Financial advisors’ discomfort with sales is often in inverse proportion to their ease with numbers, graphs and tables.
To a professional seeking to provide expertise, and priding himself on his knowledge and competence, selling can feel unpleasantly self-assertive, yet sooner or later advisors recognize that revenue-generating actions must be taken.
Responding to this skill deficit, veteran business development consultant Beverly Flaxington of The Collaborative has written a new book geared specifically to financial advisors meant to walk them through the steps they can take to address this vital business need.
Called the “Pocket Guide to Sales for Financial Advisors,” Flaxington’s 202-page book targets the CFPs, CFAs and CPAs who consider themselves non-sales professionals.
“You don’t have to become an aggressive, pushy salesperson, which is what most advisors try to stay away from,” Flaxington tells ThinkAdvisor in a phone interview.
“You can learn some professional things you can do just to be able to increase your sales professionalism. So the book doesn’t turn you into a pushy salesperson; it gives you some very practical ideas that anyone, even non-salespeople, can use.”
The “Pocket Guide” starts out with steps Flaxington deems essential—defining your market, developing a sales strategy, having a plan and sales talent in your arsenal, and prospect tracking, among them—then branches out to tactics such as storytelling or generational selling that advisors can select based on personal preference.
In an analogy helpful for advisors, Flaxington likens the essential sales activities (there are eight) to the elements of their clients’ financial plan. “If they’re strong in a certain area, they want to continue to focus on it, refine it, keep it strong…but you also look for a person’s financial vulnerability; if something is good, leave it in place, but you definitely want to find where your risks are.”
That is to say, anyone whose goal includes building a business and generating revenue cannot afford to ignore skills that impinge on sales effectiveness; areas of weakness must be addressed. But beyond these areas, advisors are free to play to their strengths by employing the tactics that are more in line with their interests and desires.
Having a sales strategy is an example of an essential step in an advisor’s business building.
“That’s knowing where you want to focus,” says Flaxington. “Instead of taking a broad idea like, ‘I want to increase assets by 20%,’ your strategy is where do you want to get those assets from and how do you want to go after them. You may only want to go after centers of influence, or that [together with] direct mail. It’s being thoughtful about what your approach ought to be.”
So while every advisor needs a sales strategy, the strategies will vary according to advisor preferences.
“It’s your opportunity to think about what you want to put in place and what is reasonable and feasible to put in place,” she says.
“Not everything is right for everybody, nor do people want to be doing things they’re not set up to be successful at. It’s making those conscious decisions: What tools do I have? What skills do I have? What are the opportunities?”
A classic strategic decision advisors face—or mistakenly shrug off—entails defining a niche. “I find advisors resistant to that because they think it limits them: ‘I should be able to do planning for everybody at a certain asset level.’”
But Flaxington reminds her clients they need not turn away a client who doesn’t fit the niche; it’s just that their marketing will be more effective if the strategy is cognizant of one—as the example of one of her advisor clients illustrates
“One of our smaller advisors has been at it for 20-plus years and claimed to have no specific niche, no theme,” she recalls. “So we asked him to take a different look in the database and look at the clients by…hobbies, background, just a lot of different slices he hadn’t looked at before.
“He found he actually had a theme of people who were passionate about tennis as a hobby,” she continues. “He was then able to create his messaging imagery and client events all around tennis as a fundamental idea and grew his client referrals exponentially because most people who play the game have money…and have friends.”
The advisor—himself a golfer—quickly developed an interest in the sport after observing this unexpected commonality among his clients, Flaxington quips.
A more typical commonality her clients have found arises when some number of clients—it could start with a half-dozen—turn out to work for the same, large company. The advisor may then develop mastery of the details of that company’s retirement and benefit plans as a prelude to recruiting prospective clients from that company.
Among the tactics advisors can chose, Flaxington speaks enthusiastically about storytelling, a skill that is somewhat at odds with the typical data-analyzing advisor.
“Storytelling is the art of listening well enough so you that learn something about the [client or prospect] and then you can share a story of success that is relevant or interesting to them,” she says.
“So it involves understanding who comes to you, what they need, what you can do for them and what they get as a result” of working with you.
Advisors can get a lot of mileage out of storytelling, she says, particularly because so many of their quantitatively oriented peers are merely sharing “facts,” she says.
“What really gets engagement and what is memorable are the stories; the facts are forgettable.”
The value of storytelling came through with one of Flaxington’s advisor clients for whom her firm was “redoing his messaging,” she recalls.
“We would ask him to describe what he was doing. He would keep telling us what he did [for a client] and we kept telling him how powerful that was.”
With the Collaborative’s encouragement, the advisor made 14 different stories of how he has helped clients central to his marketing process. So instead of the standard rhetoric about his investment process, he updated his website to feature these stories and he dispensed with his pitch book, sharing relevant stories with prospects instead.
Flaxington tells a similar tale of another advisor who insisted he could never be a story teller, but who shared with his coaches the tale of a prospect who was carrying insurance on two homes and was listing the vacation home as the primary residence.
“Apparently if you have an insurance claim on the vacation home and [the insurer] finds it was not the primary residence, your insurance is invalid, it’s basically worthless. This is someone [the prospect] who had worked with a previous advisor who had not pointed that out.”
To Flaxington’s team, because the story was a perfect illustration of just how thorough the advisor was in examining details of his client’s finances, they encouraged him to make the telling of that story part of his sales process.
Sales effectiveness includes many steps, but Flaxington’s concluding comment appropriately addressed the subject of closing a sale—something where advisors often have trouble.
“Most of the time people will assume that if they’ve taken all the steps in the process that the closing just comes naturally. It’s really just learning the language to ask for the close in a way that’s comfortable for the advisor and lets the prospect know that they want their business. People really do like to be asked,” Flaxington says.