Ever since the beginning of the shutdown, most of my conversations with advisors have been about their concern for their existing book of business. Judging from what I see on social media, it is clear that advisors are “circling the wagons” and are in full protection mode.  

I get it. If behavioral finance has taught us anything, the fear of loss is felt much more acutely than the joy of a gain. Natural instinct in volatile times is to protect what is yours and help your clients through the difficulty.    

Age and experience give a broader perspective. I remember watching the Quotron machine1 on October 19, 1987, as the market tumbled on Black Monday. After riding the dot.com bubble of the late 90s, I consoled clients and advisors when it eventually burst. I was traveling on two different planes on the morning of Sept 11, and spent the next few days in advisors’ offices in Iowa and Minnesota listening to their fears. And, I was leading a sales team in the Midwest during the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. I spent countless hours speaking, writing and mostly listening about how it was different. 

Yes, the world has now changed… again.

What can we do now?

Today, as I sit in my home office, I can tell you that the most successful advisors I knew during those times took great care of their clients, but also used the volatility and confusion to grow, really grow their businesses. While the natural inclination of most is to wait it out, the most successful firms were proactive and reached out to others who needed help. Clients (and some advisors) have been complacent over the bull market run but we all know that is over. So what are you doing now?

Personally, I am sick of hearing commercials on TV and from just about every company in the world that somehow has my email address about their reactions to COVID-19, and how “We’re all in this together” and “In times like these…”.  Proactive advisors are sick of it too. Instead of sitting back commiserating, those advisors are reaching out — helping people and providing real value. Those advisors are cognizant of the environment and interested in what prospects are feeling and thinking.

Why are you different? Do your prospects know?

Earlier today, I received a note from an advisor who said he wanted to be proactive. In fact, he had been reaching out to a few known prospects via LinkedIn. A few had responded with comments like: “I’m comfortable with my advisor but will keep your contact info in case something changes.”  As we discussed the tactic, I asked him:

  • When reaching out, how did you address the current situation? 
  • How did you let that prospect know that you help people just like them?
  • What specific steps did you say you were taking with your existing clients?
  • How did you describe your process in light of the current social distancing?
  • How did you position the current benefits of working with your firm?

As you can imagine, he was unable to answer any of those questions in detail. It sounds weird to write, and probably weirder to say, but he was doing pre-Covid-19 marketing in a post-Covid-19 world. 

Personalized, customized and transparent

In both our Advisory Firms in 2030 papers (The Innovation Imperative and Growth through Specialization), we discussed how clients are being empowered to look beyond traditional goods and services. They now use technology to compare, price and review what they buy. Financial advice is no different. Consumers have the ultimate choice in today’s market, so advisory firms have to stand out and not look like what consumers already know, or think they know.  

globeFor example, in pre-Covid-19 marketing, you may have suggested that you offered financial planning and that your process includes a “get-to-know-you meeting.” You may have suggested you provide a second opinion service to review a portfolio. In post-Covid-19 ask yourself, “What has changed in my process? How have I adapted and how can I share what I have learned with my prospects?” Taking this to a logical conclusion, how can you make the communication more customized and transparent in light of what the client is thinking right now?

In times of volatility and turmoil, prospects want to see confidence in a leader, along with messaging on exactly how you help clients just like them. Projecting that confidence is important. To me, instead of merely telling prospects “We are here if you have questions,” or “We are here to help,” the proactive advisors might communicate a more substantial message:

  • Your offices are fully functioning, without interruption.  
  • Each member of your staff is following the systematic workflows that were created for situations just like this.
  • While you prefer in person, all first meetings (and client reviews) have gone on, uninterrupted, using secure technology.
  • Likewise, documents (like those used in a second opinion service) are secure, shared via encrypted emails and vaults to protect the data — as it should be.

What to do?

Now is the time. Go back to everyone who over the last few years said no, or that they weren’t ready to become your client. Reach out to every prospect listed in your CRM or that attended a workshop, a seminar or was a guest at a client appreciation event you held. Review your newsletter mailing list or search on second-level connections in LinkedIn for anyone who fits your profile, or even better, the persona that you have created as your ideal client. Be proactive, be confident, and answer the question, “Why are you different?”

I remember writing this same advice in 2001, 2009 and I am writing it again today: “There is simply no better time to grow an advisory business.” When this is over, some will look back with regret. Others will have changed their processes and attracted a completely new group of clients they can help for generations. Which one will you be?

1 Quotron machine, Wikipedia

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