Secrets of Professional Presenters

Bev Flaxington@BevFlaxington, The Collaborative

Unless you are growing your business by giving presentations, you might not think about the importance of learning strong presentation skills. But it’s important for financial advisors to realize that each time you speak to a client or prospect, host a seminar or educational event, or speak to your team about firm goals and objectives, you are presenting. Being able to present your ideas in an effective manner is critical to success. You might be very intelligent and even creative, but if you cannot communicate in a manner that “wins over” your audience, you might be missing opportunities.

What makes the difference between a good presentation and a poorly delivered one? Often times it is the material; either we like what we hear or we don’t. Often times it is the presenter – if they are engaging and interesting, we pay more attention. Whether your next presentation is sitting one-on-one with a client, presenting to a board for a not-for-profit client, or standing in front of a roomful of people you’d like to gain as clients, the following six secrets from professional presenters may help:

  1. Establish what you want to accomplish at the outset. Is your presentation meant to persuade or to inform? Are you hoping to gain a client’s agreement on something or just wanting to tell your staff about a new change that’s happening? Always think about why you are doing the presentation and what the desired outcome is before you put together your material.
  2. What does the listener want from you? What are their goals in the exchange? Learn as much as you can about your listener or group. In a meeting with several people, ask them to raise their hands to questions about the material: How much do they know already? What prior experiences have they had? What do they hope to learn? In a one-to-one, get the other person talking. What do they hope to accomplish? The more you can engage and learn about your audience, the more engaged they will be with you.
  3. Put your information into a segmented format so that your audience can follow along with you. If, for example, you are presenting on the first-quarter market activity, you might segment: (a) Last year’s first quarter, (b) This year’s performance, (c) Changes from one year to the next and the meaning, Impact on you as the investor, and (e) Next steps you as the investor want to take in your portfolio. You want to take your material and put it into chunked segments so the audience knows where you are, and what you are talking about, at all times.
  4. Don’t assume the audience knows what you mean and why the material is relevant to them. It’s critical to provide context. Help the listener understand why they should care – the “so what?” and relevancy for their lives. If you are simply offering information, that’s fine, but let the audience know. When hoping to persuade a listener or set of listeners, it is absolutely critical to make the connection and allow them a clear window into the “why?” of the information to their needs and their lives.
  5. 5.13.13_Flaxington_Secrets of Professional PresentersCheck for understanding. Watch body language as you speak. Are people staying engaged? Are they nodding or shaking their heads? Are they focused on you? You want to make eye contact, smile and be engaged, and you want to watch the listener, too. Find ways to put questions in, or ask the audience to raise their hands. Work on engagement throughout your presentation and ask for questions to allow for deeper understanding.
  6. Have a clear next step. What do you want the audience or listener to do as a result of your presentation? Be clear what you want the listener to do. If you stated a desired outcome at the beginning of the dialogue, refer back to it now. And if you can get the listener to commit to a next step, have them do so in writing or to you verbally. A public commitment is always best.

Find ways to work on your presentation skills, and incorporate some of these ideas the next time you have an opportunity to present.

Turning Satisfied Clients Into Referring Clients

Bev Flaxington@BevFlaxington, The Collaborative

One of the eternal frustrations for many advisors is that they have happy, satisfied clients who don’t refer on a regular basis. Ask an advisor how many satisfied clients they have and they may say upwards of 90%, but then ask that same advisor what percentage refer and the number usually drops below 10%!

What kinds of things can an advisor do to increase referrals more consistently? Let’s look at the five most common problems, and then the options for re-energizing your client base toward referring:

