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Differentiating Your Value: People Make the Difference

Foundational to attracting and retaining new clients is the need to consistently articulate, demonstrate and validate your value. In a commoditized industry, there are fewer ways to differentiate your value, yet nearly all financial practitioners are seeking business growth. So how do you stand out in a crowded marketplace?

Financial professionals often seem to get lost in a sea of sameness with all marketing mediums, such as websites or brochures, looking and sounding alike. Think for a moment on just how commoditized the industry has become—almost any financial professional can replicate your what and your how, but it’s much harder to steal your why, your who or the experience that you deliver.

Let’s begin with what’s easy to replicate or steal:

Your WHAT—Solutions

Clients can buy similar products and solutions from almost any company on the street or, indeed, online (a financial plan, funds, stocks, bonds, insurance, annuities, etc.) The type and the size of firm are no longer nearly as relevant as they were two decades ago where you had to go to certain institutions to purchase particular products. Today, those solutions and products can be “purchased” anywhere regardless of whether you are a planning-centric firm, a brokerage-centric firm, an insurance-centric firm or a bank.

Your HOW—Process

Almost all financial professionals have a process that begins with discovery and includes recommendations, implementation, monitoring and ongoing communication. Many will use a visual of some sort in their marketing materials but generally, the process itself is very similar regardless of where a client goes to seek financial advice.

Reality reflects that what you provide and how you work with clients can be replicated almost anywhere.

So now, let’s look at today’s opportunities to create the real differential in this industry:

Your WHY

Your personal why, your team why and the signature story that you all articulate is much harder to steal—it is unique. Financial professionals enter the industry and stay in the industry for differing reasons. Drivers and motivators vary for each human; purpose and beliefs are personal and distinct. Simon Sinek is a fantastic resource on the subject of why; watching his TED Talk or reading his book may be instrumental for you and your team in creating this distinction for your practice. And, if you need to work on your story and positioning, we recommend contacting Susan and Adam Kornegay, fellow consultants in the FPA Coaches Corner.

Your WHO—the Client

The type of clientele that you serve can also be a differentiator. Those who have become specialists in niche marketing have created a distinction from those who serve anyone or, those who qualify prospects purely through a financial-minimum! Perhaps you serve “cardiologists in the U.S.” or, “female small business owners” or “C-suite executives in the Southeast.” The more specific your tribe or your niche, the more likely you are to become known for what you do and subsequently differentiate yourself from others in financial services.

Your WHO—the Team

Building a team of professionals can also be differentiating. The industry has been revolutionized from the sole practitioner model to teams. Teams can be small or large each with varying specialists, knowledge, experience, credentials, backgrounds, passions and interests. Your associates and what they bring to the table can play a remarkable role in differentiating your practice.

There are vertical teams, horizontal teams and hybrid teams all offering something a little different. As you talk with clients, prospects and centers of influence within the communities that you serve, ask yourself if you are maximizing your team members. Are you appropriately positioning all the expertise you offer to your clients? Are clients building a trusted relationship with all members of your team? Do you have any gaps of coverage that you need to address? Should you consider expanding your team? Your team can create a tremendous differential for your practice!


The experience that you deliver to clients, prospects and centers of influence can create a unique differential that no one can replicate. Your experience should take into consideration every emotion a client can FEEL when interacting with your team—whether in-person, on the phone or online. Remember Maya Angelou’s famous quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Consider your environment; step into the shoes of a client or prospect. What feelings do you and your team evoke throughout each encounter of your client experience? We recommend that you have a service menu of deliverables for each segment of clientele and that you systematize all repeated activities on the back end of your practice so that you have time and capacity to deliver a customized experience on the front end.

Ensuring your client experience is memorable is critical to differentiating your value. Your standards of care will have a tremendous impact on client retention and on the pace at which you grow. In part, we speak so often on the team experience because without an impactful internal experience, your associates will unlikely deliver a differentiating external experience to your clients.

As you read through this article, you will quickly notice that it is the people who really create the distinction in your business—it is rarely the products, solutions, the process or the numbers. We encourage you to meet with your team and further explore the question, “Why should I do business with you/your practice?” Do you have a compelling answer that differentiates you from the competition? Are you focusing on the right elements? Does your client base understand the totality of your value? Do your centers of influence know what makes you different and why they should send you referrals?

