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Practice Management > Building Your Business

The #1 business survival skill for financial advisors

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Learning is not compulsory…neither is survival.” W. Edwards Deming

In today’s chaotic financial environment where people are feeling unsafe to take risks in general, a successful advisor needs more than the usual toolkit of sales and business skills to survive.

The number one business survival skill has nothing to do with sales and marketing, financial or time management. It isn’t emotional intelligence or customer service. And, it’s not social media savvy.

By way of example, take “James,” whose strategies were not producing the sales numbers he needed to hit his goal. James’s main challenges were:

  1. His high-net-worth boomer clients were reacting negatively to his investment suggestions.
  2. His “fact finding” process was not working as well with prospects.
  3. Networking events were producing fewer and fewer quality leads.
  4. He was exhausted by increased demands from needy clients.
  5. He didn’t know how to conduct liability insurance risk discussions with his physician clients.

After some discussion, James discovered five keys to attaining the most important skill a financial advisor can have: learning.

Be curious. The rapid-fire responses and solutions that help us succeed can also get in the way of the truly brilliant idea. James realized one of his blind spots was his belief that he should already know what to do or say based on his experience.

When clients expressed frustration with their investment losses, James found himself defending his position. James saw that if he could allow himself to “not know” a little longer than usual, he could have a more productive conversation with an upset client, and have a better chance of retaining him.

Demonstrating curiosity while maintaining credibility takes learning and practice.

Listen completely without being distracted. Through our sessions, James realized his tendency to multi-task was causing him to miss some questions his prospects were afraid to ask. He was relying too much on the structured fact finder, but learned to have the conversation his prospects really wanted to have with him.

Be open to new perspectives. It takes a conscious decision to really be open so you don’t automatically dismiss someone else’s ideas. James realized he had ignored some of the suggested methods for building relationships in his networking groups. James committed to learning one of the strategies to attract more referrals.

Demonstrate respect for a teacher. In martial arts, the student is required to “surrender” to the master or sensei. The purpose of this is to consciously allow yourself to be taught. James realized he needed new tools to deal with needy clients, and had not yet decided to trust any of his teachers. Eventually, James opted to join a small study group where he could actively learn and practice difficult client conversations in a safe and respectful peer environment.

Learn to ask for help. One of the biggest obstacles to learning is refusing to ask for help. James realized this blind spot wasn’t working for him and learned to ask for help within his network.

The bottom line: learning how to learn pays off!

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Debbie Nixon, founder of coaching company Masterful Advisor(R), has more than 20 years of experience as a financial advisor, coach and performance expert. For more information and tips from Nixon, go to


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