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3 Strategies for a More Intelligent Referral Approach: Building the Foundation for Success

Referrals aren’t just an effective way to grow your business using your top clients and centers of influence. At the core, referrals mean that you want to help more people fulfill their dreams and goals by providing your professional financial services. If you approach referrals from this perspective, and truly tap into your desire to help others, referrals can feel like less of a sales pitch and more like a built-in professional relationship process.

These three key strategies, from Frank Maselli’s book Referrals the Professional Way: 10 Strategies for Networking with Top Clients & Centers of Influence, will help you prepare your business for the implementation of a successful referral strategy:

Develop a Referral Plan

This is the first step to success; it will help your idea come alive and will keep you on track. Start gathering data and intelligence, developing awareness of your client’s world. Create a Referral Intelligence File (RIF) for chosen clients and prospects that notates their personal and professional interests and their community involvement, and then do your research and note potential referrals within their network to suggest, so they don’t have to do the work for you.

Provide Excellent Service

Take the time to assess and perfect your service model. Manage expectations and learn to anticipate the needs of your top clients to deliver service beyond their expectations. In addition, it’s key to build a great partnership with your assistant and ensure he or she is trained properly and compensated well. Your assistant is the front line in strengthening client relationships and an asset in ensuring top-notch service.

Build Your Brand Identity

What makes you special and different from your competitors? Make sure you develop a strong brand identity that includes your differentiated value, explains what you consistently do well, and does so in a compelling story to share in your marketing and referral efforts. Build your brand identity in a clear way so that your clients can easily tell your story to their friends.

By planning and establishing these three strategies you will set yourself up for a referral approach that is built on a strong foundation and a written plan.

As you create a referral plan, think about the materials you will need to support your brand message and promote your top-notch approach to client service. Having a powerful resource, like a book, and positioning yourself as the expert in your field, as an author, can help increase referrals. A book is your brand story, your marketing, and your sales material in one package. It can be the perfect tool for supporting an innovative and intelligent approach to referrals. Request additional resources and discover how becoming an author can benefit your financial services business.

Allison LooneyAllison Looney
Marketing Associate
Advantage Media Group
Charleston, SC


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5 Strategies to Keep Your Fee Conversation Stress-Free

How confident do you feel about your fees? Do you dread the “fee discussion” when you meet someone new? Deciding what to charge or how to increase your fees can be stressful, and the pressure to discount fees can be overwhelming.

You may devalue yourself to sign the client more often than you’d like or do a ton of work free in anticipation of a portfolio to manage that never comes to fruition. Offering discounts can cause mental stress, internal arguments and create resentment, all of which hinders your development of a fulfilling practice.

When it comes to setting your fees, there is no pricing panacea. You have to look at your audience, your service, your value, and what kind of work you want to do to set your fees. If you find there is a market segment you keep attracting where you have to discount or justify the pricing constantly, then take a closer look at why. Is your fee reasonable for the value a client receives? Are you failing to get in front of the right people? It may be time to make some adjustments.

Here are five strategies to keep your pricing consistent and stress-free:

1. Offer Package Deals

Bundle up your services into packages. You may find it mutually beneficial to offer an inexpensive package with your baseline services in addition to a high-end, all-inclusive alternative. Prospects can self-select what fits for them. They choose, not you. (Note: your higher-priced package should come across as a better value).

2. Provide a DIY Option

Do-It-Yourself is a fantastic way to leverage your time and knowledge to serve the segment of your niche that is unwilling to pay your one-on-one fee. Free content or an inexpensive information product allows people to benefit from your expertise but does not tie up your time. You may be surprised how many people try out your content first and then upgrade to personalized service. Deliver this through a customized landing page from www.leadpages.net or ask your webmaster to set up the sign-up.

3. Utilize Promotional Periods

Offer a promotional price for a limited time. For example, email your list in March and offer an incentive (credit toward a plan, a free analysis, or bundled in tax return, for example) if they commit by April 15.

4. Partner Up

Do not try to force fit every prospect’s needs into your service. Yes, you could figure out a way to help almost anyone, but do you want to? Focus on your target. Find other planners in your area who offer models different than your own. These partnerships allow you to provide a solution to a particular group of individuals who don’t fit for you, they help other advisers find qualified leads, and you can keep your eye on the ball.

5. Know Your Model Framework

A trickier situation for pricing occurs when you are confident that an individual prospect could bring a large portfolio for you to manage (where you would receive your fee). You want to provide a complimentary plan or reduced planning fee upfront to show your approach and woo the client. How can you keep from losing your shirt by offering too many free sessions? Create a logical system of what criteria you’re looking for in a client. Know in advance what profile fits the mold and how you will price. Measure against your framework as you talk to either eliminate the upfront fee entirely or determine to what degree you are willing to offer a discount. This puts you in a position of empowerment and not of reacting to whatever is happening at the meeting.