Knowing your value and distinction is just the beginning. You will then need to make sure you position your practice correctly in a way that stands out, and, most importantly, the team needs to consistently live your value. In this increasingly complex yet commoditized world, it is more important than ever to articulate, demonstrate and validate your value. When clients and prospects understand what makes you unique and then personally and consistently experience those elements, retention increases and growth enters a new trajectory through an increase in both the quality and quantity of introductions.


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 FPA Coaches Corner coaches for team development. See other resources from them in the FPA Coaches Corner.

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3 Best Practices for Creating an Attitude of Gratitude

Gratitude can be defined in numerous ways. Some view it as an attribute with the power to decrease fear and attract abundance, while others view it as a constant awareness that one should live by.

Successful advisers know that showing gratitude has a profound effect on themselves, others and their business. The secret to creating an attitude of gratitude is to continually be looking for the opportunity to be thankful and to express that appreciation in communications and actions with clients, colleagues and even with ourselves.

Author Melody Beattie said it best when she said, “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

Let’s take a deeper look at some best practices for how you can incorporate gratitude into your business:

Best Practice No. 1: Gratitude for Clients

I truly believe that the leading reason clients leave their adviser is because they feel their unique needs are not acknowledged or catered to. When a client has not been contacted regularly, they tend to feel unappreciated and neglected. This inevitably ensures that they will eventually move their business to another adviser.

Let’s look at what one successful adviser is doing to avoid this happening to him.

Steve C., is a 25-year veteran financial adviser who had lost his motivation. After discussing why he is in the business, he said that he loved his clients. However, he also admitted that he wasn’t contacting them as often as he knew he should be.

Steve immediately went on a large-scale client servicing campaign to contact all his clients every three months to check-in and see if they had any questions, comments or concerns. In addition, he developed a systematic way of scheduling client reviews. Within a few months his client base began to take notice and he was feeling the effects of their appreciation as well!

Best Practice No. 2: Gratitude for Colleagues

One of the most overlooked opportunities is to be thankful with colleagues. Most advisers get so caught up in their own day-to-day activities that they don’t take time to simply express their appreciation toward those who have helped make business a success.

In Steve’s case he started to realize that there was a number of people he relied on, yet he rarely took the time to express his appreciation. So, he made a list of the top 10 colleagues to thank. He wrote down the reasons why he was grateful and then he made it a point to call each of them and let them know specifically how much he had appreciated their help.

Best Practice No. 3: Gratitude for Yourself

Most people are hardest on themselves and thus very infrequently do we take the time to consider why we are grateful for our own actions or wins.

After Steve transformed his relationships with his clients and colleagues, I suggested there was still one more person he needed to appreciate: himself. For years he had put tremendous pressure and set up unrealistic expectations for reaching his goals. But to be truly happy in this industry he needed to be less demanding on himself and be more loving. So, I had him make a list of the top 10 qualities that he believed he possessed that were the reason why his clients worked with him. He was to keep that list handy and affirm those qualities often.

Why Creating an Attitude of Gratitude Works

Creating an attitude of gratitude works because the focus is on adopting a positive perspective for why clients work with you and colleagues assist you. It’s this conscious act of looking on the bright side that directs your energy toward successful outcomes.

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.


What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

There is a topic that has come up in so many conversations I’ve had this past week, it was like the universe was screaming at me to please help some folks with this issue.

So here it goes: How do you decide what to do?

Making decisions can be difficult and professionals today are inundated with so many options that it only adds to the pressure.

  • What should you specialize in?
  • Should you choose a niche or be a generalist?
  • What organizations should you join?
  • Should you join an organization at all or just go it alone?
  • Where should you spend your marketing efforts?
  • Where should you spend your marketing dollars?
  • Who should you hire to help you with technology?
  • What should you do next to grow your business?
  • Should you hire someone?
  • What should you hire someone to do?
  • Who should you refer business to?
  • Who should you ask for referrals from?
  • Should you work from home?
  • When is the right time to move to an office if you are working from home?

