Unlock your genius: 7 philosophies advisors can learn from Steve Jobs
By Vanessa De La Rosa
Apple co-founder, chairman and CEO, Steve Jobs, was a brilliant, insightful innovator who created one of the most successful businesses on the planet. His charisma and genius knew no bounds, and, although in a different market, advisors can apply Jobs's philosophies to grow their practices.
Here are seven solid lessons financial advisors can learn from the entrepreneurial icon, garnered from David Patchen's recent presentation at The Raymond James National Conference for Professional Development, the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, and Financial Advisor, Financial Planning, InvestmentNews and Business Insider.
1. Sell dreams, not products
Steve Jobs saw those who bought his products not as consumers, but as people with dreams and aspirations. He said, "Some people think you've got to be crazy to buy a Mac, but in that craziness we see genius."
How do you see your clients and prospects? As people just looking to secure their finances, or as people dreaming to manifest their ideal goals of prosperity, retirement lifestyles and legacies to leave behind?
As an advisor, you are able to make these visions come to life, but you have to stop and see the dreams behind the concerns and spreadsheets. Sometimes, it’s as simple as asking more emotional questions and listening beyond the actual responses. Whether your client can articulate his dreams or not, you must be able to, as Business Insider puts it, “master the message.” Be a storyteller. Resist the urge to scare your clients into action; instead, get them excited about what you can offer that will turn their dreams into reality.
2. Refine your ideas
Jobs knew that doing what you love will ignite breakthrough ideas and inspired action. Being passionate will “put a dent in the universe," and increase your present, creative thinking. He would bring his best idea-makers to retreats and tell them to come up with 10 stunning ideas. He then would prompt them to winnow the list down to the top three, because he believed that a person could only have around three good ideas at any given time. Patchen adds, “Get out of your office. Put yourself out there into different social circles and networks, and brainstorm. But cut down your ideas to only the best.”
Quality far exceeds quantity. A hundred tweets a day that link back to your website may seem like a good idea, but 10 tweets that use popular hashtags and curiosity-sparking keywords is an even better idea. You might have two equally implementable financial plans — one that saves your client $5,000 and one that saves them $10,000. Do you really need to waste their time explaining the first idea? As Jobs once said, “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. That is true for the companies, and it’s true for the products.”
3. Meet clients face-to-face
Jobs frequently dismissed focus groups and was known to have preached, “Customers don’t know what they want until we show them.”
At the 2013 Raymond James National Conference for Professional Development, Patchen emphasized that “the best way you’ll know what your clients want is by meeting them face-to-face.”
Social media can take you far, but it drops you off at a critical boundary, beyond which only in-person interaction can take you. Patchen suggests engaging with your clients by walking them to their car, changing the environment or holding a retreat to spur “spontaneous interactions.”
4. Don’t put profit first
The Apple founder and CEO preached putting products before profits. Jobs strove for excellence, and achieved this by never compromising the product — by being outcome-driven rather than sales-driven.
Patchen told advisors at the Raymond James National Conference: “You need to ask yourself what you would offer to clients if costs don’t matter.”
For example, during an interview with Financial Advisor, Iowa-based advisor Jeremy James explained that if costs didn’t matter, annuities with a living benefit rider would be pitched to clients much more often. "They’re more expensive, but they offer clients an income they can’t outlive.”
5. Bring beauty to the mix
Apple products are known for their sleek, eye-catching aesthetic. Jobs designed a handle for one of Apple’s first desktop computers to shed the image that computers were bulky and not easy to manage. Unhappy with a previous iPhone screen design, he told his staff to return to the drawing board and work overtime to completely start over from scratch — all for a larger screen. And as we all know, sales boomed.
For Patchen, too, appearance matters: “People form an opinion about a company or its products on the basis of how it’s packaged and presented.” (He also played this “Curb Your Enthusiasm” clip to emphasize the risks of being too casual. Warning: clip includes profanity.)
How is your practice recognized and perceived by others? InvestmentNews notes that, although advisors are working with intangible products that aren't visually impactful, a company can design eye-pleasing quarterly statements, financial plans, websites and even office décor to set themselves apart.
6. Perfect the customer experience
Steve Jobs wanted his products to fulfill dreams and look outstanding. He also understood the important role customer service plays in bringing someone into an Apple store and keeping them there. At the 1997 World Wide Developers Conference, Jobs noted, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around.” This philosophy has kept Apple stores packed for over a decade.
You may have the best advice and products to offer clients and prospects, but if they don’t feel comfortable around you, they won’t step into your office. And with numerous advisors providing an exceptional level of service to their clients, you’ve got to differentiate your unique customer experience. Take your prospects out to lunch, schedule an appointment at their home and bring a gift, hand-write a letter, or make an effort to remember their birthdays and give them a call. How are you going to create substantial, meaningful, long-lasting connections? “Create ‘white space’ or ‘open agenda’ time,” Patchen said. “It’s all about the experience … Make yours the best it can be — and don’t compromise.”
7. Simplify it all
After being forced out of his own company, Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 with heightened vigor. He eliminated anything that cost time and money. His philosophy became, “Say no to 1,000 things,” and he came to believe that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, that by activating innovative ideas and design and cutting those down to only the best, anything unnecessary falls to the wayside.
“Keeping it simple is difficult to execute,” Patchen notes. “You need to think about how to simplify your offerings to clients. I’ve been to a lot of websites, and I’ve seen some pretty painfully complex presentations.”
Clients don’t want to hear complicated jargon or be constantly bombarded by marketing emails. “More is not better,” Patchen adds. There is something freeing and refreshing about keeping it simple. Use language, graphs and concepts that are easy to understand. Approach prospects with a simple sales philosophy — that providing a genuine and exciting customer experience is worth the price — and ditch over-thinking and the utilitarian approach.