We spend so much of our time giving advice; when is the last time we sat back and really took advice? I have been thinking about this for a while and it really crystalized in a call last week.
I was talking to an independent, fee-only firm that was struggling to grow. “We do great things here,” one of the advisors said, “If only more people knew about us, I’m sure we could reach $1B in AUM.” The partners in the firm suggested that they have a very high close ratio, and just about everyone who steps in the door becomes a client. They suggested that their only problem was just getting more people in the door.
In calls like these, I typically start with lots of questions:
- Who are your clients? What’s your niche?
- What is your brand in the community? What differentiates you from the other firms?
- What do your clients say that you do?
- What marketing activities have you done in that past – and what has/hasn’t worked?
Most of the answers were pretty generic and lacked substance (which I told them… nicely). But it was clear to me that this was not the direction that they wanted the call to go. They were looking for a way to get their product (themselves) out there to the masses. What were the key phrases or tactics that would bring more people in their door? The conversation was going nowhere.
Pushing back on pushback
Because they asked and because we were both getting frustrated, we started to talk about tactics that other (successful) firms have used to really grow their businesses. Here’s what I brought up and their responses:
- Events. “Not interested; we aren’t seminar or client appreciation people anymore. They never seem to bring in new clients.”
- Referrals. “We get some, but not enough.”
- Social. “We’ve never seen it work for any advisor. We tried some, but it was not ‘our clientele.’”
- Coaching programs. “We tried a few, got some good ideas, but it never really materialized.”
- Focus on a niche. “We don’t want to limit our opportunities or alienate our other clients.”
After about 30 minutes of fishing and getting nothing concrete back, I finally said, “Forgive me, but you say you want to grow, yet you seem to be unwilling do anything different than what you’re doing today.” I think they were frustrated, and so was I. As the call ended, they agreed to think about some of the things we discussed, and I agreed to think about other ideas. But all in all, we both came away unhappy. It was a disappointing use of everyone’s time.
Be aware and get an advisor
I know I’ve mentioned it before, but my father was a small-town lawyer in the Midwest. Almost daily, he would have clients come into his office and ask for advice or render an opinion on an issue. He would tell me that one of the hardest things for him to do at night was to take off his lawyer hat and put on his listening parent hat. (In fact, he said sometimes he would drive around the block a few times on the way home, just to get out of lawyer mode.) I think we all have that in us. We are so used to giving advice or an opinion that it is hard for us to take advice. I think it is hard for us to step outside ourselves or our businesses and look at them like someone else would.
Shut mouths, open minds
Many of the best advisors I know have advisors. Those advisors can really make a difference. Ask yourself:
- Have I convened a client advisory board to help shape my business in delivering better client service?
- Have I participated in coaching programs and really used their advice (not just selectively picking and choosing, based on my own preconceived notions)?
- Have I reached out to my OSJ, study group, key stakeholders or wholesaler to give me a business review of how my business compares to others they see?
- Did I hire my own financial advisor, one who can be much more objective than I, and put me in my clients’ shoes from time to time?
Think about your own office, practice or business. When is the last time you took advice and not just gave advice? When is the last time you did something different to grow your business? And even if you did try some of the techniques, could the effort have been better? Did you ask someone else? Maybe you should.