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Networking

6 Steps to better Networking

Networking is a really important business activity, but it’s one that fills a lot of people with dread… They think of standing around in crowded rooms with no one to talk to, or being pinned in the corner with somebody talking endlessly about some mind-numbingly boring topic. And so while most people recognise the importance of networking, very few people do enough of it. In fact, I find it’s the one activity that causes the most discomfort when it ends up on the marketing plan for a Financial Broker!

So what can you do to make it easier and more effective? After all, if it actually works and helps you generate new clients, you are much more likely to continue to do it.

Recognise that it isn’t easy

It isn’t easy… but it isn’t easy for anyone. So while you might think that it’s so easy for certain people, that tends to be because they’ve worked really hard at becoming good at networking.  However, while some people might appear to find it easier than others, everyone at least has a common purpose  – they are there to build connections. So approach it from the point of view that at least everyone has the same goal and are open to talking to you.

You must have a strategy

At the end of the day, you’ve got to be standing in the traffic if you want to get knocked down! But it’s not enough to wander blindly into a networking event without a clue of how you’re about to approach it. This starts before the event where you try and get a handle on who is likely to be there. Are there lists of attendees available in advance? Can you check out who members of the business group / conference attendees are? Once you’ve an idea of who will be there, you can start thinking about who your preferred “targets” are. And then you can start doing some quick research on them through their website and LinkedIn profile. And this research will hopefully come in very handy later…

Be a first mover

Don’t just head for your pals and spend your night in deep conversation with them! By all means, if they are in a group of people that you want to meet, take the opportunity to get introduced into the group. But be active and make the first move to start conversations. Others will thank you for this and it also gives you the opportunity to guide the conversation.

Be interested

And this is where your research comes in really useful! If you can show a level of interest in the people you meet – some knowledge of their business, some connections you have in common, it might even be that you know about some quirky interest of theirs, this will ease them into the conversation as you are opening the door for them to talk about themselves. And then be interested because your interest in them will come back in spades. They will naturally want to reciprocate and turn the conversation towards you, which of course is then your opening…

Hone your own pitch

When you get over the initial chit-chat and move on to talking about your reason for being at the event and what you have to offer, this simply must be interesting and must grab their attention. At the end of the day, they will be talking to many people that day so you must be in some way memorable. If you are pitching your wares, paint pictures of solutions, not saying why you’re such a great financial planner. Let people see how you will solve problems for them and enrich their lives in some way.

Follow up brilliantly!

Then when all the hard work is done, make sure you take the final step. Contact people after the event saying how it was great to meet them and thanking them for their time. Connect with them on LinkedIn and if you send out a company newsletter, suggest that they be added to the circulation list. Send them information if this makes sense. If there’s a favour you can do for them, maybe there’s someone else you can introduce them to – well then this is even better.

So yes, networking is not easy. But hopefully these few thoughts might make the task a little less daunting for you!

The World of Financial Brokers today

Last month I agreed to put my head on the chopping block and give my general observations of Financial Brokers in Ireland today, my views formed by the work I’ve been fortunate to carry out with a great number of you over the last four years. So here goes…

A very resilient bunch of people

This is my overall sense of Financial Brokers and is the factor that has impressed me the most since 2011. At that stage many Financial Brokers were on their knees, as the market for personal financial advice and solutions had dried up almost completely. However most of you simply dug in, scaled back your businesses to a more sustainable size, re-examined your propositions and got out there meeting your existing and prospective clients. Thankfully in 2014 and again in 2015, many of you are now reaping the rewards of the effort put in during these tough years.

Financial Brokers do invest in their businesses

When I started out in 2011, if I had got a euro from every person who said to me that “brokers won’t pay for anything”, I’d be a richer man! The bottom line is that Financial Brokers are willing to invest in their businesses, where they see value in doing so. The days of only engaging with suppliers when a provider will foot the bill are long over.  Yes, you are very discerning about when and with whom you engage, making sure that you can see a clear return for your investment. But you’re 100% right! This ensures suppliers (like me) are focused on the value we can bring to you, rather than simply pushing products and services at you. Is this any different to the work you do with your clients?

Many Financial Brokers are not great at communicating the value you add

You know somewhere in the back of your mind the value of what you do and know that you are delivering value to your clients. The problem for many of you is that your clients are just not seeing it. From my experience of working with many Financial Brokers, this stems from not taking the time to actually articulate what you do and the value that that you add, and as a result not actually documenting your proposition. As a result, there are lots of “chats” happening with prospective clients, instead of structured conversations with relevant marketing supports that set out your proposition in a compelling and engaging way.

