a common purpose who conduct all or most of their business through telephone and other electronic media.

I have a virtual team. They are developing three new websites for me, one for my new book, one for me as a speaker and the third is an overhauling of billgood.com. I work in our Draper, Utah campus. The designer is in Clearwater, Fla. The copywriter is in Los Angeles. Both also work for others.

While this industry is not the first to adopt new technology (remember the debates about whether an e-mail is more like a call or letter?), independents and RIAs have already begun the development of the virtual team. It's here. You better pay attention. Meet Tom Mullooly (www.mullooly.net). Tom is an RIA in Manasquan, N.J. But it really doesn't matter where he is, or where his staff is, because his is a virtual team. He could work from a cruise ship, desert island or cave -- as long as there is a cell tower and high-speed Internet connection nearby.

As Tom explained in my own e-zine, e-Gorilla, his staff consists of two virtual assistants, one in Denver, one in North Carolina. To train his assistants, he uses Camtasia software to record short videos and screen shots teaching them how to do things, so he doesn't need to stop what he is doing. They can watch the videos when it works for them.

"My firm can be found in the top 5 listings on page one of the big search engines under many terms, but my focus is on local (regional) search terms," Tom writes. "I don't spend money any longer on paid ads (pay per click)." All his listings are on the free (natural search) side of Google, Yahoo and MSN. He has a weekly podcast (carried on iTunes), a blog and an HTML e-zine that drives traffic and aids the prospect pipeline.

Plus, Tom has a printed newsletter that his virtual assistant produces in Publisher, e-mails to Kinko's, and then folds, stuffs, and mails out every month to subscribers.

That's the road ahead. (Sorry, Bill Gates. I borrowed your book title of a few years ago. I hope my forecasts here are better than yours.) There you have it. There will be more, bigger and even virtual teams on the fabled road ahead.

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Bill Good is chairman of Bill Good Marketing Systems in Draper, Utah; see www.billgood.com

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