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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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Learn to See Yourself Clearly Through the Johari Window


Michael Futterman speaks at a general session at last month’s FPA Retreat.

When I’ve watched Phil Jackson coach basketball teams, it always struck me as significant that Michael Jordan didn’t go that route. Jackson and Jordan had great synergy and Jordan offered so much guidance to the Chicago Bulls.

Then again, it’s easy to attribute positive qualities to professional athletes. These hard workers are usually filled with a drive for excellence, they work well around people with a shared intensity, they have a unique ability to thrive under pressure and they condition themselves to rise to challenges.

Many of these skills helped my client, a former professional athlete, become a successful adviser. Branch management recognized his growth and recommended he take on a partner and two or three junior advisers to further grow his business.

Unfortunately, not every athlete is meant to become a coach. Being good at something doesn’t mean you are good at teaching it. Tragically, many skilled people fail to see the limits of their capability. As we train clients to build superior teams through the Knowledge Labs™ Elements of Extraordinary Teamwork, we often find that a healthy dose of self-awareness can help put people on the right track to working better with those they need to help grow their business.

A few short months later, I sat in my client’s office listening to him express frustration and anger with his junior advisers. Exasperated, my client said, “I emailed how I do it! I don’t get what’s so difficult to understand!”

What is the Johari Window and How Can It Help?

As I listened to my client explain the problems at his office, I realized a tool called the Johari Window would have come in handy before the new staff members joined his team. Created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham, the Johari Window is composed of four quadrants:

The open quadrant: things you know about yourself and peers know about you. The open quadrant contains obvious or explicit information. Although it’s helpful, this material can obscure or influence the information in other quadrants. For example, one might see my client, a successful adviser, and assume he will be adept at training junior advisers.

The hidden quadrant: things you know about yourself that other people don’t know. Based on his background, branch management felt my client would be comfortable engaging in the journey that growing a new team often requires. I asked a couple of questions and learned something my client knew, but his peers didn’t.

I asked him why he chose to email directions to junior advisers, instead of talking with them, and he revealed that he felt sitting down and walking them through things step by step is frustrating. “Do you always get frustrated when you’re teaching people?” I probed.

“Yes. I had to get my son a math tutor because I get angry if he doesn’t pick things up fast enough,” my client said.

This response gave both of us insight into something we hadn’t recognized, but I’m sure his junior advisers were privately frustrated by every day—his unapproachability. The Johari Window model refers to this quadrant as a blind spot, which means your peers know something about you that you don’t know about yourself. While branch management might have quickly realized he was overmatched in the role of leader or coach, the client’s pride and quick temper made it difficult to tell him that.

My client is a great team player and highly motivated self-starter, who never had a management role. The fact that no one knew he would be poorly suited for the task illustrates the last quadrant of the Johari Window, the unknown.

Unknowns are things that neither you nor your peers know about you. The value in developing greater shared awareness is that it allows us to more quickly address the unknowns when they come to light. Creating strategies to increase illumination of the blind and hidden quadrants is our goal.

In this case, my client’s partner became responsible for the day-to-day people management, so my client could focus on his other strengths. Developing self-awareness before you bring on new team members is key to understanding what kinds of personalities work best in your office. Additionally, seeing yourself clearly in a situation can help you determine if your message and your method of sharing it are effective for your team.

In my client’s case we used the Johari Window to help us discover that being a great adviser comes as naturally to him, as being a great basketball player came to Michael Jordan. But the Michaels around us need self-awareness to help the team thrive.

Editor’s note: This blog post originally appeared on the Janus Henderson Blog. See it here. Michael Futterman will also present a Knowledge Circle webinar “How Self-Awareness Impacts Team Functioning,” on May 30 at 2 p.m., EDT. Mark your calendar or simply join the Zoom meeting at that time. A workbook for the call is available also. FPA members can download it here.

Michael Futterman

Michael Futterman is an assistant vice president, Knowledge Labs™ Professional Development at Janus Henderson Investors. In this role, Futterman works with the Professional Development team on research and curriculum development for the professional development programs. He is a frequent speaker and coach to adviser and client audiences. Futterman leverages his experience with Outward Bound, management consulting firms and the financial services industry to bring innovative, engaging and thought-provoking content to his clients.