Some Financial Brokers are still trying to be “all things to all men”

Having a clear target market makes your life so easy. You can then focus your client value proposition, your sales activities, your marketing messages and indeed your whole support infrastructure around meeting the needs of specific groups. But some only see the risks involved in this – narrow groups of people to target, missing broader opportunities etc. As a result, many Financial Brokers continue to try to appeal to everyone. And as a result, they don’t really connect with anyone. Yes, your target market must be big enough to sustain you. But if you then focus your efforts on them, you gain the opportunity of creating a real standout positioning for yourself.

Pricing is a major challenge

As more and more Financial Brokers move from transaction based pricing to advice based pricing models, the big question that you are confronted with is how much to charge. This first of all comes back to your actual proposition(s), then how good you are at actually communicating these to your clients. Even then, there is a certain amount of trial and error. Certainly I know from working with many Financial Brokers in this area (and from my own work), you need to initially work out sensible pricing levels and then keep them under review going forwards. For those Financial Brokers with well thought out propositions, experience suggests that they tend to initially set their pricing levels too low and end up reviewing them upwards as they gain more confidence in their pricing. And yes, in many or most cases, the fees are collected through the commission system.

These are some of the main observations that I have of Financial Brokers today. In the main, you are an enjoyable group of people to work with, challenging too because of your ambition to see your businesses thrive. And that’s what keeps it interesting for me.

Set great Performance Goals for 2015

I wrote a few months ago about the important role that goal setting plays in getting your whole team pulling in the same direction. We’re now going to dig a bit deeper and set out a few thoughts on how to develop really effective goals to help to drive your business forwards.

Align the Goals

In my previous article on this topic, I set out the importance of alignment between the goals of each individual and the actual goals of the organisations. This might seem obvious, but sometimes I come across obscure goals that really have no relevance to the objectives of the organisation – this can happen when the process is rushed or not thought through properly.

Focus on Behaviours as well as the Numbers

Again (and for the last time!), as covered in the previous article, don’t just set quantitative goals. Behaviours drive activity, which drive results. So focus goals on behaviours, as well as on the numbers.

Create effective goals

Easier said than done? Well maybe… Goal setting does take time but it is time very well spent. Effective goals will help to drive effective behaviours, giving a better chance of better results. I don’t think that you can go far wrong if you check that each of the goals you set display SMART characteristics. SMART goals are ones that are;

  • Specific – The goal must be clear to the individual and not ambiguous at all – they must clearly understand what is expected of them.
  • Measurable – The goal must be capable of being measured fairly so that the individual can clearly see the progress they are making in achieving the goal.
  • Attainable – The goal must be realistic and fair. If it is completely unachievable, the individual is unlikely to be motivated to achieve the goal.
  • Relevant – The goal must make sense in terms of the “bigger picture”. The individual should be able to clearly understand the purpose and reason behind the goal.
  • Time-bound – There should be a specific time period (often the calendar year) in which the goal should be achieved. It can’t just be left open-ended.

Involve the individuals in setting their goals

In a previous organisation that I worked in, the employees themselves developed the first draft of the goals. This was a very effective method as it created an immediate level of buy-in to the goals. That’s not to say that the manager immediately accepted them though! There was inevitably a level of negotiation involved in finalising the goals, but the initial buy-in remained.

Set the goals in time

A gripe of mine again based on prior experience… Many organisations don’t take goal setting seriously or don’t give it the priority that it deserves. This results in delays in getting the goals finalised – I’ve seen calendar year goals getting finalised in May or June, when the year is half over!

Don’t set too many goals

It’s important of course to set goals that will help the individual to deliver the behaviours that you are seeking and of course the results that your business is striving for. But don’t get over-enthusiastic and start getting lots of goals to cover every base. If someone has too many goals or too many different measures feeding into their goals, the whole process can become too daunting for the employee as they feel they are juggling too many balls in the air. A good rule of thumb is to set no more than 5 goals.

Don’t try and be too clever!

I’ve also seen situations in the past where goals are set that try to cover every base – remember Specific in SMART goals. I’ve seen single goals that have been constructed as “…achieve €x in income from y group of clients while ensuring z% retention levels in business from that group and overall profitability of xx%!” Is that 2 or 3 goals rather than a single goal? The employee in this case will probably feel that they’ve very little chance of achieving the goal, as there are so many hurdles to be negotiated.

Don’t be afraid to change them!

This can be a tricky one but sometimes a review of goals is the only sensible option. However this needs to be a two way street… If goals are set at the beginning of the year and the company subsequently changes direction, the goals may no longer make sense. So don’t be afraid to review them. You’re better off with updated goals that make sense and a newly motivated employee, than a disgruntled employee who has no hope of achieving his/her goals as a result of factors that are not of their own making.