Remember, you offer immense value to the clients you serve. Be sure to give yourself a break and strategically decide pricing in advance of consultations. This way you can relax, be yourself and probably welcome many more clients because you focused on them and not your imminent fee negotiation.

Kristin Harad 2014Kristin Harad, CFP®
Marketing trainer for advisers
www.kristinharad.com
implement-now.com
San Francisco


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Strengthen Your Resolve and Reframe Your Resolutions

Gray skies, rainy days and cold weather can truly put a damper on our resolve to do things differently. Trapped inside and perhaps slightly depressed due to a lack of sunshine, we find our enthusiasm waning for doing things differently. As we progress through the somber winter days we enter the danger zone for those resolutions made early in the year.

How can you strengthen your resolve and carry on?

First, review your resolutions. Do they inspire you, or do they focus on fixing something? Many resolutions are made from a mindset of negativity or self-criticism. What have you not been doing? Getting enough sleep? Working out? Spending time with family? Or what have you been doing too much of? Eating? Watching television?

Reframe your resolution into a statement that inspires you. I am in bed every weeknight by 10 p.m. I eat healthy foods six days a week. Varying my workout schedule, I get three cardio and two weight-lifting sessions in each week. You get the idea.

Now that you have reframed the resolutions, identify the strengths you can use to make the resolution a reality. If you aren’t sure what your strengths are, grab a copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0 and take the assessment.

Real-Life Example

So what might a resolution and the resulting action plan look like if you use your strengths?  Here’s a real-life example using my top six strengths identified by the StrengthsFinder assessment.

My goal is to increase my client base by 50 percent in 2015. Reviewing my client list, I know that 75 percent of my clients come from referral through my network. By resolving to connect with and expand my network in 2015, I know that I will grow my client list.

In order to do so, I will use my strengths of “winning over others” or Woo, and Relator (a quite uncommon pair), combined with my Strategic strength. My Maximizer will come in to polish the process while Futuristic provides me the vision to see what this means for my business and personal satisfaction. And even when met with a “no” or a disappointment, Positivity will help me rebound and move forward. This quick reference card will define these terms for you …and I bet make you curious about your own strengths!

Yes, these are my strengths and how I intend to use them for a specific resolution to reach a goal. It energizes and inspires me just to read it. Interested in experiencing similar results? Get to know your strengths through strengths exploration and strengthen your resolve. You will be amazed at what you are capable of!

Barbara StewartBarbara Stewart, CFP®
Coach to financial advisers
Owner and founder
Accelus Partners
Houston, Texas


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The Rest of Retirement Readiness

Most financial advisers live and breathe helping clients prepare for retirement. But financial matters are only one part of the retirement readiness equation. Have you considered the nonfinancial challenges clients may face once they retire?

In Retirement, Money Isn’t Everything

All too often, even clients who are financially set end up unhappy post-retirement. They may be ready for retirement money-wise, but many are unprepared in other areas, such as:

  • General attitude toward retirement and aging
  • Finding satisfying work or activities to replace their former career
  • Interpersonal relationships, especially with their spouse
  • Overall health and wellness

These nonfinancial issues will only become more significant as retirements grow longer. In the past, people might plan for 10 years of retirement. Today, we may be retired for as long as we’re employed.

One predictor of a happy retirement is success in multiple aspects of life before retirement—not just the financial aspect. Think about it:

  • If a client has never exercised or taken care of his health, will he suddenly develop healthy habits in retirement?
  • If a marriage has been troubled for decades, is it likely to improve in retirement? “Gray divorces” (those among people over 50) have doubled in the last 20 years. You see the thinking: Maybe I was willing to stick with you for 10 years, but 30 or 40 years? No thanks.

What’s an Adviser to Do?

Clearly, addressing some of these issues falls outside the typical financial adviser’s purview. You probably have good listening skills, but are you equipped to deal with these potentially complicated nonfinancial challenges? And even if you are, is serving as a marriage counselor, life coach, or health guru the best use of your time and energy?

Stay tuned for the next post, where I’ll highlight action steps you can take to enhance your value in this critical area and help clients prepare for a truly successful retirement.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for webJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

 

Editor’s note: Join Joni at FPA Retreat 2015, April 20-23, where she’ll share more of her insights on retirement readiness beyond the numbers.


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Monologue vs. Dialogue

For over a decade, I’ve been coaching financial advisers and insurance agents in a wide variety of facets of their business. One of the most important of those is sales; without the ability to sell, you would not have a client base. A common theme I’ve heard from individuals during coaching sessions is that selling is telling—if you just tell them what they need, they will buy. However, telling prospects what they “should do” could be a recipe for disaster. The alternative is a well-thought-out strategy of asking prospects what they think they “should do” to create success for themselves.

