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.

New Ideas for Growth

Bev Flaxington@BevFlaxington, The Collaborative

Finding creative ways to continue to grow an advisory business isn’t always easy. We asked advisors all over the country what some of the more interesting ideas are for marketing and business building. This blog is devoted to those advisors who are thinking outside of the box and trying new ideas.

Leveraging Social Media
In Greenwood Village, CO, Kelly O’Connor and her team researched the power of video. They realized they already had great information and material to share, so they produced short video commentaries. They have posted these on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, and the like. Clients, prospects, and centers of influence, forward these clips to others. Kelly says they’ve found that while people may not read a report or a white paper, they’ll watch a brief video if a friend forwards it and asks them to!

Loving What you Do – and Sharing it!
Sarah Wilson, CGA and CFP of T.E. Wealth in Calgary, Alberta, says that she enjoys financial planning so much that she feels compelled to talk to others “about their lives, goals, and financial aspirations.” She claims she is naturally “nosy,” but the truth is that advisors who are truly interested in others and take the time to talk, listen, and learn, even when a sale may not be imminent, are often open to opportunities that other advisors may miss.

3.4.13_Flaxington_Ideas_for_GrowthFinding Outside Resources
Safe Harbor Asset Management in Huntington, NY, has expanded their client base by doing everything from purchasing leads from specialized marketing companies to sponsoring seminars. They have had success using a service provided by Platinum Advisory Marketing Services, which creates a weekly market update for their clients that can be forwarded to a friend to join the mailing list and receive the same update.  John Boyd, an attorney, launched a site called MeetingWave.com that helps professional service practitioners arrange targeted networking meetings with the type of people desired as invitees. You can arrange coffee, lunch, or general networking via email.  Jennifer Dziubeck of Kel & Partners in Boston shared information about their firm – GiftsonTime.com, a free web-based tool that enables financial advisors to select and schedule clients’ gifts. This system allows you to put in a year’s worth of events, and with one click, find a vendor or gift that is appropriate for your client base.

Niche Marketing
Kristin Harad, founder of the VitaVie Financial Planning firm in California, targets new parents and families with young children in the Bay area. Because it can be challenging for parents of younger children to get out to a meeting, Kristin’s firm has created “weekend workshops at indoor play spaces.” She says, “The kids have a great time jumping around and having unsupervised play, while we get the parents’ undivided attention for a 90-minute presentation on the financial issues parents of young children face.” At a financial planning firm in Beverly Hills, Ara Oghoorian, CFA, has created marketing materials such as promotional prescription vials filled with jelly beans – the Rx sticker includes their logo and contact information. It’s a fun way to say, “We know our niche!” They also belong to ProVisors – a networking group consisting of CEO and high-level executives. Because they are speaking to the medical community, they spend time contacting medical associations and getting articles published in their newsletters on topics related to retirement, financial planning, and concerns that may resonate with medical professionals.

Try One On
What can your firm do that’s a little different to gain the attention of investors in a crowded market?

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.

Networking Events

Bev FlaxingtonBev Flaxington, The Collaborative

Advisors looking for ways to add value to their clients will often hold educational events. Most advisors see this as a chance for increasing satisfaction and retention, but also as a way to generate referrals. Educational events are a great way for the advisor to bring additional value to their clients.

Another option that isn’t as popular but can be extremely valuable to clients is to offer a peer networking event. In cases where your client base may include business owners, entrepreneurs, widowed or divorced women, or others with similar interests, an event set up purely for networking can give clients access to experts, information and connections. Let’s look at some best practices around doing this:

networking

(1)    Identify the themes in your client base. Do you have people who might like to meet one another, or could learn from one another? Are there clients looking for introductions in order to grow their business, or who need information in their work or philanthropic lives that another client might be able to help with? Look through your client base to see where one client could add value to another client. See what your clients struggle with in their own lives – work, hobby, charitable, etc. and whether there are opportunities to get like-minded, complementary people in the same room.

(2)    Set expectations that this is a peer networking event. Give some structure to the evening. You could have an introduction to the event, talk about the networking objectives, and perhaps introduce clients at the outset. One possibility would be to go around and have each client introduce him- or herself and talk about their area of interest for the event. What would they like to gain? Another option would be to have areas of focus set up in different spots within the room so people can choose where to go to talk to others. Or you could set it up using the “Speed Dating” format where people rotate and talk to one another for a few minutes to exchange cards and interests. You could even have a speaker who is expert in networking to share some tips and ideas about how best to network for greatest advantage, and then ask people to practice the new skills they have learned with one another.

(3)    Set a “theme” for the evening. This could be anything from “The Back Office of the Small Business Owner” to “Philanthropic Interests in Africa”. Find out what your clients are interested in, what issues they are struggling with, what information they have to share and then create the event around these things. You could find an outside expert or a client, or other trusted advisor such as an accountant or attorney to speak on a topic and then ask clients to talk about different opportunities or aspects related to their lives and situations. For example, if you have a number of entrepreneurs in your client base, you could have an evening on “Going from Start-Up to Structure” and have clients who work with these firms talk about what they offer for help.

(4)    Keep the dialogue away from investing. These events are an opportunity for your clients to learn more about what your other clients may be doing, or may have to offer. It’s a way to bring like-minded people together to learn from one another and to possibly leverage one another. The focus isn’t on the investment process or the markets, it’s on meeting the needs of your clients for information and connection.

