Prospects decide to work with you — as their advisor — the same way they decide to buy a book. But before they buy the book, they ‘buy’ the book’s cover. Consider the following scenario:
You’re in a bookstore. You find two books on a topic you’re interested in. You want to buy one book, not two. Question: “How do you choose which book to buy?”
Do you read both books before you decide which one to buy? No. That’s not practical. So what does help you choose one book over another? Short answer? It’s the book’s cover!
Specifically, it’s the experience a cover offers you that helps you choose one book over the other.
If it’s sufficiently appealing, you’ll probably buy the book. If not, you’ll put it back on the shelf. That’s the very same process prospects use to decide to work with you . . . or, your competitor.
The Impression You Make is Key to Your Success with Prospects
Let’s be candid. Financial planning is an overcrowded and highly competitive field. Next to encountering a few ‘coaches’, attending any social event means you’ll find more than a couple of ‘financial advisors’. And we both know that’s being conservative.
Your Challenge: Standing Out . . . from Your Competitors
At a minimum, you call yourself by a common term — ‘financial planner’. You probably have letters after your name on your business card — CFP, CLU, ChFC, etc.. You’re licensed by the various financial regulatory agencies, you hold membership in your professional associations locally and nationally and you have awards and accolades from your company or broker-dealer. So do all the other planners!
There’s really very little ‘difference’ between you and your competitors . . . as Joe or Jane Public perceives things.
So here’s the problem: You may be no worse than your competition. But, you’re also not seen as being any better than they are, either. Not good. For you!
What you SAY and DO . . . Differentiates You
Some years ago a major accounting firm hired the ‘father’ of modern differentiation — Ted Levitt, Professor Emeritus of the prestigious Harvard Business School. They asked him, “Tell us how to ‘differentiate’ our audit services from the audit services our competitors are offering”. Winning an audit contract with a major company — think Boeing, Apple, Google, etc. could bring in millions of dollars in fees — to the accounting firm that’s chosen to do the audit.
Levitt knew that to ‘stand out’, something must possess two qualities. First, it must be unique. In a me-too world, you won’t be noticed unless you’re different. Think of Waldo. He doesn’t stand out so it’s hard to find him, right? Second, it must also be beneficial. Something must offer a legitimate benefit — as the target audience defines ‘value’.
The problem is it’s not easy to sustainably differentiate a professional service –– like you offer.
If your offering is beneficial, competitors will copy you and you won’t be unique for long.
If your offering is unique and competitors aren’t copying you, maybe there’s really no benefit.
There’s your dilemma. Finding a way to sustain a ‘competitive edge’ . . . a point of differentiation for you . . . over time . . . is a very real challenge. It’s why you feel like Waldo more than you like!
The Secret To ‘Standing Out’ and ‘Kicking Your Competitors Butts’
Good News! Professor Levitt’s first requirement . . . being unique . . . is actually easy . . . for you. Last time I looked, there was no one else on Earth who is just like you. Heck, even your mother told you that, right? Listen to your mother! She’s right. You are totally and perfectly unique.
As for being beneficial, here’s how you address that issue. Manage your behavior! Why? Because there’s a direct connection between:
1. what you SAY and what you DO in front of a prospective client
2. how they perceive you as a preferred provider of financial expertise, advice and products
3. whether they’ll choose you (or, your competitor!) . . . when the ‘beauty contest’ is over
It all begins with / depends on your behavior.
Everything (EVERY Thing) you do and say — i. e. your behavior — creates an experience for your prospective client.
In social psychology, it’s well-known that your perception of someone reflects the cumulative effect of the behavioral impressions they offer you.
If I’m always late or always have a messy room, you tend to perceive me as undisciplined, uncaring, disorganized, lazy, etc. That may not be true. But because that’s your subjective perception of me, that’s your reality of me and you’ll tend to behave accordingly toward me.
Pulling It All Together
OK, so how do you use these insights to help your prospective clients perceive you as the advisor they’d prefer to work with . . . assuming they’re ready to do so . . . and all other things are ‘essentially equal’?
First, learn what your ideal client wants to find in an advisor
Leavitt learned audit clients really didn’t care about the audit. It was a necessary evil — like undergoing a colonoscopy after age 50. What they really wanted / cared about was to work with a ‘business advisor‘ whose firm could also do their audit.
AHA! It was never about the audit, it was always about the relationship the client wanted!
The best way to learn what your prospects want in an advisor is simple. Ask your best clients this question:
“Why did you choose ME . . . over other planners you were aware of / considering using?”
You may hear: “You knew about . . . “, “You were thorough”, You listened well”, “You made me feel comfortable”, etc. These are perceptions . . . of you . . . expected by your prospects.
Once you learn the answer to the question, “Why me?”. . . you’ll know what your prospects are looking for in an advisor in your field. Then, I urge you to identify the ‘Top 3’ most commonly cited answers you hear.
When you know what makes you a preferred provider, you can create the experience (of you) prospects will use to decide if you’re the advisor they want. Yes, it’s an Open Book Test!
“3 Behavioral Impressions –––> 1 Subjective Perception”
It takes 3 behavioral impressions to cement a single perception (AKA ‘truth’ or ‘reality) about you with a prospect. If you create 3 behavioral impressions for each of the Top 3 perceptions that educators want in their financial advisor and, all things being equal, you’ll have a decided edge over any alleged competitor! See? Amazingly simple.
Second, choose what you must SAY and DO to validate the Top 3 perceptions clients want
Your current clients were once your prospects. They were looking for someone they could feel comfortable trusting to help them manage their financial affairs. Behaving like what your clients wanted from you is the key to presenting your ‘best side’ to prospects in the future.
For example, let’s say you work with educators. Your best clients told you, “We chose you because you seemed to know a lot about teachers” If so, you may want to communicate your expertise by asking a question or sharing an insight. e.g. “Many of the teachers I work with are not aware of what their maximum contribution to a tax-deferred annuity program is for this year. Have you determined what you’re allowed to contribute and are you planning to take full advantage of that amount?”
That’s one (1) behavioral impression! If you make three (3) similar behavioral impressions during an initial meeting with a prospective educator client, they’ll form the perception that you’re someone who . . . specializes in working with educators!
Repeat that process with the #2 and #3 perceptions educators use to choose . . . their financial advisor . . . and you’ll end up not only standing out in your initial meetings, you’ll end up converting more prospects into clients, too.
People buy books by their covers and advisors / planners by their behaviors!
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