Set Yourself Apart by Walking Out.

Jun 12, 2012

Last week, I spoke at a Broker-Dealer conference. I really enjoy attending these meetings and, by all accounts, so do most advisors. These conferences have the potential for great networking and a real opportunity for learning about what’s going on in our industry.

I tried to sit in on as many of the breakout sessions as I could – and usually I pick up a good nugget or two. But this time was different. In fact, at one breakout, I broke with professional courtesy and snuck out before it was over (and I never do that). What caused me to do such a thing?

The theme of the breakout was a practice management session on building a better business and setting yourself apart in this challenging market (sounded great and right up my alley). What it really was about was product (and only product). The panel discussion featured one speaker after another talking about how “this product” was the next big thing to hit your business and how it would differentiate your practice. To hear it from them, all I needed to do was sell their product and I would have truly satisfied clients, thousands of referrals and significantly increased AUM.

Since when does a tactical, dynamically allocated, income-focused (with growth) product – that has a guarantee – and is fully liquid – and at the same time is uncorrelated with the markets – and is produced by the low-cost provider – a differentiator (I may have gotten the product pitches a bit mixed up)? It can’t be a differentiator if everyone has access to the same products, right? More importantly, do you think your clients seek your advice and counsel because you can offer XYZ fund, ABC Life Insurance Co.’s annuity, or some other investment vehicle? Of course not.

You are the value-add

Here’s the best advice I can give you after being in this business for over 25 years: Don’t differentiate yourself by touting some investment provider’s products. Differentiate by being you! The product is a commodity. Investors are seeking advice to achieve their goals. They are seeking understanding and communication.

There’s no real magic bullet. In order to differentiate yourself, you need to:

• Provide a top-notch client experience. Return phone calls, hold consistent client service meetings, and conduct value-added events.

• Be a wealth manager. Provide holistic advice, not the hot fund or strategy of the day. Wealth managers hire investment specialists for their teams while working with the clients themselves, not the other way around.

• Be transparent. Make sure the client understands the strategies, investment vehicles and — most importantly — fees. It’s okay to make a living by providing advice; don’t hide it, don’t skirt around it. Cost is only an issue when value is not perceived.

• Communicate. Be in front of your clients’ issues. Use your CRM (or calendar) to remind you of upcoming events and special dates so you can be proactive.

You’re better than a product. And you’re much more than a product salesperson. You provide a service – and that service has a tremendous impact on people’s lives. Don’t fall into the trap of looking for the next product to set you apart. You already have the tool to differentiate – it’s you!

John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is the creator and lead author of Practically Speaking blog and Managing Director of Practice Management Solutions for the SEI Advisor Network.

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