How Advisors Can Deliver Value in the 21st Century

It has been long understood by the well informed in financial services that we really do not deserve anyone’s business unless and until we deliver value. That is actually true under capitalism regardless of the industry.

The question for advisors comes down to this. What does it take to be valuable to a prospect or client? That is a very simple question, but so important that it deserves a close look at three important aspects of the issue.

  1. How much value is enough?
  2. How can I be sure I am delivering the right value?
  3. If I use a continuum of escalating value, how do all my deliverables line up?

How Much Value Is Enough?

That’s a logical question and really best answered by  reading a short but very powerful book by Bob Berg called The Go Giver. For our purposes here, suffice it to say that we shouldn’t really even think about how much is enough other than to understand that our intent should simply be to give a lot. 

Berg makes the case that traditionally, business relationships are expected to be about even. You give value of a certain amount and in an often unspoken reciprocal arrangement, you expect to get about the same amount of value back. When you pay 50K for a car you expect to get about 50k worth of car.

His suggestion is that the actual value you give is that amount that exceeds what you get.

If you get a 5 and you give an 8, the value you delivered is 3. That concept struck me like a bolt out of the blue about 15 years ago when I first read it. I took it to heart and though I have not always succeeded in complying, I have from that day tried to give more. 

Sometimes I forget, but I try not to. Read the book for a much better understanding. I was so struck by it that I bought the book in bulk and gave out at least five  hundred or so to advisors I met at various seminars when I was speaking on the subject.

How Can I Be Sure I Am Delivering The Right Value?

This is another great question and it really gets to the heart of the matter. One size does not fit all. Many advisors and wholesalers have created a particular presentation for a product or service.  Each product or service has its own presentation but it  often remains the same no matter who it is made to. One size fits all.

My business coach from years past, Dan Sullivan of The Strategic Coach once addressed it this way. 

Is a 2021 Bentley Continental GT of great value? Well it would seem so, in that the sticker on that car with a couple of extras is in the $225,000 range.


How would it be valuable to an Eskimo?

Some Eskimos still occupy igloos today and move about by the use of dog sleds. Would a top notch dog sled and team of great dogs be more valuable? Would that Bentley perform well in the Artic.? Wrong value. One size does not fit all.

So then how do we know we have the right value? Well yes of course it is all about asking the right questions. Here many, especially in their formative years as advisors and wholesalers, often go astray.

The problem lies in the training. We were all trained for years almost exclusively on subjects that begin with the economy , financial planning and its tools and theories. We know all about risk and reward, longevity, volatility, sharp ratios, asset allocation, death benefits, charitable remainder trusts, municipal bonds and option strategies. It goes on and on as well it should. 

With all this training and knowledge it’s only natural that human nature takes over and our questions and discussions revolve around these subjects.

Our questions and discussions should actually revolve around Them. The client. It is the only thing they actually care about. They may smile knowingly when we show them the sharp ratio on that great fund we have of course. 

In fact it is a rare investor indeed who cares in the least about a sharp ratio. They care about themselves and their family and perhaps altruistically about this cause or that. This is where the questions and conversations should begin and end. Let your expertise seep in naturally in a process that feels like some sort of osmosis.

The sharp ratio discussion makes us sound smart. It also makes us sound like the last advisor they met. If they want a discussion on technical issues they will let you know.

So ask them personal questions. Let them ramble on about the grandchildren or their church or even the dog for that matter. This is where you will find out what matters.

A caveat here. Some questions may sound personal but are not. This question to follow is commonly used and sounds like a good one. It is ok but it  falls short.

“So Bill and Mary, what has to happen with this account and my service so that you will be pleased?” That question is a fair one and the response may be helpful, but it is not a personal question about Bill and Mary.

 It is a question about me the advisor. What do I have to do……so that I don’t lose this account? This is a question about me, not them.

You will always be delivering the right value if after personal questions you respond to what matters to them. 

If I Use a Continuum of Escalating Value, How Do All My Deliverables Line Up?

We deliver lots of different things in our business. They all have different value. A misunderstanding of the relative value can create huge problems for the advisor or wholesaler including immediate failure.

Witness the true and sad story of Leif Beck.
It was January 1985 on Cape Cod and Merrill management anxiously awaited the arrival of Leif Beck. Leif was the new recruit from the Wharton Business School. He was first in his class, tall, handsome, friendly, funny and brilliant. A superstar in the making for certain. 

Those of us brokers of more ordinary stock were sure to be quickly overtaken by Leif.
As it turned out, after a few months Leif found himself in a perhaps a more honorable profession, not that ours isn’t.

