Producers often need to win over the small business owners accountant and attorney
By Warren S. Hersch
As often as not, the small business insurance and financial advisor has two audiences to win over: (1) the business owner; and (2) other advisors, typically an accountant and attorney, with whom the financial advisor has had no pre-existing relationship.
Gaining the respect and cooperation of these other professionals, say experts, should not be all that difficult a task, so long as the advisor projects professionalism, demonstrates the technical expertise needed to meet the clients objectives and, not least, can serve effectively on a team.
One measure of professionalism is the advisors choice of words. Stan Hustad, a marketing performance coach and president of PTP Group, Minneapolis, Minn., tells advisors to employ terms that underscore their financial planning skills and expertise.
Examples: Insurance agency becomes firm or insurance consulting firm; fellow employees are referred to as colleagues and associates, rather than agents; compensation substitutes for commission when describing how one is paid.
And anything else having to do with sales is banished from view.
“I encourage my clients to take down all of their sales awards,” says Hustad. “Their [office] walls should be full, rather, of certificates, diplomas, community awardsthings that distinguish them and signify that theyre professionals.”
Thats sound advice not only when it comes to visiting clients. Jim Bloom, a senior financial planner for MetLife, New York, says its a good practice to invite attorneys and accountants to the office to see your professional surroundings and establish a working rapport.
Yet, the question arises: Do fee-based advisors wield an advantage over those who earn only a commission, however much the latter might cloak their position under the mantle of professionalism? Observers say the edge, if any, is slight. Though fee-based advisors generally enjoy easier entr?e to the team, how the accountant and CPA view them ultimately hinges on their expertise.
“Being fee-based helps to open doors,” says Michael Brink, an insurance advisor with Nease, Lagana, Eden & Culley, Atlanta, Ga. “But once youre in, you quickly must demonstrate your knowledge and professionalism.”
Ann Hartmann, past president of the Society of Financial Services Professionals and a financial planner at Lincoln Financial Advisors, Fort Wayne, Ind., agrees. “The real issue is what you know and what you can bring to the table,” she says. “If youre just pushing product, then youre only going to get grief from the other advisors.”
The more that other team members value the financial advisors expertise, adds Hartmann, the less adverserial will be their product-focused inquiries. Rather than call into question a product recommendation or price, theyll seek to elicit information. What does the product do? How does it meet the clients needs? Why is it superior to other solutions?
A strong recommendation from the client, and equally strong credentials, will aid advisors in winning the respect of other team members early in the planning process, observers say. On both counts, continuing education, and the amassing of recognized industry designationsCLU, ChFC, CFP, etc.are key.
Sometimes, however, the challenge is less about establishing ones credentials than about alerting the client to the subpar expertise of others on the team. This frequently happens, say business planners, in situations where the client started the business using generalists but then failed to replace or augment the team with specialists as the business expanded and its planning needs became more complex.
“If the other advisors are very good, then Ill usually consult with them during the fact-finding period,” says Hartmann. “But when the client is working with a bunch of non-specialists, thats when its time to say: Look, these are awfully nice people, but I think your needs have changed.”
Brink notes the overuse of generalists is most common in rural areas, where advisors knowledgeable about sophisticated estate and succession planning techniques can be hard to find. When specialists are present in small (and even mid-size) towns, word tends to spread quickly among locally based professionals, making the specialists efforts to establish a reputation and secure referrals easier than can be expected in larger cities.
Non-specialists, to be sure, need not always be jettisoned in cases requiring advanced planning techniques. Other factors to consider, Hartmann observes, are whether the generalist is prepared to act in the clients best interest and how long the advisor has had a relationship with the business owner.