Career development for financial advisors, Pt. 3: moving from success to sustainability

By bmann6

Partners Advantage Insurance Services


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.

Once you have reached the success stage, you are getting good results and are providing a reliable income for your family. In fact, you are feeling successful and comfortable. The vast majority of financial advisors fail to survive, so if you have achieved success in this business, then you are to be congratulated. You are in the top 12 percent.

But at the same time, your continued success is very dependent upon your ability to keep making new sales to new clients. You must get out every day and hunt for business. While you have become proficient enough at prospecting and closing to consider yourself financially secure, when you really reflect and examine where you are, you realize that you are still quite vulnerable. You read stories of wildly successful practices in industry magazines, and you think, "Wow! I'm not even close to that!"

Once you achieve success, you want to get to the sustainability stage, where you are reliably achieving an income well in excess of the industry average. In this stage, most of your income would be coming from referrals and repeat business from existing clients. And, if you chose, you would be able to continue to achieve this high income while only working in your practice on a part-time basis.

Sustainability means that you have significant sales that are going to take place in the upcoming year even if you stop marketing, which reflects the ongoing value you will realize from your existing customer base.

So, how do you move from success to sustainability?

This is the point where you need to expand your thinking beyond yourself. Up to now, you probably have been going it alone, and that's great. But now, you need to think more strategically about the business you are building.

At this point in your career, you should now recognize that your customer relationships are your most valuable asset, and spending time in front of customers is the most valuable use of your time. Everything else is secondary. Taking proactive steps to maximize your customer relationships and your time with customers are the keys to sustainability.

Maximizing customer relationships

How do you maximize your most valuable asset -- your customer base? Work hard to build your relationships.

When I meet with a prospective client, one of my key goals is to find out as much about my client as possible, and I don't just mean their finances. I am trying to find out about their family, their interests, their dreams, their goals, and what they really care about. This will allow me to connect with them on a very personal level.

Let me share some stories with you. I have a client whose son was a huge LeBron James fan. So, I purchased an autographed picture signed by LeBron James and sent it to his son. Believe me, my client was thrilled. He will never forget that I did that. I'm sure the picture I sent to his son meant much more to my client than anything I could have sent to him personally. And as a result, our relationship is very solid.

I have another client who loved to attend the Rose Bowl each year, but I found out that he would not be able to attend one year, so I got online and ordered a game program from that year's Rose Bowl. I sent it to my client with a special note. It really meant a lot to him.

If your antenna is up and you care about knowing your clients, the opportunities are endless. People really appreciate it when you go above and beyond the call of duty to build a long-term relationship with them. Be truly interested in your clients and what they do, and they will probably start finding you much more interesting, as well. Taking the time to show an interest in people and taking the time to provide a personal touch is truly rare these days. You will find that even if you don't make a sale, when you build a personal relationship with people, you will probably make a fan. This person will likely recommend and refer you to their friends.

If you are successful, then you should be setting aside a portion of your operating budget to send gifts to your clients. And, as I suggested above, I am not talking about generic gifts that you send to everyone. No, you should be sending gifts that are customized to each client's interests -- gifts that show you really care.

This is really all about understanding your clients' expectations and then working to consistently exceed those expectations. Have you ever asked your clients what they expect from you? If not, how do you know that you are exceeding their expectations?

You also need to be touching your client base consistently throughout the year. You do this through newsletters, client appreciation events, educational seminars, and notes on special occasions. But you also do it through regular phone calls to everyone in your client base. Remember, not only do you want to be their financial advisor, you genuinely want to be their friend.

Of course, you want to have as broad a product line as possible in order to convert as many people as possible from being prospects to being clients, and you want to work to maximize the number of purchases that each client makes from you. But most advisors fail to reach sustainability because they neglect to properly build their client relationships.

Maximizing time with customers

No matter how successful you are, what is one asset that is always significantly limited? Your time. So, how do you maximize your time? Start by recognizing that the most valuable use of your time is spending time in front of customers.

Thus -- and this is the scary part for many successful agents who are sole practitioners -- you need to start building a staff. That's right, you want to leverage the time, knowledge, and skills of others in order to free yourself to spend more time on the higher value activities that really drive the success of your business. You need to add the right people to your organization, because you want your business to be growing faster than your time, knowledge and skills.

Let's take an example from another industry. I read an article recently that said that Subway is on the verge of having more outlets around the world than McDonald's. That is over 32,000 locations. Subway was founded by Fred DeLuca in 1965, when he was only 17 years old. Now let me ask you: Where would Subway be today if Fred refused to hire other people?

So, what is holding you back?

Look at yourself as an entrepreneur, but recognize that you need to rely upon other people and technology. You cannot do it yourself. You need a great team. At the same time, if you already have a team and have achieved a certain level of success, you may need to augment your team to reach a higher level of success. Really think about your business, your career, and your team strategically, as part of a long run plan to reach some goal. Don't just drift along thinking good things will happen, because that's not the way business works.

Last but not least, even if you are successful, I strongly suggest that you should have a mentor. I have personally found it invaluable to have someone who is not only a sounding board for ideas, but who also holds me accountable for doing the activities that will make my business grow.

So, let's summarize. If you work to maximize your customer relationships and to maximize your time with customers by doing the right activities and by building the right team to augment your efforts, you will reach beyond success to sustainability.

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