by Tony Vidler
Advisers: Good advice process is not enough. Being technically competent is not enough.
You have to get selling.
I know that “Sell” is seen as a bit of a diry word these days, but we cannot back away from it. You have to sell if you are going to be effective at your job as a professional financial adviser. You have to sell if you want a successful business which turns a profit.
You have to “get” what selling is, and where it fits in to the professional advice business today. You have to “get” how to do it very well.
Over the last couple of years there has been a shift in emphasis to providing advice that is centered upon “good process”. In fact many advisers have become so focused upon the process that the advice itself to the consumer is almost hidden somewhere deep in the bowels of the process.
The next shift which is beginning is professionals being focussed upon achieving a “good outcome” for the client. This is a worthy objective of course, even though nobody (especially policy makers) seem unable to define precisely what a good outcome is or when it is supposed to occur…but I’ll keep that discussion for another time.
Amongst these shifting objectives for financial advisers “selling” has become an ignored (or forgotten)….and sales are deemed to almost be a bit grubby, and not worthy of professionals. The industry (in this part of the world at least) is actually now almost devoid of sales training of any sort, and has been for years.
But one of the primary roles of advisers is to help facilitate a change in behavior, or habits, for their clients.
Think about it: if most consumers knew what was required to achieve their financial objectives, and had the ability to determine the optimal path, and had the will to create the necessary change by themselves, then there would be little need for financial advisers at all.
As an adviser you can have the strongest technical skills and knowledge base in the world, and it is almost totally useless if you never use it for the benefit of a client. You can have the ideal best practice advice process and standards of documentation – but never have the opportunity to display it.These elements are critical of course to acting professionally, and providing your services in a manner that is aimed squarely at doing the best work you can for clients.
However at some point in the relationship or engagement with the client, you have to get selling. You have to convince a client to take a particular course of action – naturally the course of action that is best for them. To do that effectively the adviser must utilize sound sales skills. On that basis I would argue that it is imperative for a professional to have strong selling skills – and to know when & where to use them.
For many advisers who have entered the business in the last 5-10 years there has been little emphasis upon this aspect of their professional development. Those advisers (and their clients) are disadvantaged by that lack of training and development.
For example, I have found myself explaining the very fundamental concept of the emotional buying cycle that most humans move through – and it has been a revelation to a number of very technically competent and highly ethical advisers. the oft-used acronym A.I.D.A. to describe this process that consumers move through emotionally is largely unknown to the new adviser generation.
This is very basic stuff it must be said.
A quick recap though: essentially the position you have with a consumer (who is not yet a client in the sense of having followed your advice) is that they begin from a place of blissful ignorance. They are not perhaps even aware of a particular problem or issue that you are aware of, let alone how it may impact upon them or what they can do to manage it. At the end of the process you are wanting them to act upon the logical advice to solve their problem. In between those two points though there are a series of steps that the consumer has to move through in logical sequence, if the advice is to be acted upon. It is this sequence, that is firmly in the realm of “selling skills”, that many advisers seem to be oblivious to. The steps are:
First the consumer has to become Aware of the particular issue. The adviser uses sales skills at this point to create that awareness and get their attention.
Once the issue is firmly raised and on the consumers radar screen, then you have to create Interest on their part in the issue. Again, sales skills are essential in doing so successfully. You are wanting them to engage with you and the process of problem solving, and they have to be interested to do so.
At some point that Interest has to be converted into Desire on the consumers part to do something about it. They must want the problem solved, or the proposed solution that will bring the benefits they had not previously thought of. Transforming the consumers attitude from a place of being engaged (Interest) to one where they are assuming ownership and wanting it fixed (Desire) is pure sales skill. Technical competency is merely supporting the logic of the decisions during this process.
Finally, you need to just get on and do it – put the solution in place. Action must be taken to complete the advice process. Once again, this is the domain of pure sales skill.
The critical point of course is that “sales skills” and “professional advice process” are NOT mutually exclusive. In fact they are both essential components if one is to be an effective professional adviser who is actually providing practical solutions that lead the client to better outcomes.
Selling is not a dirty word. As a professional you have an obligation to have and maintain strong sales skills – and to use those skills ethically, effectively and wisely in the interests of the client.