Financial advisors’ discomfort with sales is often in inverse proportion to their ease with numbers, graphs and tables.
To a professional seeking to provide expertise, and priding himself on his knowledge and competence, selling can feel unpleasantly self-assertive, yet sooner or later advisors recognize that revenue-generating actions must be taken.
Responding to this skill deficit, veteran business development consultant Beverly Flaxington of The Collaborative has written a new book geared specifically to financial advisors meant to walk them through the steps they can take to address this vital business need.
Called the “Pocket Guide to Sales for Financial Advisors,” Flaxington’s 202-page book targets the CFPs, CFAs and CPAs who consider themselves non-sales professionals.
“You don’t have to become an aggressive, pushy salesperson, which is what most advisors try to stay away from,” Flaxington tells ThinkAdvisor in a phone interview.
“You can learn some professional things you can do just to be able to increase your sales professionalism. So the book doesn’t turn you into a pushy salesperson; it gives you some very practical ideas that anyone, even non-salespeople, can use.”
The “Pocket Guide” starts out with steps Flaxington deems essential—defining your market, developing a sales strategy, having a plan and sales talent in your arsenal, and prospect tracking, among them—then branches out to tactics such as storytelling or generational selling that advisors can select based on personal preference.
In an analogy helpful for advisors, Flaxington likens the essential sales activities (there are eight) to the elements of their clients’ financial plan. “If they’re strong in a certain area, they want to continue to focus on it, refine it, keep it strong…but you also look for a person’s financial vulnerability; if something is good, leave it in place, but you definitely want to find where your risks are.”
That is to say, anyone whose goal includes building a business and generating revenue cannot afford to ignore skills that impinge on sales effectiveness; areas of weakness must be addressed. But beyond these areas, advisors are free to play to their strengths by employing the tactics that are more in line with their interests and desires.
Having a sales strategy is an example of an essential step in an advisor’s business building.
“That’s knowing where you want to focus,” says Flaxington. “Instead of taking a broad idea like, ‘I want to increase assets by 20%,’ your strategy is where do you want to get those assets from and how do you want to go after them. You may only want to go after centers of influence, or that [together with] direct mail. It’s being thoughtful about what your approach ought to be.”
So while every advisor needs a sales strategy, the strategies will vary according to advisor preferences.
“It’s your opportunity to think about what you want to put in place and what is reasonable and feasible to put in place,” she says.
“Not everything is right for everybody, nor do people want to be doing things they’re not set up to be successful at. It’s making those conscious decisions: What tools do I have? What skills do I have? What are the opportunities?”
A classic strategic decision advisors face—or mistakenly shrug off—entails defining a niche. “I find advisors resistant to that because they think it limits them: ‘I should be able to do planning for everybody at a certain asset level.’”
But Flaxington reminds her clients they need not turn away a client who doesn’t fit the niche; it’s just that their marketing will be more effective if the strategy is cognizant of one—as the example of one of her advisor clients illustrates
“One of our smaller advisors has been at it for 20-plus years and claimed to have no specific niche, no theme,” she recalls. “So we asked him to take a different look in the database and look at the clients by…hobbies, background, just a lot of different slices he hadn’t looked at before.