  1. Just because they like you doesn’t mean they will refer you. Although you are doing a great job for them, they may have very busy lives. You are not “top of mind” all of the time. They don’t think about you outside of the time they interact with you. In order to stay top of mind, make sure you have ways to connect with them on a consistent and ongoing basis. It isn’t enough to just send the monthly newsletter. Find articles of interest to pass along. Write a blog. Have ongoing events—in person and via webinars. Hold client conference calls. Reach out often in different ways to remind clients, more subtly, of the value you add.
  2. They know what you do for them, sort of. But they can’t translate it for other people and it isn’t enough to say, “I like my financial advisor and you should, too!” Be sure you are clear about the type of people you serve, the ways you serve them, and the problems you solve. Take the time to share stories and vignettes with clients about others you have helped and how you have helped them. Ask them directly if they know people in situations like the ones you are describing. Paint the picture clearly enough so they know who they are looking for, on your behalf. Turning clients into evangelists means you have to arm them with the story to tell.
  3. Practice ManagementClients think you give such high-touch service you could not possibly be interested in taking on new clients – it would just be too much! They may not realize you want referrals. While the idea of “just ask” falls short, making it clear to clients that your best source of new business is them is very important. Keep reminding them that you are hoping to be connected to others just like them over time in order to build your business, by serving clients well.
  4. There isn’t enough active engagement for clients to have a chance to refer. Your annual meeting is probably for the purpose of reviewing the client’s portfolio and life situation. Truth? They want the conversation to be about them, not about you. Now enough about their friends and family! They want the focus on them. You need to find other ways to build in engagement. Take them to lunch just to check in once per year. Invite them to a client advisory board meeting that is focused on steps to take to grow your business. Hold networking and referral meetings where they can bring others and perhaps enhance their relationships, while also enhancing yours. Build in these opportunities to your regular day-to-day activities.
  5. There may be nothing in it for them. Why should a client refer to you? Just because they are happy doesn’t mean they have to do anything more about it – after all, they are paying you a fee for services. It’s important to set up the desire for referrals at the outset. “What would have to happen in our relationship that you might want to refer us business? What steps would we need to take together to make this comfortable for you?” Or have a way to reward clients for referring. Send them tickets, or flowers or candy to say “thank you!” Be sure you get in their shoes and realize that referrals are for you, not for them. They may want to help a friend, but ultimately they might like to be acknowledged somehow, too.

If you are frustrated by the lack of referrals your satisfied clients bring, review this list. See if there is an area you could focus on to reenergize client referrals for 2013. Take it one step at a time.

Preparing for a New Year: The Importance of Goal Setting

Bev FlaxingtonBev Flaxington, The Collaborative

Whether you run an advisory firm with two people – or 200 people – setting goals and determining your desired outcomes for 2013 is critical. Most people think about goal setting in terms of the numbers – how many new clients do we want? How much in AUM? What should our profitability per client be? These are all very important and should be included, but don’t forget to put an emphasis on qualitative goals, too.

goals

What are qualitative goals? You want to think about things such as:

(1)    What do you want your advisory firm to stand for? It seems to be a given that you would want to be trustworthy and responsive to clients, but what else matters to you? Do you want to be leading edge in investment offerings? Do you want to be known as proactive and anticipatory of client needs, instead of just responsive? Do you want to be a value provider – low cost with high service? Think in terms of reputation and define what you would like your firms to be.

(2)    What kind of culture do you want to have in your firm? Many people think culture evolves naturally and cannot be defined. Culture evolves in a directed way, when the firm puts emphasis on it. Aspects of firm culture could include team orientation, or fast decision-making, or a willingness to take risks (with compliance support of course!) or innovation. Take a moment to examine your culture now – see if you can identify the traits associated with it. Now take a moment to define what you would like it to be. What is the “gap”? Where do you need to make shifts? Note these and incorporate them into your planning process.

(3)    What is the client experience at your firm? When writing marketing materials we often ask about the client experience. What is it like for a new client to join your firm? What happens to them step-by-step? Again, this can evolve as your firm goes about its daily business of serving clients, but it can be a powerful aspect if you define it at the outset, instead of just letting it evolve. How often do you want to touch clients? What do you want to be doing at each touchpoint? How do you want clients to describe their experience in working with you? What three words would best capture what it is like to be a client of yours? Be illustrative in defining this so that someone else can actually picture or imagine what it feels like, or looks like to be a client of your firm.

