10 Worst Sales Mistakes Advisors Make

Darci Hemsley Brown, of Aaron Hemsley Assocs., helps advisors overcome sales-related fears and self-sabotaging behaviors

Face it: financial advisors have issues — often with themselves. In fact, sometimes they can be their own worst enemy.

ThinkAdvisor asked Darci Hemsley Brown, senior managing partner of the management, sales and psychological training firm Aaron Hemsley & Associates, to identify the 10 worst sales mistakes that advisors make.

Since 2001, Brown has worked with hundreds of financial advisors in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Australia and Asia. The financial author-speaker Nick Murray calls Brown’s 10-week coaching program “the single best investment you can make in your career.”

Brown’s father, Aaron Hemsley, is a pioneering performance-psychology researcher and sales-process coach whose philosophy is: “Top producers are not born – they are made.”

[Check out The 6 Cold Calling Skills You Really Need]

Darci joined the company after years as a psychology professor and psychotherapist. She specializes in coaching advisors one-on-one to help overcome sales-related fears and self-sabotaging behaviors. Once completing the “Psychology of Maximum Sales Performance” program, advisors are ready to use the techniques on their own.

Speaking from company headquarters in Las Vegas, Brown revealed financial advisors’ biggest sales mistakes and ways to overcome them. Here is what she said, starting with No. 10 on her list:

Rationalizing, Justifying, Minimizing, Making Excuses for Behavior

10.  Rationalizing, Justifying, Minimizing, Making Excuses for Behavior

If you stay up till midnight drinking with your buddies on a Monday night and your head feels like a bowling ball on Tuesday, how can that not affect your performance, sales and prospecting? Thinking that it’s “no big deal” is making an excuse. Mood, energy, productivity, performance are directly affected daily by everything you do. You’re 100% responsible for the things in your life that you have 100% control over. No one would consider putting anything other than premium fuel in a Bugatti. Likewise, if you’re not taking care of yourself, you aren’t able to effectively help people that need your help – who are negatively affected by your bad personal choices too. When you don’t get enough sleep, you might think, “No big thing.” But feeling tired and sluggish the next day will affect your performance and productivity. The human body is so much more valuable than a sports car.

Not Having a Daily Accountability Tracking System

9.  Not Having a Daily Accountability Tracking System

You can use a yellow pad to track performance. I don’t care if you use a Post-it! A tracking system is a way to slow down the action so that you can see your reality and fix problems quickly. That allows you to do better in sales and every other area of your business. When you track your performance, you’re able to evaluate it rationally instead of emotionally. Any time you’re trying to improve, grow or overcome a negative habit, or create a new positive one, you need to be accountable and carefully monitor everything you do all day long. If you’re unwilling to do this, you’re putting your head in the sand: “Oh, I’ll just do the same ol’- same ol’.” You don’t need to be held accountable to a branch manager or regional manager; but if you’re serious about growth and change, you must be held accountable to yourself.

Living Life in Your Comfort Zone

8. Living Life in Your Comfort Zone

You feel you’re making enough money; you don’t need a nicer house or car. So you get complacent and stop pushing. Or you’re simply settling for mediocrity. That good-enough attitude, “I’m doing well enough,” or living in your comfort zone are lazy approaches. If you’re grossing $1 million a year but capable of doing four times that and not using all your talents and skills, or if you’re sitting in your office reading the sports page online and not working seven to eight hours a day, you’re choosing to act irresponsibly.

Maybe you have a fear of success because you think that you’re undeserving: “Good grief, I can’t make more than my brother, the doctor. He saves lives. What do I do?” Fear of success usually is quite hidden. When I see advisors clearly sabotaging themselves, I typically spot a red flag: a record of roller-coaster productivity, with their best month frequently followed by two or three bad months. But then they get nervous again: “Oh, I’d better kick it up a notch and have another great month.” Then: “Whoa, I’m getting too big!” This is always absolutely subconscious. If you bring up a fear of success, they’ll immediately be in denial: “That can’t be me!”

Perfectionism

7. Perfectionism

This is a self-defeating behavior that affects financial advisors by sucking all the joy, happiness and peace right out of them. Perfectionism is typically motivated by a fear of failure or a sense of duty.  But if you pursue excellence in a healthy, rational way, you find joy in the journey. Perfectionists are so terrified of failure that they try to do everything perfectly. This leads to procrastination because you’re worried that you can’t do it perfectly. Or when you do start a project, you spend way too much time on it. That creates anxiety, making you and everybody around you uncomfortable. The perfectionist is waiting to be happy. 

But no matter how great their accomplishments, they’re never really satisfied: “I sure will be happy once I become a million-dollar producer.” But when you get to the million dollar mark, you’re still not happy: “Maybe $2 million is the happy gross-production point.” Perfectionists are striving to accept themselves: If I’m perfect enough, then I’ll be worthy of love. Perfectionism is tied into loving yourself unconditionally and allowing others to love you unconditionally.

Refusing to Create a Daily Plan of Attack

6.  Refusing to Create a Daily Plan of Attack

This is a horrendous mistake: Not having an hour-by-hour agenda of how you’re going to use your time every day. A fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach is ineffective at best. A daily plan makes you more organized and gives you flexibility to move things around. In the life of a financial advisor, money is on the line every day – yours and other people’s. If you’re not making a plan of attack that’s specific, immediate and clear, and are passively approaching prospecting and client care, that’s lazy and irresponsible. You aren’t serious. Professional football players always have a plan of attack. The teams are strategizing – just like in war – studying the opponent and how they’re going to beat them. 

