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.

Becoming an Obvious Expert Beverly D. Flaxington for Brinker Capital

One of the best ways for financial advisors to generate new business is to become “known”. Known as the expert, as the advisor with insights, and as the person who has something important to say. Many investors like to work with someone they perceive as knowledgeable and well-rounded.
How best to become an obvious expert? The first important piece is to be seen and heard. This can be done through using a PR (public relations) strategy and through social media. PR includes things like being interviewed on radio and television, being written about in newspapers and periodicals, and issuing press releases or other news stories. Social media includes things like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, and means engaging in online discussion and information boards to talk about your expertise.
Some advisors shy away from the media because they don’t know what to say. As a first step, think about what interesting angles you can address relative to important topics in the news. Don’t limit your thinking to just the stock and bond market movements; think about trends for retirees and/or divorcees, multi-generational issues, or any other newsworthy trend that can connect back to your process or philosophy with regard to investing or planning.
Consider some of the following to establish your credibility as the obvious expert:
(1) Radio and television interviews are “free” advertising. Read and watch different journalists and reporters. Find out what they often report on. Write an email or a note to respond to some information they’ve given and your angle on their story. Make friends with your local media. Reporters and journalists are looking for new, fresh angles all the time.
(2) If you want to put more effort into it, consider doing your own blog talk radio show. You can pay a nominal fee to get set up on one of the major networks such as Live365 or blogtalkradio. With your own show you are responsible for coming up with content for each program, but you can always leverage other relationships such as COIs (Centers of Influence) like realtors, attorneys or accountants. Having your own show means you would be the interviewer instead of the interviewee. However, it allows you to get your thoughts and ideas across to an audience each week or month, depending on the show schedule.
(3) Create audio or video recordings of any interviews you have, or just record yourself telling case stories about how you work with clients. Circulate the audio or video to the press and also post it on your website.
(4) Issue a press release about something interesting happening at your firm. This could be the launch of a new website, a new angle on your service offerings, or a new hire to your firm. Anything happening at your firm can be newsworthy. Send press releases out over many of the free services available, such as this or this
(5) Engage in social media. As you pursue relationships with the younger generation (i.e. anyone under 40 years of age), they will immediately search you out on Google or some other engine to find whatever they can about you. It’s imperative to have a presence of some kind. Have an updated LinkedIn account, follow people on Twitter or create an account, if your compliance department allows it. Have a blog if you can, or at minimum post to other’s blogs when you have a response or idea to share.
Put a focus on becoming known, being seen and staying out in the public eye.

There are many opportunities to do so. Consider the ones that are right for your practice.

Understanding Behavioral Style in Developing New Business – Part 2 by Bev Flaxington

In Part 1 of this two-part blog on behavioral selling, we discussed how behavior style impacts communication and why it is crucial for the successful advisor, business development representative or client services person to understand this science. Now, in Part 2, we give some sales examples.

If an advisor learns how to identify her or his own behavioral style, and learns all the nuances around it, he or she can learn the styles of buyers and influencers. Then, he or she can adapt their behavioral style to increase the probability of true connection with prospects and for developing long-term relationships – even with people very different from themselves. For business development people, this leads to an increased ability to close more business with new and existing prospects and clients. For client service folks, this means the ability to manage a long-term relationship even when there’s no real “click” of personalities.

In Part 1 we described the four styles – D for Dominance, I for Influencing, S for Steadiness and C for Compliance. Everyone has a “core” style, e.g. one dominant style out of these four; having determined that your prospect or client prominently displays the characteristics of one, your objective is to communicate with him or her accordingly. Here are some characteristics of each and how you’d approach them.

“D” – Interested in new & unique services or products; very “results” focused; makes quick decisions
“I” – Interested in showy and flashy products; focused on the “experience” (is it, or does it allow for, fun!); makes quick decisions
“S” – Interested in traditional products; very trusting and is looking for trust; is slow in decision making
“C” – Interested in proven, time-tested products; needs and seeks information; is very slow in decision making

As an example of communicating based on this knowledge, we’ll take the “I”. We’ll call this client Mr. Jones. He, like other core “I”s, is effusive and upbeat – an extrovert. They have a high need to verbalize ideas and their key emotion is optimism. Their expectations of others are high and their conflict response is to run away. Their stress reliever is interaction and socializing with people. Descriptors for them include inspiring, persuasive and trusting.

