Surveys have been a vital part of the focus of this column and in my own business as well. By conducting them periodically and studying the results, I have been able to spot trends, discover what kind of help readers want and, most importantly, identify “best practices.”

In preparing this survey for you, I spent a good bit of time recently reviewing some surveys I did from another era. I had forgotten how important they were. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I did several surveys that, in all modesty, were pioneering. I was looking for the “secret” to success and found so much more.

My strategy was: Get lots of people to answer my survey and then sort the responses into different (electronic) piles. By finding out how different groups answered my survey questions, I could at least get an idea of what worked and what did not.

For instance, I could determine the influence of changing firms by tabulating responses to “How much has your production changed in the last year?” against responses to “Have you changed firms or broker/dealers in the last 12 months?” Isolating the group that reported changing firms in the previous 12 months led me to discover that 40 percent of the people who had changed firms experienced a significant drop in revenue — which, of course, led to the obvious conclusion that successful advisors stay put. (This may be a variation of the success trait often identified among CEOs of major companies: Most stay married to the same person and work in the same company. There is something to be said for “staying the course” and not jumping ship, or spouse.

Since then, I have done a survey about every two years. I focused on this or that aspect of the business, such as partnerships or prospecting. But I have never gone back to see if the things I found to be true then, still hold true now, or if it’s really a different world.

The Secret to Success (Then)

So let’s review some things I found to be true then and believe to be true now. By reviewing these, you will understand the importance of participating in this survey and will therefore (I hope) take part in it.

In 1988, I was looking for The Secret, which I conceived as “the one thing which, if done, will guarantee success.” And I found it… sort of.

As I tabulated my results, I first had a sinking feeling. The Secret was not “asking for referrals.” Nor was it “having an assistant.” Nor “opening 100 accounts a year.” Nor this nor that.

Hmmm. These did not seem to be a “secret to success.” Bummer.

Then I did more tabulations and the truth peeked out like that first daffodil after a hard winter.

What I discovered was almost a recipe. Like a recipe for chocolate cake. Which is more important, the butter or the eggs? The chocolate or the sugar? Leave out any of these elements, and you have a mess.

The people who made it to the winner’s circle did a lot of things well. They stayed at the same firm and had a full-time assistant. They did ask for referrals more times in a week than their less-successful counterparts.

They set aside time for prospecting.

They tended to be women.

And there was a secret, but not one of the ones I was looking for.

Partnerships

Over the years, surveys have also played an important role in my ability to question accepted wisdom. Anyone can rant over this or that practice in the industry, but nobody pays particular attention to “prophets without data” for very long. On the other hand, with solid research data — sometimes from surveys, observations or testing — one can challenge and even change the accepted wisdom.

I suppose I’ve questioned the accepted wisdom more than most. Going back to the early 1980s, I tossed out the “old school” style of prospecting that required an advisor to take 27 consecutive turndowns before hanging up. In 1991, I became the first sales manager in history to tell his own sales force, “OK, quit asking for referrals. No more.”

Based on a series of time-management studies, we were the first to advocate the team as the only possible way to go to high six or seven figures. And in 1990, based in part on a survey I ran in this magazine, I began advocating partnerships as a viable business form. At the time, the accepted wisdom was that partnerships were worse than marriages, but that’s not what my research, much of it based on survey responses, showed.

That Was Then

It’s a new world today… or is it? The numbers have changed. Then, 7 percent of my survey respondents reported a majority of their revenue came from fees. The number is higher now, but probably not as high as many think.

It was not uncommon then for someone to open 100 accounts a year. Today, such a person would be anointed, given purple robes and paraded from one end of the country to another.

So the numbers have changed, but has the recipe? Only you, by taking my survey, can answer this question.

Likewise, when I discovered that if a person is going to make it to a million dollars, they will do it relatively quickly, I didn’t phrase the question in a way that let me nail down how long that took. Million-dollar producers who responded to my survey had been in the industry, on average, 7.2 years. But they could have made the magic million a few years earlier.

How early? I will never know what the answer was then, but you can help with the answer now.

From a standing start, how many years does it take today’s million-dollar producers to get there? How many clients does it take? Do people with fewer clients really produce more revenue? That’s what some surveys show, but I am skeptical of those results.

What is the disruptive effect of moving from one wirehouse to another, from wirehouse to independent or from one independent broker-dealer to another?

And, of course, I always want to know about prospecting. In addition to referrals, what’s working? Is anyone out there still cold calling? Cold walking? Doing trade shows?

What does it take to be successful in 2006? Is it one thing? Many things? What are they?

Help me find out by going to www.billgood.com/survey. If you have read this far, you should. It will only take a few minutes.

As always, you help me, and I will do something for you.

Answer my survey, and I will send you two things:

“Success Characteristics 2006.” This is a complete report on responses.

And the “Success 2006″ CD. In this CD, I will summarize the findings of the survey, but most importantly, I will tell you how to improve your practice based on what the most successful people in the industry are doing.

Game? You do your part. I’ll do mine. Go to www.billgood.com/survey.