Framing the Sales Component of the Advisory Profession

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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,

I am a relatively new financial advisor, coming to this profession as a second career. I was a teacher in my former life so thought I would enjoy working with people and teaching them about finances and investing. But I’m finding I spend so much time on sales– my firm is so focused on selling that even when I have a new client, I don’t have the chance to work with them the way I would like. I am not a salesperson nor do I want to be one. How can I tactfully tell my employer that I came to this profession for the investment side, not for the sales side?

Mark H., Ohio

Dear Mark,

Even as a teacher you were “selling” every day. I teach college courses and if I don’t get my students sold on the material and my approach, it makes for a long semester!

Do you think of sales as negative? I get the sense that you feel like you “sold out.” and you believe it is unconstructive to find new opportunities and grow your business.

I agree – you did not choose either career, from the sounds of it, for the selling aspects. But, don’t you believe in what you are offering? Don’t you think you can help people meet their financial goals and invest wisely? Don’t you want to share your knowledge with others? If you are confident in what you offer, shouldn’t you be telling everyone who could benefit about it?

I grew up in this business in different sales roles so I might have a skewed view of the selling profession. It isn’t about being pushy or aggressive. It is also not about trying to overcome objections and get people to buy things they don’t need. It is about finding the people you best serve (your personal target market) and doing everything in your power to let that market know you exist, and what you have to offer them to help them. You are doing a disservice if you don’t embrace the selling aspect and think of it as finding ways to share your gifts!

If you could think of the sales piece as being more about information sharing and teaching prospects about what you do, it would come more naturally to you. If you have something to offer, but you are not comfortable telling others about it, they won’t know – and you won’t grow!

Dear Bev,

We are running a client event and one of our advisors insists on presenting. He is terrible. He mumbles, drags out words and loses the audience. He is a senior guy, so no one here wants to talk to him about it. What can we do to get him to agree to step down from doing this?

Name withheld

Dear Financial Professional,

I’m curious what you have done so far? Has anyone tried to give him feedback? Does he listen or has everyone been tip toeing around this and unwilling to raise it with him? I also wonder whether the clients or prospects (whoever makes up your “audience”) have the same negative reaction that all of you do. Sometimes the sage financial advisor is well received and it’s understood that they aren’t naturally good speakers. It’s that quiet wisdom that people trust!

Your note seems to indicate a deeper problem, though. It sounds like he is someone who isn’t well received and does not possess strong presentation skills. And, it may be hard to confront him if he is a person of power. Here are the options as I see them:

  1. Have someone suggest that everyone in the firm who is involved with events go through some sort of presentation skills training (including video feedback) so he isn’t singled out.
  2. Informally ask for feedback from past attendees to gauge whether they had the same experience. If they did, think about delivering their feedback: “I heard from a client that they didn’t fully understand your last presentation. Could we talk about ways to improve for this next time?”
  3. Offer to help him (if you are in a capacity to do so) preparing his remarks – during the process give him some ideas or gentle feedback on how to shift his approach.
  4. If there is someone who is a peer, or superior to him, try to co-op them in giving him feedback.

If all else fails, do something in advance to calm yourself. You are sure to experience stress knowing how bad he is. Remember that he likely isn’t losing business for you – or if he is, there would be a much greater issue. And if, as part of the meeting, you can summarize his thoughts, or otherwise add color to his communication, that could help.

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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