I had the opportunity to hear advisor coach George Hartman speak this year at the annual Million Dollor Round Table meeting in Toronto. While many presenters I've heard lately focus on the clients to maximize their success rate, Hartman went in another direction. He said advisors need to look in the mirror, first, to figure out if they're doing things right and maximizing their potential.
He asked the audience to raise their hands if they believed they were doing the things they needed to be top-performing advisors. Hands shot up. Hartman didn't shake his head. "In fact, I am willing to bet that most of you are already performing at a high level in many aspects of your business. You wouldn’t have qualified to attend this meeting without having done many of the right things and done them well. . . Don't worry, I won't be wasting your time. Even the highest-performing advisors rarely do everything perfectly."
What the best advisors have learned to do, according to Hartman, is to "recognize their strengths and weaknesses and then work to capitalize on the first and eliminate the second. They have also come to understand that, in the dynamic world of financial advice, perfection is an elusive goal."
In Hartman's line of thinking, “approximately right is better than precisely wrong.” The key is to know the difference. Now, let's take a look at five secrets of all top-performing advisors.
1. Have a vision of success.
The process of building a great, sustainable practice starts with having a clear vision of what you, as the founder and leader of your practice, want it to look and feel like at some point down the road.
How far down the road is entirely up to you. Some advisors are comfortable with extended time horizons of five to ten years, while others prefer to work in shorter time spans of three to five years. Whatever timeframe you choose, your vision statement should be an overriding description of what you are trying to accomplish.
It is the starting point for all future decisions. Once you have a thoughtful and well-articulated expression of “what you want to be when you grow up,” you will find it easier to choose among the options and opportunities that present themselves along the way.
2. Create a written strategy to realize your vision.
In his seminal book, “The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It,” author Michael Gerber noted that successful entrepreneurs take time out to “work on their business . . . as well as in their business.” To me there is no better demonstration of this important principle than the completion of a written strategic plan.
Unfortunately, most financial advisors do not have solid, up-to-date, written strategic plans. Perhaps they think the job is too big, too complicated, or not important enough to take time from their already hectic schedules. Top-performing advisors, on the other hand, usually have written plans that they review regularly and use to guide them in their decision making.
Drafting an effective strategic plan doesn’t have to mean creating an 80-page document. In fact, some of the best ones I have seen provided enough information to guide the advisor in managing the business with clear purpose and sharp focus. Either way, the process itself should be very familiar to advisors. Why? Because it is likely the same one they use with clients to create their financial plan. I use one called “Think, See, Draw, and Act.” Think about what it is you want to accomplish; See where you are today; Draw a map to take you from where you are to where you want to go; Act to implement.
3. Understand the metrics of your business.
Regrettably, most advisors do not have a good handle on what makes their business successful. They don’t appreciate the cause-and-effect relationship between the application of resources such as people and capital. Consequently, they don’t have the ability to control the momentum of their business.
What do we mean by the metrics of your business? They include such obvious things as average size of sale and ratio of cases opened to closed. More important, top-performing advisors have a keen awareness of what they can expect if they spend time or money on various activities in their business.
You can increase the number of clients you have in a variety of ways. You could simply work harder — doing more of what you are already doing. Alternatively, you could implement more effective marketing, develop more centers of influence to obtain referrals, or introduce additional products and services that attract people who weren’t interested in what you had to offer previously.
Top-performing advisors would consider all of those same activities. However, because they knew the metrics of their business, they would choose those most likely to obtain the desired results.
Assume, for example, they know from past experience that, on average, about half of their top 50 clients would provide a referral or introduction to a prospective new client if asked appropriately. Suppose they also know that for every two referrals they receive, on average, they gain one new client. Therefore, if their objective was to add ten new clients, they would require 20 referrals, which would mean they needed to have a referral conversation with 40 of their top clients. Knowing that, they might include a referral conversation in their next review meeting with 40 of their top clients.
4. Know your target market.
Because of having developed a strong vision statement, top-performing advisors have a clear picture of the people with whom they want to do business. They can define their preferred client profile by such things as age, income, occupation, and marital status.
They have also identified psychographic characteristics of the type of people, with whom they enjoy working, including such things as willingness to take advice, ability to make decisions, risk tolerance, beliefs, biases, opinions, and simple likability.
Even top-performing advisors recognize that they cannot always do business only with preferred clients. However, to the extent that they can focus their efforts on preferred clients, they can more often work in an area that interests them. This builds their knowledge, helps them identify client issues more quickly, and makes recommendations more easily. It also provides a greater opportunity to differentiate their practices by demonstrating specific subject matter expertise for people who fit their preferred client profile. As a result, they get more referrals, enabling them to reduce their marketing costs.
5. Have a compelling value proposition.
Top-performing advisors give people a compelling reason to want to do business with them through an articulate and powerful description of their value proposition.
Unfortunately, most advisor value propositions are weak and not articulated in a way that makes prospective clients want to know more.
In simple terms, your value proposition should tell people what you do, who should be interested in what you do, how you go about it, and why it would be of value to the listener or reader.
To be truly effective, your value proposition must:
• Inspire people to want to do business with you
• Be deliverable, given your capabilities and resources
• Differentiate you from competitors
• Focus on personal and emotional benefits that clients will enjoy — not products and services
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