Advisors of a certain age might remember an old Heineken beer ad campaign based around this phrase: “Just being the best is enough.” The idea, of course, being that the beer was so good it sold itself.
A surprising number of advisors subscribe to a variation of this slogan, and to them I note that if Heineken were really selling itself, the brewer would not have commissioned the self-aggrandizing ad in the first place.
The simple fact is that image matters in the financial advisory game, even if it doesn't trump more substantive factors, such as the expertise and experience of an advisor.
Case in Point
By way of example, I offer a CPA named Adam who is also a practicing financial advisor. When he and I engaged in some conversation about his practice, he was forthcoming, even eager — until the subject of his image arose.
“I'm smart, I'm honest and I'm the only financial advisor I know who is both a CPA and certified financial planner,” he said. “People use my services because of the knowledge and skill I bring to them, not because of the image I project.”
He did not simply downplay the subject of image; he categorically rejected it. Sure, his emphasis on competence had merit, and if he had affluent clients and prospects lined up at his door, I'd have told him to stay whatever course he was on. But, in fact, he was struggling.
What I told him is nearly universally true: When it comes to selling to the affluent, the image an advisor projects is critical to success. Image is an attitude. If you “dress right” but “feel inadequate,” the negative will break through and create an inferior image.
Projecting the right image relates to physical appearance, and the key is to appear as those around you appear. Here are some important tips from our research:
When in doubt, wear a suit. Dark blue tends to inspire trust on a subconscious level; charcoal gray communicates a high level of professionalism.
Whatever you wear, make certain it is clean, pressed and has no frayed collars or cuffs.
Be careful of beards, mustaches and dark glasses.
High-quality wool material, leather belts and leather hard-soled shoes help create the impression that you handle clients of importance.
If you are a female, avoid a girlish or collegiate look and hairstyle, or any sexually suggestive attire. Follow the business suit attire of leading women business executives.
Avoid wearing several different colors together.
There are always exceptions to these rules. But here's an important principle to remember: Rainmakers rarely build their careers on exceptions. The real issue is your commitment to becoming a rainmaker, someone who is so good at prospecting that they bring in 12 to 15 new affluent clients each year. If your commitment is complete, image is something that you will take very seriously.
A common mistake when trying to project the right image in affluent circles is working too hard to impress everyone. For example:
Talking too often and too long. This means you are talking too much about yourself, which is the last topic an affluent prospect wants to hear.
Being too friendly and getting too personal. Your relationship with a client is, first and foremost, professional.
Acting too confident and expressing assumptions that you haven't validated as yet.
Dressing too flashy. Your clothes and jewelry should be understated.
If you begin now to pay close attention to your image, it will soon become a natural part of you, creating habits that you perform without thinking.
For now, create a checklist you can use to ensure that you walk out the door each day looking and feeling the part of a successful “go-to” financial coordinator. It will have a profound effect on your self-confidence and your performance. Then one day, you will discover that you and your image have become one.
Our research clearly shows that the affluent are a very discriminating group of consumers: They are attracted to knowledgeable and professional salespeople. Everything counts, and it all begins with image.
Writer's BIO: Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent Clients.