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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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Embrace the Individual for the Ultimate Client Experience

Regardless of labels based on generation, gender, socioeconomic, ethnic or cultural background, political or religious beliefs, physical or mental abilities, skill set, age, personality type, etc., we are all unique.

Diverse teams afford distinctive qualities that enhance our profession but can be challenging to lead if one does not fully understand and appreciate each person’s unique talents and contributions. We all, no matter our differences, have one thing in common—we are all human and therefore we must honor one another’s individuality.

As practice management consultants who have focused on teams for the last two decades, we strongly believe that teams are the only future of this industry. The sole practitioner model is becoming harder to execute with the ever-changing complex requirements and expectations converging on financial professionals from all angles—regulators, firms and clients. However, we wholeheartedly believe that you must understand each individual for the team dynamic to work and the business to realize optimal results.

Creating A Connective Environment for Team Optimization

Without the right people in the right roles executing the responsibilities for which they have the right skill set, motivation and mindset, the practice will not grow and cannot reap potential.

In the absence of the ultimate team experience, associates don’t deliver the ultimate client experience, which affects both the reputation of the practice and the pace at which it grows. Without a connective, engaging work environment, top talent is lost to other firms, employee retention is reduced and growth and profitability are negatively impacted. Understanding each individual is essential in creating that connective environment.

A practice benefits from multiple elements of “diversity.” There are many different types of responsibilities and tasks to be executed that require entirely different and diverse skill sets. Our clients often encompass multiple generations, so we need age diversity among our team to best connect to the entirety of our client families. Many planners serve diverse communities so building a team that mirrors your audience can be beneficial in connecting to them. The examples are endless.

To optimize a team, we must go beyond the diversity label and understand the uniqueness of each individual. We often communicate differently with each of our children because they are unique and respond in different ways. Great little league coaches alter their style with the kids because each player may be motivated differently. Great teachers adjust their approaches because students learn differently. As leaders within the profession, we must do the same. Understanding the uniqueness of each associate, their natural skill set, preferred communication style, motivators, experiences and background will all lead to more optimal results.

We need to move away from stereotypes, assumptions and judgement and see the world and people through unbiased lenses, step into each other’s shoes and listen.

10 Simple Suggestions

Below are some simple suggestions on how to build the team while valuing the individual.

  1. Challenge your assumptions. Move beyond the labels.
  2. Get to know each team member. Execute one-on-ones—periodically take each team member to lunch. Schedule regular team off-site sessions that incorporate business and fun. Create “fun fact profiles”—we create professional bios, why not have a fun facts sheet on each team member? Encourage team members to share stories from both their career and their life journey; sharing experiences and defining moments can drive understanding, connection and respect. Story sharing typically diminishes assumptions and stereotypes in favor of true awareness.
  3. Understand communication preferences. This awareness allows you to flex your style to each associate’s style and subsequently create more effective interactions. Understand drivers, which provide critical information for the team dynamic as well as awareness on how to motivate each person. Utilize assessments and use unbiased tools to complement these activities. Our MapMyStrengths.com assessment is a phenomenal resource to get to know each individual and then utilize the information to improve communication, align responsibilities to those best suited to them and create a connective team dynamic.
  4. Lead the individual not just the team. Leadership involves both unity and individualization. For example, a singular vision unites the team and ensures all understand the path forward and standardized procedures can drive team efficiency. In terms of individualization, when leaders customize their style to each person, amazing results happen.
  5. Set clear expectations and then empower your team members with trust and responsibility. Be clear on expectations as they relate to both team and firm membership—what you as a leader expect from them and what they can expect from you. Provide parameters and the desired outcome to those who prefer to figure it out themselves, but be specific with how-to instructions for those who want to know how to achieve exacting results. Teach and be taught; create mentor programs and connect people for individual learning and growth.
  6. Focus on purpose first. In the absence of understanding the why in our relational industry, we begin to turn people into robots mechanically executing the what, the how and the when.
  7. Be approachable and available. Exit the ivory tower and spend time in the trenches with your team—provide open-door time. Get to know them on a personal level, show care and concern, be authentic and listen.
  8. Frame individual failures as learning opportunities. Explain rather than reprimand.
  9. Embrace critical conversations. Avoiding them can demolish culture and diminish respect for leadership. Execute tough conversations with applicable team members in a timely manner.
  10. Celebrate team and individual successes. Reward and recognize performance and achievement.

