Career development for financial advisors, Pt. 2: moving from survival to successArticle added by Brian Mann on October 22, 2009

Brian Mann


Joined: June 25, 2008

In the first article of this series, I described the five stages of a successful career in our industry: survival, success, sustainability, significance, and succession.

In the survival stage, you are struggling to provide a reliable income for your family. You don't have prospecting and marketing methods that are getting the type of results you need consistently. If your career doesn't start to get better, you're eventually going to drop out and try another career.

You want to get to the success stage, where you are getting good results and are providing a reliable income for your family, where you are feeling successful and comfortable.

How do you move from survival to success? You will learn how in the discussion below. But I want you to notice that none of what I say has much to do with sales skill. If you have a passion for this business and enjoy it, the key to success comes down to being organized and customer-focused.

Figure out what you enjoy doing and what you are really excited about -- your passion.

There is no question that when you first enter this business, survival is the number one priority, and, indeed, it is difficult to achieve. Studies show that only 12 percent of financial advisors survive in this business for more than five years. Even among that 12 percent, many advisors spend their entire careers struggling, constantly falling back into the survival phase.

So, one thing you need to ask yourself is this: Now that I know that only 12 percent survive in this business, am I passionate enough about this business and do I enjoy it enough to put in the hard work and consistent effort needed to defy the odds?

That's where we start this discussion, because if you don't have a passion for this business or if you don't enjoy the work required, you will eventually quit before experiencing consistent success. And, you are best served by thinking about it and making a decision now, rather than wasting time until the decision is forced on you by economic hardship.

So, let's assume that you love this business and have a passion for serving your customers. How do you become consistently successful?

Figure out what type of customer you want to serve -- your perfect client.

This business is not about creating transactions. It is primarily about creating client relationships, and then by serving those clients, transactions result. So, you need to decide, who is your ideal customer and what is your target market? Once you know, you then need to work very hard to put yourself in a position to have a relationship with those people. Hold educational workshops, join local networking groups, cold call people and invite them to lunch -- whatever it takes to start a relationship.

Get to know your customers and their families. Get to know their interests. Send them gifts, invite them to events, and show you care. You may not have the experience to solve your clients' needs, but you have access to solutions and resources through your marketing organization. Your key to success is to establish relationships, and then your clients will give you a chance to resolve their issues.

Make sure you start with the relationships you already have. You need to work your natural market aggressively. You will know that you are doing this thoroughly when every one of your relatives and friends knows what you do, knows what value you bring to the table, and is an actual customer of yours. Each has bought something from you and will buy again from you in the future. If you can't sell to your relatives and friends, what hope do you have with strangers?

Figure out how you are going to get in front of these people -- your marketing.

Assess your strengths and figure out a marketing method that will work for you. Are you a writer? A public speaker? Are you great one-on-one? You must find a method that works and that you actually enjoy, or else you will not be able to sustain your success.

Find a sales system that works for you, such as a lead program or mailer. Then keep using it. Too many agents find something that works and then stop because they don't enjoy the process. It is fine-- in fact, desirable -- to realize that you don't enjoy something and to move on. But, don't move on until you have found another lead program or mailer that works for you. Keep using the first marketing method -- even if you don't enjoy it -- to keep your income up while you search for a method you like better.

Once you are in a sales system, monitor your activity level. You need to motivate yourself and hold yourself accountable for your activities, because it is ultimately your activity level that will lead to a certain level of success. You need to motivate yourself to make a certain number of phone calls per day, to set a certain number of appointments each day, to do a certain number of follow-up activities each day, and to not stop until you have met or exceeded your goals. This is hard, but remember, if you don't do it, you're only cheating yourself. No one else will be hurt, only you and your family.

You also need to have a customer relationship management system. By that, I don't necessarily mean a piece of software. I mean that you need to have a method and a process by which you make sure you are consistently marketing and keeping in touch with your customers and your potential customers. Software can help you automate some of these tasks, but more than that, you need to have a marketing plan and consistently work the plan.

I came into this business by working for a bank, selling annuities to renewing CD customers. I found that having the prospective customer list that the bank gave to me was incredibly important. You must pay a price to get that customer list, and the price is the marketing that you do.

Figure out how you want to serve them -- your value proposition.

The right marketing organization can help you with everything we have discussed so far. But especially in this area, you want a marketing organization that gives you a full range of product lines, carriers and capabilities. Even if you lack the experience and the knowledge, you want to be able to meet as many of your clients' insurance and financial needs as possible. You want to maximize the value you provide to each customer relationship. You can't do that if you are limited to just a few carriers or to just one type of product.

Look for a marketing organization that can plug you into sales methods that work, that has a mentoring program, and that is committed to education. The bottom line is that you might need to change marketing organizations to achieve success.

I would be remiss if I didn't share with you how I would start if I had to begin all over again, knowing what I know now. Consider buying a retiring advisor's practice. Now I know that your first thought may be, "I don't have the cash!" But, don't let that stop you. Many advisors who want to retire don't have other people who are clamoring to buy their business. If they want to receive value for their business, they may be willing to transition their business with its valuable customer base to you, in exchange for a portion of the profits for a period of time. During the transition period, the retiring advisor can provide valuable mentoring and oversight to you, because it is in both of your best interests for you to succeed.

So, let's summarize. Figure out what you enjoy doing and what you are really excited about -- your passion. Figure out what type of customer you want to serve -- your perfect client. Figure out how you are going to get in front of these people -- your marketing. Figure out how you want to serve them -- your value proposition. Once you figure out how to put this all together into a business, then if you are organized and customer-focused, you will reach success.

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