Book Excerpt: Your Team Is Your Product

Book Excerpt: Your Team Is Your Product

In his book, Elite Financial Teams: The 17% Solution, Matt Oechsli shares research on teams and the affluent from The Oechsli Institute.

In his book, Elite Financial Teams: The 17% Solution, Matt Oechsli shares research on teams and the affluent from The Oechsli Institute, as well as his own experiences coaching individual advisors and teams.

In the following chapter, he discusses the importance of intangible factors like value and image in wooing affluent clients.

EXCERPT: Your team is your product. This is one of the maxims that the leaders of elite financial teams fully comprehend. They recognize that because of the intangible nature of financial solutions, marketing a financial team's deliverables is always a personal process. Guided by the team leader, every partner (advisor) on the team should be visible in the community. In the intangible world, the reality — from the affluent consumer's perspective — is that each individual representing the team is the product. This means that the team is only as strong as its weakest link.

In The Marketing Imagination, Levitt writes: “When prospective customers can't taste, test, feel, smell, watch, or properly try the promised product in advance, the necessity of metaphorical reassurances to the marketing effort become amplified. Promises, being intangible, have to be tangibilized in their presentation.”

The less tangible the generic product, the more powerfully and persistently the judgment about it is shaped by the “packaging” — how it's presented, who presents it, what's implied by metaphor, simile, symbol, and other surrogates for reality [which is why leaders of elite teams spend the time, energy, and attention developing their team members]. Intangible products are by nature highly people-intensive in the production and delivery. The more people-intensive a product, the more room there is for personal discretion, idiosyncrasy, error, and delay. Once a customer for an intangible product is sold, the customer can be easily unsold as a consequence of his expectations having been under-fulfilled.

This highlights the importance and the advantages of forming a true elite financial team to market intangible services, develop loyal affluent clients, penetrate clients' centers of influence, stimulate positive word-of-mouth, and develop strategic alliances with other professionals. This also speaks to why such care must be taken to numerous marketing details, since every component forms a sort of branding mosaic. Take the oft-misused value statement. Ideally, it should be a simple phrase that clearly encapsulates what the team is all about and what it provides. For instance, “We oversee the financial affairs of a select number of families in the area,” or “Our team oversees the financial affairs of a select number of families in the area,” or “I'm in a financial practice that oversees the financial affairs of a select number of families in the area.”

Because of the intangible nature of wealth management and the complexity of many teams, I've found that asking a handful of simple questions can become a useful exercise. If you want to have a little fun and be productive at the same time, ask everyone to write out his answer to the following:

  • What does your team do?
  • What is your team's value statement?
  • What do you do?
  • What is your value to the team?

Next, conduct a group discussion, one question and one answer at a time. Unless you have worked through this exercise before, you'll be amazed at the disparity in responses and the confusion regarding one's personal value to the team. Obviously, the objective is to develop a unified response. Reaching that goal can be very challenging, however, and requires real leadership. But eventually, everyone needs to be on the same page.

As team leader, it's important to continually remind every member of what defines your team. This is about more than a few words strung together in a value statement. It should become your mantra. Elite teams take this very seriously. Be sure every team member can articulate this simple statement, naturally and under any circumstances. The statement must accurately reflect what your team really does, and should be free of Shakespearean prose. Too many value statements/ branding messages sound stilted and over-rehearsed when spoken aloud. In addition, many are too complex. By the time the advisor finishes his one-sentence monologue, which took about three minutes to articulate, the prospect's eyes have dimmed because she's mentally “checked out.”

A poorly written (and delivered) value statement offers no value to anyone. In fact, it usually hurts your team's branding message, because it comes across like either a Hamlet-style soliloquy or the disingenuous sales pitch of an old-fashioned carnival barker: “Step right up! Get your estate-planning services while they're red hot! Guaranteed to double your beneficiaries' financial potency or your money back!” Poorly constructed statements, whether in long-winded verse or constructed as a huckster promise, do more than damage your brand. These ill-founded statements create internal confusion, and often produce an adverse impact. They also highlight a lack of clarity regarding team member's individual value to the team.

The Importance of Image

Because your offices, everyone's dress, the automobiles you drive, the use of English (or whichever language is spoken) all contribute to your team's image, it is important that you apply two key concepts:

  1. Things that are too flashy and expensive will have affluent clients and prospects thinking, “You're making too much money.”

