Financial advisors, independents particularly, are often reluctant to even talk about sales, feeling the subject undermines their professional ethos as investment experts.
But to business development consultant Beverly Flaxington, such feelings betray a lack of confidence.
“If an advisor believes in what they do, they should want to find anyone out there who might be a good fit for them,” she told ThinkAdvisor in an interview.
The principal of The Collaborative, a consulting firm focused exclusively on financial advisors, frames the sensitive topic of sales as follows:
“The objective is to get the message into the marketplace to the right people for you to be working with and that you are able to serve effectively. It’s not pushing something down someone’s throat who doesn’t want it. But if you don’t make people aware of what you do, they don’t have a chance to say ‘Yes, I’d like to work with you,’ or ‘No, I don’t.’”
Advisors need to know and can feel good about the fact that, as Flaxington puts it, “Not everyone is a fit; you should qualify the prospect just as they’re qualifying you.”
So, what gets in the way of advisors’ sales success? Four factors, Flaxington says.
“First of all, advisors often don’t have a plan for selling. They’ll do a financial plan for a client who invests assets, but they don’t have a plan for how are they going to sell, how are they going to measure it.
“Second, there can be an inherent resistance because advisors may think of selling as distasteful.
“Third, it can absolutely be a time-management issue. After all, they’re serving clients, running a business, working with partners and employees, watching the market. They might ask: ‘When am I going to add in sales activities?’
“Fourth, they don’t have confidence that they know the right words to say, where to put the focus,” she says.
A commonly adopted solution to this hesitation about sales is to bring in a sales professional to focus exclusively on finding opportunity for the advisor, says Flaxington, who has been consulting for nearly 20 years after building her career in institutional and retail sales for John Hancock.
“But this business isn’t sold that way,” she says. “Push selling really doesn’t work. You’re never going to see someone reading the script on the landing page and then push the buy button,” she jokes.
Rather, the financial advisory business is a classic relationship-type business that is built on trust and on feelings of comfort on the part of the prospect.
And that is what advisors can and must learn, she says. It takes active listening to understand the behavioral style of the prospect.
An advisor shouldn’t insist on going page by page through a lengthy investment proposal when sitting across from a hard-driving entrepreneur more interested in getting to the point and getting out of the meeting. Some relish that analytical approach, others want to think things through till a subsequent meeting and still others won’t feel comfortable until they first talk about their kids and family, Flaxington says.
Yet advisors sometimes miss these behavioral cues.
“It’s as if your spouse said, ‘What kind of restaurant do you want to go tonight?’ and I say “I want something ethnic; it could be Mexican or Indian—surprise me.’ And then he takes me to the hamburger joint down the street.