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?