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How to Communicate Your Value Proposition

I recently took part in Commonwealth Financial Network®’s National Conference, where I was asked to present on a topic related to adviser growth. Of course, there are many ways that advisers can grow, but I chose to discuss the value proposition. I think it’s something critically important to get right, and all too frequently, advisers tend to miss the mark.

At the beginning of my session, I had advisers pair up and deliver their current value propositions to each other. Perhaps not surprising, many said that what they heard was uncompelling, rating each other mostly with Bs and Cs. (I’m convinced that the grades would have been even lower if advisers weren’t sitting next to the person they rated.) Next, the group went through an exercise, listing phrases that could describe themselves and their practices. Here, the advisers reluctantly agreed that all the lists sounded alike. We had a wide range of ages, experience, production and geography in that room. Still, they all used many of the same generic terms and jargon to describe themselves and their practices.

The lesson? A value proposition is something that many advisers, at all levels of production and experience, struggle to articulate. Fortunately, successfully communicating your value proposition can be achieved with some thought and effort. Let’s go a little deeper.

It’s Not an Elevator Speech

To start, let’s define value proposition. I’m a big fan of keeping things simple, so here is my definition of value proposition in a nutshell: a clear and compelling reason someone would want to do business with you. This reason is critical because if, as a prospect, I choose you, I’m implicitly not choosing someone else. Prospects need to know how you’re different from everyone else so they can make an informed choice.

Your value proposition is not meant to be an elevator speech (a term I’ve always hated). Now, many advisers think of an elevator speech as the description of your practice that you can give quickly and smoothly to prospects even between floors on an elevator. But if you look at it from a prospect’s point of view? It means that you’ve got me cornered in a steel box with no way to escape, so I’m forced to listen to you pitch your business. Why on earth would an elevator speech be something advisers should strive to master?

So, then, how do you convey your unique value and thus make it easier for people to choose to work with you? You can start by answering three important questions.

Who Are the People You Help?

If I’m a prospect who is perusing your website, I should very quickly get a feel for the type of people who can benefit from working with you. There is a lot of research that shows that in less than four seconds on a site, prospects make assumptions about whether an adviser can help them. So, you have four seconds to capture my attention. For example, if I’m a pre-retiree or retiree, and I see photos that show older people and messaging that speaks to getting ready to retire or taking distributions, I know I’m in the right place. More than likely, I’ll continue to read and learn more about your firm.

But you can also tell prospects verbally or in collateral why you chose to help a particular group of people. Were you a teacher before becoming an adviser and so understand 403(b) plans and your state’s health benefits better than others? Let people know, because that’s the kind of unique experience they are likely looking for.

What Are the Problems You Solve?

Now it’s time to showcase your expertise and the solutions you can deliver to clients and prospects. Whether it’s your in-depth knowledge of the local power company’s pension plan, your understanding of the succession issues that business owners face, or the retirement income plans you create to replace paychecks for retirees, highlight your strengths. Do you have a credential that lends additional expertise and credibility? If so, talk about the CDFA® certification that helps you work better with divorced people or the CFA® designation that you leverage to develop investment portfolios.

Why Do You Do What You Do?

Ah, the why. This is where you get to show your heart—and the DNA of your firm. You had a choice of careers, firms and locations, and advising is what you chose to do. Why? The personal insights you share can be a powerful relationship builder with clients and prospects alike. One of the best value propositions I’ve ever seen came from a firm that talks about its deep commitment to the community and the passion its advisers have to make things better. The firm supports this proposition with many examples of its community work, so that prospects can see the team’s deep and fundamental caring for others. Not surprisingly, the firm has grown quickly over the past few years, and it is well positioned for future growth.

You Are Different—Now Articulate It!

I firmly believe that—with just a little time and focus—most advisers can make dramatic strides forward in communicating their value propositions. At our session, after some training on the three key criteria, advisers took 10 minutes to revise their value propositions. We chose this brief time period deliberately so that participants couldn’t get hung up on having something perfect before they tried it out. They scribbled, rewrote furiously and then had to test their new value proposition by working with their partner.

Afterward, when I asked if the revised value propositions were greatly improved from the first round, every hand was raised in agreement! You can improve your value proposition, too. And I hope you do, because knowing how you are different from every adviser—and being able to articulate it—will help you gain clients and build relationships that last.

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Kristine McManus is chief business development officer, practice management, at Commonwealth Financial Network®, member FINRA/SIPC, the nation’s largest privately held Registered Investment Adviser—independent broker/dealer. Since joining the firm in April 2014, she has been working with affiliated advisers to grow their top line through the introduction of various programs, tools and coaching. Kristine holds the Chartered Retirement Planning CounselorSM designation, a master’s degree from Pennsylvania State University, and a BFA from Adelphi University.


