Bev Carlyon speaks to the crowd

During a luncheon at the annual meeting of the Million Dollar Round Table, being held at the Anaheim Convention Center through Wednesday, five of the association’s Top of the Table members offered attendees tips for achieving greater success in their practices. The event employed an innovative, fast-paced format: Each of the presenters was limited to six minutes at the speaker’s podium. 

The presenters included; Ian Green of Green Financial, London, U.K.; Steve Plewes of Advisors Financial Group, Gaithersburg, Md.; Bev Carlyon of Integrated Professional Services, Castle Hill, Australia; Dennis Zahrbock of Business & Estate Advisors, Rice Lake, Wis.; and Jim Rogers an MDRT past president and principal of Rogers Group Financial Ltd., Vancouver, Canada. The following are excerpts.

Green: Here’s how I use social media. First, I have a business page on Facebook with all client-facing material available for download. The page is more interactive and easily updatable than my web site. Facebook is great for posting photo albums, client materials and client conversations. 

Thanks to LinkedIn, my database is never old. I never have an old e-mail address or telephone number for anyone. Because on LinkedIn, the other person updates their details. Once on LinkedIn, I found a lapsed client. We re-established a relationship. And this individual is now a client again.

Twitter is a great professional resource. We discover new content through our links. I tweet about things of personal interest to me, such as the Space Shuttle. A new client Googled me when searching for a financial planner, then decided to follow me on Twitter because of our shared interest in the Shuttle. Now he’s as client. 

Our online presence should educate people about us, not only about our products or company. Blogging takes time to do–and do well. If you can’t write good copy, get help. I blog about subjects of interest, as well as subjects that might require multiple client phone conversations. 

One example: If I read something in the news that clients are likely to call me about, I’ll write a blog about the news items. When clients call, I’ll ask him to read the blog. If he still has questions, he can call me back. Participation in social networks is as much about giving as about taking. I also recently started posting videos on YouTube and have my own TV channel. and all of my social media ties into my web site. The social media complements–but does not replace–the web site.

Plewes:What I find is that the more high-tech we become, the more valuable high-touch becomes. Many advisors tell me about all the cool marketing they do through e-mail blasts, video messages and direct mail. 

But it seems that they’re trying to avoid all forms of human contact. Technology is no substitute for human contact, which is the key to great long-term relationships.

The definition of marketing, I believe, is to help clients recognize that they need what you have–not you trying to persuade them that you have what they need. To use an analogy, they’re the bee; you’re the flower. We create a unique office environment: We have in our reception area ‘thank you’ notes from people to whom we’ve sent flowers and other gifts at Christmas time. We keep these cards in the office where visitors can read–in the clients’ own words–about how nice we are.

We also have little motivational books to give prospects positive messages while they’re waiting for us. We also display a notebook with pictures of us doing community service activities and articles in which we’ve been quoted.

We also have a digital picture frame that includes pictures of my clients enjoying activities–wind-surfing, on a safari in Africa or enjoyed quality time with their grandchildren. When visitors ask who the people pictured are, I tell them, These are clients whom we’ve helped to retire successfully.”

The not so subtle message is: Wow! I can do all this, too. The photos are especially powerful if the visitor came to our office as a result of a referral someone pictured in them.

Don’t be afraid to mix business with pleasure. By taking people to concerts or dinners or a golf outing, you bond at a much deeper level with clients. Now, you’re spending real quality time with them. 

When I go to visit my clients at their seasonal homes or the places they retire to, they often ask me to stay overnight with them. This was uncomfortable at first. But after you do this a few times, you find that you have a more lasting and rewarding relationships.

The [traditional] model for Success is 10-3-1: Make ten phone calls, get three appointments and close one sale. I’ve turned this into a 1-3-10 model: Develop one great relationships that will give you three strong referrals, that will spin off 10 other great relationships over time. Why call 30 people and hope only to get three sales.

Carlyon: The best chance we all have of making a prospect become a client is to make every communication touch point a winner. I believe that success is not a formula; it’s a recipe. And our clients are only interested in the menu. 

Our industry is driven by compliance, but a successful practice is built on relationships and communications skills. 

The secret to making more profit is not charging more, but avoiding the pressure to charge less. Your clients, associates and staff should be able to articulate what you do. 

In a nutshell, we provide DCC: Direction, Choice and Control. But we sell Promised Tomorrows.

We need a robust system and process to manage and monitor our work. In my practice, we send the data collection form to the prospect to complete and return before the meeting. At this initial meeting, we say that our business covers the cost of the first meeting.

Make sure your brochure tells the client about you. Provide a diagram that indicates what you do and what a client who meets with you can expect. When we receive the prospect’s completed data collection form, we call the prospect to make sure we understand all of their data. We ask, “What would you like to achieve in in our first meeting. We tell them, “we sell progress, not change for the sake of it.” 

Research tells us that we need to have at least three communication touch points to build trust. We use an on-hold message [in our business phone system] with recorded client stories. Imagine your client coming on the phone and saying, “I want what they have!” 