To further help you determine what core style you’re dealing with, there are four communication factors that are giveaways for each of the four styles. These factors are 1) Tone of Voice, 2) Pace of Speech and Action, 3) Words Used and 4) Body Language. In our example, how can you tell you’re interacting with a core “I”? Key on the communication factors for instant clues:
• Tone of Voice – it will be energized, enthusiastic, friendly and colorful
• Pace of Speech and Action – s/he will exhibit fast speech and fast action, and be fast toward people
• Words Used – fun, excitement, immediate, now, today, new and unique
• Body Language – you’ll feel the fast pace, the fast movement and orientation toward people.

Now that you’ve identified Mr. Jones as a high “I”, you must calibrate your own natural style for communicating with him. So if you are, say, a high “C” – as many advisors are – you need to make sure that you pick up your pace a bit, smile and nod your head to show that you’re fully engaged with the high “I,” keep the focus on them and ask questions, respond to their small talk and give them as much time as possible to verbalize. For a core “C” (or “S”) advisor, this can be exhausting – but you can relax after the meeting, which will be more successful if you adapt!

By taking the time to listen, observe and ask good questions, advisors can discern the behavior style of prospects and clients – and open whole new relational opportunities in the process. Next time, we’ll discuss some of the questions you can ask to help you determine style.

Understanding Behavioral Style in Developing New Business – Part 1 by Bev Flaxington

Have you ever been taken completely by surprise by a client or prospect? Or have you ever been unable to close a sale because you just couldn’t “get through” to them? Today, investors are being bombarded by so many advisors and business development people – all trying to connect and persuade them to become clients. However, one of the most fundamental ways to connect with prospects is often overlooked by those in a selling role: understanding behavioral styles and adapting one’s communication approach to the people s/he’s trying to persuade.

You may have at one time taken a training course on relationship-building, face-to-face selling skills, or something similar, but the key to understanding the buyer’s perspective necessarily begins with an understanding of behavioral style. This is because behavioral style is the crux of understanding communication style – and true communication is the key to developing great relationships in both your personal and professional life.
So, is it really true that your likelihood of signing new clients could come down to your behavioral style? Research conducted in 1984 and validated again every year since has proven three things: 1) people buy from people with similar behavioral styles to their own, 2) people in a selling type of role tend to gravitate towards people with behavioral styles similar to their own, and 3) if people in a selling or business development type role adapt their behavioral style to that of the prospect, sales increase.

Many advisors, business development and client service personnel have excellent communication skills, but have difficulty in relationships with prospects and clients – and don’t understand why. Something just doesn’t feel right, but they’re not sure how to diagnose the problem or modify their behavior for greater success. Often times, it’s not technique (i.e. the questions asked, presentation or negotiating skills, etc.) but rather a lack of understanding of one’s own behavioral style and motivators, and of knowing that behavioral differences can cause significant communication difficulties that hamstring closing a prospect or an ongoing relationship with clients.
One scientific way to understand behavioral style is through an assessment called DISC (Dominance, Influencing, Steadiness, Compliance). Based upon the work of Carl Jung, the DISC approach was invented by William Moulton Marston, inventor of the lie detector and holder of a Harvard MBA, over 80 years ago. The statistically based profiles show a person’s preferred styles on four scales of behavior – Problems, People, Pace and Procedures:

• Dominance (“D” factor) How one handles problems and challenges
• Influence (“I” factor) How one handles people and influences others
• Steadiness (“S” factor) How one handles work environment, change and pace
• Compliance (“C” factor) How one handles rules and procedures set by others

Depending on our differences in style and approach, we can either get along very easily together (because we’re so much alike!) or we can have significant clashes in our relationship.

A person’s behavioral preferences have everything to do with their communication approach and style. People who operate with very different styles have a difficult time “hearing” one another and communicating effectively. For instance, if I communicate only within my own behavioral comfort zone, I will only be effective with people who are just like me. However, in the corporate environment we are dealing every day with colleagues, prospects, clients and management – all of whom can be very different behaviorally. Not only is communication difficult where there are differences, but often individuals become hostile and conflict-oriented toward one another. Significant time, effort and corporate money is wasted because people are unable to “get along” and work together effectively toward common corporate goals. (Refer to the Brinker blog “Dealing with Difficult Clients” for a complementary discussion of this topic.)

In the next blog, we’ll take a “deeper dive” into behavior style – how you can identify it in your prospects and use this knowledge to improve your selling effectiveness.

