by Steven Drozdeck

Are these scenarios familiar?

John is a top producer at a major firm who, by any standard, is doing very well as an investment advisor. His practice consists of managing large portfolios and doing financial planning for his numerous, wealthy clients. John has three associates working for him; (one is registered, two are administrative assistants.) He has trained his well-oiled team to perfection. Unfortunately, John is so stressed and tired that he is on the verge of burning out.

Sound familiar? We all know investment professionals who are working harder and harder, and still seem to be falling behind. Irritability, procrastination, loss of humor, and phone avoidance are some of the signs that you may notice.

Sarah is a $300,000 producer who has been at that this level for a few years. She believes she is working as hard and as efficiently as possible. In reality, she is not. Has she “plateaued?” ...Has she become Inefficiently efficient? …Complacent? …Stuck in her own ways? Does she remind you of anyone you know?

Pat is a new broker who seems to be afraid of the phone. If he doesn’t get his act together, you’re going to have to fire him. But, isn’t it odd that when you interviewed him he seemed to have great potential. Was it a hiring mistake? Or, did something happen to him along the way? What are your options? Coach, council, hope, assign him to a more senior broker?

You’ve seen all these, and many more, situations over the years. One part of your job is to prevent these things from happening in the first place. The question is how to become even more efficient than you already are. There are additional ways to work with advisors in your office to increase your overall efficiency and productivity of your office.

Wearing many hats

Managers in branch offices have one of the most difficult jobs in the world. While divisional and regional managers are responsible for large, complex enterprises often involving thousands of people, branch and sales managers probably have the most difficult jobs because they are right there in the trenches with their brokers/bankers. They have the constant challenge of helping their advisors grow their businesses, attaining numerous branch goals, putting out fires, and often advising their own clients.

Each manager must juggle a number of roles, or disciplines, including leader, coach, mentor, arbiter, psychologist, motivator, strategist, and businessman, to name but a few. You must find, hire, train, develop and manage the new sales people. A somewhat different set of skills is needed when dealing with experienced advisors. Without mentioning other responsibilities, it’s obvious that a manager must wear many hats, and be able, at a moment’s notice, to shift gears to deal with an endless series of issues.

Expanding your capabilities and those of your office team is essential for long-term survival and success. As Steven Covey identified the need to be constantly “sharpening the saw” in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. You would probably agree that most professionals can do better, but they either don’t know how to improve, may not want to pay the price, or don’t have the chance to improve. The “How To, Want To, Chance To Model of Performance Analysis” is an approach to analyzing where your advisors may need your assistance, and will be more fully explored later.

One of the problems you face in helping people upgrade their skills is that many of your advisors are already good at what they do. Yes, being good can actually be a problem. They may not appreciate that they are using approaches and techniques that are only slightly refined from what they used as rookies. Unfortunately, something like this happens to most human beings. Imagine for a moment that a rookie advisor is making a sales presentation on a mutual fund. She has learned the features, benefits, and advantages, and stumbles through the first presentations letting each prospect/client in on every detail imaginable as she tries to become overwhelmingly convincing.

Of course, the first few presentations (assuming she’d had no rehearsal) would be somewhat rough, having some good parts and a few segments or sequences that needed improvement. Fifteen, 30, 50 presentations later, she is basically making the same presentation, mistakes and all, because all of her verbiage, her speech — good, bad, and indifferent — has been practiced and reinforced, even though some enhancements were made along the way.

The point is that by the fiftieth or so presentation, she feels comfortable with that presentation. It works often enough. She likes it, and can do it in her sleep. As a result, the next 1,000 mutual fund presentations are basically the same, even though she may be selling different funds. She has gotten into a habit, a routine, a rut. She’s developed a pattern that may continue throughout her career.

The mutual fund example can be extended to other types of sales presentations as well as almost all every other aspects of her business. We all develop routines in dealing with prospects and clients, working with sales assistants or associates, organizing and managing the business, working with data, limiting ourselves to only certain product lines, sorting for only certain types of information, etc. People have to develop these patterns to work more effectively, but the patterns they develop may not be as efficient or as effective as they could be. It is hard for someone to break out of the box if they don’t even know they are in one. That’s where good managers come in.

There is a Wall Street truism that it’s easier to bring a $500,000 producer to $1,000,000 than it is to bring a new broker to $100,000. The same is true at every level. It’s much easier to help experienced, large producers dramatically increase their business, if you can get them to realize that they might be in a box.

Increase productivity by 50 percent

If you are able to enhance advisors’ skills in four areas, you will find that production will automatically increase. In a pilot program for a major regional firm, we were able to help numerous senior producers (the average participant had over seven years in the business and was producing at least $500,000) increase their productivity by 44 percent within a six-month time frame. Many had “plateaued” and didn’t think they could work any harder or any more efficiently. Yet, after taking the course they discovered numerous ways that they could upgrade their skills.