We’ve replaced the policy of client retention with the more dynamic concept of client development. Imagine prospects watching a DVD that shows your clients reliving their moments of dignity or retirement strategies that you helped to put in place. Videos like these are incredibly powerful. 

I use pictures, not policies, to explain potential outcomes for prospects because the strongest memories are all wrapped up in emotion. Ask your prospects if they feel positive or negative emotions when you use words like “dignity.” 

In my office, I have a whiteboard, positioned to face the client, that reads:  ”What needs to happen today for you to be happy that we met?” The prospect will often start to answer the question before I ask it.

I also ask, “If we had met three years ago, what would your life have looked like then? When we sit together again in three years time, what needs to happen for you to be happy that we met?” Notice that we use the “when-we” combination. This is incredibly powerful: You’ve taken them into the future with you.

People don’t always remember what you’ve said. But they always remember how you make them feel. [To quote one advisor], “All we have to offer our clients is our brain, our time and our integrity.”

Zahrbock: Many people in our industry says it’s the big things that make the difference. We believe, however, that it’s the little things that make the difference. Lot’s of little things will create big things in your business. 

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. It’s the little things that create that [sense of caring].

In our practice, we converted from a traditional office to an office building that we own and that provides clients with a very comfortable atmosphere. The new office increased our closings ratio by 30%.

All of our office decorations are black-and-white prints from 1918–the same age as the building. So prospects get the feeling that we’ve been located there since 1918. 

When people arrive, we don’t provide a boxed lunch; we provide a lunch on china engraved with our company name. It cost a few bucks, but people don’t forget these little touches.

We always give the impression that we’ve looked at every detail. On our walls, the only thing you’ll find, besides the black-and-white pictures, are plaques displaying our educational designations.

We’ve been printing a newsletter for 20 years. I got a call two weeks ago from one person to whom we’ve been sending the newsletter requesting assistance in managing $1 million–and I’ve never done business with him. We also host for our clients roundtables, holiday parties and fundraisers. And we have an advisory board. All of these things extend our presence in the community. We never have to call anyone; they call us. 

We pay our advisory board: Those who attend board meetings each receive an item of clothing. So we create walking billboards around the entire community. The past president of a local college, I truly believe, has no other clothes in his closet. Because every time I see him, he’s got something we gave him.

After every meeting with a client, we send out a CRS–Can’t Remember Stuff–letter. I’m 65 years old and can’t remember stuff. But if I write down what the client says, then I’ll recall every detail at the next meeting.

When we do establish a relationship with someone who wants to work with us, we send an engagement letter, which clearly states what is expected of us and the client. Among the requirements: that the client no longer work with their current advisor.

We believe there are four steps to picking a professional. Firstly, you should like the prospect. Secondly, look smart: If you’re serious about being in this business, then become a CLU, ChFC or CFP and display your designations in your office.

Thirdly, you have to be street smart by learning from others. Lastly, if you have to choose from among prospects, pick the wealthiest. Ask the prospect to to disclose his or her financial statement.

We follow Dan Sulllivan’s ‘referability habits’. Among them: Be on time. Do what you say you’re going to do. And be courteous–send out hand-written ‘thank you’ notes.  Clients will then beat a path to your door.

Rogers: Each of us needs to add value to differentiate ourselves from the competition. So don’t commoditize your product; don’t sell on price. Make sure the experience of dealing with you is truly an experience–Think Starbucks.  The only value that counts is the value that the client notices and will pay for.

What drives success today is the ability to demonstrate clear, superior value. Price only becomes relevant when the value isn’t seen.  Here are some lessons I’ve learned:

Lesson one: In the absence of clear value, price does and will prevail. Lesson two: Today’s value winners can be tomorrow’s value losers. And lesson three: Sometimes we don’t really get it. That is, we don’t really understand what’s incomplete or implausible about our offering.

Let’s return to lesson one: Insurance and financial service professionals have lost market share to discount brokers in the securities business because clients don’t see value in excess of the price that we’re asking. So they navigate to the lowest price. The consumer is saying, “You haven’t given me the additional value I’m looking for. 

Lesson two: Today’s value winners can be tomorrow’s value losers. In the 1990′s we were able to take financial planning clients from the banks. It took the banks a while to wake up–and they have woken up–for they are prestigious competitors today. Are you competing effectively? Lesson three: Do we get it? We tell ourselves that we’re more qualified, experienced and so on. That’s what you think, but is it what your prospective client thinks? And can you prove it? You need to have clear and concise messages in your brochure.

Lesson 4: In a value-driven world, specialists prevail. In our business, the specialists belong to the Top of the Table, where 80% of members are in the retirement business. 

When you engage clients, keep the message simple. Ask open-ended questions. Listen carefully and actively to the responses. Think about ways that other professionals get paid. Why wouldn’t you consider becoming more professional in the eyes of your clients by acting in a similar fashion?

We tell clients “The cost of the first meeting will be to our account; We don’t say the meeting is free because that suggests the meeting costs us nothing.

Always have a three- to five-year strategic business plan and an annual business plan. Have a corporate brochure and a web site that says specifically what you do and how your practice differentiates you from the competition.

Finally, if you want to change your life, it will come down to the people you meet and the books you read. I believe that strongly.