No Dinner for You

Dinner has endedby George Ray

I like real life case studies. Let me share one with you.

Last week I spoke to 134 Federal employees in Wichita, KS in a large auditorium at Wichita State University. A financial adviser from Kansas worked closely with the Wichita Federal Executive Association (WFEA) to bring this together. The program consisted of an employee benefits briefing for Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) employees in the morning, and a program for Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) employees in the afternoon. Many employees brought their spouses along with them, and drove up to three hours from locations around the state in order to attend. (And, to their credit, none grumbled about the government shutdown.)

When I talk with financial advisers about the opportunities to help Federal employees, I often recommend that hosting an employee benefits program similar to this one offers an ideal occasion to meet people who need their help. The association in this particular area only hosts these programs every two years.  During that time there is a large vacuum of questions that builds and is looking for escape.  We were able to help release that vacuum with the information that we provided.

The comments we received on our evaluation form from the attendees were very favorable, but many would have preferred more time to ask questions about their individual benefits and circumstances.  Those who had additional questions added their contact information to the evaluation form, and about one third of them want to meet with the adviser in the coming weeks (and possibly many more in the future, as he builds his presence in this market).

I continue to see advisers who try to attract new clients with expensive evening dinners at a nice restaurant (Maggiano’s and Ruth’s Chris are particular favorites) and a general program on financial planning or estate planning.  These agendas are a ‘dime a dozen’ and require large expensive mailings to attract fewer than 20 people.  The message is usually designed to scare the attendees into meeting with the adviser, and can be heavy on the sales pitch.  Advisers are typically disappointed with the results, but continue to offer these programs because of the lack of a better idea.  They could take a lesson from this adviser who

  • Has decided on a niche market for his practice (working with employees of the nation’s largest employer).
  • Worked with an organization to host the program and invite their members, (in this case, the WFEA) rather than blindly sending mass mailings.
  • Didn’t need to buy anyone dinner at a nice restaurant to motivate them to attend (we provided communications materials to the organization’s members to explain the benefits of attending).
  • Contracted with a firm that has developed and successfully presented these types of programs regularly, and specifically for his market (my company).
  • Wasn’t afraid to bring in an outside expert to professionally present the information (I believe that was me).
  • Provided useful, relevant, and objective information which was designed to really help the attendees, rather than to mislead or scare them.
  • Offered to follow up with only those who actually requested his help.

As a result of his efforts, it wasn’t necessary for this adviser to spend thousands of dollars on mass mailing of invitations. In fact, he may actually RECEIVE invitations to present similar programs from the Federal agencies whose employees couldn’t attend (after hearing about the program from their colleagues). This case study is an excellent example of a successful niche marketing program.

Do you want to attract someone to your seminar? First, decide exactly who you want to attend. Then, develop a program that is unique and targeted to that particular audience. And, enlist the help of an interested organization who may also benefit by helping you to sponsor or host the program. Maybe it’s time to finally stop those boring, cookie-cutter financial planning dinners and try something new. Sorry, Maggiano’s.



by George Ray

In my last post we talked about building a positioning statement using as three-step approach (go here if you missed it) that starts a conversation with a potential prospect.  When suggesting that financial advisers use this approach, I often get two big questions that are valid, and should be addressed.  The first question deals with why I recommend the three-step approach specifically for financial advisers, and the second question is concerned with the fear of closing off the conversation by offering only one specific problem that you can solve.  Let’s take a look at each of these questions.

Question One: An adviser said, “George, why should I say to someone ‘You know how most people have this problem? Well, what I do to solve it is this.  And, the reason I do that is because they will feel like this after I’ve helped them.’ That seems like an awfully long and hard way to answer the question ‘So, what do you do?’. Why couldn’t I just say that I’m a financial adviser, a financial planner, or a wealth manager?”

You’re assuming that most people know what a financial adviser or financial planner really is, and what he actually does.  But, get 20 financial advisers together in a room and ask them about the services that they provide to their clients.  Ask them to describe their businesses.  You’ll likely get twenty different answers.  So, if we can’t agree on what we do and how we do it, why would we expect anyone else to understand our jobs?  That’s why describing a problem, the solution to the problem, and the emotion that results can be an ideal solution.  It focuses the discussion where you want it to go, and helps to explain what you do as an adviser (not what all other advisers do). However, this method really works best when you have a job that isn’t well understood (like a financial planner), or may have a lot of variation to it  (like a financial planner).  It doesn’t work so well for a person who has a job that we know well.  Here’s an example that shows how silly this could be:

Me: So, what do you do?

Guy: Well, you know how when people’s houses catch on fire they need to put it out?

Me: Yes?!

Guy: Well, what I do is drive up in a big red truck with a hose and a ladder and put it out.

Me: Oh?!

Guy: Because when I do people feel much safer and happier.

Me: So, you’re a fireman??

Guy: Yes.

Me: Jeez, why didn’t you just say that? I know what a fireman is. Do you think I’m a moron?

This is a ridiculous conversation.  We have a  pretty good idea of the fireman’s job, so this really isn’t necessary.  Yes, he could have just told me that he was a fireman. But when the job and its duties aren’t as clear (or if you want to clarify them), then the three-step method can help you do that.

Question Two: “George, I don’t like this method because I may introduce a problem that I can solve, but what if the person that I’m talking to doesn’t actually have that problem? Isn’t that the end of the conversation?”. For example:

Guy: So, what do you do?

Me: ‘You know how most small business owners are so busy running their company that they have little time to spend managing their investments?

Guy: ‘Gee, no I don’t. I’m not a small business owner.’

That’s OK, it isn’t end of the conversation. It would have been better to ask ‘So, what do you do?’ to him first, which would help you to decide which problem that you want to tell him that you solve, but In this situation, one of three scenarios is likely to follow:

1.     Firstly, he may disqualify himself for you. OK, so he isn’t a small business owner, and that’s you’re target market, so you’ve just eliminated him as a prospect.  Keep talking if you like — you can relax and have an interesting conversation about another subject that isn’t all about you. Or, if you’re really on a mission to find new business, then move on to someone else.

2.     Secondly, he may ask you for an exception.  “I’m not a small business owner, but I could really use some help with my rather large investment portfolio.  Would you be willing to help me?” Since he doesn’t fit your target, it’s your call on whether you want to make an exception. “Well, I usually just work with business owners, but when you say large, exactly how large is it?”

3.     And lastly, he may offer you a substitute.  “I’m not a small business owner, but my uncle is.  You should really talk to him.” Ask him why, and if he’ll also introduce the two of you.

So, don’t be afraid to build your positioning statement by using this three-step method, and use it consistently when you meet someone who asks ‘So, what do you do?’  You’ll have a better opportunity to explain what it is that you actually do, and how you help people.  Even if it doesn’t land you a new prospect with the guy or gal you’re talking to, you may find that it will still lead you to new business.

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?