There’s a proverb associated with King Richard III about the neglect of a simple detail. He [supposedly] was unprepared in a crucial battle because of a missing horseshoe nail, causing him to fall off his horse and his army to scatter. Shakespeare wrote: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” [Factually, the horse got stuck in mud.]

Focusing on Results vs. Activities Over Which You Have Control

5.  Focusing on Results vs. Activities Over Which You Have Control

It’s not just advisors that do this -- it’s branch managers and all the way up the company. They focus their attention on results -- gross production -- instead of rewarding advisors’ good activities that will lead to good results. This can cause advisors to become depressed and discouraged, leading to emotional exhaustion. Many branch managers think concentrating on results will push you harder; but if your focus is on results and you have a fear of success, that can backfire. This destroys your emotional strength, bringing on low self-esteem and all kinds of other negative issues.

If you’re a smart branch manager, you do not want that to happen. If you’re an advisor focusing on the goal to make $1 million in gross production next year and on January 10, you land the largest client of your career and already surpass your goal, you might think, “Guess I’ll take a vacation for the rest of the year.” No! What you earned yesterday is irrelevant. How many people are you going to talk to today? If you want to make your branch manager happy, set a darn goal. But then try forgetting about it and start focusing on the daily activities that you have 100% control over. Focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t.

Neglecting to Effectively Manage Daily Stress and Anxiety

4.  Neglecting to Effectively Manage Daily Stress and Anxiety

The higher your stress level, the lower your productivity and the poorer your performance. If you feel stress but are doing nothing about it, you become worn out emotionally and physically. This affects your mood, productivity, sales and ability to prospect. Performance anxiety is about stress; it typically comes from a fear of rejection or looking foolish. Ruminating about the past or worrying about future production is a distraction; it wastes your emotional energy and creates stress. Many advisors self-medicate for stress. The most common way is to surf the Internet.

But this is an avoidance behavior that actually exacerbates  stress: you’ve lost an hour or two procrastinating, putting you behind; and now you’re anxious about something that has to be done. Drugs are another way to self-medicate: caffeine or cocaine – both are drugs. Alcohol is the most common self-medicating drug used for stress. But instead of feeling better, you’ve made the problem worse by taking a depressant. Be sensitive to your stress level. When you notice it’s getting out of control, do some deep diaphragmatic breathing, for example, and generate relaxing, peaceful thoughts. This helps keep your motivation, energy and emotional strength at healthy levels.

Pride

3.  Pride

A self-defeating behavior, pride negatively affects sales because it prevents learning and growth. Pride is, in this sense, more than conceit or arrogance: it is a state of opposition. If you’re a truly prideful person, you have a very difficult time accepting authority or direction and if you need help, are highly unlikely to seek it. You might not even admit that you have a problem. If you’re capable of but not quadrupling your gross production by using all your talents and time effectively, you’re choosing to act irresponsibly. You have a fear of failure, a fear of success or a fear of rejection. It requires humility to seek out help when you’re struggling, but prideful people are not humble enough to do that. They make everyone their adversary and pit their intellectual ability, talent, wealth – any other worldly measure – against everyone else.

Habitual Distorted Thinking

2.  Habitual Distorted Thinking

Negative thinking can be both accurate and true, but distorted thinking is different: there is something wrong with a distorted thought. It is inaccurate and untrue. And it tends to be negative as well. Distorted thinking is the root of all irrational fear. We create our own fear through the distorted thoughts we choose to entertain. “Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda” is a type of distorted thinking. Fantasy daydreaming is self-defeating too because it wastes time: it’s avoidance from work.

One of the most common types of distorted thinking that financial advisors engage in is “mind-reading”: they think they know what another person is thinking and feeling about them. For instance: You have a fear of asking for a referral because you imagine that clients will think you’re rude or offensive. This leads to the belief system that asking for referrals is rude, annoying, makes people angry and that they therefore won’t like you. The big, encompassing fear is the fear of rejection. Advisors need to learn how to control distorted thoughts by using the three C’s: Catch it, Challenge it, Change it – into healthy, rational thoughts.

Fear of Prospecting

1. Fear of Prospecting

This is the most damaging fear – and it’s pretty prevalent.

Prospecting is the one thing that financial advisors, almost without exception, avoid because of fear of rejection, fear of failure or fear of success. Everyone has fears; but if they’re causing you to perform below your potential, hide out in your office and not prospect day after day – and if you aren’t seeking help – that is going to lead to failure in the industry. At a bare minimum, you won’t be as effective. You might be able to somehow get by, but you’ll be performing far below your true potential because you’re not handling your fear. You control your own fear. You exacerbate it. And you can choose to start minimizing it.

If you’re just sitting on your behind waiting for referrals to fall in your lap, you’re rationalizing. That’s a very passive, lazy approach to prospecting. In fact, you’re not prospecting – you’re making excuses for not prospecting. All advisors know they need to prospect to grow their business. So avoiding it creates anxiety, worry, remorse, frustration and self-loathing. You can’t wait for referrals to magically come to you. The biggest problem is choosing not to do something proactive to eliminate any fear that interferes with doing your job effectively.

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