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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.

Dan_Martin_Headshot

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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The Financial Adviser’s 3-Step Guide to Perseverance

Advisers come to me for coaching as they find themselves working harder and harder to focus on what they want their outcomes to be, only to find that, at some point, they aren’t living up to their own expectations. When this happens, they feel frustrated, disappointed and anxious.

Successful advisers know they must dedicate themselves to working smarter by figuring out what works for them to lead them down the path to greater success, and what activities are time wasters and would be better off retired. The mantra needs to be, “Never give up on reaching your goals, just find innovative ways to persevere.”

William Feather said it best: “Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.” In order to keep “hanging on,” you must define your purpose, continuously evaluate your activities and let your progress guide you to your destination.

Let’s take a deeper look at some best steps for this process and how they have helped one adviser.

Step 1: Know Your Purpose

If you want to see any great endeavor through to completion, you have to find a great reason to keep going. The best reason of all is knowing your purpose. The most important thing to do initially is define “why” you want to accomplish your goals, not necessarily “how”—that is secondary.

Todd, a 15-year veteran financial adviser, was frustrated at being on a production plateau when I first started coaching him. He asked me how he could work smarter and not just harder. Before getting into the details of what to do, I first needed to know his why. He confided in me that his mission was to help as many people as he could to set themselves up for a comfortable retirement.

Step 2: Evaluate Your Activities and Actions

Once you land on your purpose, it’s important to understand what’s working (or not). In other words, you must evaluate your activities and action steps to analyze if what you are doing is leading you in the right direction.

In Todd’s case, it didn’t take long to determine that he was working hard because he was using the wrong tools. Look at it this way: If your goal is to chop down a tree and you use a baseball bat, it’s going to take you a long time (if you ever get the tree down at all). All Todd needed to do was understand what prospecting tools were best for him, learn how to use them and establish a systematic way to evaluate the results. Over time, we did just that and he started to move people into and through the pipeline.

Step 3: Let Your Progress Guide You

When you know your purpose and sharpen your skill sets, you will increase the likelihood of successful outcomes. If you are struggling, it is so important to remember the proverb, “nothing succeeds like success,” and continue moving forward by using your recent milestones as stepping stones to reach new levels.

Todd saw the fruits of his labors and was excited because he was helping more people—and with much less effort than he had ever done before. In addition, he was no longer frustrated because he was off the production plateau that had prompted him to want to be coached. As a result, I explained that if he wanted to keep helping more people he had to regularly reinforce his purpose and fine-tune his skill sets.

Why The Adviser’s Guide to Perseverance Works

The reason this way of thinking works is because you have a tangible process for motivating persistence. In tough times when you feel like giving up, it is important to have a proven technique for creating tenacity.

If you would like a complimentary coaching session, 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.


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Path to Mastery: What Alex Honnold’s Free Solo Climb Can Teach Planners About Creating Conditions for Success

My husband rock climbs, and he introduced me to Alex Honnold a few years back. Honnold is a free solo rock climber that climbed the 3,000-plus sheer face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in 2017—without ropes. By definition, a free solo is a climb without ropes. It’s just you, your bare hands, your shoes and a chalk bag.

It’s beyond words impressive that Honnold accomplished this feat. But what’s truly mind-blowing is that he did this climb—which takes serious climbers with ropes 3 to 5 days—in a blistering 3 hours and 56 minutes. Mind blown.

It’s a performance like Honnold’s that captivates me and that I’ve always sought to understand and replicate. If he can overcome the very real risk of death to climb a rock, why do so many advisers struggle to achieve their goals, much less perform the kind of kick-assery that Honnold and other top performers achieve? I mean if he can climb a near mile of sheer rock with his bare hands, surely you have what it takes to double your practice and take time off.

