What Do You Look For In A Service Partner?

The way financial advice firms deliver their services has changed hugely over the last decade or so. Up until then and maybe with the exception of accountancy and legal services, businesses pretty much delivered (or not) all of the required services themselves.

But times have changed, the world of work has become far more complex and the delivery of all of the business services required have moved beyond the capabilities of most advisers. As a result, there has been an explosion in the availability of external partners available to advisers, to assist them in bringing their businesses forward and allowing them to concentrate the adviser’s own time and effort on spending time where they add most value – in front of their clients.

But how do you choose the right external partners to work with?
They must know your market

Whether it’s compliance support, any IT services, sales training, marketing support, business coaching or any supports at all, the external partner must intimately understand the world in which you operate. It ends up as a huge source of frustration for advisers when they end up spending their time educating the external partner on what is needed, not the other way around!!! You want a partner who understands the market in which you are operating, really understands the specific challenges faced by advisers today and also keeps their finger on the pulse of changes within the market.

They set out to achieve your specific goals

At the end of the day, suppliers are businesses too. They develop expertise and a range of products, services or solutions in their chosen area. Yes they will develop common methodologies to deliver their solutions, but that doesn’t mean the end result is the same for every client.

Indeed most financial advisers use a well-developed advice process that they employ in all client meetings. However unless you spend time really understanding the financial goals and objectives of each client, their current circumstances and their attitude to risk, the resulting financial plan will be the same every time!

The same applies to service partners. Make sure that any supplier is not pulling a solution straight off the shelf, but instead is spending time really understanding your business, your specific challenges and the results that you want to achieve.

They practice what they preach

OK, I have to admit that this one is a real bugbear of mine! I’ve seen advisers getting support in areas from people who simply don’t practice what they preach. I came across an example of this recently with an adviser who had paid a lot of money to a digital marketing “specialist” for training in reaching customers online. They were very disappointed by the results achieved.

When they asked me for a second opinion, I did some cursory research on the supplier (who I hadn’t heard of). They had virtually no online profile themselves at all! An out of date website, no LinkedIn presence, no blog, nothing… How can someone teach you about social media when they are a passive bystander themselves?

A provider should be able to show you that they passionately believe in what they are saying by demonstration (where it makes sense), not that they’ve just learned a few titbits to pass on out of a book.

They are not trying to be “all things to all men”

This is another area that bugs me. When I set up on my own a few years ago, I was developing a brochure for a client. I had worked on a few previous occasions with a great printer who had never let me down. Business had got quite tight for him though during the recession and on this occasion, he convinced me to outsource the graphic design work on the brochure to him too. He was a terrible designer and it ended up ruining our relationship.

I suggest that advisers work with people who don’t necessarily claim to be great at everything, just the areas where they can add value. However your external partner should still be able to co-ordinate the complete solution required by you, just being clear with you as to the work they will complete themselves and also the work that they will in turn outsource.

So a partner saying “no” to elements of the work is actually a good thing. It shows an interest in getting the right result for you, not just looking to hoover up every available Euro for themselves, with no eye on the result.

They Can Demonstrate Success

Actual testimonials are a must too. I encourage every adviser to have client testimonials on their website that are real and verifiable. They must be completely credible with the full name and company name / location of the person giving the testimonial.

The same applies to supplier testimonials. You should be able to find credible testimonials on the suppliers website or recommendations (not endorsements!) on LinkedIn from people similar to yourself. You should be able to get a clear sense of the capabilities of the supplier from the testimonials and their ability to achieve the results that you are seeking. These testimonials should give you a sense of comfort and a lot of confidence in the service you are buying.

Are your external partners passing these tests?

Do You Have Any Skills Gaps?

Being a financial adviser today is a complex business. It takes a pretty broad range of skills to be able to carry it out successfully.

So we’re going to start with a basic assumption based on your experience, qualifications and commitment to CPD; that you are capable of delivering excellent advice and financial solutions to your clients. This is what you do day in and day out and without doubt is the reason that independent financial advisers have clearly established themselves as the channel of choice for people seeking personal finance advice.

But what about the other skills that you also need to run your business successfully? Here are some of the skills that you need and the question is, “Are you as good in each of these areas as you possibly can be, and if not, what are you doing about it”?

 

A leader

Assuming you have people working for you, either in a sales capacity or as support staff, this is your primary function. It’s up to you to devise the strategy for your business, to scan the horizon for future trends and set the direction accordingly.  And then to manage your team and to provide day-to-day guidance to ensure everyone performs to his or her maximum potential, and that your business is being run in a compliant and efficient way.

 

A financial manager

You also need to manage your business from a financial perspective, ensuring that you are generating the required amount of income via fees and commission to sustain your business and that the profile of this income is in line with your business model. Most advisers today are looking to build their recurring income and the proportion this represents of overall income.

On top of this, you’ve then got to manage your costs that of course come in all (and sometimes unexpected and unplanned) shapes and sizes!

 

A marketer

You can’t rely on your business to promote itself, except of course by all of those kind words and positive stories that your existing clients say about you having experienced your services! You’ve got to get out and promote it, whether that’s building your brand, growing your own profile, attracting new clients or retaining your existing clients. All of this takes time, energy… and specific skills.

 

A prospector

The life-blood of all financial advice businesses is its clients. And while there is definitely a shift towards a much greater focus on strengthening relationships with existing clients, many advice firms still require a steady flow of new clients to achieve their growth and financial goals.

So you need well-developed prospecting skills, whether these are seeking out referrals from existing clients, networking among your target clients or developing active relationships with introducers.

 

A salesperson

It’s funny; this one sticks in the craw of some advisers today, who don’t like to think of themselves as salespeople. I’ve bad news, selling is a key part of your overall role and there is nothing wrong with being a salesperson! At the end of the day, you’ve got to be able to convince people that it is going to be worth their while to sit down with you and find out more about the value that you can potentially deliver. How good is your elevator pitch?

 

A pipeline manager

Managing more complex and longer pipelines effectively is a significant challenge of many advisers today. Research tells us that clients take longer today before they commit and that it usually takes in excess of 5 contacts with them before they are willing to actually come on board as clients. So keeping people moving through the sales funnel is an important skill, and advisers need to ensure that they are carrying out the right pre-sales activities and persevering towards ultimate success.

 

A communicator

And then you get the opportunity to sit down with a prospective client and convince them that you are the only adviser in town to meet their needs. To do this, you’ve got to be able to persuasively tell your story, demonstrate your value and convince them that your services are what they require and are definitely worth paying for. If your presentation is not engaging enough, will they see the value of dealing with you and will they be willing to pay for your services? And then you need to keep communicating with them again and again into the future, to gently remind them of why they are so fortunate to have found you!

 

A service champion

There is so much choice available to us in the world today in every product and service that we seek. This applies to financial advisers too. As a result, clients expect you to deliver a good service. They won’t even particularly thank you for it, as they will see this as a hygiene factor, a minimum standard that you must achieve.

So you need to set the standard in your business, to ensure that your staff are wowing your clients rather than disappointing them with the service they receive.

 

So back to the question posed earlier… If your skills are lacking in any of these areas, what are you doing about it?

Photo courtesy of Marcin Winchary