Position Yourself for Success

chess positioning

by George Ray

Have you ever had an opportunity to introduce yourself to a potential client (maybe the big one that you’ve been waiting for years to land)  — and blown it?

I’ve talked previously about the importance of having a value proposition that resonates with your customer segments. But before you even have the chance to explain all the value that you could offer this potential client in your new relationship, you must position yourself to have a meaningful conversation with him.  Your positioning statement (the modern version of the old elevator speech) is essential.  Without one, you may never get to the point of being able to show your value.

In workshops that I’ve conducted with advisers on this subject, its unfortunate how many advisers believe that they have a great positioning statement, but don’t.  In reality, most are poorly formed and/or poorly executed. I even had one adviser, during a role play, begin by asking how much money I make.  When I told him that he doesn’t have the right to ask that question to someone he’d just met, he was flummoxed. (I’ve always wanted to use that word in a blog post.)

Poor positioning statements are filled with jargon like “I’m a fiduciary” (What’s that? Sounds boring. I’ve got to go now.) or contain irrelevant information like “I have a Series 7 and Series 63”.  (Who cares? Can you help me figure out how much I need to retire?). Poor positioning statements are dangerous – they can kill the start of almost any conversation.

I’ve heard lots of excuses reasons that an adviser can’t (or won’t) build a solid positioning statement. They say ‘George, you just can’t condense how great I am and all that I do into 30 seconds.’  (I say watch any Apple commercial on TV.  They know how to do it.) I’ve also heard ‘I don’t want to sound canned or phony with a rehearsed elevator speech.” (When well-rehearsed, you will sound natural.  Think about actors in a play.  They know their lines and how best to deliver them BECAUSE they are well-rehearsed.) Another version of this is ‘I may need different versions depending upon who I’m talking to, so I just play it by ear.’ (The best jazz musicians can ‘play it by ear’ because they have mastered the melody, chords, and rhythm of a song.  That allows them to easily improvise. You need to master your basic positioning statement before you’re good enough to start improving.)

The real problem, which needs to be tackled first, leads us back to the value proposition.  A great positioning statement forces advisers to identify and articulate their value.  You must first have a clear value proposition.  That’s hard.  It takes work. It requires knowing who your customers are and what they want (which could lead us into a discussion on another adviser challenge – creating an ideal client profile.)

So, what’s the solution? Firstly, understand that your positioning statement and value proposition are very different.  The positioning statement has only one purpose — to open up a conversation with someone you’ve just met who at some point likely says ‘So, what do you do?’  How you answer that question will determine whether he will permit you to continue.  You’ve only got about 8 seconds to get his interest (i.e., the attention span of the average adult) and you should probably know that there is a woman in a slinky red dress at the bar that he can see behind you over your shoulder – so you may only have about 4 seconds.

The best way I’ve found to create an effective positioning statement is by combining these three building blocks. If done correctly, you will accomplish your goal of opening a conversation with someone. (After that, it’s up to you where you want to take it.)  To start . .

1. Provide an example of a problem that most of your clients encounter. You can do this (after the ‘So, what do you do?) by starting with “You know how . . . “ and then use an example of a problem that you can solve. For example, ‘you know how people have trouble saving money for retirement’ or ‘you know how people can’t figure out how much they’ll need to send their kids to college’. More common and broader problems can be used when you don’t know much about who you’re talking to, but if you’re at a cocktail party with a roomful of executives from Big Local Company, Inc. then improvise (you well-rehearsed jazzman, you) by saying ‘you know how executives with stock option plans can’t decide when they should exercise their options’. (As the stock option-rich executive shakes his head and says ‘Yes, I certainly do’.)   And, then . .

2. Explain how you solve that problem. You can do this by starting with ‘Well, what I do is . . . ‘ and then tell him exactly what you do to help someone with that problem.  So, let’s carry through our last example — ‘You know how executives with stock option plans can’t decide when they should exercise their options?’ “Why, yes, I certainly do because I have that problem.” ‘Well, what I do is create customized models for my clients that illustrate all of the possible scenarios to give us the best information to make a decision on when to execute those options.’ “Wow. That’s exactly what I need. Are you accepting new clients?” Isn’t that a much better positioning statement? It got you into a meaningful conversation (and he also lost track of the slinky red dress). But you can’t stop there. Next . .

3. Tell him why this is important to him. Don’t just tell him that you can solve the problem. You must finish with emotion. Finish with the feeling that he will get when you have solved the problem for him. Tell him WHY you do what you do.  “I do this BECAUSE making these important decisions on how best to exercise stock options relieves my clients of the stress of having too many of their eggs in one basket, and often we can even find a little extra for them to treat their family to a great vacation”. “Where have you been all my life? Please help me. I want to feel like that too.”

I’ve found that using these three building blocks can be the most effective way to create a positioning statement that will open conversations.  Here, let’s see if it works.  You know how financial advisers often have trouble introducing themselves to new potential clients? Well, what I do is provide them with the building blocks to build an effective positioning statement. Because when I do, they’re able to gain many new clients and build a more successful practice by simply knowing how to effectively answer the question ‘So, what do you do?


One thought on “Position Yourself for Success

  1. Pingback: Re-Positioning | The Business of Financial Advice

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