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The risk of commoditization

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Over the past year, I’ve had discussions with colleagues from a wide variety of financial services and employee benefits disciplines. At every turn, regardless of those disciplines represented in the particular conversation, we lament the difficulty that most advisors experience. The problem seems to be nearly universal. While we all agree on the challenge, we can’t seem to outline a universal solution.

Those of us who make our living selling in a conceptual context find it especially vexing when we are unable to craft a bridge to a solution. Yet here we are — in meeting after meeting and in conversation after conversation — wondering just how the newer generation of advisors will learn basic sales techniques and skills. In a universe that has become ever more product-centric, the most basic of skills and methods often take a back seat to the dreaded spreadsheet.

For those of us who came to the industry as complete sales novices, there is a sad but simple truth. The system that taught us and nurtured our nascent skills is no longer. I know that I run the risk of sounding like those two cranky old geezer Muppets in the balcony (Statler and Waldorf, if you must know their names), but back when career shops were prevalent, there were real training programs and in-house mentors.

The slippery slope one engages when there is no real fact-finder completed is perilous. The inherent danger in not knowing how to help a client expose a need, let them feel a bit uncomfortable about it and then offer a solution is real. The single-sale problem is an epidemic that fails practices because it fails to build client relationships that endure. Today we have a lot of folks making a living by selling a product rather than by providing a lifetime of service.

We need to teach the skills that put process (if you will) above product. If all you do is sell a product, you risk the product becoming commoditized over time. When that happens, the advisor risks becoming commoditized as well. When that happens …

Check out more blog entries from David Saltzman.