None of this is rocket science. We must remember, though, that the ultimate success of the team is dependent on the individuals. We must understand each member, value their uniqueness, embrace the commonalities and respect the differences. As a leader, success is in part dependent on our ability to lead each individual as well as the team as a whole.

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Sarah E. Dale and Krista S. Sheets are partners at Performance Insights (performanceinsights.com), where they focus on helping financial professionals increase results through wiser practice management and people decisions. They are coaches in the FPA Coaches Corner for team development. See more resources from them here.


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Beyond the Blame Game: 3 Steps to Incorporate Responsibility Into Your Business

In today’s climate, many sources are quick to place blame on the reasons for changes in our economy and overall market volatility. Likewise, many advisers have a tendency to do something similar when having to explain to others the state of their business. Statements like, “If the market would cooperate, I would be doing better,” or “Clients don’t see the urgency in getting together while the market is doing well,” are simply examples of excuses for not taking responsibility. The consequence in making those excuses is the possible outcomes. Attending to your clients and their portfolios during both up and down markets is vital.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best when he said, “No one can cheat you out of ultimate success but yourself.”

Successful advisers know that true growth is really up to oneself regardless of what is going on both in and out of your control. You must be willing to be honest about what is currently working and not working for you. Then, you must be willing to adjust and adapt to changing conditions. Next, you must decide on what actions will actually guide you toward positive results. Implementing those activities and continually assessing your results will keep you accountable to yourself and prevent the “because of everyone else” blame game.

Let’s take a look at specific steps for how you can incorporate responsibility into your business.

Step No. 1: Be Completely Honest

Honesty truly is the best policy and what better person to be honest with than yourself. However, many advisers find it difficult to admit that they themselves are the true cause of their own not-so-great results. Let me share about one adviser who I’ve worked with to identify his shortfalls and some solutions we utilized for replacing them.

Bill T. is a 15-year veteran financial adviser who found himself on a production plateau. After years of building up a client base, he simply stopped prospecting. His rationale was that he had “made it” and that anyone with his years of experience should not have to prospect. However, his company did not share the same point of view and thus was not happy with Bill’s level of production.

So, during one of our coaching sessions I asked Bill a number of questions to determine his honest view about prospecting. It didn’t take long before he realized that he needed to change his perspective about prospecting from being an obstacle to being an opportunity.

Step No. 2: Adjust and Adapt to Changing Conditions

One of the hardest things to do once you face the truth is to make the necessary shifts in both attitude and tasks. The best way to do this is to create a well-thought-out action plan. Take time to develop it and be realistic about your own expectations. In Bill’s case, he knew he needed to get back to prospecting but had no idea where to begin since it had been quite some time since he had prospected. So, we mapped out an action plan together.

We first determined his target market, which was business owners. Then, we worked on how to approach them by scripting out a formula for what to say during the initial contact. Next, we worked on brainstorming every possible objection he might hear and how to overcome them to set appointments. Finally, we practiced the process so that his first call would sound flawless.

Step No. 3: Implement and Evaluate Your Action Plan

Now it is time to implement in real time and constantly be evaluating (and tweaking) your action plan to fine-tune it to work optimally.

This is best done by determining what time of the day you will do particular tasks and sticking to that blocked time. You also need to allocate the time to record your daily activities and record the outcome on a daily, weekly and monthly.

After several weeks, Bill realized that his pipeline was starting to fill up with qualified prospects that were interested in meeting with him. Organically, he began turning those prospects into clients. His company took notice and asked him if he would be interested in teaching other advisers how he had turned things around.

Why Taking Responsibility Works

The reason why taking responsibility for your own success works is because it’s not anyone else’s responsibility for you to succeed. And choosing to blame the economy, the market, your firm or others will always result in a losing game.

If you would like a complimentary coaching session with me, please email Melissa Denham, director of client servicing.

Dan Finley

Daniel C. Finley is the president and co-founder of Advisor Solutions, a business consulting and coaching service dedicated to helping advisers build a better business.