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The Million-Dollar Financial AdvisorPowerful Lessons and Proven Strategies from Top Producers
By DAVID J. MULLEN, JR.
AMACOMCopyright © 2010 David J. Mullen Jr.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLESSON ONE The Top Advisor Mindset
THE WORD MINDSET refers to our attitude or personality. It describes our mental wiring. A mindset represents a way of thinking, which can either be an innate response or character traits that can be developed. Your mindset can contain a host of variables, including whether you are laid back or aggressive, focused or scattered, "Type A" or "Type B," practical or passionate.
Developing a top advisor mindset is a distinct strategy that can be implemented to elevate your practice. In fact, it is probably the most important principle to tackle. Without the right attitude, none of the other success principles can exist. Your mindset drives everything else in your business; it forms the foundation from which highly successful careers are built. There is nothing easy about attaining the right frame of mind, but the top advisors will tell you that the rewards far exceed the work required.
The top advisors shared every one of the following traits:
Strong Work Ethic
Communication skills or effective communication
Even more interesting, I learned during my interviews with them that many of these mindsets were in fact strategically developed. That is why I believe that anyone who is highly motivated to succeed can develop the top advisor mindset.
The first step is to examine the mindset traits and compare them to yourself. Don't be discouraged if you only share some of these traits: Look at the gaps as areas of your mindset that can be enhanced. All that is required is the desire to become better and the willingness to invest the time and energy to improve.
Professionalism Is the Gold Standard
Our top advisors understand that image is important, and that the more affluent investors are, the higher their expectations of their advisors in every facet of their lives. And when it comes to their finances, investors want to feel that they are dealing with true professionals who take their career and clients' assets very seriously. That's why presenting an image of professionalism is very important.
All of our top advisors dress like professionals every day. In many cases, they look like their clients and have invested time and money to create that image. They often look like a senior executive or partner in a large law firm. Their image reflects their serious attitude toward money.
Their professionalism is carried down to their staff members as well. The top advisor office is well organized, nicely decorated, and conservative in appearance. Their associates have been well trained to greet clients and prospects in a very professional way. When visitors come they are treated graciously. Phone calls are promptly answered in a professional way. And, like the advisors they work for, associates adopt attire that is both conservative and professional.
While you may not have the same resources, office space, and personnel as the top advisors, taking your professional image and presence seriously is very important. These top advisors all started with very modest means, but they always took their professional image seriously and did everything within reason to project the image of a top professional.
Confidence is a quality that is often developed over time. The majority of our top advisors started their businesses at a young age, and while they had high goals for themselves, they didn't have the experience required to portray a high level of confidence. However, they all recognized that to acquire the most affluent clients, a sense of confidence was critical.
Confidence in yourself, and in your professional financial advice, is intrinsic to the nature of the financial planning and advising industry. In most cases, advisors aren't selling specific financial products: They are selling themselves. The top advisors don't pitch new products they are offering to potential clients; instead, they try to position their wealth management process and their level of confidence in themselves. The goal is to get new clients to believe in you so that they will listen to your advice and ultimately follow your recommendations.
Portraying a high level of confidence is important in any field, yet being a professional financial advisor is different from most occupations. Financial investments usually contain some element of risk, and therefore they inherently have uncertain outcomes. As advisors, we know that risk can be offset to some degree by a good investment process, but the overall outcome still remains uncertain. Because of this uncertainty, investors expect their financial advisors to have a high degree of confidence in themselves, as well as their investment process. Think of it this way: Interviewing a financial advisor is like interviewing a surgeon before a major operation. For many affluent investors, their financial health is just as important as their medical health and they require the same confidence from their financial advisor as they would from their physician. Before submitting yourself to a potential life-threatening surgery, you not only want to know that your surgeon has experience and credentials, but that he has complete confidence in his own skills as well as the outcome of the operation.
Our top advisors never hesitate to show a great deal of confidence in their ability to manage their clients' investments. However, they invariably choose to portray the quiet confidence of a true professional, not the false braggadocio of an incompetent. Listening to them describe how they invested money, I wanted to transfer my own account to any one of them because of how confident they were in their investment strategies. Their success rate in closing with prospective clients is very high because the prospects always feel they are in the presence of at "true professional" who has the confidence to help them achieve their objectives.
Another element of confidence our advisors share is their willingness to turn away business if they did not perceive the right "fit" between themselves and particular new prospects. Turning down business is one of the highest forms of demonstrating confidence: It shows that these advisors were not willing to compromise their business model just to take on more clients.
HOW TO BECOME MORE CONFIDENT
Developing a high level of confidence in yourself and your business strategies can be accelerated when you become comfortable with your investment process and you begin to see positive results. At the same time, you also need to develop a comfort level with the uncertainty that inherently exists in this business. The right process will produce good results over time, but short-term volatility will always exist and must be put in proper perspective. Your process of investing is more important than the specific investments you choose. Developing an investment process that works will give you the confidence you need to convey your strategy. Then, when clients follow your well-thought-out process, you know that over the long term they can reach reasonable objectives.
If you want to become a top advisor, you must accept the fact that you will be working with individuals who are more affluent than yourself. Being respectful but also being your own person, and all the while demonstrating the quiet confidence of a true professional, is an essential quality. For example, when Sam was a young financial advisor he joined a prestigious country club. Sam often found himself in the company of many of his city's most prominent citizens, most of whom were older. He always showed a great deal of respect for their success and position. He was a good listener, and because of his excellent interpersonal skills he became friends with many of these highly successful individuals, despite the age difference. Over time Sam developed these personal relationships into some of his best clients. Without the right combination of confidence and respect, Sam would not have been able to develop these personal relationships that eventually led to business.