  2. Things that are too barren and inexpensive will have affluent clients and prospects thinking, “You're struggling.”

Remember, the affluent have middle class values imprinted in their subconscious minds. Although they may live in an 8,000-square-foot house, they will be suspicious of both opulence and shabbiness. You and every team member are the product, so it is important to capture the middle ground, being both upscale and professional. Always pay special attention to the perceptions and biases of today's affluent investors.

For instance, be careful with how often you use the terms “wealth” or “affluent” or “high-net worth.” Today's upscale households don't consider themselves wealthy or affluent. They don't refer to themselves that way. Because everyone in the financial services industry is targeting the affluent, and because of the intangible nature of the deliverables, and because claims are made that aren't always credible, the affluent tend to view people using these terms as salespeople.

And the affluent DO NOT LIKE salespeople. They really, REALLY don't like salespeople! And they certainly don't like loose confederations of financial professionals posturing as true financial teams! They want the real McCoy, and they are sold by sales skills so refined that they are virtually seamless.

When it comes to the vehicle you and your senior partners drive, the days of owning the most expensive luxury car are long gone. It's fine to drive a luxury car, but avoid purchasing or leasing the biggest and the most expensive Mercedes or BMW. In today's environment, this will create the impression of ostentation.

A few years ago, I met with an advisor at a prominent Wall Street firm who wanted to discuss the pros and cons of forming a financial team. He was finding it more of a challenge than he'd anticipated. I knew I was in for an interesting coaching session when the advisor and his top assistant arrived at my hotel in a Rolls Royce. Since this was my first ride in a Rolls, just a bit pretentious (to say the least), I decided to have a little fun with the advisor. I asked a battery of questions about the Rolls: “How long have you had it? What's the maintenance like? How much does it cost for a tune-up? What kind of gas mileage does it get? What do people think?”

I made my point. By the time we reached his office, he confessed that he bought it after a good year, but was now embarrassed by it. Too many people got the wrong impression. He claimed he'd been trying to sell it, without success. Well … talk is cheap, because his office took pretension into the Twilight Zone. It was enormous. It looked like a Hollywood set designed for Gordon Gecko's richer, more evil twin. It featured dark wood paneling, stuffed animals of every size on every wall (not teddy bears, but once-living animals rendered lifelike by taxidermists), three elegant conference tables, and a fish tank that was larger and contained more species of tropical fish than the Chicago aquarium.

The challenge for this gentleman — we'll call him William — was that he'd hired his assistant, a former administrator of a local hospital, to help him acquire physician clients. It had been nearly a year, and they had only recruited one physician client. The problem involved more than image, but this was where everything began and ended. Regardless of what he claimed, it was important to William that he demonstrate to every prospect that he made LOTS of money. Everything about him screamed: “I'm rich!” The new assistant tried to convince him to tone it down, and this is where I came into the picture.

William fought me for more than a month after my visit, but I continually stressed that three things get accomplished:

  1. William needed to expand his true deliverables and develop a real financial team. Physicians were not looking for an overpaid broker to handle their investments. Like most of today's affluent, they wanted a solutions provider for all aspects of their family's financial affairs. They wanted a “general practitioner of finances.”

  2. William had to re-define what his team could provide versus what they claimed they could provide in their fancy brochure. They needed a succinct “value statement” everyone could articulate, including the support personnel.

  3. William had to stop trying to get physicians to meet in his office. Showing off his “Colonel McBrag-style” office filled with dead mammals (and live fish) was more likely to hurt him than help. This was a big issue. He desperately wanted prospective clients to see the fruits of his success, but for most people, this merely suggested that he suffered from “big ego/low-selfesteem” syndrome.

At last contact, William was meeting prospective physicians in the hospital cafeteria, and allowed his assistant to lead most meetings. Who knows whether he's been able to keep his ego in check since then, but at least he was trying to change. Because he never directly answered any of my “team questions,” my suspicion is that he's still a sole-practitioner playing at being a financial team.

Elite financial teams excel at projecting the correct image and, unlike William (who'd become successful in the days of hiring cold-callers and conducting seminars), their rainmaking skills are solid. Rainmakers excel at cultivating new client relationships. They are the 17 percent of highflying solutions providers while the other 83 percent struggle — the 83 percent that often rely on slick brochures and marathon-length value propositions.

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