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.
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.