Yes, all advisors are special, but maybe you’re not as special as you think you are.
Pershing conducted an online poll earlier this year of high-net-worth investors — with a minimum of $1 million in investable assets — and found a sharp disconnect between what the investors deemed important and what even the most successful advisors told prospects they were offering.
Specifically, Pershing and Harris Poll tested 29 advisor value proposition statements, those vaunted unique value propositions (UVPs), collected from the websites of Barron’s Top 100 Advisors and Pershing’s own sources. They then presented those advisor UVP statements to those HNW investors to get their reaction. They asked those investors what was the most important thing they looked for when choosing an advisor; asked them to rate the 29 value prop statements, asked them to choose which statements resonated the most with them, and finally asked which specific words they liked to hear from advisors.
The headline response: 60% of investors found it hard to distinguish among those value proposition statements because they were too similar, often using the same words that were of little importance to them.
As we earlier reported in a ThinkAdvisor slideshow, 4 Secrets to a Value Proposition That Lands Clients, Pershing said the strongest value propositions incorporated four key elements: attributes of the advisor; benefits for the investor; a rational explanation of how the firm’s attributes benefit the client, and language that evokes emotion.
So why aren’t advisors using the right language to speak with clients? “Sometimes they speak in language that may be important to them,” said Kim Dellarocca, managing director for Pershing, in an interview on the study’s findings. “A good example would be ‘independence.’ But investors don’t know that’s important,” Dellarocca said. “We tend to see the world through our own filters; it takes discipline and extra effort to write [UVPs] from the perspective of the person who’s not there — the client.”
Furthermore, she says, “we tend to borrow phrases from firms or people that we admire. Even the best firms’ [UVPs] got filled with jargon like ‘holistic,’ ‘expansive,’ ‘committed,’ ‘dedicated.’
Advisors use a vocabulary that is meaningful to them, which they believe accurately describes the services they offer and what differentiates them from other advisors, but neglect to see if that vocabulary resonates with clients.
The HNW clients surveyed, Dellarocca pointed out, wanted to hear more descriptive and emotional words from advisors. “They’d rather hear,” she said, “We’re passionate,’ ‘We relieve you of your burdens.”
Dellarocca encouraged advisors, channeling her inner Strunk & White prescriptions on how to improve your writing, to “write like you talk; have a conversation” with clients and prospects. Refrain from using jargon, she counseled, but do use “specific, simple, straightforward” language to describe your firm.
Most important, Dellarocca suggested that the best-communicating advisors take “overused words like ‘trust’ or ‘integrity’ and turn them into stories; the best companies are relying on corporate narratives.” She urged every advisory firm to “find your own narrative,” to highlight that you’re “personal, authentic and unique.”
Be careful about using a phrase like ‘We make your life simple,’ Dellarocca said, since the HNW “know their finances are complex,” so such language instead displays that the advisor “missed the gravity” of the HNW client’s life. However, for some groups, like members of the millennial generation and women in transition either professionally or personally, such an appeal to simplify their financial life might be appealing.
It’s important that their value proposition, the survey found, “explains why investors should trust them. It should include themes such as accountability, integrity and fiduciary responsibility.” Reflecting investors’ preferences, advisors should eschew jargon but when considering adjectives that were nearly synonymous, they should use “words with an emotional punch: “unwavering” and “passionate” rather than “committed” and “dedicated.”
It’s important that everyone in a firm buy into its value proposition. “The best firms use their value proposition in the hiring process,” Dellarocca reported, making it “a good filter” to determine if the potential hire is a good fit.
What about communicating with women? While the study did not look at language and gender, Dellarocca said that from other research that Pershing has done, “women are looking for a relationship” with a potential advisor. So it’s important, she said, “to speak in a way that doesn’t talk down to them but educates them. Don’t use a lot of jargon when you’re educating them.” Some of the same specific words that, she said, tested very well among all survey respondents — speaking about ‘capital preservation,’ ‘conservative,’ ‘prudent,’ ‘cautious’ — would likely test just as strongly among women.
The benefits of using direct, simple and emotional language in your value prop doesn’t end when prospects become clients, Dellarocca said, because those clients “can become evangelists” when you use the right language, since those who respond well to your words can become “geniuses at referrals, they love to give them.”