The commoditization of financial services can be seen almost everywhere you look. Banks are offering brokerage services. Brokerage firms are launching banking platforms. Even Wal-Mart is getting into the act by launching an in-store bank.
This commoditization has put enormous competitive pressure on firms, which in turn has put pressure on reps to ramp up volume–particularly among high-net-worth investors. With more and more reps seeking to land business from an ever-shrinking subset of the population, it is crucial that reps make a great–not just good–first impression. And if the results of our research are any indication, most advisors would benefit from a crash course in Sales 101.
This is not to say that advisors are not doing their jobs or shirking their duties to clients. We simply question whether the majority of advisors are shortchanging themselves by putting on poor sales efforts and thus missing out on business opportunities.
Over the past 10 years, the research my firm conducts has led us to open literally hundreds of brokerage accounts–in person, over the phone and online. In fact, last year we completed a comprehensive account opening study that researched the in-branch sales experience through account opening at the top 25 brokerage firms in the country.
Following are some suggestions gleaned from our research that you may want to consider when first establishing relationships with prospective clients. The focus here is from the point when you have a prospect in your office; it is not about setting up an initial lead-generating marketing campaign. Some of these may sound like common sense–and they are. What is surprising is how few reps actually employ these tactics.
Prepare a unique selling proposition
Who are you? How are you (or your firm) different from the others? During our account opening study, when we asked reps how their firms differed from the competition, most said that there was no difference. “ABC Brokerage, DEF Brokerage and XYZ Brokerage are all the same. What’s different is me and the attention I give to each client.” This is, essentially, the same story we heard from every rep we spoke with during the study.
Imagine going to buy a new car and being told that all cars are the same, and what’s different is the quality and honesty of the salesman. While many people would probably agree that establishing rapport with a car salesman is somewhat important, most would also concur that a Lexus is different from a Chevrolet and prefer that the salesman promote those differences.
Granted, a tangible object such as a car is a lot easier to differentiate from the competition than a financial services company, but the message is no less important. As potential clients, we did not find comfort in the fact that brokers could not verbalize–if indeed they even knew–what their company stood for, or what its unique selling proposition was.
To merely toss away your firm’s rich heritage (and the products it has worked very hard to give you) is doing your firm and you a disservice. Don’t say your firm is the same as all the others; use the history of the firm and its products and services to help you make your case.
Of course, your service may be what separates you from the competition. But that’s doubtful since everyone else is saying exactly the same thing. Regardless, provide specific examples and, if possible, referrals or testimonials. Your relationships with advisors in different channels may be what separate you from competitors. If so, center your materials around this and provide bios or profiles of these other relationships.
The important thing is to be able to articulate to prospects why they should work with you and your firm and not anyone else.
Prepare for the meeting
Assuming you have advance knowledge of the sales meeting (i.e., it is not a walk-in), you must prepare for it. Don’t rely on your charm to see you through. And when the prospect sits down at your desk, don’t ask, “So, what are you interested in?” (This happened to us on more than one occasion.)
Prior to the meeting, consider what triggered it. If the prospect reached out to you, what event caused him or her to take this step? If the meeting is a result of your own marketing efforts, what prompted the prospect to agree to meet you?
Prepare information for the prospect to take home and focus the first part of your conversation around that. Only once have you addressed the initial need should you proceed to discuss other areas.
Prepare a “sales kit”