I could go on and on, but you get the idea and you’re probably having serious stress flashbacks by now.

The ability to quickly make a decision—and then act on that decision—is a key ingredient to success.

Staying stuck not knowing which direction to go just leaves you, well, stuck! As in nothing is happening.

Not making a decision keeps you in reaction mode instead of “conquering” mode! While some folks can’t make a decision that will get them off the starting block, others have a different issue—they constantly make new decisions.

The problem with too many entrepreneurs, or folks who are responsible in any way for their own paycheck, is they jump from thing to thing to thing and never really give anything a chance to work.

Just like with so many of our half-hearted attempts at weight loss—if the approach doesn’t work instantly to solve all of our problems, we quickly abandon it for the next shiny promise of success.

Looking for some concrete advice on how to make decisions? Here’s my framework for the top three issues that come up in my conversations.

Challenge: Analysis Paralysis

Solution: Set a timer. Seriously. Set a timer or a deadline, do whatever research you feel you need to do and Make. A. Decision. This is a skill you absolutely need to develop if you want to be successful and being stuck in “un-decision” mode is just fear stopping you from moving forward.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received around decision-making was from six-time New York Times bestselling author and one of my personal mentors, Larry Winget. I’ve heard him say this repeatedly: “Make a decision. And make it right.”

Stop dwelling over every little detail of what will or won’t work—make a decision—and then commit to doing what you need to do to make sure it works!

Challenge: Too Many Options for Limited Resources

Solution: I talk to a lot of people about this. Where should you spend your marketing dollars? There’s social media, companies that sell leads, BNI and networking groups, funnels. You name it; it’s out there.

Some people will throw coaching in this category as well, but be clear, that is a completely different situation. Coaching is an investment in learning how to be successful. The rest of these are marketing strategies. This is a very important distinction.

In terms of which marketing strategy you should get behind, think first about what you’re already naturally good at doing. Like I mentioned before, they all work if you stick with them. And if you’re already a bit of a natural in one area, you’re going to have a greater chance at success learning how to dial it in strategically in order to grow your business.

Already spend half your day on Facebook? Then go with social media. Are you a natural go-getter sales person? Then investing in leads could make perfect sense.

What doesn’t work is picking a strategy that you already have negative feelings about but doing it because it’s the marketing flavor of the month. I do a lot of work with my clients around getting over their fears and taking action. But if you have limited resources and can only invest in one or two marketing strategies, give yourself the best chance at success!

And stop switching strategies at first sign of conflict. It’s not failure, it’s feedback!

Take the feedback you get from your efforts and tweak what you’re doing. Don’t abandon the ship prematurely.

Challenge: When to Hire Team Members

Solution: This one is actually a simple math problem: if you are doing $20-an-hour work that keeps you from doing $100-an-hour work, then you need to hire someone.

When you first start out you have time on your hands. You can afford to bootstrap your efforts and do all sorts of work yourself because you don’t yet have clients to serve.

As you get going, your two main focuses must be growing your business (getting new clients) and serving your current clients.

How fast your business grows is in direct relation to how much time you can spend on getting new clients—which means how fast you can hire people to do all the things that are not necessary for you to be doing.

A final word of warning—and hopefully some wisdom. There is one mistake I see people make more than anything else: treating every little decision as if it is the end all, be all, biggest and ONLY decision you’ll ever get to make. There are absolutely zero things I can think of in my history as a professional or business owner that I didn’t get to adjust or tweak if it wasn’t working out.

Have I tried marketing strategies that didn’t work? Absolutely.

Have I hired coaches that ended up not being a good fit for me? Yep.

Have I hired team members that didn’t live up to my expectations? You bet.

All of these things are fixable! Every single one of them.

So get out there. Make some decisions. Even better—make some mistakes and then fix them! You’ll be all the more successful for it.


Erin Marcus is a nationally renowned speaker, author and consultant who has been creating business success for more than 20 years. Her combination of a street-smart upbringing, formal education and real world business experience provides a unique point-of-view and ability to relate to her audiences and clients. For more information on Marcus, check out her website at: www.ConquerYourBusiness.com.