Our roles are changing and we need to change with it
In today's world, prospecting for new financial planning clients looks a lot different than it used to look in the classic 'Wall Street' days. As the industry has steadily moved away from a sales culture and into more of a service industry, firm values have changed and, accordingly, roles for newly hired planners have adjusted along with them. While some of the more traditional firms still employ an 'eat what you kill' model, it's becoming increasingly clear that a pure sales model doesn't make sense for the average 23 year old who's fresh out of college.
Cold calling for prospects is terrible for several reasons; not only does it require you to ask a stranger for their valued time, but then you have to ask them about their money. Even if you are ambitious and ready to 'dial for dollars,' movies about the shady financial industry (as shown in The Big Short and Wolf of Wall Street) are being streamed daily on Netflix, while large banking institutions are being publicly scrutinized for preying on their innocent customers.
It's no wonder the general public doesn't trust the financial industry - the bad guys have ruined it for everyone. But just because some of the bad eggs have tarnished the title of 'financial advisor,' that doesn't mean that we should abandon ship. If anything, if we truly believe in helping people solve their problems, you should feel a responsibility to do things the 'right way' and share that with as many people as possible.
At my firm, we speak with prospective clients often who seem to be searching for their money savior. After initially speaking with them, it's not unusual to learn that some of them have been burned by former 'advisors' and, after meeting with us, feel like they can finally trust someone again.
So as these prospective clients continue to come in, as newly-minted planners, we're faced with learning a critical side of the business that we may not have signed up to do initially or know anything about - Prospecting.
Sales isn't in the curriculum
When you study financial planning in a formal setting, you learn the science of financial planning by the book. After school, regardless of your school's prestige, you quickly learn that you could spend an entire lifetime on continuing education and perfecting your craft. But if we spend all of our time studying books and learning technique, when do we learn how to actually run a business?
As a relatively new planner, I'll admit that one of my weakest areas is speaking with prospects who are in the 'shopping' phase; and after discussing it with others, it's clear that I'm not the only one who faces this challenge.
My peers and I spend most of our time trying to be the best planners we can be. That said, you can have all of the expertise in the world, but if you don't have any clients paying you for it, all you really have is a hobby.
Learning the Hard Way
Lately, I've been wanting to share what I do with more people because I genuinely feel like I can help them. Helping people, no matter the subject, is what I enjoy doing and what I want to spend my life on.
Recently, my firm has had many new prospective clients come in who are interested in working with us. Last week, I scheduled some time to initially speak with one of them. They were a middle-aged couple looking for some retirement planning, specifically in some areas I'm technically strong in. The call was going relatively well. That is, until they asked me one question that I realized I didn't know how to answer: "Okay. Next question - How old are you?"
Obviously, I know the answer to this question. The answer was easy, but my subconscious decided to over-analyze the question into oblivion before I could get any words out. In a matter of a few milliseconds, I had already played out the hypothetical results of several, potential responses. I think my inner-debate sounded something like this: "if I tell them my age, will they immediately discredit me? If I give them a number, should I wait to let them respond, or should I quickly jump in and back myself up? Or, should I completely bypass my age and spin it around somehow?"
After I decided on a response, I finally answered the question. Then, I immediately redirected the focal point away from me and onto my boss, who is closer in age to these particular prospects. Ironically, my attempt to avoid admitting my youth actually ended up highlighting it even more! My aversion to the age question was felt by everyone and I could sense that most of the rapport I had built up over the previous few minutes had dissipated.
Within a matter of seconds, the conversation with those prospective clients went from just 'okay' to "okay, we'll get back to you."
Be Disappointed, then Move On
Looking back, that phone call didn't go the way I planned and I've already done quite a bit of soul-searching around it. But the question still remains for me and other young planners alike - if our jobs are to exemplify competence and show expertise on behalf of our firms, will confessing our youth allow us to earn the trust and respect of those clients and prospects?