And finally, reviewing goals together regularly throughout the year is an important part of the process. It also can be very motivational for the employee, who will see you “pulling” for them, helping them to achieve their goals. Remember if the goals are well aligned, everyone will be a winner if the goals are achieved!

Are you still a Salesman?

I was with an adviser recently who ticked me off on a couple of occasions when I mentioned the word selling. He contended that he is an adviser and not a salesman. I say that you need to be both…but not like the guy in the picture!

There’s nothing wrong with selling!

For some people, selling is a dirty word. Particularly so when you are dealing with financial services. That’s understandable I believe when it comes to mis-selling, however this is an experience being suffered thankfully by fewer and fewer clients today. Financial advisers have continued to raise their game, industry standards have increased, and compliance oversight has increased too – all of these factors resulting in fewer incidents of mis-selling. Yes, there have been a few high profile cases (the latest one involving a well known stockbroking firm) unfortunately in recent years that again undermine trust, but these are not representative of the market in the main.

In fact these cases increase the need for selling! Not of financial products though, instead there’s a need to get out and sell the value of doing business with you!

Selling is exchanging

The Wikipedia definition of selling is; “Selling is offering to exchange an item of value for a different item”. A key part of your job is to convince your clients to exchange your item (advice, guidance, expertise) for their item (commission, fee). So selling is not passé. The financial advisory business model still needs selling.

The old days of “the insurance man” out selling products are thankfully long gone. This was where the seller was very transactional focused, having access to a very narrow range of (poor) products and their role was to convince people to buy these products, whether they really needed / wanted them or not.

The difference today of course is that the process starts and ends with the client. The transaction (if needed at all) is only a means to an end, a mechanism which helps clients to meet their own specific financial objectives. The value that the client gains is the advice, leading to the optimal product choice, rather than the product itself. Of course nothing stays the same as well, so advisers also need to sell the benefits of ongoing monitoring to ensure product adjustments are made as required to help the client to achieve their objectives.

Selling is necessary

Independent financial advisers provide a really valuable service to their clients. However prospective clients who haven’t experienced your service and seen the value being gained, may still be living in a world of mistrust of all financial advisers. So you’ve got to convince them otherwise and sell them the value that they will derive from having an expert on their side of the table, guiding them through the complexities of the world of personal financial planning.

To do this, you need to have developed a very robust proposition for your clients and then be able to communicate this in a very engaging way. If you can’t do this, they won’t see the value that they are getting and of course there is no way that they are going to part with their hard earned cash to buy your services.

Don’t be ashamed of selling, it’s a very noble pursuit when carried out with the right intentions! You can be very proud of the product (advice) that you provide and of the value that clients get from exchanging value with you. So get out and shout it from the rooftops!

Are your Advisers doing what YOU want them to do?

A challenge faced by many financial advice firms… The target market is clearly defined, the value proposition is carefully constructed and articulated and a suite of marketing supports are developed to help the team of advisers go out and attract a cohort of new clients. And then…nothing.

Well not quite nothing, but not the results that are being sought by the principals. Instead the advisers continue to work as they always did, going after business as they always did. Hitting their sales numbers (maybe) but not in the way that the firm wants it done – that is building up strong and durable relationships with clients in the chosen market segments, adding real long term value to the business.

This is quite a common occurrence, one I’ve come across in a number of firms, so why does it happen?

The goals are all wrong

This is where the problems usually start… Often the adviser goals are quite poorly constructed and actually are not aligned at all to the goals of the organisation. The principals might be clear about what they want to achieve and have Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to help them track their progress. But unless they link the individual adviser goals to these KPIs, they really have little hope of them being delivered by the adviser. At the end of the day, the more aligned the goals of the adviser are with those of the organisation, the more likely those KPIs will be achieved.

The focus is only on the numbers

When you are trying to influence advisers to change the way they carry out their daily roles, you are actually trying to change their behaviours in their day-to-day activities of finding and targeting prospects, delivering advice and providing ongoing service to clients. But often, the behaviours receive scant attention as the year goes on; the focus tends to be always on the numbers. While the numbers are of course critical, it is the behaviours that actually impact them. It is so important to set expectations around behaviours, to monitor them and to measure them. If they are not being achieved, there needs to be interventions such as training, reinforcement of expectations, encouragement or sometimes good old fashioned pressure to deliver the required behaviours!

Rewards must be aligned with the KPIs

At the end of the day, money drives behaviours for a lot of people, and in my experience this particularly applies to salespeople! They work at the sharp end of the industry, in a role in which it’s pretty nigh impossible to hide, as results are clear for all to see. For this, they expect to be well rewarded.

But if their remuneration is based solely on their overall sales result, well that is where their focus will be. In this situation they will likely pay little attention to;

  • Those all-important behaviours
  • The quality of advice given
  • Product mix
  • Client retention

So what should goals and rewards look like?

