If you were like most professionals in our industry, 2006 was an extraordinary year. It was great while it lasted, but it also made the next phase of your growth more challenging. How you confront this challenge will be critical to your ability to secure more market share and experience continued growth.

The New Year usually brings with it the pursuit of many new initiatives. Among the most important should be a re-examination of your unique client value proposition, which enables you to stand out from the competition.

For many, developing that value proposition is more troublesome than they are willing to admit. Why? Because many financial services professionals have gradually developed their success through sacrifice, internal fortitude and persistence–not from building a unique client value proposition. Many professionals have difficulty articulating why prospects would want to do business with them, why existing clients do business with them and which service they provide is the most valuable.

Do you know why your clients really do business with you? If not, you’re not alone.

What’s your value proposition

Your value proposition is the unique service you provide to your clients. Your value has to be more specific than “my clients like me” or “I am a great guy, so prospects should do business with me.” If these were the key values desired in your market, there would be a lot of financial professionals providing the same client value.

The “good guy” value is the most commoditized value in our industry, which makes it very difficult to differentiate oneself in the market. Your client value proposition must be specific and unique if you want to build a sustainable marketing strategy.

If people don’t remember who you are or what you stand for in the marketplace you serve, you become non-existent as a service provider. For example, when you think of BMW, you probably think of the ‘ultimate driving machine.’ When you think of Volvo, you probably think of ‘safety.’ These 2 automobile manufacturers have clearly differentiated themselves in an overcrowded market.

What do your clients or prospects think of when they hear or read your name? Hopefully, they think of the traits that differentiate you from the rest of the crowd.

How do you start?

Knowing what your best clients and prospects value most in the services you provide will help you develop your marketing plan. A formal advisory board is one of the best ways to get this information.

You should identify a select group of individuals as experts and opinion leaders and ask them what sophisticated investors desire in a relationship with a financial service professional. Then value their feedback by personally inviting them to participate on your advisory board. People generally like to help others, and they definitely like to be considered an opinion leader and expert.

As you structure your advisory board, be sure to develop an operating charter. The charter should define the objective of the panel, place a limit on the amount of time and frequency of the meetings, and clearly identify the number of members and tenure of the role.

Regardless of how often the group meets, you will want to rotate the individuals on a routine basis. This will keep ideas and feedback fresh. You will also want to report the findings of your advisory panel to a broader audience. This will substantiate and validate the panel’s feedback. Lastly, you need to implement the feedback into your marketing message.

If you are unable to construct a formal advisory board due to time or resources, you may consider developing a market survey that you can send to existing clients. A survey’s design is critical to validating the information you gather. A poorly constructed survey can produce ambiguous results.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you decide to use a survey:

? Determine whether it will be distributed electronically or as “hard copy.” This should be influenced by the demographics of your audience.

? Be sure to keep your survey short and concise by limiting the questions to one page. A lengthy, arduous survey will produce skewed results.

? Be sure to mix up the format of the questions and allow for open-ended answers.

? Consider offering a reward to individuals who respond to the survey. A pair of movie tickets or nominal gift certificate for the first several respondents will prompt a quick turnaround.

? Make sure it’s representative of your clients. If possible, gather a minimum of 100 responses before incorporating the results into any initiative.

Many marketing companies can help if you have concerns while developing a survey. You can also conduct a quick online search to find companies that can help you develop a valuable feedback survey.

Implementation and execution are the keys to success. The information you receive is only as good as your ability to use it. If you do these well, you will continue to experience the success that has brought you to where you are today.