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Implement the SCARF Model with Your Clients

Say a client has been overspending on his credit card. You have a chat about it, and he leaves your office, assuring you that he’s going to rein it in. But at your next meeting, he hasn’t decreased excessive spending and he seems frustrated.

Why is your client acting like this? Perhaps it’s because he felt threatened when you told him to curb his spending at the previous meeting. In this case, the SCARF model might come in handy.

David Rock developed the SCARF model, which is rooted in neuroscience, in a 2008 paper titled, “SCARF: A Brain-Based Model for Collaborating With and Influencing Others,” published by the NeuroLeadership Institute.

According to Rock, status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness (SCARF) are the five areas that activate our brains to think we are either being threatened or rewarded.

In Daniel Crosby’s keynote speech at the 2018 FPA Annual Conference, he spoke about how our brains are wired for survival and the decisions we make are to ensure that we do just that. Because of this, our brains can’t tell the difference between a well-meaning person who’s offering constructive feedback and somebody threatening our safety. So, here’s how SCARF can help you.

According to the Mindtools.com article, “David Rock’s SCARF Model: Using Neuroscience to Work Effectively with Others,” you can minimize threats and maximize rewards in the following ways to better help colleagues and clients:

Status

This is our importance relative to other people. People like to feel important. Talk to your clients patiently and gently or frame your constructive feedback in a way that eliminates the so-called threat.

Certainty

This is our ability to predict what’s going to happen next. If we are uncertain, we feel threatened and we can’t focus because we’re too busy trying to make sense of things. If what you’re explaining to your client is too complex and causes uncertainty, break it down for them.

Autonomy

This is our sense of control over things. Show your clients that you trust their judgment. Delegate, include them in decision-making, let them take on more responsibility and let them try new things.

Relatedness

This relates to how safe we feel with others. Connect with people. Build up a strong bond by scheduling regular meetings or check-ins.

Fairness

This relates to how fair we think exchanges are between people. When people think things are unfair, they feel incredibly threatened. Minimize this by being honest and having clear expectations.

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Ana Trujillo Limón is senior editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org, or connect with her on LinkedIn


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How To Get the Most Out Of Industry Conferences

Fall is the time of year for industry conferences, like the FPA Annual Conference in Minneapolis that starts tomorrow. These events are a great way to hone your knowledge, meet new people and stay up to date on new and exciting ideas in the profession. Here are some tips to make the most of your next event:

Set your schedule in advance. Find out what the sessions are and make a list of the ones you want to attend. This doesn’t mean you can’t make some changes once you get to the event, but oftentimes there is very little time between breakout sessions and you don’t want to be scrambling and trying to make a decision.

Get out of your comfort zone. It’s so easy to attend sessions on topics that you are more comfortable with. You should be using this time to expose yourself to new and unfamiliar topics.

Review the schedule with someone who knows and understands your career path. Before every conference, I go over my plans with one or two members on my team. We’ll review the sessions I’ve picked to see if there are other options that might be better aligned with my goals, skill set and ideal client profile.

Come prepared. You wouldn’t come to a client meeting without a way to take notes. The same goes for a conference. For some people that might be a laptop, for others it might be a pen and paper. Whatever system works best for you, just make sure that your notes are in a place that you can find them later.

Don’t skip the sponsors. Do your research ahead of time—who’s coming and what services do they provide? Can you make a good connection? Even if you aren’t sure their service may not fit your needs right now, they may later. Or, even better, an opportunity may come along where you can connect them with someone else.

Do some networking. Find out who is going in advance and make a list of people you might want to connect with. Many conferences have apps you can utilize for this, as well as LinkedIn pages or Facebook events. Find out if there are any meetups or dinners you could attend. If you see someone by themselves, ask if you can join them. Many people are attending these events solo and may be uncomfortable going up to others.

Do a data dump when you get back. You’ve just absorbed a ton of information, now you’ll want to put it together in a meaningful way. I like to schedule a meeting with the people I initially went over my schedule with and bring back my big takeaways.

Share with your team. Last but not least, share what you’ve learned with your team. I will usually review the key points at our weekly staff meeting and bring more specific topics in-depth to others that I know would be interested.

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Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of the FPA Next Generation Planner, an app publication that provides helpful and relevant content specifically for NexGen planners. Download the app in the Apple App or Google Play store. Want to write for the FPA Next Generation Planner or have story ideas? Email NGP@OneFPA.org

Jessica Goedtel

Jessica Goedtel, CFP®, is an assistant vice president at Valley National Financial Advisors in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.