Getting clients is the main focus of most financial advisors. But according to Stephen Wershing, almost all advisors go about it the wrong way.
Wershing, based near Rochester, N.Y., is the president of the Client Driven Practice, a consulting firm that coaches financial advisors on how to create referral marketing plans that work. He spoke to Ask an Advisor by email about the mistakes many advisors make, and the importance of truly differentiating yourself from the competition.
You say that most of what advisors have been told about client referrals is â€œincomplete, misleading or wrong.â€ What do you mean by that?
When I started looking at the research around referrals, I felt a little like Billy Beane from the Oakland A's in "Moneyball." It turns out all the commonly accepted wisdom does not match the evidence.
For example, it is generally accepted that clients will not refer on their own and that we need to prompt them or persuade them, but as social animals, we refer habitually, frequently. [Our] research bears this out â€“ typically between 28% and 30% of clients report that they have referred their advisor at least once in the past 12 months.
If you are not getting referrals, it is not because your clients are not referring. They ARE referring you, but what they are telling their friends is not compelling enough for the friend to pick up the phone and call. Or that when the friend is referred and looks up your website that it is not interesting enough to prompt them to call.
We do not need to force them into the behavior, we only need to help them be more effective when they do or to have a more effective mechanism to capture those referrals when they check you out online.
Another commonly held belief is that clients will refer us as a reward for providing good service. While good service is a prerequisite for getting a referral, it is not the reason. Clients don't refer for the advisor's reasons, they refer for their own reasons. And better understanding the clients' motivation to refer will give you lots of valuable information on how to help them remember to when the opportunity arises and to provide them more compelling things to say.
What is one of the most important things advisors can do to differentiate themselves from their competition?
Focus on something that your niche market needs that is different from what the general population needs. To successfully differentiate, you must claim something actually different.
Advisors are told that they should differentiate themselves on great service, for example. But no advisor can own great service. Every advisor claims to provide great service. Research shows that clients rate their satisfaction with their advisor as a nine out of 10 on average. How can you set yourself apart on service when the average is nine out of 10?
You need to provide something other advisors do not provide. It might be a technical expertise in a specialized area. It might be a part of your process where you focus on something other advisors do not spend much time discussing. It might be having an office environment that provides an experience that feels different than other advisors â€“ one of the advisors I work with has outfitted their lobby to be like a living room and kitchen so clients can come in, get a cup of coffee, and sit on a couch a lot like they might at home. Walking into that office provides a totally different feel than walking into most offices.
Whatever you do, it needs to really be different and not the same as many other advisors claim is different, like being comprehensive, holistic, that you listen, or one of many overused expressions. Check out your competition's websites. If what they have on their home page is similar to what you have on your site, you are not being different.
You had a long career in financial services before starting your business. What spurred you to help advisors better market themselves?
When I ran a small broker-dealer, I got exposure to all the different areas of an advisor's business. When you are in a small company, everybody has to do pretty much everything so I had the opportunity to get experience in operations, compliance, marketing, investment strategy, etc. And what I realized was that marketing was the area that was perhaps least understood and could potentially have the biggest effect on the success of an advisor's business. So when I began the consulting company it seemed like the best way to provide the most value.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
Although I don't get to do it as much as I would like, my favorite activity outside of work is dancing West Coast Swing.