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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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What If Being Customer-Centric Was Actually About…the Customer?

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the terms “customer-centric,” “client-centric” or “customer-first,” just over the last few months, I’d probably have about eight bucks. Don’t get me wrong, I think these terms are important for every financial planner (and indeed, anyone who works in or owns any type of business) to understand and value. My beef is with how they are being used: “buy this product,” “purchase this data,” “take this course,” and you, too, can suddenly become more “client- or customer-centric.”

It seems to me that too many of these messages are about more—more data, more tools, more strategies, more insights. Personally, I think most of us (whether we are business owners, employed by a business or individual practitioners) need just the opposite. We have plenty of data; the issue is in finding ways to use it effectively on a consistent basis. We have tools at our disposal; if we’re not using them to the best of our ability now, are we likely to suddenly change our ways when we get new ones?

Understanding the Customer is About Learning How to Use Your Data (Not More Data)

I don’t think customer-centricity is something we can purchase, and more data for more data’s sake is only likely to further muddy the waters. To truly understand our customers, we must learn how to use the data we already have, simplify how we will use it moving forward and stick with our plans long enough to measure whether they are successful.

This is, of course, easier said than done, but I have an idea that I think is worth trying to help you get started, and it starts with one of my least favorite marketing terms: personas. Used effectively, personas can be an extremely valuable tool in enhancing customer understanding, but I’ve personally never been in an environment where they made a positive difference. It’s one thing I’ve seen fail more often than succeed in my time as a marketer.

When customer experience is the topic of conversation, the discussion inevitably turns to spending money on personas, and because the creation of personas is so enigmatic, mysterious and cool (i.e., so few people understand it), everyone gets excited about the initiative…until they receive them. Then, internal teams start changing them to fit their own biases, some are removed entirely while new ones are added and the hotly debated question of whether or not “Randy, age 55” actually does like to go to the movies ends up killing productivity for weeks. After that, they’re forgotten or relegated to the company shared drive, and everyone agrees that the agency really didn’t understand “us” well enough to get us what we needed.

HINT: If you think persona creation is about you, and not expressly about your ideal clients or customers, then your customer-centricity project was doomed to fail from the start.

Improving the Customer Experience by Starting Small

The idea is this: if there is truly an ideal customer, member and client out there for all of us, what would happen if we tried to create an exceptional customer experience using just one avatar (just so we don’t have to use “persona” again)? If we focused on crafting just a single avatar using the data we already have available, and committed to using it to test every interaction, we would find it simpler to make the improvements required to actually move the needle on customer/client experience. Further, the focus of this avatar is not on its creation, but on bringing it to life as part of our daily work.

I’m not saying that your avatar’s profile, interests, needs, wants, wishes and dreams should be arbitrary—far from it. I just want you to avoid getting bogged down in creating the “perfect” avatar, so that by the time you’ve achieved perfection, everyone involved resents what you’ve built. Creating the avatar should be fun, but it can be done relatively quickly as a group exercise. In addition to the standard profile items (age, gender, name, AUM, etc.), make sure to draw a picture or find one online, and to focus on the emotional and human side of your avatar, as these things will make him or her more real and tangible. Put a deadline on this part of the project, and when the group is done, you’re done (no adjusting—your avatar has been officially brought to life, warts and all).

Integrating Your Avatar: Meet the Newest Member of Your Team

Now comes the most important phase: deciding how you and your colleagues or team (if applicable) will use your avatar. This is so critical that you might even consider creating a social contract and having everyone sign to represent their commitment to seeing the process all the way through. I like to think of this part as inviting your avatar (let’s call her Perry for now) to join your team and to take part in every meeting, every discussion about programs and initiatives, and every company event…oh, and Perry is also copied on every email and participating on every inbound and outbound phone call.

You can take it as far as you want to, including leaving Perry a seat in the conference room for larger meetings, or having a specific place she sits and takes notes during client meetings. As you may not wish to weird out your clients, you can decide whether you want to let them know that Perry will be joining you in spirit, but you and she know that she’ll be there (and maybe just a little bit late, because that’s so Perry). You and your team will begin to see every touchpoint a client has through Perry’s lens, and begin to make decisions based on how she would perceive an idea or adjustment to the status quo. You can start with questions like:

  • “What would Perry think of this idea for a client event? Would she want to come and how would we make her feel comfortable enough to stay?”
  • “Would Perry approve of this prospecting email? How would it make her feel? How can we improve it so that it would make her happy and interested?”
  • “How would Perry have changed the environment or direction of the discussion in the last client meeting? How would she have felt afterward? What could we have done differently, and what should/could we do after the fact that would make her feel more comfortable and less fearful?”
  • “What would Perry think of the inflatable plastic pineapple in our conference room? Would she think it was odd, or should we add more things like that to make the environment more Perry-friendly?”