He became a school teacher. I would guess that he became an amazing teacher and probably is to this day. I wish him well of course all these years later. He is a wonderful guy and a good family man. 

A stock broker he was not, however. Early on he must have been disappointed. John the office manager was I think.

What went wrong? How could that happen? Leif had all the tools and resources to pull it off and I am sure he tried very hard. Something had to be missing.

So here we arrive at the crux of the matter. I will suggest here with great certainty, that first and foremost, the problem stemmed from a misunderstanding of what among our deliverables is real value and what is not.

It should of course be understood ,that here in this country, and anywhere that operates under some version of capitalism, we deserve no business at all from anyone, unless and until we bring value. Capitalism can be harsh. In its raw form, if you don’t contribute value you will be at the mercy of others at best.

There is a continuum of value as we consider helping a prospect or client. My coach Dan Sullivan thought of this as a ladder. The least valuable element would be on the first rung and increasing all the way to the top.

Unfortunately as you will see, almost all of our education and training is on the bottom few rungs. This is why most of us start our career with a focus on lesser value.

Here we go with rung number one. “Data”, that’s it, they want lots of data. Numbers and spreadsheets will amaze them! Leif had the data, tons of it hot off the press. He swam in it, He loved it. They didn’t open the account.

Well of course there is always “Information.” Yes for sure they will love data and information combined and now with all of this they will become a great client. Or not.

Why don’t they love all this data and information? They may have had some minimal interest in it back then in 1985, perhaps, but think about it, especially now. Data and information are free of charge from any place at any time without your help. 

It’s on your phone and yours for free. In fact there is so much information chasing you all day from so many sources that I expect ,like me, you may work hard to escape it. 

It could be a hard way to make a living if you are selling something that is ever present and free. Leif had lots of that stuff.

Then of course we have “sales literature and white papers”, all wonderfully created to please the eye and inform. How much do they cost? Oops, free you say? Do I have to see you to get it? Oh I can have it tomorrow on my front step or even today on my phone with a click.? That’s nice! Once again , ever present and free. Minimal value here folks.

How about “investment updates”? Nope, same problem.

So we have progressed up the ladder a few rungs without delivering any real value. That’s where Leif got stuck. Wharton Business School took him that far. Perhaps these days it is different. They probably incorporate more of the ladder these days.

What if Leif had been able to “inspire” his prospects? What if when on visits with Leif they were “energized” and felt a surge of “confidence”?. Do spreadsheets and data dumps occasionally drain your confidence? They do mine. 

What if Leif delivered some sort of brand new “insights” or even a “new capability” that they did not have before? Would they see value in that ? Oh yes of course they would. We all want to be inspired. We all want to feel confident and most of us love to learn something new that really matters to us. 

We are near the top of the ladder now and light years away from the bottom. The top is in sight now, but there is another important reason we should avoid the bottom. 

We must use data and information of course. Unfortunately, processing it is a left brain activity and as such, all humans automatically analyze and compare it . Your presentations at this level will be subject to intense scrutiny. 

We must use data and information of course.

Unfortunately, processing it is a left brain activity and as such, all humans automatically analyze and compare it . Your presentations at this level will be subject to intense scrutiny. 

This is where battles are fought that can often be avoided. Minimize your time spent in left brain activities when you are with clients. My friend Leif was nearly 100% left brain. If it sometimes feels like it’s you against them, this is why. You got stuck in the left brain.

It may well be and I suspect it is, that Leif has brought more value to the world than me. He just did it as a teacher. He had a lot to offer. 

Finally we arrive here at the top of the ladder. Here we find a word rarely used in our business. Rarely used but so much appreciated. Rarely delivered but loved by one and all, in business and in life in general. 

You will know you are at the top rung of value when you deliver some level of wisdom. Yes wisdom. We all love that. We can use it forever. It’s aways been true. It always will be true. Even if it just smacks of wisdom they will love it. That is a rock solid guarantee. Where can you get it? Google it! 

It’s everywhere from Aristotle to Ben Franklin, to Einstein and Warren Buffett. Your Mom and Dad probably handed you some. Its everywhere and they will love it. Over the years you have likely created some wisdom of your own. They will love that the best.

Funny thing about love. That’s a right brain activity. No one rejects things they love. They will never reject wisdom .

The right brain is where stories about grandchildren and the dog happen. And finally the right brain is where decisions are made. That’s where accounts are opened.

There you have it, value redefined for the 21st century.

Call us today and start delivering the value your prospects are looking for!

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