Remembering your value busts up the dilemma of selling within a circle of friends

January 5, 2017 — 6:07 PM UTC by Guest Columnist Amy Parvaneh

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The other day at my kid's soccer game, one of the moms let me know that after many years of being a stay-at-home parent, she’s started her own photography business. She talked excitedly and enthusiastically about it, going on about a recent family shoot on the beach. As she expressed her zeal, I began to feel uneasy at the realization that she might ask me to become one of her portfolio clients. My mind raced. Would our friendship suffer if I don’t sign my family up for a photo session? 

A few days afterwards, I was still thinking about it. Should I call her? What if the photos don’t work out? Will it become uncomfortable seeing her at soccer practice during drop-off?

It led me to wonder how my friends, family and acquaintances feel when I tell them I work in the wealth management industry. 10 advisors explain how they build sales without getting 'salesy'

Do they also prepare to fend off yet another financial advisor trying to get their money under management? Do they worry that if our business relationship soured that our friendship could sour in the bargain? I have no easy answers. But I knew that if these questions troubled me then I needed answers.

Selling is hard but it comes relatively easy to me. I grew my book at Goldman Sachs and rapidly went “self-sustaining” in 2008, only a year and a half into my tenure there.  And I don't just sell, I work to help advisors to sell themselves. See: In her words: A former Goldman Sachs star gets into the depths of winning UHNW clients, without being in that tax bracket.

Best of clients

One easy answer to my conundrum would be to declare that business and friendship don't mix. Perhaps too easy. I can’t tell you how many advisors I have coached on business development who say to me, “Amy, I’m looking for new clients, but friends and family are out of the question.” It’s hard for me to hear that, as I’ve personally seen clients through daily life activities like soccer practice, fitness classes and barbeque parties, and milestones like high school reunions and weddings.  

Choosing to erect a wall between business and friendship creates the bigger question of: What now? Some of our best wealth management clients can be from our own sphere of influence and most often those relationships can flourish. People often want a personal tie to their financial advisor. See: The fine line between selling and stalking and where RIAs should walk.

Whatever your political views, you must have read the Wall Street Journal article about how the $250 million Clinton Foundation selected its wealth manager: “When the Clinton Foundation in 2014 was seeking a firm to manage its planned $250 million endowment, it turned to a familiar source: a New York RIA with a managing director, Nicole Fox, who is a longtime friend of Chelsea Clinton and served as matron of honor at Ms. Clinton’s wedding.” (See the article here --pay wall.) 

And let's face it, advisors are people persons who like to build trust by building friendships with clients rather than becoming the person at the other end of the dentist's drill. One advisor who grows by $300 million in AUM annually once told me “I’d like my clients to feel like they are coming to visit their closest friend, not their dentist, when they visit our office, and that’s how I’ve always won business. I make the experience of working with me like a friendship, rather than transactional.” See: See: The fine line between selling and stalking and where RIAs should walk

Recapturing the burn

Still, there is some truth to the old aphorism about how nice guys finish last. A friendship may spark a relationship and it may cement a relationship but a friendship can not be the sole differentiating factor in your value proposition if you want to build a business rather than a lifestyle practice. 

The good news is that there is a way to confront this seeming conundrum without getting tangled in knots. 

Think back to my friend who was holding forth about her budding photography business. She had realized she could do what she loved -- photography --  to help who she loved -- her children. Better yet, she was likely thinking, I have a natural market among friends and acquaintances and becoming their photographer will allow me to spend more time with them while doing something I love.

Such aspirational euphoria comes easy we are starting out. Ten years later it may be harder to recall. But that's not because what you are doing for people is less exciting. In fact, you are probably a better, more specialized, more solid financial advisor than you have ever been in your entire life right now. See: This father-daughter-son team survived 9/11 but divorced Wall Street altogether 14 years later.

So take stock of just how solid you are. Write it in a caffeine fit on a piece of paper. Blab it to your spouse and have them write it down. Rewrite it with help from your friend the English major in a few choice words. Then imagine a marketing plan built upon what you just learned about how great you are. 