Common sense though it may be, customer- or client-centricity is about putting the customer or client first. That means making decisions with the customer or client at the forefront of your mind, and doing what they would want you to do, not what you want to do.

If you like the idea, how you go about it is entirely up to you, and you can make myriad changes based on personal preference. The most important pieces are that you and your team/group agree on who your avatar is and feel a connection to it, and that you’ve committed to integrating the avatar as much as possible.

Remember, the Primary Goal is Getting to Truly Know Your Ideal Client

This concept won’t be for everyone, and that’s OK. For example, you may have more than one type of client you are attempting to attract, and this may not (and potentially should not) change your focus. It does, however, force you to choose a very specific ideal construct, based not exclusively on asset size or life stage, but on who you actually want to work with.

I do believe that simplification can often provide us with insights we may not have been able to see through all the noise we are forced to sift through every day. If you choose to go down a path like this, you can measure many different outcomes, but if, at the end of the experiment, you and your team feel closer to your current and prospective clients, and have a better understanding of your ideal customer, you have set yourself up to be of great value to a host of future Perrys.

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Dan Martin is the Director of Marketing for the Financial Planning Association, the principal professional membership organization for CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professionals, educators, financial services professionals and students who seek advancement in a growing, dynamic profession. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @DanW_Martin and on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/danmartinmarketing.

Disclaimer: The Financial Planning Association is independent of the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (“CFP Board”), a 501(c)(3) organization that grants the CFP® certification to CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals in the United States. CFP Board owns the trademarks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™.”


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3 Steps to Captivating Content

You know captivating content when you see it. It’s something that causes an emotional response and resonates with you. It creates a connection, and makes you say, “I want to be part of that, and share with everyone I know!”

Captivating content is the mass email you get and look forward to. It’s the Super Bowl commercial everyone re-watches at work the next day. It’s the tagline you repeat. It’s the picture you print out. It’s the product you buy because of the package. Though it’s easy to identify, captivating content is generally not easy to create, but here are three things you can do to help get you there:

1.) Know Your Objective

What is the purpose of your content, and what do you hope to achieve with it? Obviously, you’re trying to generate more income, but how? Are you targeting current clients to invest more assets, or refer someone to you, or build a relationship with their family? Are you targeting prospects you’ve met or prospects you haven’t encountered? Are you trying to bring more people to your website or attain more email addresses?

List out each goal you’re trying to accomplish with each piece of content. It not only helps you create a clear message, but will also create a benchmark to track your success. Without an objective, how will you know if your message is working?

2.) Know Your Demographic

Who are you trying to reach with your content? Stay-at-home moms? Busy CEOs? Retired veterans? Married couples with grandchildren?

Figure out exactly who it is you want to see your content and make sure you’ve written and designed it to their preferences. For example, if you’re targeting an audience in their 60s, you’ll want to make sure the font you are using is large and clearly legible.

Knowing who you are targeting also helps you know where to place your content. Let’s say you were trying to reach the employees at the Nissan factory in your city. You could advertise on the billboard near the Nissan factory that they drive past every morning.

3.) Run It Past Someone Else

When you’re trying to come up with content ideas, it always helps to brainstorm with someone else with an outside perspective. It’s easy to get lost in the jargon and to take for granted the financial terms and knowledge you have. Financial concepts that seem juvenile to you may be foreign to someone outside of your field. That’s why it’s always important to get a second set of eyes on your work from someone who isn’t familiar with the ins and outs of your job.

To bring it all together, here’s an example of what it looks like:

Objective: Schedule meetings with prospective clients who need help managing their finances as they go through a divorce.

Demographic: Women going through a divorce or just recently divorced.

Content: An educational piece provided to local “divorce care” classes about the common financial mistakes that get overlooked after a divorce and how to avoid them with an invitation to reach out to your team for further help or to review their current plan.

Review and refine: Ask a client or spouse to review what you have for anything that doesn’t make sense then redesign or rewrite accordingly.

While we can’t promise that following these steps will guarantee you will be a viral sensation, we can promise that you’ll be closer to your goal than when you started.

For more tips on creating content and marketing visit KalliCollective.com, which is part of the FPA Member Discount Program.

Kalli Lipke

With nearly a decade of experience in the financial industry, along with securities licenses 7 & 63, Kalli Lipke not only understands the way your clients think, but how the financial industry operates. She helps financial planners bring their business to the next level through marketing and branding.