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.
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.