See if your client base lends itself to peer networking opportunities. In this age of social media connections, the truth is that many people still struggle to find the “right”contacts they need to help them grow their businesses, change their lives and learn about opportunities. Your clients may prove useful to one another as you facilitate these introductions.

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.

Dealing with Fear in Clients

Bev FlaxingtonBev Flaxington, The Collaborative

These are difficult economic times. Add the current economic climate to a market that hasn’t cooperated for some years, and you have investors with angst. Anyone with money saved, or looking at retirement, is feeling a bit worried and ill at ease. When investors are worried, it impacts the advisor. Sometimes a client will not make a decision out of fear. Sometimes referrals are impacted because clients hesitate to recommend friends and family until they see what happens with the markets. People often simply sit on the sidelines when they are fearful, because doing nothing always seems better than taking a risk.

Do advisors just have to wait out this period of angst? What if it doesn’t go away for some time? Are advisors doomed to live with fearful clients? Let’s look at some strategies for managing clients through fearful times, and perhaps even benefiting from the difficult conditions.

bev blog 12.13.12

(1)    Manage your own fears first. If you, as an advisor, are worried, this will impact your clients too. Remember, most of us recognize the “smell of fear.” We know when someone is scared or worried. If you aren’t managing your own reactions, it will be noticeable to your clients. Practice meditation or deep breathing. Go to the gym. Read books that make you laugh. Whatever you have to do to feel more upbeat and less worried, do it. And watch the way you speak. Your words should be balanced and realistic, but overall optimistic and connoting a sense of “in control” to your clients.

(2)    Stay proactive. Many of the fears come from the unknown. What will happen if our politicians can’t reach an agreement? What if they decide to do one thing over another? The news is filled with worst case scenarios. Stay on top of what’s being discussed, and provide education to your clients about what you will do in different scenarios. Show them you are paying attention and thinking about your responses based on different outcomes.

(3)    Provide education. This might be a great time to hold a client event or seminar on the things we do know about. Can you speak about long-term care? Can you talk about living well during the aging process? Can you examine 529’s and the college savings options? Find things that are more known and that may be impacting your clients now or in the future, and educate about them. Keep the focus on you and your expertise, while taking it off – even for a short time – the things that are distracting your clients.

(4)    Talk about the fear that clients and prospects have. Acknowledge that you are hearing about it from many people. Talk about how much having an advisor can put fears to rest. Instead of reading the paper every day and wondering what strategies they should take, your clients can depend on you to do this. It’s really the best time to have someone else looking out for them. Remind them of this whenever possible, and acknowledge the circumstances. You want to stay confident in your approach, but it can be helpful to let them know you understand their fears and concerns and that you are there to look out for them.

In many ways, times of uncertainty offer an opportunity for those who are confident and experienced in approach to be the beacon, or comfort, for worried investors. See what you can do to be that confident supporter during these interesting times.

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 D. Flaxington

Selling is a fact of life if you want to grow your business. Some financial advisors look at “sales” with negativity. You do not pursue a CFP, or a CFA or any other financially oriented credential, because you want to be a salesperson! In fact, in many cases the core skills necessary to be successful as a financial professional are in opposition to those needed for professional sales.
There are ways to learn how to sell successfully even if you are a non-sales professional. Once you learn how to think about selling, and how to incorporate it into your daily activities, you might even find you enjoy it.

Here are five keys tips for any non-sales professional:

(1) Define your goals. Yes, it sounds basic but this is the first important step – and the one most often overlooked. An advisor might say “I want to grow!” but they haven’t defined what success really looks like to them. Grow in what area? Client referrals? New prospecting opportunities? Through alliances? What about specific products and services? It’s important to define goals very specifically and write them down.

(2) Have a plan. This one also seems pretty basic, doesn’t it? Financial advisors create plans for their clients, so they must have plans for their own selling objectives, right? Unfortunately it’s a rare situation to find an advisor with a clear selling plan – who will do the selling, what are their individual goals, what compensation is associated with selling, how will the sales effort integrate with client service and investing, how will the efforts be measured, etc., are all necessary questions to be asked … and answered.

(3) Selling is an extension of meeting needs. Instead of thinking of sales as “pushing” something, think of it as offering a solution to a problem, or meeting an unmet need. The best salespeople are those that are passionate about what they sell, but realize that what they sell isn’t for everyone. Instead of thinking “sales”, think “understanding other people”. How can you learn more about someone so you can truly offer a solution? What kind of needs do you best meet? What problems do you solve? Change your thinking on the process to make it less about pushing and more about filling – an unmet need.

(4) Learn to qualify! Even the best salespeople struggle with this area. Not everyone is a good prospect. Do not spend too much of your valuable time with people who will simply never buy. Learn to ask probing questions such as “Why are you interested now instead of six months ago, or six months from now?” “What would success look like to you in 2 years if everything was going well with our relationship?” “What obstacles might you face in making a decision?” The more you question, the more you learn.

(5) Be yourself – but learn to adapt. In the end, the buyer is buying you – after all, you are your services in the financial advisory arena. You want to be genuine and show the real you. At the same time, understand that most people listen best and understand others when they have similar communication styles. Become an observer – watch the style of someone you are speaking to and modify to meet their approach. People buy from people they like, and we like people who are like us!
Incorporating any one, or more, of these five tips will start you on the path to being a successful selling professional.