HOW TO BECOME A CONFIDENT LEADER
Clients expect leadership from top advisors, just as they would from any professional they hire. Leadership skills are one of the hallmarks of a highly successful financial advisor. The mindset qualities of leadership and confidence are very similar. Affluent clients expect leadership and confidence. Confidence comes from preparation, experience, and a commitment to professional development. Leadership is transferring that confidence into action. Because investments have an uncertain outcome, clients need to be "led" to take action.
Our top advisors were not necessary born leaders, but acquired this skill over time. They are the leaders of their teams. They are the ones who provide the vision for the team and oversee its execution. Not all the top advisors wanted the leadership responsibilities or even felt they were good leaders, but they recognized it was their responsibility and as a result provided it.
When the stakes are high and the outcome is uncertain, being a leader is required. The top advisors are strong leaders to both their clients and team members. They tell their clients how to invest their assets and never hesitate about how that should be done. When they make investment recommendations to their clients, they expect the client to follow their recommendations. If a client consistently doesn't follow their recommendations, our top advisors often divest themselves of that client.
Courage in the financial services business means the willingness to take yourself out of your comfort zone so that you can have the opportunity to bring in more affluent clients, all the while knowing that you might face certain rejection. Marketing and the ability to deal with rejection are essential to your ultimate success, and without the courage to face these challenges, a lucrative practice is difficult to build.
One of the important qualities of successful people in this business is that they have the drive to complete necessary but difficult activities. It's not easier for successful people to do difficult tasks, but they have the ability to make themselves do whatever is necessary to get the job done. For example, in financial services, rejection often occurs because many affluent prospects already have an existing relationship with another financial institution and/or another advisor. To convert a prospect to a client you must disrupt an existing relationship. Affluent prospects can be reluctant to change advisors because of the importance of their investments and the uncertain outcome. It takes time to gain the confidence of a new prospect, so be prepared to face rejection numerous times before the prospect becomes a client.
Our advisors demonstrated their courage by marketing themselves to individuals that were affluent. It took a great deal of courage and confidence to approach affluent prospects who in most cases had high expectations of their financial advisors and were more sophisticated than less affluent individuals. These top advisors would not allow themselves to be intimidated by wealthy individuals and larger institutions. They kept raising the stakes by working with more and more affluent individuals, and as the sophistication of their prospects increased, they remained willing to move out of their comfort zone. Some of their more risky strategies that have paid off include:
Cold Calling. Anne was a financial planning specialist before she was a financial advisor. She never made a marketing contact prior to becoming a financial advisor, but that didn't stop her from calling high-powered CEOs from day one. Rob moved to America from his native country of India after college and started to work with a major investment firm. He became a master cold caller and established a million-dollar practice by his sixth year in the business. Despite their multimillion-dollar practices, both Anne and Rob still make cold calls every week to wealthy individuals in their target markets. Mike, too, started his financial career right out of business school and started making cold calls to some of the wealthiest individuals in his market.
Creating a Niche. David worked in a rural state where finding affluent individuals was a challenge. Early in his career he developed a strategy of contacting institutions and competing for their retirement plans. He did not let his lack of experience keep him from competing for institutional clients; he simply worked hard at becoming a consulting services expert so that he could compete in this more sophisticated market.
Having a New Market Focus. Dana moved her practice to another part of the country and developed a new marketing strategy focusing on nonprofit organizations. Within six years she had doubled her assets, bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars.
Taking on the Competition
Being a competitor is another mindset quality that all our top advisors have. They are not obsessed by competition, but they have a healthy respect for it. They like to win, and many of them also enjoy competitive activities outside of work.
A competitive trait can have some negative connotations, as you begin to imagine the "win at all costs" mindset. However, this is not the kind of competitor I am referring to. Our top advisors want to do well among their peers. They care about their careers and take a high level of pride in being a top professional. Every one of the top advisors I worked with cared about the scorecard. They could tell you their firm's ranking not only in the current year, but in past years, too, and where they expected to be ranked in the future. This is the kind of healthy competition that the top advisors have. In many cases the improvement in the scorecard is an important reward, albeit intangible.
For example, several of the top advisors were consistently ranked in the top-10 nationally within their firm. They take a great deal of pride in that ranking and could at any given time rattle off the names of the other top-10 advisors and tell you exactly how they were ranked.
One of my favorite quotes about the financial services business is, "You can't manage anything you don't measure." This philosophy is shared by our top advisors as they set clear goals and worked toward achieving them, even if these goals have changed throughout their careers. In many cases these advisors would smile as they shared how modest their initial goals were compared to the success level they eventually reached. In my observations, successful advisors set goals, less successful advisors do not.
It is also important to track your progress and hold yourself accountable to your plan. At any given time I could ask these top advisors what their goals were and they could tell me what their goals were and exactly where they stood in terms of achieving them. Not all objectives were always met, but they were always set. When I asked one top advisor about his goals, he pulled out a beat-up notebook and showed me how he had recorded every year's goals and his weekly progress toward those goals for the last 20 years.
Setting clear goals is a "mindset" quality that is an easy one for any motivated advisor to attain. The first step is to set a reasonable goal for both the long term and the short term. Long-term goals of five years or more can be broken down into smaller, annual goals. Once the annual goal for that year is determined, it should be broken down into weekly goals that add up to the annual goal.
Excerpted from The Million-Dollar Financial Advisor by DAVID J. MULLEN, JR. Copyright © 2010 by David J. Mullen Jr.. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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