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How to Really Connect With Clients: Carson's Sarah Cain

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Sarah M. Cain, Carson Group’s Coaching and Consulting vice president, stepped into coaching some years back by informally helping a few entrepreneurial friends. Now at Carson, she heads a team of executive business coaches and practice management consultants. 

The financial advisors she coaches are successful, “purpose-driven leaders” who want to use their business “as a force for good” in the world, as she tells ThinkAdvisor in an interview.

Cain’s own overall goal is focused on diversity, equity and inclusion (or DEI). It is to help change financial services to be “more inclusive and welcoming for people who have traditionally been shut out — anyone outside the historical norm for financial advisors,” as she puts it. 

Cain also wants to create change to make “advice more accessible to people who have been shut out of financial advice — they need it,” she says.

A 2021 ThinkAdvisor LUMINARIES award winner in the category of diversity and inclusion, Cain and her team help independent advisors and RIAs — with any company affiliation, not only Carson advisors — to grow their thriving businesses.

Before joining Carson in 2016, Cain was the chief operations officer at a large hybrid RIA.

In the interview, she discusses the chief practice management issues that she and her team encounter and suggests how advisors can give behavioral coaching to clients who are resistant to recommendations.

Cain’s team also helps advisors who the firm calls “accidental CEOs.” “Advisors are really great at working with clients. They’re not always great at being a manager and leader,” she says.

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Cain, speaking by phone from her base in the Kansas City metro area. On top of her full-time job at Carson, Cain still coaches some friends who aren’t in the financial services industry through her firm Sarah M. Cain Coaching.

In her free time, she trains in muay thai, a version of kickboxing. In our conversation, she explains why the martial arts technique has been dubbed “the science of eight limbs.”

Here are highlights of our interview:

THINKADVISOR: What’s the most challenging part of your job? 

SARAH CAIN: Balancing what needs to get done day to day with the change I’m trying to create to make the industry more inclusive and welcoming for people who have traditionally been shut out. That’s women, people of color — anyone who’s outside what we might consider the historical norm for financial advisors.

Another change I’m trying to create is making advice more accessible to more people who historically have been shut out of financial advice — they need it.

Most of the advisors are coached by your team. What determines who you coach personally?

If someone is really focused on using business as a force for good and are purpose-driven leaders. 

Business has incredible power to do good things in the world, to make good change, to give back to communities, to take care of our planet. Business is this huge force, which can be used for negative purposes or for good.

Describe the intent of the advisors you coach, please.

I work with people who say: “I’m going to make sure that my business is diverse and inclusive and is taking care of the planet. We’re going to make our industry better; we’re going to give back to the community.”

The advisors I work with generally want to make a positive impact on the industry, on clients, on the world. So we work on that in addition to the general practice-management areas.

Why is B Corporation certification for the advisors you coach important to you?

It says that the business is being run the right way, is transparent about what it’s doing and is committed to using business as a force for good.

Getting back to coaching advisors who are, as you say, “outside the historical norm,” do you coach many advisors of color?

I do. They’re awesome to work with and are some of my favorites.

Overall, do you and your team coach many female advisors?

I would say the [proportion] is right in line with the industry, where women are a much smaller percentage of advisors. Women tend to be more coachable and are more open to coaching.

What do advisors need help with most?

Generally, people come to us when they’ve been successful to a point and then hit a plateau. 

Either they’re not growing as fast as they want to, or they hit a bottleneck in their firm and know they need to hire more people or get more efficient and work on the operations side of things — both systems and processes.

But they know they need some help to get beyond that plateau.

What are advisors’ main problem areas?

A lot of it is practice management and relationships. We work a lot on business development and marketing too. 

What our coaches don’t get into is financial planning or advice. We refer that out to specialty coaches if someone needs help there.

In the practice management area, is there one issue that keeps cropping up over and over?

Our No. 1 topic is about people — hiring and managing them. Advisors are really great at working with clients; they’re not always great about being a manager and leader. 

We sometimes refer to them as “an accidental CEO.” They got in the business to be an advisor, not a CEO.

Tell me about how you help advisors with marketing.

We see a lot of really generic marketing and messaging. So we help advisors be clear on why they’re in the business, what they love doing for clients and what their value proposition is.

It’s got to be something that’s really meaningful and emotional — something that connects with clients.

We help them get clarity on that and then talk about the marketing and business development strategies that are going to work best for them.

What types of marketing approaches?

Just because there are a ton of different strategies out there doesn’t mean you should do them all.

If you’re not good at public speaking, for example, and you don’t like doing it, then for goodness’ sake, don’t do that.

We’ll work on some other strategies that really leverage your strengths.

You say that advisors should give clients behavioral coaching. How do they deal with a client who has the attitude, “It’s my money, and I’ll do with it what I want”?

We [suggest that] the advisor find out what’s important to the client and then, in every conversation, connect back to that as why they should or shouldn’t do something.

What is financial advisors’ biggest challenge today?

Staying relevant and thinking ahead. Things are changing so quickly in our industry — client demographics, technology [and so on]. 

You’ve got to be thinking three, four, five steps ahead.

We refer to this as the “adaptability quotient” — the advisor’s AQ.

What’s driving all that change?

At the end of the day, it’s customer expectations. Consumers are expecting more out of their professional advisors. 

They’re so used to technology in all areas of their life that they expect a faster response time from their advisors than they were used to.

You won a 2021 ThinkAdvisor LUMINARIES award in the category of diversity and inclusion. Why do you believe industry recognition programs are important?

They shine a spotlight on the cool things that people in our industry are doing and make them a little bit more visible to everyone. 

Your bio says that off-hours you train in muay thai. What’s that?

Kickboxing. Most kickboxing is punches and kicking. Muay is sometimes called “the science of eight limbs” because it also includes the use of elbows and knees.

It’s very powerful and great for self-defense. It can hurt!