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Increasing Retention of Diverse Individuals in the Profession  

2050 TB 1.31.19A black female millennial stood up at the CFP Board’s Diversity Summit in the fall of 2018 and asked the question, “Diversity at what cost?” to a panel of industry leaders including FPA Chair Frank Paré, Lazetta Rainey Braxton of Financial Fountains, Catalina Camoscio of Prudential and Dr. Frank Dobbin of Harvard University.

She went on to explain that she’d started her interview process earlier in 2018 and experienced firsthand the findings from CFP Board’s diversity research. It was traumatic, she said.

“You’re exhausted, you get home every day and you’re like, ‘Why am I doing this to myself?’” she said, voice quivering. She went on to ask, “How are we being mindful of sending young people of color into these spaces—to help reverse mentor and help folks come along” when it comes to genuine inclusion?

This question and the woman who posed it stay with the 2050 TrailBlazers podcast host Rianka R. Dorsainvil, she said in a recent episode with Katie Augsburger and Andrew Greenia.

“I sit on a couple of diversity advisory group boards and that is something that is always going to stick in my mind,” Dorsainvil said.

Attracting people of color to professions is not the issue, it is retention. Oftentimes people will be attracted to the financial planning profession but feel like this young woman felt and leave.

The following are helpful tips on how to increase retention through genuine inclusion.

Leaders Need to Believe and Examine

Oftentimes people from diverse backgrounds will feel uncomfortable or discriminated against and will leave a firm or organization.

Katie Augsburger, who has a long career in human resources and now is a partner at Future Work Design, said oftentimes companies bring in diverse people and think they are inclusive.

“They will say, ‘Yay, we’re diversified. We’re so excited,’” but once this employee brings up issues of racial tension, microaggressions or discrimination, they are labeled as a complainer who makes everything about race. That employee will either leave of their own accord or get fired.

“That is common amongst organizations—even organizations who say they are really focused on equity, diversity and inclusion,” Augsburger said.

But when these employees speak out on these things, they need to be heard.

“We need to believe people,” said Andrew Greenia, consultant with Promise54, an agency that helps organizations develop diverse and inclusive teams and cultures. Oftentimes when these employees cite racial discrimination or other issues when they leave, it goes to the wayside and leaders simply replace them and ignore why they left.

This is probably because “believing them requires you do something,” Augsburger added. But companies need to do something.

Companies are not going to fix these issues within their culture until they examine and address the reasons why diverse people have left. If it takes hiring a diversity and inclusion consulting company, then do that.  

“We usually think about new employees coming in and what can sometimes be forgotten is all the employees who have left,” Augsburger said. “What were they yelling and screaming for, mentally, when they were leaving? We often place the blame for lack of retention on the people and not the policies, procedures that pushed them out.”

Understand the Barriers to True Inclusion

Augsburger said that diversity is inviting somebody to the party, but inclusion is asking them to dance. In your organization, are you asking your diverse hires to dance? Do you genuinely value the opinions of your employees from diverse backgrounds? Do you invite them to the table when it comes to decision-making? Are you supporting them and listening to them? Are you ensuring they have equal access to advancement, good pay and resources? Augsberger said these are all areas to examine that lead to better inclusion, which in turn leads to better retention.

There are several barriers to true inclusion in companies today, including:

  1. Oftentimes people think that creating a more diverse and equitable culture in the profession means that there will be less work or rights for white males.
  2. Many professional practices, including a heavy focus on one set definition of “professionalism” are deeply rooted in dominant, white culture.
  3. Companies expect people of color to “fix” the diversity problem. “We are expecting people from marginalized communities to just show up and thus the problem will be solved,” Augsburger said.

Examining and altering your perspective when it comes to these things can lead to more inclusive and equitable outcomes.

“Inclusion is really the process of naming and making room for multiple ways of being and seeing them as valid,” Greenia said. “Those require learning what is equity, what is inclusion, what is diversity, and also unlearning what have been the barriers and normalized practices.”

But none of this will be accomplishable without the participation of leaders, said Catalina Camoscio, vice president of recruiting and development at Prudential, at the CFP Board Diversity Summit in October.

“We can talk about it,” Camoscio said, “but until we as leaders in positions of influence act on it and demonstrate it, we will not move the needle for people like” the young woman who posed the question of the cost of diversity.

Ana TL Headshot_Cropped

Ana Trujillo Limón is senior editor of the Journal of Financial Planning and the editor of the FPA Practice Management Blog. Email her at alimon@onefpa.org. Follow her on Twitter at @AnaT_Edits.