The key is alignment between the KPIs of the organisation and the individual goals of your advisers. Obviously income generation will be a significant part of this, as this is going to be a goal of both the organisation and the individual. However, the level of “credit” that is given to advisers may be adjusted to take account of;

  • Are the new clients signed up by the adviser in the stated chosen market segments of the business?
  • The “shape” of the income – the level of upfront commission / ongoing income (i.e. trail) taken
  • An adjustment may be made to reflect the retention of business written by each adviser
  • Overall satisfaction levels of each adviser’s clients (this is surprisingly easy to measure).

One of the biggest challenges facing advice businesses is encouraging the individual advisers to work towards building up long-term value in the business. This is a big ask if their goals and rewards are based only on short terms factors. If you really want your advice team to play their part in building up value in your business, are you willing to reward them for doing so through long term incentive schemes or indeed through a route to a share of ownership in your business? Because at the end of the day, this is what it may take to really get them aligned with your objectives.

Do you use any particularly innovative methods to reward your advisers? If so, I’d be very grateful if you would leave a comment below.

Can you get more from your CRM system?

In the last year or two, there has been a significant upsurge in financial advice firms wanting to unlock the opportunities offered by CRM systems. For some, this has meant seeking to place it at the heart of their sales processes, for others their challenge has been to use it as more than a glorified address book. For others, they are now taking the jump from an excel spread sheet for the first time! It can be a very daunting task…

Here are a couple of thoughts to help you reap the benefits while minimising the frustration.

Understand what you want it to do

There are a number of industry specific CRM systems that many of the brokers in the Irish market are using today. These systems offer a very broad range of valuable features and offer functionality to help deliver many of the activities carried out by brokers every day.

But when you’re new to the system, the array of features can be quite bewildering and can leave you wondering where to start.

The place to start is not with what the system can do for you, it’s to identify how the system can help you address your own particular challenges. So you need to identify what these challenges are; do you need a system to help you in the segmentation of your client base, is to help you identify the right clients to contact at the right time, is it to track interactions with your clients or indeed is it to ensure you are delivering a more compliant business process?

Once you know what you want from the system, these are the areas to focus on with the system supplier rather than the 200 other features! Once you get comfort that the system can deliver what you need, then it just may be the one for you.

Capture hard and soft data

The record keeping aspect of the system is obviously very important, capturing all of the key information that you need to retain for your clients. Having this data in your system obviously makes it easier to retrieve information and indeed to use it again in the future. And your CRM system can provide a very useful audit trail in relation to your client interactions, which will assist you from a compliance point of view and may prove very useful down the road.

But it’s equally important to pick up and capture softer information about your clients that may not necessarily feature on your average factfind; the client’s financial goals and dreams (which should be central to your advice in any event), their aspirations for their family, their interests and indeed their likes and dislikes in relation to the method and frequency of communications. All of this information can make for a much richer relationship.

 

Talk to other users

Find out how others are using the same system. Ask your peers to even demo what they’re doing – from my experience, most advisers are only too happy to collaborate and help each other improve their business. Ask others at networking events about the features that they are using the most. Another route is through the excellent groups available to advisers on LinkedIn. There are a number of great groups (the PIBA, IBA & QFA groups come particularly to mind) in which you can pose a question with a good chance of getting some feedback from others.

Use all the time saving features

Ok, so now you’re up and running and using the system. Now is the time to start investigating how you can leverage the system beyond your initial aspirations. A good place to start is by investigating the many time saving features of the system. These will come in many forms. The capability of downloading data from providers will enable you to avoid a lot of the tedious initial data entry. Then look at the features that allow you to easily import data from for example factfinds completed online by your clients, which will save you or a member of your team having to type in the information.

Also consider how the system integrates with other systems that you use; capturing your client emails, quotation systems and any scanning and document management systems.

Get help in these areas. Getting help from an IT professional and/or the CRM system vendor will result in a lot less frustration and lower blood pressure!

Stay close to the vendor to leverage the full capabilities of the system

At the end of the day, nobody knows the system like the vendor so stay close to him or her! Give them feedback as they are always looking for ways to improve the system. Tell them what else you’d like the system to do, what you find difficult or “clunky” – after all, their main aim is to retain you as a user! Look for tips and help from them as to how you can better leverage the system. Show them how you’re currently using it and look for their advice as to how you might improve your usage of their system. Also, look for insights into where the system is being developed, as these developments could result in improvements to core parts of your business and advice processes.

Yes, starting to use a CRM system can be a very daunting experience. But it need not be. Focus on what you want from the system, seek help and then commit. The results in terms of saved time and effort, deeper insights into your clients and better business processes will make it all worthwhile.