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Are You a Trusted Advisor or a Product Salesman?

Are You a Trusted Advisor or a Product Salesman?

If you are not convincing your clients it is you and your advice that is most important to them, you are making a big mistake.

Being a financial advisor is one of the best professions in the world. Being a rock star or a movie star would be cool too, but financial advisor is a close third.

Where else can you annuitize your business? Where else can you build a client base that will pay you fees (advisory business) every year and follow you whenever you change firms. As a financial advisor, if you do it right, your clients will do business with you because of you—not the firm you are with or the products that you sell. If you build your book correctly, you will walk in the office on Jan. 1 and already know the minimum you will earn for the year without selling a thing or landing a new client.

In contrast, if you are in a typical sales position in another industry, life and compensation are quite different. If you are selling cars, copiers, industrial equipment, pharmaceuticals or medical equipment, there is no way to annuitize your business. You are also only as good as your product. If your product or territory is lousy, your life is much more difficult. If you don't sell, you don't eat.

Moreover, when you sell a tangible product your target market is narrower than as a financial advisor. As an advisor, your target market is anyone with a decent liquid net worth. This target market needs and wants your services. Obviously, some of them already have a financial advisor so it is your job to show them you are a better advisor to win their business.

Most financial advisors miss the best part of the business. Your goal should be to become a trusted advisor instead of a product salesman. If you are not convincing your clients it is you and your advice that is most important to them, you are making a big mistake.

If you are not offering high-touch service and giving your clients quarterly portfolio reviews, this is another big problem. How are you supposed to build a strong loyal relationship with your clients if every time you speak with them you try to sell them something? Even worse, if you just drop a ticket and they never hear from you again, how will that secure a loyal strong relationship?

Or if you sell your clients on how great your institution is, why would they follow you if you were to change firms. Advisors in different models make this very big mistake.

In fact, at a few of the big investment banking firms this happens all the time. They love to brag to clients about what their firms say regarding the market, economy or various investments.

This becomes a big problem when you leave the firm. You've spent years beating it into your clients' heads that XYZ is the best firm on the street. You have demonstrated that this firm has the best ideas and so forth. And then you leave and expect them to follow you? Good luck.

Over the years I worked at several different firms (and models) and when clients would ask me what my firm thought about a specific stock I would tell them it does not matter because I would look at research from numerous firms. I would never sell my clients on the firm that I was with. Consequently, most of my clients were with me for me, not the firm. They stopped asking what my firm thought and instead would ask me what I thought. They learned that the firm I was with was just a commodity and I was the unique asset. In other words, they were really with me, not my firm.


It's Not Them, It's Me

Here are a few important steps you need to take to capitalize on the best aspects of this business.

  • Give outstanding customer service. Give every client your cell phone number and always answer your phone if available. If unavailable, call back very quickly, even if you have bad news. Inaccessibility is typically a client's biggest complaint regarding their advisors.
  • Never sell your clients on your firm. Instead, sell them on you and your incredible unique advice. Loyalty should lie with you.
  • You are not paid to beat the market. You are paid for financial planning and exceptional service. It is up to you to hold your clients' feet to the fire and make sure they stick to the plan.
  • Annuitize your business. I understand the challenges of fee-based products. Even though they pay you less in the short-run, it is critical for big success in the long run. Having the residual income every year for the rest of your professional life is vitally important.
  • Have high-touch with your clients and get to know them and their families, even if you spend just 10 minutes quarterly to call them to touch base. But spend eight of those minutes talking about them and their family and two minutes telling them you reviewed their investments/plan and everything looks good.
  • Never sell proprietary products. Under no circumstances should you ever sell products that are uncommon and not offered at most firms. This is the kiss of death when you change firms. (And, of course firms love it when you sell these products.)


There are over 200,000 financial advisors in the country, and in my dealings I find that most of them do not know how to grow their practices correctly. All of them are competing for the same business and most of them do a very poor job at standing out of the crowd. Very few call clients back quickly and some don't call at all. Most do not think long-term about their careers and very few have a plan. Since this career is so unique and offers so much, it should be taken seriously with a strong plan of attack.

Financial advisors need to understand they are only as good as their loyal book of business. If you have clients who will follow you anywhere and pay you residual income, you have something that a typical salesperson does not. This business is truly one of the best in the world and if you build it right you will become a trusted advisor, and that can never be taken away from you.


Rick Rummage is the founder and CEO of The Rummage Group.

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