(4)    What is the firm’s mission for this year? What do you want to accomplish in addition to serving clients well and finding new revenue? Do you want to be a market leader? Do you want to be known among the competition in a certain way? Do you want to raise the firm’s profile and be more engaged in PR (public relations) and media relations? Think outside of just the business development goals to broader, market-oriented goals

Thinking about these qualitative aspects takes time. It can be a great exercise to have other members of your firm join you in identifying these aspects and defining them. Even if you have only one other person in the firm, bring that person into the planning process. Most importantly if you take the time to think about any of these qualitative pieces, take the time to write them down. Use them as your guideposts for next year to help you navigate where you want to go.

Good luck for much success in 2013.

Search and Selection: Finding the Right Hire for Your Firm

Bev FlaxingtonBev Flaxington, The Collaborative

It is often said that this isn’t a numbers business, it is a people business. Understanding the criticality of the human factor, it is interesting how often an advisory firm will simply hire to fill a role instead of putting the time and energy into search and selection to determine the right candidate, for the right role, in the right culture.

Success in a job comes from a number of factors. Let’s touch on a few and then talk about one in more detail, that of search and selection:

  • Behavioral fit – is the employee’s natural style right for the role? If he or she is a deeply analytical person, but the job calls for constant people interaction, will she or he be able to modify for success?
  • Cultural fit – are the values of the company in line with the employee’s values? Does the employee show a willingness to understand and uphold the company’s values?
  • Clarity of job expectations – does the employee know exactly what is expected of them? Has the employer clearly identified what success looks like for this role?
  • Compensation and motivators – are the right ones built in for this person, in this job?

In addition to these factors, advisors must consider where they find candidates (search) and how they determine who they will hire (selection). When looking for a new job, oftentimes people will focus on networking. However, in hiring for a new role networking may not be the best approach. In many cases, a person may get referred to the advisory firm and because they came from someone the advisor knows and trusts, they are assumed to be a good fit. An advisor may not go through as rigorous of a screening process in that case.

When searching for a candidate, ensure that you are pursuing all available avenues to locate candidates. In addition to the traditional posting options, be sure to include posting to groups such as the CFA Institute, or the FPA, or other financially oriented organizations. LinkedIn is growing in popularity and can be an excellent place to find candidates. Interview a minimum of three people for a role just to get an idea of different people.

Finding the Right Hire

Before you begin the interview process, establish how you will select the person. Who will be involved in interviewing? How much weight will each person have? Will you have an organized list of questions for each person to ask, or a matrix to assess feedback? What will be the feedback loop and how will people follow up on their thoughts? You want to establish final criteria for making the decision. In many cases a firm has a set of requirements but makes an exception based on “liking” a candidate. This might be okay, if all other criteria are met. Define this in advance.

Be sure to ask behavioral questions. Don’t just take a person’s “track record” for granted – ask how they found clients, what they did to work with them, how they go about generating referrals, how they work with COIs, etc. Pick those things most relevant to your firm and be sure to dig, dig, dig in your questioning until you really understand the background.

Lastly, be sure to check references. Don’t just do a cursory check-in with the three or four people that were listed on the person’s resume. Instead, try to do some digging on your own and find others to speak to. If the person is on LinkedIn or has relationships at prior firms, see if you are able to use your connections to learn a bit about the person outside of the given references.

It can sound like a great deal of work to find the right person, but the truth is that making a bad hire is costly for any firm.

How Advisors Can Use New Media to Communicate More Effectively

Bev Flaxington, The Collaborative

Many advisors have an aging client base. Investors in their 60’s through 90’s may not care about technology, while their children and grandchildren do. The next generations are people who have grown up with the internet, playing video games and generally getting their information in a fast-paced, more interactive manner. While investment information doesn’t necessary lend itself as easily to game playing, advisors can find new and different ways to tell their story using some of the new media available.

What is new media? In many ways, it’s not that new. It involves taking information and delivering it through something other than the static email or newsletter. It is video, audio, webinars or slideshows that can be posted to an easily accessible place, such as your website, and accessed by clients and prospects.

