You've been replaced by a cartoon
By Michael Lovas
Unless you've been under a rock for the past year, you know that the headlines have not represented the financial industry in a favorable light. One company has even created a digital cartoon to give financial advice. It's no joke. Simplifi LLC is the firm introducing this "upgrade" to the financial services industry. It seems that they have figured out how to have a cartoon do what you do -- only better.
Please stay with me for this, because it's really choice. The cartoon is a digital character named Sophie, and here's how they describe her -- er, I mean it:
"Sophie is SimpliFi's Virtual Financial Advisor, and her job is to help guide you through the online planning process. If you get stuck along the way or aren't sure what to do next, just click on Sophie and she will tell you what you need to know. And once you've completed the process, Sophie will e-mail you occasionally to remind you to update your plan so you can stay on track. And because she is animated, she will always give you service with a smile!"
"The easiest way to get independent, comprehensive financial advice on the Internet. No big words or complicated formulas. No boring spreadsheets. Just tell Sophie where you are and where you want to go, and she'll do the rest."
I say, "Bernie Madoff and AIG." What happens in your mind? Do these words conjure up an optimistic image? Do they instill confidence in the market? No and no.
The point is, all that negative ink adds up in the minds of consumers, and the message is clear to the general population: financial people of all stripes are self-serving. Compared to that, a cartoon character is a paragon of ethics and competence.
Want more proof? Twenty percent to 30 percent of wealthy clients will change advisers throughout the next several years, said George Walper, president of the Spectrem Group, a Chicago-based consulting firm that specializes in the wealth and retirement markets.
Last October, Russ Alan Prince surveyed 400 affluent investors with at least $1 million invested. Here's what he learned about their views on today's investors:
- Eighty-one percent of those surveyed said they were going to leave their advisors.
- Eighty-six percent said they would not refer their advisors to their friends and associates, and actually planned to warn their friends and associates about their advisors.
- Only 2 percent planned to make referrals.
Pam and I love creativity in this industry -- after all, it's so rare. So, rather than gnashing your teeth and crying, consider learning from Sophie. The lesson is one word -- perception.
Next logical question: What can you do to change that perception?
As wrong and pig-headed as it may seem, Sophie is the result of the terrible perception our industry has created for itself. It's not fact, it's just perception, but as such, it is "reality" for many investors. The good news is that because it's only perception, it can be changed. All you have to do is debunk it. Prove that this cartoon is inappropriate when compared with you and your service.
What can you do to make that happen?
1) Immediately launch a proactive communication program.
2) Demonstrate your value.
3) Do not be a sales person.
1. Proactive communication. This is how you paint with a broad brush. How do you normally contact your clients? Start doing it, and then add other media. So, send a personal note or greeting card to every client and hot prospect. For the most important ones, have a messenger hand-deliver a package. It almost doesn't matter what the package contains, as long as it's relevant to your work that person. If you send a newsletter, include a handwritten note. If you're comfortable with groups, start hosting small meetings with three of four clients at a restaurant where you buy pie and coffee. None of this involves selling any products, only selling yourself and your credibility.
2. Demonstrate value. This is how you paint with a detail brush -- a personal touch. Place phone calls and talk with each client and hot prospect. Facilitate a conversation about the economy. Explain how today's problems came to be. Explain that even the best investment gurus have lost zillions of dollars. Show how you personally did not cause the market to correct, but that you were caught unaware like everyone else. Explain that you, too, have lost money just like they have. And, explain how you can guide them (and yourself) out of this mess.
3. Do not be a sales person. Approach them as a friend who happens to be an expert. Talk about their personal lives and their goals. Get real with them. George Walper said, "Clients will look for advisers who can actually present real lifestyle solutions for their specific needs."
Trust. The first step in establishing your both likeability and credibility is trust. If you're the kind of advisor who constantly needs to demonstrate your depth of technical knowledge, stop right now, because you're shooting yourself in the foot from the start. Who's going to trust you if they don't understand what you're talking about? That's not proactive communication, its proactive annoyance.
The second step in the process involves a split, and you need to cover both paths. The top path leads to the prospect liking you, while the bottom path leads to the prospect seeing you as credible. They are distinctly different paths, and in any relationship-based business, they're both vital. Let's look at the likeability steps first.
Interest. If you talk over the heads of your prospects, they won't know what you're talking about. Then how can you get them to be interested in you?
People are interested in others who share their interests. They are actually looking for mirror images of themselves. This means actual shared interests, not shallow references mentioned in a brief conversation. Actual shared interests are based on values, and values are also the window through which you prove your relevance.
Connection. The more areas of interest you can connect on, the more likely that you and the prospect can develop a meaningful, trusting connection. Of course, that's not likely to happen if you don't have the skills to maintain rapport and facilitate the conversation.
Now, let's look at the credibility steps.
Relevance. If they don't trust you, it's highly unlikely that you will get the time necessary to prove your relevance. This is where you show that this is not the first time you have helped someone with this problem. Make observations and ask short questions. You are simply demonstrating that your background of experience is relevant to that prospect.
Competence. Advisors often question us about which comes first -- relevance or competence. Trust me, its relevance. If the prospect can't see that you're relevant, you won't get a chance to show your competence. But, see how far along the path we find competence? If your technical knowledge is going to play a part, this is where it will happen, and not one second sooner. By this time, the prospect already likes you and knows that you can probably solve his or her problem.
In conclusion. Sophie the online cartoon could prove to be a real asset to you. She is the result of an advisor population that has lost touch with the marketplace. All you have to do is follow the steps laid out in this article and you'll start to make giant strides in keeping current clients and picking up new ones from those out-of-touch advisors. If you've ever wanted to be in the right place at the right time, this is it. I'm convinced that you are positioned for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or for a once-in-a-lifetime failure. Which one will you create?
Your reward. My wife and I wrote the only book available that teaches you the specific steps to build your credibility, Axis of InfluenceIt teaches you the specific steps to follow to become more likeable and distinguish yourself right now.
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