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Tough times call for tough talk

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LAS VEGAS — If tough times call for tough solutions, Monday’s kick-off to this year’s Senior Market Advisor Expo offered those in the financial services business the skills to help make those tough calls–and thrive, at the same time.

Keynote speaker Dan Norman, a 25-year veteran of sales and sales consultancy, let this year’s showgoers know that even in the midst of a down economy, there are plenty of simple, old-fashioned solutions to maximize your knowledge and help build your practice.

But before Norman’s funny presentation, full of highly actionable suggestions, SMA editor Daniel D. Williams took a few moments to introduce the crowd to the 2009 Advisor of the Year, Dave Williams (no relation between the two, by the way).

Williams (Dave, that is), who will be on stage Tuesday for the Advisor of the Year roundtable, introduced himself as a relative newcomer to the industry — just seven years as an advisor, after a previous career in business — who’s used tools such as a thriving study group to ramp up his work in financial services for seniors.

“To be successful, you have to surround yourself with other successful individuals, and I’ve found my study group to be a great thing that holds me accountable in everything I do,” Williams said.

Norman, who began his own career, quite literally, selling CB radios to the crazed lumberjacks of northern Georgia (an experience he says makes everything else seem pretty easy), said that there’s a pretty straightforward blend of fundamentals that work for anyone he’s coached to a better career in sales.

Of those, a positive mindset is among the most important. Looking at the world from a perspective of “abundance” — there are always more opportunities lurking — will help even the most downtrodden advisor find some optimism in the most challenging of times.

Advisors also have to learn to take rejection (especially in a rotten market) a little less personally, he says, comparing the whole process to a particularly unsuccessful round of dating.

“You need to develop a resilient mind, and accept that not everyone wants what you’ve got. You need to overcome that fear of failure. And you also need to avoid paralysis by focusing on what I call ‘the little picture.’ Believe in your own value.”

In today’s market, Norman says that people want to deal with someone they know and trust, but he warned against using some of the very cheesy tactics he’s seen at work in different fields — the car salesman who kept a bible on his desk, but admitted he’d never read it, or realtors who invariably always seem to have 20-year-old pictures of themselves on their business cards.

All of these upstanding notions are great, he says, but unless you’re also willing to get out there and work hard and absolutely believe in what you do, it can all fall flat. Believing in yourself, becoming the go-to expert and authority on financial solutions, and then working on communicating that message will go further than any other convoluted sales idea.

As an example, Norman has crafted what he calls the “Waffle House speech,” an ultra-simplified version of the “elevator speech,” which both encapsulates your value and helps to entice potential clients to seek out your expertise.

“By determining your value and the ultimate benefit you provide, something like ‘I help people protect their investments,’ and creating an introduction that makes people ask for more, you will go a long way to establish yourself as an expert.”

Norman also had some pure practicalities to increasing one’s daily efficiency. Rather than checking e-mails for an hour every morning, reset your e-mail program to bring your “to-do” list up first thing every day.

Ultimately, Norman says the key is to focus on building your sales skills, starting at the beginning with every single customer, asking a lot of questions and always remembering to listen very carefully. He admitted that during an earlier career, he wasn’t particularly skilled at the listening part, and a group of employees he supervised helped change his mind on that issue.

Finally, whenever the opportunity arises, try to close the sale rather than allowing an open-ended, “let me think about it” answer turn into a lost sale. “If you’ve done all that work, you owe it to the customer to find a solution and close the sale. You have an obligation to do so.”