New media can make your information come alive. If trust is a basis for relationship and selection in the investment advisory business, wouldn’t it help to see the person you might give your money to rather than just reading about them? Or would hearing an advisor give a talk about their philosophy on investing make it easier for a prospect to understand that philosophy? Would having a clip on YouTube replaying a speech that had been given, or an educational workshop for clients to pass along, help with referrals?

The answer to all of these questions is “yes.” Adult learners need to access information in a variety of manners to have it stick and make it understandable. Defaulting to the written word for all communication leaves a number of people without a way to truly comprehend why an advisor might be right for them. It is intuitive to think that many people learn and engage much more effectively through audio and video than by reading alone.

In addition, with clients and prospects busier and more preoccupied than ever, fewer and fewer are taking the time to read material on screen – let alone in hardcopy. And with the ever-increasing power of mobile devices, all media forms are available for these busy people to access regardless of where they are. Giving people choices and different access points increases your availability to them. Think of the number of places now where there is a live person to talk to you 24/7. Many firms know that data on a screen isn’t sufficient. People need to engage more actively to learn and understand.

What are some advisors doing now in this area? Many are providing audio- and video-based newsletters or commentary, firm or service overviews, and interviews with firm leaders telling the firm’s story or advisors explaining the markets (among many other examples). Some are creating a YouTube channel and posting quick snippets of their perspective on the market, or updates on trends. If an advisor lacks the time to do some of these things, there are vendors available to write copy or interview questions, record remotely or in person, and then complete all production work.

Using new media can help with marketing. Video sales letters – animated overviews sent in email blasts – are eye-catching and help increase “open rates.” Posting audio and video forms on your website, YouTube, SlideShare, iTunes and other free posting sites enhances search engine ratings and allows your existing clients or centers of influence a place to direct friends, family or clients to see what you can do.

Of course, the compliance issues are the same as with any client-oriented or marketing material. An advisor needs to consult with their internal compliance, or broker/dealer, to find out what’s acceptable and what’s not. The rules around testimonials, guarantees and making broad claims are the same. But this doesn’t mean an advisor cannot tell stories about the kinds of clients they have helped, give insight into their philosophy and approach, or talk generally about market trends and the impact on investors.

The beauty of new media is that it can be taken a step at a time. Start with an audio, or a video of a speech or educational workshop. Ask clients what kind of media they enjoy. View what others are doing to see the variety of options available. New media is going to continue to grow. See if there is a way to learn more about how it could work for you.

Selling for the Non-Sales Professional

Beverly Flaxington, The Collaborative

Many times advisors don’t like to think of themselves as salespeople. But just think: Client referrals. Strategic alliances. New prospects coming in. Even peers sometimes need to be sold on an idea or a strategy. So advisors are faced with a conundrum – the need to sell is there, but the experience of selling can be a negative one.

The selling process, to those who have not been trained in it, has its own mystique. The scripts, the proper words at the proper time, and the ability to listen past an objection someone is presenting to you in order to find what they really need, are all skills that not many people possess naturally.

Let’s look at five tenets of successful sales that anyone can use to help them – at a minimum – get more comfortable:

  1. Define your goals. You wouldn’t create a financial plan for someone without knowing something about their goals, desired outcomes and current state. Selling is no different. Too many firms simply state “I want to grow,” “Our objective is growth,” or “Our strategy is to increase sales.” Instead, write quantitative and objective sales goals. Know who your ideal client is and target similar prospects, determine reasonable growth in assets and clients, and decide how much time you’ll devote to selling.
  2. Work from a plan. It’s not enough to set your goals; you have to define who, what, when and how in order to implement them effectively. The plan should outline marketing tactics (events, emails, PR, etc.), and the number and types of contacts (direct calls, client referrals). It should also include training or coaching you (and your manager) believe will most benefit you.
  3. Create relationships and deepen them whenever and wherever possible. While advisors talk about the importance of relationships and the depth of relationships they have with strategic alliances and clients, the truth is that there is always room for improvement. Find every opportunity to deepen a relationship by learning more about the person and what they care about, by holding events and providing education they could find useful, and by providing information they can use and share.
  4. Solve their problem in an effective way. When it comes right down to it, selling is not even selling. It’s solving someone’s problem by offering them a product, service or solution that meets their need and takes away their pain, or offers them the pleasure they are seeking. It’s critical to know your market and the problems you solve (Step 1). Focus on listening and questioning, meeting objections, and mirroring their pace and style to communicate most effectively.
  5. Qualify. Make sure they’re “real.” Here’s where many professional salespeople falter. A suspect, prospect or client can look like someone who offers an opportunity for a potential sale. As the hope-to-be seller, you may spend a lot of time providing information, following up with phone calls, keeping the person in your pipeline and assuming there are assets attached that will someday be yours. Check – and re-check – that the prospect meets your “ideal client” standards and ask questions that get at their current “pain.” Don’t waste time on non-serious or indifferent people!