The actual approach is simple, and is based upon studies of star performers in the financial services industry that show that “the differences that make the difference” between average and star performers fall into four categories:

Consultative solutions mindset

Business management and development Skills

Professional knowledge

Maintaining long-term motivation

While the program of study helps people hone key skills and attitudes into razor sharpness, it is ironic that many people already have the necessary skills, but may not have been using them because: 1) the skills were forgotten; 2) they are intuitive, hence randomly applied; 3) the advisors fell into ineffective or bad habits; or 4) they believed they were already doing everything as well as it could be done. Within the program, each participant also learns a number of new concepts and approaches that they add to their repertoires. The net effect is being “upgraded” in very subtle, yet significant ways — essentially reinvigorating their businesses and themselves.

What has the greatest leverage?

Advisors have consistently noted the biggest differences seem to come from one or more of the items listed below.

Consultative solutions approach

A true appreciation of what providing consultative solutions entails. Many people already have the right attitude and are concerned about their clients’ well-being. Yet, even the best of intentions can be negated with old-style sales approaches. For example, the advisor might participate in a sales contest and offer the product to suitable clients. Yet, unless the client is reminded how that product is part of an overall plan to attain a specific financial goal, the client could feel that the advisor’s primary goal was to generate a commission. Essentially, the advisor becomes complacent and assumes that the client automatically understands and appreciates the product’s purpose within the overall investment portfolio. Many, many clients can forget such important details. It is important to regularly remind them not only of their stated goals, but of the investment approaches that are being employed to accomplish those goals and why.

Enhancing relationships

How to establish rapport quickly and deeply with people. One advisor told a story about how he was at a social gathering a couple of weeks after completing the course. The gathering included a wealthy woman with whom he’d never gotten along well. The dynamics of the party briefly brought them together, and, having nothing better to do, he tried the rapport techniques on this elderly lady. After awhile, their relationship changed such that she asked him to be her broker, and she literally dragged him around to her other friends saying that he was her new primary broker and that he should be theirs as well. As he mentioned in a follow-up class, “I was amazed because I didn’t even bring up any business topics. I only used the rapport techniques while chitchatting.”

Financial profiling

Updating a client’s financial profile often yields a surprising amount of information when a special profiling technique is used. Advisors are consistently surprised when they discover additional assets, sometimes significant sums of money, with clients that they’d been dealing with for years. We’ve found that the discovery of new assets leads to many of those assets being brought in-house within eight to 12 weeks. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that this approach to profiling often offers the client (and broker) the first comprehensive financial picture that the client has ever seen. The advisor often discovers more information about the person’s total financial needs and goals than any other advisor ever has discovered. The question then becomes: Who is the client probably going to do business with? Someone who has a full understanding or someone with only a limited understanding of his or her needs. This approach is particularly useful with prospects.

Analyzing their book of business

A comprehensive analysis of their clients, using multiple criteria, often shows that the advisors are giving “coach service” to their first first-class clients, and first first-class service to certain coach clients. This analysis allows advisors to identify their ideal clients and then implement a marketing campaign to get additional ideal clients. Many advisors are “spinning their wheels” going after the wrong clients and use ineffective prospecting approaches.

Identifying inherently de-motivating goals. Goals that had been previously set were inherently de-motivating. Every goal in life has a price attached. Too often, the price for success is the loss of enjoyment, family, and, occasionally, health. They find the stresses of the job are incompatible with the lifestyle they want to live but find themselves stuck in the situation. So they work harder and get farther behind the satisfaction goal. An analysis of their personal motivations often uncovers otherwise hidden barriers and allows them to move forward with greater enthusiasm, energy, and focus.

You, as the manager

Managers who provide good sales ideas and supervision are doing a good job in a difficult environment. Those managers who go the extra step and coach and/or mentor their people have the most spectacular results. Of course, you have to use the right coaching and mentoring techniques, and you have to provide pragmatic information.

Back to “How To, Want To, Chance To”

As you look at the people in your office, try to determine what would make them even better at their jobs, mentally using the “How To, Want To, Chance To Model of Performance Analysis.”

How To

One common reason for failure to achieve a goal is lack of required knowledge. A person may not have a specific skill, or may not fully understand a given product or service. For example, someone who doesn’t understand financial financial-planning software isn’t going to show it to his client. Fortunately, “how to” problems can usually be fixed fairly easily with education and training.

Want To

People often fail because they lack sufficient motivation. Success depends, in large part, upon one’s ability to maintain the drive to succeed. It involves making goals that are not only personally meaningful, but also “ecological,” so that they don’t cost more than they are worth. Is a person spending too much time at the office and not enough time with the family? This can cause unconscious resentments to develop. Is someone so stressed that even a little bit of additional effort is viewed as a monumental challenge?

Chance To

Sometimes something blocks us from achieving a goal. Such obstacles may include clients who fail to return new account forms or administrative errors that are beyond our control. It can also include having to handle so many details that we are too overwhelmed to perform the critical functions necessary for long-term success. Do your advisors have the necessary resources? Can they delegate some of the tasks to sales associates?

Most advisors think they are working as hard and as efficiently as possible. It takes a coach or a mentor — most often one of the many hats of the manager — to introduce them to new ways of thinking and new approaches to doing business. While seminars can bring awareness, they usually require someone to train, motivate, and guide them. That may be you or someone else. The price will be additional effort on your part. The rewards will be a more productive office.