At its root, this is a common insecurity for any young professional and it's something I (clearly) struggle with from time to time; several of my peers do as well. On paper, we have the education and always push to do our best, yet we're still unsure about how clients will feel about our ages (and our presumed lack of life experiences). And who can blame us? In a world of gray-haired advisors who have been in the industry for decades, who are we to step in and claim to be the new experts?
Own It & Find Your Purpose
Needless to say, my lackluster performance on the aforementioned prospect call bothered me for days.
I sought the advice of some of my closest mentors on the situation and learned a few things about myself. First, I learned how to be confident in my youth and realize all the benefits that come with it - my education is completely relevant & up to-date, I bring new perspectives & innovation to our firm and clients, and I have loads of fresh energy that I pour into my work every day. Next, I learned to remember why I'm here in the first place; if I'm here to help, then that's all I should focus on doing.
Lastly, I realized that sometimes I get frazzled in client meetings, which is tough (if not impossible) to recover from. In the case of my awkward phone call from earlier, I had lost my 'flow' and I don't think I fully recovered the rapport that I had lost with that prospect. Knowing that mishaps sometimes happen in meetings, I needed to find a way to stay in the zone, even when things don't go smoothly.
Your Serene Moment & Creating Your Trigger
Recently, I read a book called The Art of Learning, by Josh Waitzkin; the title is cheesy, but the takeaways were monumental for me. Waitzkin was a child prodigy in Chess who first became famous because his dad wrote a book about him, called 'Searching for Bobby Fischer.' The book explains how fundamentals for success in one practice can be learned, then promptly applied to other practices to reach the same degrees of success. For instance, in the sports world, people often give motivational speeches telling you to "keep going even if hurts" or to "never give up." When in reality, those same fundamentals can (and should) be transferred to anything you want to excel at, including your jobs and careers. This is called "transference" and high performers use this idea to their advantage every day.
In the book, Waitzkin was (ironically) hired as a consultant to help a financial advisor who, after years of successful engagements, suddenly found himself struggling to perform well in client meetings. Waitzkin made the largest impact when he helped the advisor find his 'serene moment.' Essentially, a serene moment is a state of mind you reach whenever you're completely submerged in a moment where you have intense (yet, pleasant) focus; for some, time stands still. Some of my friends tap into this focus by playing pick-up basketball games or running with their dogs at the park. For others, it may be enjoying a glass of wine with your spouse with Miles Davis on in the background. For this particular advisor, his serene moment was playing catch with his young son every evening when he got home.
Next, Waitzkin started working to create a 'trigger' in the advisor's mind that could bring him to his serene moment at-will. It turns out, anyone can create this trigger into focus for themselves.
Once you've identified a time when you have serene focus in your own life, you can then work backwards to regiment the things you do before you find that focus. For instance, if running with your dog at the park brings you to your happy place, perhaps you can eat a protein bar, then stretch for 10 minutes while listening to your favorite song on repeat. Then, proceed to your serene moment at the park with your dog. The trick is to not only make the fun part a routine, but the time leading up to that magic moment should be a routine as well.
After about a month of practice (and fun), you can transfer your routine into other areas of your life. Perhaps before that big monthly meeting that makes you nervous, you can eat a protein bar, stretch in your office with headphones in for 10 minutes, then go have a great time in your big meeting. This is how you can think smarter, not harder, by using transference in your life. As a side perk, your new routine may become sort of a pre-game ritual for meetings.
Let Your Purpose Guide You
We can use all of the strategies and fancy routines imaginable, but circling back to a message from earlier, it's more important to remind yourself of why you're here in the first place. For me, I love helping people who want to be the best versions of themselves and just need some guidance that I know I can give them. As an example, last week, I volunteered to help a young, aspiring student with a practice interview and ended up getting lost in my serene moment; we scheduled 20 minutes to talk and ended up speaking for almost an hour. Next time I speak with him, I'll be sure to do my pre-game ritual before our chat.
For those of you who are in this business for the right reasons, if you go into every client or prospect meeting with the intention of sincerely helping them solve their problems, you'll never need to worry about "selling" anything. With a bit more practice and patience, who knows, perhaps helping clients reach their goals will end up becoming our own serene moments after all.