Are you starting to recapture the passion? Yes, you are and it's contagious and it's a force so powerful that it can even crush conundrums. A passionate person has so much to give that being a friend and a business partner is not only possible but probable.

Perfect pitch

Now stop and compare this alignment of emotional forces with that messy whiteboard diagram that experts told you would grow your business.

Sluggish-growth advisory firms are trapped in a vicious cycle, spending by the billions on technology, lead-generation tools, online advertising, blog writers, robo-advisory platforms, CRM systems, hiring and firing of junior sales people and attendance of mega conferences, all in the hope of finding that silver bullet to kill lackluster growth. See: When dreams of sudden riches turn to nightmares, there are answers for clients and advisors

I see it every day. Unfortunately, most advisory firms continue to use repetitive blanket pitches to proffer their offerings, and expect potential investors to select them over a local UBS or​ Merrill Lynch.​ See: LPL Financial tosses its sales pitch to 7,000 in its HQ city of Boston.

By contrast, the common denominator of some of the nation’s fastest-growing firms is a great ability on the part of their advisors to capture their audience’s attention, make them comfortable through customized stories and conversation topics, and through that process to inspire action. Such engagement brings integrity to a relationship that is both all business and all personal at the same time.

For example, you may describe your firm as a “low-fee fiduciary that offers comprehensive financial advice through customized solutions.” While internally that messaging of being obsessed with client service may seem unique and clear, it most likely won’t resonate with a prospect -- and that includes friends, family and acquaintances. See: Why 2017 dawns brightly for RIAs, an oasis of unflinching ethics in an ethics-optional atmosphere

Want a test? Ask each of your client-facing teammates to look themselves in the mirror and honestly ask themselves, if my closest relative just inherited $20 million, should they give it to us to manage, or are they better off at our largest competitor? If they can’t passionately pitch “my firm” then they don’t have the right training to be your walking ambassadors. While getting your practice's message across most effectively requires an innate ability to naturally connect with people and sell, the majority of this can be learned through some coaching, and honesty with yourself and your team to individually answer: Why should someone hire us?

Show your wares

As a coach, I ask each advisor client: What is it about what you offer that most excites you? What brings you to work every day? What is the most unique thing you believe you do? If your responses don’t intrigue me as an outsider, they won’t attract your friends and family either. See: 5 ways for RIAs to avoid social media and 'holistic' wealth management overreaches in a share-happy e-world

The goal is to move your listeners off defensive mode -- the way I felt when speaking with my friend-turned-photographer, and turn the focus of the discussion where it should be -- on the client -- as you embark on a discussion the goal of which is to learn about their financial challenges.

RIABiz editor Brooke Southall suggested that I conclude this column by suggesting what my photographer friend might have done to mitigate my flustered state when faced with the prospect of becoming a customer in addition to being a friend. 

I had to think. Photography is an art form where styles clash. And of course, as with all endeavors, inexperience has its limitations. 

Had she, with my permission, taken a few candid photos of us and then emailed them to me, showing me the benefits of a professional photographer over my iPhone clips, I would have been a lot less defensive and a lot more open to expressing curiosity in her business. Had she given me useful expert information, like how the best lighting would improve my own iPhone photography, I would have appreciated her expertise and thought about hiring her. See: How nature and nurture combine to encourage advisors to independence

I would not only have learned about her work but also the way she interacts at a business level. See: 5 thoughts about how to actually do what RIA experts say to do

No need to spend billions on glossy brochures, mailers and wine-and-cheese client. It’s the little things in your everyday life and business, from your body language to the way you write an email to a prospect and remember them, all the way down to the way you answer the question of “What do you do?” that can lead to gigantic leaps in your practice.

Build trust by selling your passion.

Amy Parvaneh is the CEO and founder of Select Advisors, a female owned and operated consulting firm for RIAs. She may be reached at amy@select-advisors.com.



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