If you think your sales process needs a change, consider one of these areas and choose to focus on it and see if it makes a difference.

Increasing Personal Effectiveness: Tips For Time Management

Beverly Flaxington, The Collaborative

In today’s world, with all of the advancements in technology, it seems advisors have less time in the day, but more to do! The problem is that we operate under the false assumption that if we “only had more time,” we’d be more effective. If advisors had more time, they would probably just fill it with more activities. The key is to look at time management not with the goal of harnessing time, but of becoming more effective at using what’s given to you.

Financial advisors who run their own businesses have a particular challenge – manage the staff, work with clients, watch the markets, find new prospects, figure out the budget, pay the bills and so on. Those who work for larger firms may not need to run the business, but they still have compliance requirements, internal meetings and the like. There are many things that “should” be addressed in any given day. And to-do lists only seem to get longer!

What are some keys to personal management to help advisors become more effective? Let’s look at three of them here:

  1. Take the time to list your goals and priorities. Before your month starts, or your week, or your day, make sure you have taken the time to list the top 3-5 things you simply must accomplish. Once you list them (and make sure you take the time to write them down), list the priorities associated with each one. For example, if increasing client referrals by 15% is a top priority this month, list what you need to do to accomplish this. Don’t leave the steps to chance. Your list could include: Hold an event, send out an email asking for referrals, speak with each client one-to-one, hold a client advisory board meeting, etc. As your tasks accumulate during the day, week and month, be sure that your list always has your top priorities on it also. Do the things that come along, but never at the expense of your priorities. Instead of a general to-do list, have a to-do list in priority order. This can help you to stay focused on the highest-gain things.
  2. Know what you do well and stick to your knitting! Too many times we try to be all things to all people. The truth is that we all have our strong suits in some areas, and our weaknesses in others. Behavioral styles show us that while we may be excellent at data and quality control, for example, we may not be as comfortable trying to close the deal with a prospect. Or, while I might enjoy the camaraderie of being with my team because I am a people person, I may not like filling out the forms for compliance requirements. It’s important to self-identify what you are good at and what you like to do, and then find ways to delegate those things you are not so good at. For those things that are not strengths – or that you simply don’t enjoy – there are many options: Outsource. Identify team members with different strengths than yours and delegate. Determine whether you absolutely have to do the task in the first place.
  3. Be critical of your time wasters. We all have them. There are things you do that you know you shouldn’t. There is the client who doesn’t pay you well but who calls to talk your ear off several times a week. There is the market report you don’t really need to read, but you enjoy perusing. There is the site you find interesting, but that isn’t on your list of priority items. There is your “open-door” policy that employees have started to abuse. It’s important to note during the day where you spend time on things that aren’t contributing to your priorities. Keep a journal. Create an Excel spreadsheet with 15-minute time blocks, and keep track of where your time goes. Review it to find those places when you can steal back some of your own time. Then get rigorous about using your time in the most beneficial ways. You might have to say “no” to things you’d like to do. You might have to make difficult choices in what you focus on. You might have to give up a favorite activity, like reading those market reports. There is time for everything that’s important, but only if you give up those things that really aren’t making a difference to the success of your practice.

Before the next week starts, take the time to think about any or all of these ideas. Can you make a commitment to approach time differently so that your personal and professional productivity rises? Even for the most time-efficient among us, there is always the chance to find new ways to take back your time.