In a presentation called "10 Tips to Take You to the Top," Jim Rogers, president of the Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) and founder and chair of Vancouver-based Rogers Group Financial, shared with convention attendees some of the practice management methods that have made him an MDRT Top of the Table qualifier for more than two decades of his forty year career.
The first tip on the list is to focus the work day on meaningful business activities. "Meaningful activities should either increase your revenues, or have the potential of doing that, or reduce your costs, or both."
He suggests that every advisor should analyze their typical business day to see if their activities are achieving one or both of these goals. "Each of us should be spending the greatest part of the day dealing with prospective clients, or clients who are centres of influence – the ones that can lead us to prospective clients."
Pre-plan your day
Mr. Roger’s second tip to advisors it to pre-plan their business days and focus on a process.
Mr. Roger’s typical business day starts at 7:00 a.m. when he arrives at the office. For the next 90 minutes he works through the files of the three clients he is planning to meet with that day. He plans every step of those meetings and develops a written agenda for each meeting.
From 8:30 to 9:00 a.m. he meets with staff assistants and reviews their work lists, setting their priorities to reflect what he wants them to do. "I should be driving the bus and they should be passengers on the bus, but supporting my efforts." Also, if advisors do not set out the priorities, staff members may focus on less important activities. "Being human beings, each of us will typically end up doing things that we like to do, and therefore avoid doing the things that we should do."
From 9:00 to 10:30 is the most crucial time of the day. "This 90 minutes makes or breaks my business," he says. That is the time he is on the phone arranging appointments with clients or prospective clients. In the early days of advisors’ careers, this is the tough part of the job because most of these calls are to prospective clients, he adds. But, these calls are critical; they are the root of an advisors’ success or lack of it, he emphasizes. His goal during this 90 minutes is to set up three appointments. The rest of his work day is spent meeting with three different clients.
"To me, I know that I’ve been successful when I go home at the end of the day and I’ve had three appointments and made three appointments."
The key, he says, is to focus on the process. "I’m not focusing on making a sale. That will take care of itself if I’ve had meaningful activity."
Third, he added that it’s critical that an advisor should use an agenda for every client meeting. This agenda is the roadmap of the meeting and makes it far more likely that the advisor will get to where he wants to go than if he doesn’t have a written agenda, he explains.
And, at the beginning of a meeting, he suggested advisors ask their clients the following question: "If today’s meeting is to be successful, in your terms, what has to happen?" This question will ensure that the client’s objectives are included in the meeting agenda, he said. Even if an advisor thinks he knows the answer, he should still ask the question, he adds. He might discover that the client’s goals are very different. "What matters is not what we want to do, but what they want us to do for them."
Learning to delegate is his fourth tip to reach the top. Advisors should focus on their key goals of seeing clients and arranging to see clients. Other staff members can do the busy work. Performer Paul Anka has a large team of roadies doing the behind the scenes work for him, he notes. "Paul Anka doesn’t move pianos. Paul Anka sings. He does what he does best. He wouldn’t get paid nearly the money he does if he moved pianos." He asked the audience to think about what they do everyday. "Are you moving pianos, or are you singing?"
Tip five is to specialize. The financial services industry is growing more and more complicated. To develop a high degree of competence, advisors should "focus on the part of the business for which you have a passion." This could be a market segment, such as young couples for example, or by product area, such as living benefits, says Mr. Rogers who specializes in the investments and retirement income.
"Specialists make more money in every field," he said, noting that in the medical field general practitioners earn much less than radiologists. Advisors should find a niche market that they have a passion for and become the expert, he said, rather than having average skills over a wide area of expertise. "Average competence garners average income," he observed.
"Position yourself accurately in the marketplace," is tip six. This means that advisors’ marketing material, such as business cards and brochures should reflect what they really do. The most common inaccuracy occurs when advisors position themselves as financial planners even when they do not actually do financial plans for their clients, he says. This could even be dangerous if the advisor ever found himself implicated in a court case. "Call yourself what you are and that way you’ll be more credible."
Mr. Rogers recommends a marketing book called Positioning written by Al Ries and Jack Trout to help advisors improve their market positioning.
Be a professional advisor, as opposed to a sales person, is Mr. Rogers’ seventh tip. When he entered the business forty years ago, he was taught to answer any objections that the client would raise and close the sale. This approach suggests an adversarial relationship, he says. What is important is to see your client as a partner. "You are working together to solve a problem."
"Always evidence trust and integrity in anything you do," is tip number 8. Trust is the foundation of any advisor-client relationship, he says. Someone might become your "customer" because your product is a good deal, but they’ll throw you over if a better deal comes along. If the relationship is strong and based on trust, then you won’t have a customer, you will have a "client." The difference between the two is that "a client always listens to you and most often they’ll take your advice."
Most advisors have too many customers and not enough clients, he adds. This is because they are viewed as being one of many sales people that the customer deals with in their life, as opposed to being viewed as an advisor.
Tip nine is "be straightforward and candid." Why do advisors lose clients? "Because their expectations of you were not matched by your performance in their eyes." The solution to this problem is to talk about their expectations at the outset of the relationship. Set it out in writing and list in point form the specific services you will deliver.
Mr. Roger’s final tip is a small dose of common courtesy: Don’t forget to say thank you. In today’s society, people are thanking each other less and less. "If you do say thank you when the opportunity presents itself, you’ll differentiate yourself from your competitors…. I force myself everyday to send out two handwritten thank you cards."
Mr. Rogers even sends his clients Thanksgiving cards. They express gratitude and it’s the only Thanksgiving card they are likely to receive, as opposed to Christmas cards where there is a lot of competition.