You may be surprised to learn that not all questions you ask necessarily create a connection though. For example, take Jake, a financial adviser client of mine whose boss hired me to help him increase his sales skills. During a coaching session we role played the first appointment process. Knowing that questions are important, Jake did his best to uncover my character’s situation and make a good connection, but instead he ended up pushing me away. After five minutes of me grunting replies such as “yes, no, I guess, I don’t know, maybe” I knew Jake didn’t fully understand what he was doing that was hurting him during the conversation; he was in a monologue-only delivery whereas instead, he needed to be in a two-way dialogue with me.

“Do you think I was connected?” I cautiously asked.

“No, but I asked a lot of questions. I guess they weren’t the right ones” he said with confusion in his voice.

It was the type of questions that was wrong.

“Most of the questions you were asking were closed-ended questions, which typically illicit a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. If most of my replies are words like, ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ ‘I don’t know’ and so on, are we in a dialogue or are you in a monologue?”

He paused then answered, “So, to connect I need to get you to open up by using opened-ended questions. Let’s go over those.”

At that moment, I knew it was time to create a simple exercise to increase his questions-selling abilities, so I had him draw a vertical line on a piece of paper, labeling the left side Monologue and the right side Dialogue.

I asked him to write closed-ended questions under the Monologue heading, and open-ended questions under the Dialogue heading—one question for each line. I gave him a list of each and he wrote them down. Then we did a five-minute role play in which I was the adviser and he was the prospect. My goal was to get him to open up by asking open-ended questions.

After five minutes I asked him if he felt connected.

“Absolutely, I did all the talking and your questions got me to open up more than I thought I would,” he said in surprise.

That’s exactly why open-ended questions work so well; they get the listener to open up and that creates a dialogue, which creates a better connection. Then it was his turn to role play as the adviser, and it was amazing. Jake got me to open up.

Through this simple exercise, Jake understood how important it is to use the right types of questions. Since then, I’ve added elements to the exercise to turn it into a game and have played that game in several individual and group coaching sessions. Time after time it has improved the communication process.

If you’re unsure if you are connecting with your clients and prospects, email me at dan@advisorsolutionsinc.com for The Monologue vs. Dialogue Audio (a one-hour live group coaching downloadable audio).

Dan FinleyDaniel C. Finley
President
Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.


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Use Storytelling to Persuade Your Audience to Take Action

Fast, brief and information-rich seem to have become the key attributes of our daily communication.

Although we are growing accustomed to this new communication paradigm, we need to remember that for more than 27,000 years—from the time of the first cave paintings—telling stories has been one of humanity’s most fundamental communication methods to build relationships, inform and engage listeners.

Despite the ongoing romance with sound bites and 140-character max Tweets, human beings continue to love and be fascinated by stories. Stories capture listeners’ attention by evoking memories, stirring feelings and establishing an emotional bond with the storyteller.

In his book The Leaders’ Guide to Storytelling, Stephen Denning states: “Asking people to stop doing the things they know and love doing things they don’t know much about amounts to asking them to accept new identities. The usual result? Skepticism. Hostility. Sitting on the fence. Anything but enthusiastic implementation. Telling stories, however, can get people out of a negative cycle by helping them see alternative approaches.”

But what does this have to do with your business? In two words: stories sell. Major brands use the emotional response of their audiences to storytelling to achieve their vision, goals and conquer market share. Their shift from just broadcasting messages to storytelling has become a crucial element of their success. They have realized that their brand is not an abstract philosophical concept, but rather an enduring account of multiple emotional experiences that their audiences sense when thinking or coming in contact with a company’s products or services.

Storytelling is a powerful tool that can empower advisers to better promote their expertise, recommendations, and educate their audiences to implement judicious decisions. Despite the growing fascination with swift communication, today like in the past, audiences declare that a well-told story is what captures their attention and, ultimately, exercises an impact on their selection of a particular product or service over another.

But why should advisers embrace storytelling? According to Uri Hasson, professor of psychology at Princeton University, “A story has the power to activate parts in the brain that lead the listener to turn the story into their own idea and experience.”

Stories help us establish an emotional connection to the main character or topic and, ultimately, connections lead to loyalty.

In a post on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, Paul Zak, a professor at Claremont Graduate University and President of Ofactor Inc., reveals how recent scientific work is putting a much stronger emphasis on how stories change individuals’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.

In his post, Zak explains that as social creatures, we depend on others for our survival and happiness. A decade ago, his team discovered that a neurochemical called oxytocin is a key “it’s safe to approach others” signal in the brain. Oxytocin is produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it stimulates cooperation with others.

