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Norm Trainor on the 8 best practices of top-performing advisors

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New Orleans – “What sets top performers apart from average advisors?” long-time trainer and author Norm Trainor (photo, below, right) asked attendees Wednesday morning at MDRT’s annual meeting. Over the next hour, he shared the eight best practices of top-performing advisors and detailed exactly what make them so successful. 

The best way to emulate the success of top-performing advisors is to watch them in action, Trainor said. They tend to focus on face-to-face interaction with prospects and clients, where personal charisma and sales skills shine. But while important that’s not what separates them, Trainor said. What differentiates them from other advisors is what they do before, during and after the sale. 

norm trainorThe single biggest differentiator, according to Trainor, is the timeframe within which top advisors think and work. Typically, an advisor may have between five and 40 prospects in their pipeline at any given time and expect to close with them within the next week, month, or quarter. But high-performing advisors answer do things differently, Trainor noted. They will have 200 to 300 prospective buyers in their pipeline at any given time, and they expect to close them over the next one to three years. 

While most advisors run their businesses cash on cash, meaning they’re focused on making the next sale this week or this month, top-performing advisors build an inventory of prospective buyers who will become clients over the next one to three years. 

To do so, Trainor said, they focus on these eight best practices:


Best Practice 1: Develop and utilize a planning process 

“High performing advisors recognize that the highest value work is that which relates to strategy,” Trainor noted. By taking the time to develop a strategy for their business, they are able to make their income predictable over time. 

Trainor defined strategy as a clear plan of action to achieve your objectives, which requires the alignment of three elements:

  • What are the objectives or outcomes you want to achieve?

  • What are the capabilities and resources you have to realize it?

  • What are challenges and opportunities the environment provides?

To develop a strategy, you must first have a vision of what you want your business to become, according to Trainor. Your vision answers three questions:

1.What role do I want to play?

Most top performers want to be the key strategist and the rainmaker in their business.

2. How big do you want to become?

Most top advisors want to earn at least $1 million in income and envision a seven- or eight-figure business.

3. What is the requisite organization?

Your answer to number two will determine the complexity of your business, Trainor explained. Once you have decided the size you’re aiming for, you can figure out what you will require in terms of capabilities and resources to achieve your objectives.

Trainor gave the example of one young advisor he works with who has successfully grown his business and income in recent years. To do so, he developed a business plan and built a team so that he can focus on two tasks to grow his practice. 

He devotes two to three hours a week to his planning process and the strategy required to build his business. He then commits the majority of his time to activities that generate revenue. 

Specifically, he prioritizes the following three activities:

  • Eight face-to-face meetings per week to advance the sale with a profile client or prospects, which translates into 320 meeting per year

  • Two meetings per week with clients or centers of influence to obtain introductions, recommendations and referrals

  • Obtain five personal recommendations per week from clients or centers of influence

If he hits these three goals consistently, his business will grow over time, Trainor said.


Best Practice 2: Know your client 

There are three things every business must get right, according to Trainor:

1. Who is the right client?

2. What is the right value proposition?

3. What is the right price (fair exchange in value)?

High performers put a lot of thought into defining their ideal client by considering demographics (statistical analysis based on age, income, marital status, geography) and qualities and attributes (trustworthiness, family values, generosity, open mindedness).


Best Practice 3: Understand how people make decisions 

To catch the right fish, you have to use the right bait, Trainor explained, which is why top advisors put so much thought into their value proposition. 

Trainor listed three truths in decisionmaking:

        1. All decisions are value-based, 
        2. All values are cognizance-based 
        3. All values are risk-based

What do your clients value? The best way to determine this is by examining how they spend their time and money. By asking questions, you can better determine what’s really important to their clients. Along the way, they build confidence, while communicating their relevance and uniqueness.

Best Practice 4: Help your prospects and clients to buy 

There are two principles in selling, Trainor said. Focus on the other person and make them the center of the experience. Great advisors are the opposite of Narcissus, Trainor said. When prospects gaze into their advisor’s eyes, they see their own greatness reflected back. Top advisors are able to bring out the best in their clients and help them feel better about themselves. 

There are two types of advisors, according to Trainor: problem finders and problem solvers. Finders focus on the clients’ or prospects’ goals. Solvers focus on the methods for realizing those goals. 

Goal-oriented questions could include: How much income would you require in retirement? How big do you want your income to become? 

Problem finding is the money skill, according to Trainor. The world if full of problems solvers, but problem finding is rare and can be achieved by focusing on what’s important to your client. 

While average producers measure their effectiveness in terms of transaction value and making a sale, top performers measure their success by creating client capital and lifetime value in their relationships with clients.

Best Practice 5: Depth of relationship 

The depth of your relationship with clients is measured by the number of products and services they buy from you and the degree to which they view you as their trusted advisor. 

In addition, the breadth of your relationship can be measured by how much clients refer and recommend you. The real value is added after the sale and top advisors look to add value throughout the relationship. Doing so creates equity and makes them more referable. Top advisors have clients who are evangelists. 

While client satisfaction is an important part of measuring the success of an advisor’s business, it is also ephemeral, Trainor said. Engagement, on the other hand, is a deeper level because clients are involved in helping you succeed. The best form of marketing is word-of-mouth.


Best Practice 6: Obtain introductions 

High-performing advisors put their clients to work for them, according to Trainor. When a client orchestrates an introduction, they bring the prospect to the advisor. They sell the prospect, which, Trainor said, makes all the difference in the world. 

Using social media, an advisor’s staff or marketing consultant can look at a client’s connections before a meeting and come to the meeting armed with a list of ideal prospects and potential professional connections that are prime candidates for recommendations, introductions and referrals.


Best Practice 7: Delegate 

The top advisors are entrepreneurs who happen to have chosen the financial services industry, Trainor told attendees. And the two principles of entrepreneurship are : 

1. Optimization – always work at the highest level possible. 

2. Leverage – Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough and I will move the world.” Advisors can apply this concept to their businesses by levering people and technology. 

By building a high-performing team and delegating tasks such as marketing and client services, advisors free themselves to “only do what only you can do,” Trainor said.


Best Practice 8: Utilize resources 

High performing advisors also build scaffolding around their practices, Trainor said, and leverage resources outside of their businesses to elevate the level of their game. 

Many prospects, and business owners in particular, have other trusted sources of information, Trainor said. Top advisors ask their clients and prospects to introduce them to their most trusted sources, who are often accountants and lawyers. Meeting with these professionals before making recommendations to clients provides a big advantage to advisors, because people are most comfortable with their conclusions, not those of other people. If they don’t by in, the process will not proceed, according to Trainor. 

By asking questions and listening, educating and informing the other professionals about the risks their mutual client may have, the advisor partners with them to provide complex solutions that are appropriate for issues business owners and other wealthy people often face. 

The other professionals then become the advisor’s partners in delivering a solution, but also centers of influence who provide introductions to other wealthy business owners and ideal prospects. 


Trainor left attendees with the following thoughts: Understand that ideas are worth 1 percent; execution is worth 99 percent. By applying these eight best practices, applying vision and strategy and recognizing the importance of day-to day activities, advisors will make more money, do more of what they enjoy, have more fun and better enjoy the fullness of both work and life.

Check out our coverage of MDRT 2015 here.