Honnold’s Success Model

Honnold’s 10-minute Ted Talk has lessons for us all. It’s not obvious, but when Honnold describes his path to mastery, he’s following the success model we use in coaching: mapping, mindset, methods, momentum. Success leaves clues, and when you follow those clues, you get a front-row seat to the thinking, strategies and habits that create the conditions for success:

  • Mapping: Honnold describes how he set the goals for and approached two very different climbs and the difference it made in his performance. The first climb that he expected to be easy was a struggle, and the climb everyone said was impossible was almost effortless. If he can do this, you can create clarity with your Vision and Goals and a map to guide your efforts with a Business Blueprint. What do you envision for your practice and for your life? Create a list of clear goals for all areas of your life—business, family, friends, personal growth, health, finances, recreation, romance and physical environment. Be very clear what you want. Then work on your blueprint.
  • Mindset: Honnold talks about his mindset and learning to lock his fear away. He speaks of how his quest for mastery included spending countless hours of mental preparation using visualization, repeatedly envisioning thousands of finger grips in his mind to condition himself for a perfect performance. If he can do this, you can face your practice with a new level of confidence by creating a mindset reset and mastering the 7 Mindsets of Success I have shared many times in both my speaking engagements and on the FPA Coaches Corner.
  • Methods: Both rock climbing and financial planning have best practice methods that shortcut the path to mastery. Honnold does not reinvent the wheel when it comes to tying knots or setting anchors (he uses ropes when practicing his climbs). He doesn’t buy the cheapest equipment, and he’s part of a close community that collaborates and supports each other. Mapping and mindset are essential ingredients, but you can’t make a masterful cake with mediocre methods.
  • Momentum: There’s no missing Honnold’s momentum as he describes the journey from secretly wishing to conquer El Capitan to making the decision and forcefully applying all his energy and effort on that single goal. The sheer size of his goal required momentum of a magnitude the likes of which none of us has ever experienced. Momentum is the force and velocity with which you apply your energy and drives the timing and level of your results. Your momentum advances you in the direction you focus your attention, so focusing on what you want is paramount.

Implementing Honnold’s Success Model

So here’s the straight talk on stepping up and rockin’ it Honnold style:

  • Be responsible (stop making excuses). One of our limitless practice coaches, Matt Jarvis has an amazing directness about what it takes to be more successful, and I call this The Matt Mantra: “Don’t whine, just work.” Matt never makes excuses. He just does the work. He didn’t start out making real money and taking off 100 days a year. His journey to limitless success began when he got tired of disappointment and wanting more. Like Honnold, Matt has no room for excuses because there is no room for mediocrity in his business. You are more like Honnold than you know because while your consequences are very different, it’s as true for you as it is for Honnold: mediocrity kills. Explore these questions: What would your practice and life be like in a year if you stopped making excuses? What would it be like if you’d stopped making excuses 3 years ago?
  • Show up. Seriously, that’s the secret. Just show up in your world, engage and do the work. At some point, many of you have jumped in head first on the journey to excel and others are wondering where to begin. It is quite normal to feel equal parts excitement and overwhelm. Excited, because you know what’s possible and that there is a way to start making it happen; overwhelmed, because you have a full-time job, a busy life and now on top of all that you have to find time to learn and implement the ways to radically improve your business and your life and there will work involved. When you start feeling overwhelmed, your brain hits the brakes. We are all here to support you.
  • Progress, not perfection. This is a Dan Sullivan (co-founder of Strategic Coach) saying, and I love it. Let me be unmistakably clear: you will not always do all the work, you will not implement all of the new tools and ideas you receive and you will not be “done” at the end of 2019. It took me years to create the success I now enjoy, so while I’m giving you some serious shortcuts, it’s reasonable to assume it will take time to build the practice of your dreams. The good news is you don’t need to “do it all” to shift yourself into high gear and get great results this year. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just breathe and eat the elephant one bite at a time. This gets a lot easier if you simply narrow your focus to the priorities that matter most to you.

I love studying Alex Honnold, and other people living The 5 Freedoms, to find and share the strategies and habits of top performance.

As I tell my children as much as they can stand to hear: your body can do most anything, it’s your mind you have to convince.

Stephanie Bogan

Stephanie Bogan is the CEO of Educe, Inc., and former CEO/Founder of Quantuvis Consulting (sold to Genworth Financial in 2008) and has spent 20 years consulting with the profession’s top advisory firms and enterprises. Educe is focused on helping financial advisors, entrepreneurs and executives build wildly successful businesses and lives that they love by expanding their mindset and business methods in ways that help them experience greater levels of success, happiness, wealth and well-being in their work. Bogan is a coach in the FPA Coaches Corner.