Undoubtedly, good stories inspire and motivate us all. Storytelling is important to the success of a financial adviser, due to its powerful inherent connection-loyalty and trust-building attributes. Ultimately, we are beasts of emotion more than logic. We love to tell and hear stories. So, for an adviser, the journey to effectively engage, influence and persuade an audience must begin with “Once upon a time.”

In a future blog, I will share some guidelines and techniques for effective storytelling. Meanwhile, questions or sharing experiences with storytelling are as always welcome.

Claudio PannunzioClaudio Pannunzio
President
i-Impact Group Inc.
Greenwich, Conn.


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Selling Diligence

A client’s anxiety is a stew pot of emotional, historical, contemporary, economic and global ingredients, and it’s all focused on the future. Add to this the sheer complexity that exists with thousands of investment, insurance and trust products, and the client seeks an advisory relationship to take the sting of uncertainty away. This is no different than someone who is ill gaining comfort from a doctor who ably implements a treatment plan.

Yet, in this uncertainty, clients still yearn to know “What’s going to happen?” Few advisers position themselves as market forecasters (i.e., if all the brain power, computing power and self-interest can’t predict even six months out where the price of oil is headed, what does it say about predicting anything in the market?), but this anxiety gnaws at clients with the wounds from 2008 still fresh.

With a question so important yet so unknowable, what is under your control that can be a salve to your clients’ anxiety? In a word: diligence.

Diligence as a Tactical Tool

In my blog “Wealth Protection as a Practice Strategy,” I promote wealth protection—minimizing the loss of dollars to investment performance, taxes, fees and unprotected risks—as an operating strategy largely under an adviser’s direct control, and one that has the best path to wealth creation (i.e., you can’t create wealth unless you protect it first).

Wealth protection is like a fortress, but it is only a first-line defense against an enemy’s incursions. A fortress requires watchmen in towers looking beyond the walls, ready to spring into action should any threat be seen. Think of diligence as watchful eyes.

As there are a number of wealth protection tactics, so too does diligence offer an array of defined and concrete actions.

Diligence Categories

1. Planning diligence. A comprehensive financial plan is detailed itself, but once the plan is implemented, diligence keeps it responsive to a client’s evolving needs and circumstances.

Positioning statement: “We diligently maintain the wealth plan as a dynamic guide for your long-term security by ensuring that it is up to date with the current state of your needs, anxieties and aspirations.”

2. Investment diligence. The various portfolio solutions, insurance products and trusts are the plan’s execution implements. Although an investment plan may liberally use passive ETFs or mutual funds, doesn’t mean that the execution is passive. Here, diligence shows itself through validation that the underlying investment products adhere to their stated diversification, efficiency, income and liquidity purposes.

Positioning statement: “We select investments, insurance products and trusts on the basis that their characteristics and qualities fit with what your plan requires, and, most important, we review each of these products and their providers to ensure that nothing has deviated from what we expected.”

3. Monitoring diligence. As markets move, a client’s investment and property wealth also change. Rebalancing is known for resetting portfolios to the target allocation and, in the process, enforcing “buying low and selling high.” However, rebalancing has a higher purpose in adjusting all wealth sources to the plan’s requirements, with special emphasis on the plan to create liquidity from property wealth as needed.

Positioning statement: “We track your plan’s execution to make sure that the portfolio design, investment products, insurance, trusts and your property fulfill their intended purposes in delivering the plan’s liquidity, stability, growth and income requirements.”

4. Communication diligence. According to a Financial Advisor magazine study of 1,375 advisers, 72 percent of advisers identified “failure to communicate on a timely basis” as one of the top three termination reasons. To an adviser’s essential services, maintaining diligent communications is a vital treatment for a client’s anxiety, particularly during market volatility.

Positioning statement: “We hold regular meetings in which your plan sets the agenda in discussing how the plan’s execution is unfolding. In addition, we give you frequent updates as market, regulatory, tax, planning and risk issues arise.”

Tangible Diligence

A challenge exists because “diligence” lacks tangibility and much of the actual work occurs behind the scenes. In client meetings (and always annually), produce a tangible, written summary of activities from the different diligence categories.

This summary does for your diligence services what the performance report does for the investing solution (see “Performance Reporting: The Plan’s Tangible Evidence”). Furthermore, for prospects, giving an example of the “Summary of our Diligence” gives evidence that your firm’s day-to-day actions go beyond mere words.

An adviser’s diligence releases a client’s anxiety, and, in so doing, the client base is solidified.  Both outcomes represent meaningful rewards.

Kirk LouryKirk Loury
President
Wealth Planning Consulting Inc.
Princeton Junction, New Jersey

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