What’s Your Headline? by Beverly Flaxington @BevFlaxington

Gaining exposure through publicity, social media and PR can be very fruitful for financial advisors. In too many cases, an investor does not know how to go about finding an advisor to talk with about their investments – so they may read about someone, or see a financial expert speaking, and decide to contact them. A robust PR and publicity strategy can be a great complement to other business-building efforts.
What’s the best way for an advisor to start a campaign, or infuse an existing campaign with new energy? First, it is important to determine your budget, and decide what exactly you want to do. It is awareness building? Is it positioning yourself as the obvious expert? Is it placing yourself where potential new partners and other industry professionals will see you?
Like any marketing or business-building strategy, it is critical to know – before you do anything – what you are trying accomplish, what forums are best for what you need, and what budget you can allocate to your efforts.
The next most important thing is to understand your positioning. What do you have to say to the media? What’s your publicity platform? What’s the headline you can use that will grab the attention of the people you are targeting and reel them in to learn more about you?
There are many things an advisor can do to get broader exposure. Be sure, before you commit to anything, that you get approval from your compliance department.
Some areas to think about if you want to embark on a broader publicity campaign could be:
Identify opportunities in your local area for press. Could you write a column for a local paper (online or in print)? Could you be interviewed on the local cable station?
Find timely information in the national press and make a comment about it – this can be done on your own blog, or by writing in to a columnist or sending out a press release.
Find opportunistic places for advertising. Broad-based advertising seldom works, but running an ad in the symphony brochure, or at a local play, or for some other event can get your message to a targeted audience.
If you have the time and can do your own radio show, there are many options on Blogtalk Radio and others to have your own show. Or, if you’d prefer not to have to manage your own show, find radio stations you can contact and pitch your ideas about why you’d be a great guest.
Be sure you have an updated LinkedIn profile. Periodically post new information to keep it fresh and interesting.
Consider having a Facebook page for your business. Post interesting information about local activities, or market news.
Scan the Internet for people who are writing and blogging about topics you care about. Post comments and link back to your firm if possible.
There are many ways to get your message out there more broadly. Remember to establish what you are hoping to accomplish, how much time and money you can spend, and what you’d like to see as a result. Then pick the tactics that work best for you.
Remember, though, your headline matters. Stay consistent with your messaging and reinforce your platform points and positioning every chance you get! Repetition matters a great deal in marketing.

Personal and Time Management by Beverly D. Flaxington

Do you ever have a day where you sit and wonder, “What shall I do with all of my free time?” If you are like most financial professionals, that day hasn’t come along in quite a while! Running a financial advisory firm requires client management, investment management, people management and general business management. And with your free time, you can always add in some business development, too!

At the end of the day, you want to feel like you did the most with what you were given in terms of time and effort. Unfortunately, in many cases, the time seem to have slipped away and you are left with a to-do list that has only lengthened!

How do successful people best manage their time and get the most accomplished? Here are 7 tips for maximizing time and personal efficiency for financial advisors:

  1. Have written plans. You need an overall business plan, a marketing and business development plan, a client management plan and an employee development plan for each individual. If you didn’t have a plan for investing a client portfolio, you’d be hard pressed to know which investment selections were right for that client. Similarly, you need a plan for each aspect of your business. Make sure it is written – not just “I know what I need to do.”
  2. Set priorities for the week, and then for each day. Take time to pick out the top three, four, or five most important things you want to accomplish each week, and then for each day. Keep focused on what’s most important.
  3. Eliminate the “fire drill” culture or mentality. If you or your firm seems to constantly be in a reactive, fire-drill mode, it’s time to examine your processes. Employees should have their priorities clear, and your firm should have a standardized approach to dealing with daily events. The unexpected always happens, but if you have processes and priorities in place, they won’t disrupt your firm such that nothing else happens while you respond to them.
  4. Schedule those things you know you need to do, but perhaps don’t want to do. Hate giving an employee negative feedback? Don’t like focusing on sales and business development activities? Hate balancing the checkbook for your firm? We all have something we’d prefer not to do but that needs to get done. Don’t wait for the right time to do it – schedule it in and put it on your calendar.
  5. Outsource and delegate. Find those things you are not particularly good at or don’t enjoy, and find a competent resource to assign them to.
  6. Know your own Achilles heel. We all have behavioral preferences that get us in trouble. Some of us are too quick to act and don’t think enough. Others get into analysis paralysis. Identify your own weakness and plan for it. Don’t be surprised by something you know is going to happen!
  7. Break down your to-dos. Don’t keep a general list with lots of high-level things that need to happen. Break them down into a manageable, step-by-step plan with assigned resources, timeframes and costs. The smaller the task, the more likely you are to do it!

Try just one or two of these things this week and see if you don’t experience more productivity. Keep adding one in each week until you are running your advisory firm like an efficient machine!