Dealing with a Ruthless Competitor

Beverly Flaxington

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues.  To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

An advisor in the same town as I am is winning business that should be going to my firm. Prospects tell me that he makes claims that I know are patently untrue. Is it appropriate in sales meetings to tell prospects that this guy lies?

Sean P., Midwest

Dear Sean,

Never overtly disparage your competition. While it has become the national pastime in politics, it still isn’t kosher in business. When you tear down someone else in the same business you run the risk of opening up issues that reflect back on you.

Most prospects don’t like to hear disparaging remarks and will either consciously or subconsciously react negatively to the person bringing them the bad news. But, knowing this advisor is not who they represent themselves to be, gives you an advantage in crafting your messaging for the positive. Highlight the things you know you do well and that this other firm does not. Or put together a Q & A document about “Important Questions to Ask Your Advisor” or provide statistics on issues related to whatever this firm is lying about. You can tell prospects a “story” about clients who came to you because of an experience with another advisor who did not tell them the truth. Avoid identifying this competitor, to plant seeds without talking about them specifically.

Think of marketing as education, not an opportunity to air your frustrations with competitors. I know it is hard to see prospects potentially get, hurt but ultimately it is their decision. If you do your best to educate them and take the higher ground in the sales process, many of them will end up back with you at some future point, once they learn the truth about this other firm.

Dear Bev,

I have been in this business for over 20 years and I have a long list of happy clients. Lately I’ve noticed that many of my clients are getting impatient, angry and even rude. It’s as if I am the one responsible for the economic woes and the market difficulties. I am just as frustrated as they are, so it really irks me when they take it out on me. How do I manage my response? Is it appropriate to get angry back at them? After all if they saved more, or didn’t spend lavishly like some have, they would be ready to withstand this economic storm with more resources.

Name Withheld, Mid-Atlantic

Dear Frustrated Advisor,

Your question gets at the essence of this column – while we are in a financial business that is quantitative and seemingly black-and-white, it’s really all about the people! Your question brings up two important components – one is to understand what’s likely going on with your clients and one is managing your responses.

Clients are scared. Things we thought were predictable are no longer. People have saved for years and years, only to find what they thought they could count on is now vulnerable. And we are living with too much economic uncertainty – budget deficits, taxes, Social Security, etc. It seems that little news concerning financial conditions is good news.

Often when people are fearful they will lash out at those closest to them. Anger is a mask for fear that we can’t express. Remember this when the clients come out swinging at you – approach them from their fear instead of lashing back at them, or withdrawing to avoid being chastised.

That brings me to the second point – managing your own responses. This isn’t about you; it’s about them. You are merely the target for their frustration, and you aren’t the real cause of it unless you are losing their money recklessly or avoiding communication with them. They are upset with forces they can’t control and you provide an outlet. Use stress management techniques and self-talk such as “It’s not about me, it’s about how I choose to respond”. Shore up your own emotional resources so you can be a calming influence for them. Recognize the valuable role you play.

Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995; in 2008 she co-founded Advisors Trusted Advisor to offer dedicated practice management resources to advisors, planners and wealth managers.  She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate students Leadership & Social Responsibility. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).

She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal,, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.

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