Practice-Management Tips To Elevate Value

“No two zebras have the same stripe pattern, yet they all look the same,” says our columnist who discusses how to stand out.

By David I. Leo

We have been told many times to develop a unique selling or value proposition to distinguish ourselves from our competition. With about 300,000 financial advisors in the U.S., it is difficult, if not impossible, to be able to say you are “unique” using the definition of unique as being “the only one of its kind” or “unlike anything else.” Think about this: No two zebras have the same stripe pattern, yet they all look the same.

An approach I prefer is to just focus on your value. Advisors need to develop a value proposition that is:

  • Memorable. In our industry, with the transparency provided by the Internet, it is unlikely to be totally unique.
  • Tangible. Back up your message by everything you do. In other words, DWYSYAGTD (Do What You Say You Are Going to Do.) This speaks to excellent execution in all the ways you do business.
  • Client focused. Of course! We all claim to be but ramp it up.

After study and time, it appears to me that it’s time to forget the phrase “unique selling or value proposition.” I suggest our focus simply be on our “value proposition.” Given a marketplace of almost 22 million millionaires in the U.S. and many investors with $500,000 to $1 million in assets, there are many potentially profitable clients.

If these numbers are valid, each advisor on average should have 100 clients — enough for a profitable financial advisory practice. If you are above average, a level to which most of us aspire, even better — assuming you have the right clients.

So, just focus on your “value proposition” and one that you will deliver to all those clients you choose to service and retain. As I have previously quoted from Kenichi Ohmae of McKinsey & Co., “If you are fighting with a competitor who has equal qualifications, effective and persistent execution in critical functional areas may be the only differentiating factor.”

Here are some more steps to improve and distinguish your practice:

Client segmentation and analysis is a critical to client profitability and retention

Client segmentation, an undervalued exercise, offers more opportunity for defining your business than typically has been considered. One key example: Have you considered whether the vast majority of, if not all your clients, supports your “core desires”? That is, if you weren’t concerned about their value to the business, would you want to work with every single one of them? Does each client fulfil your personal and team’s needs for having a practice where every client is personally and professionally important to you?

Of course, it’s important to consider the client’s current revenue and their potential — but do you like hearing from them? Do they show concerns about your fees? Are they using managed account services? Do they value “all” the work you do with or for them in financial planning and investment management, as well as the other services you provide?

Have you considered the profitability of every client based on what services you provide and the amount of time you spend with them? Do you truly know them and their entire family up and down generations, if appropriate; their likes and dislikes; their personalities; their other professional relationships; and all their important dates, etc.? Do they buy into your service model? Could they explain your service model to others?

You may not need all this knowledge for all your clients, but it’s mandatory for those you want to retain for the long haul.

Some of your clients may not be receiving the services they expect

Spectrem Group did a study last year that shows the average gap between the services clients expected compared with the services they received is 73%. In other words, almost three-quarters of investors do not receive what they expect, or hope for, or need in some cases. And although 96% of wealth management investors expect to receive financial planning as part of their wealth management services, only 70% do. Estate planning, wealth transfer and trust services showed significant gaps between services expected and received.  I wrote about this study in a previous Rethinking65 column.

Asking a client if they need advice or help in a particular area can make a positive difference in your relationship because it shows you are thinking about them and their needs.

Your clients need a pictorial representation of all you do and can do for and with them

It is reported that the distribution of the three learning styles among the general population is as follows:

  • 65% visual
  • 30% auditory
  • 5% kinesthetic

It is also reported that the majority of the population are visual learners and that people retain 80% of what they see, compared with 20% of what they read and 10% of what they hear.

This data strongly suggests that it’s important to use visualization in your discussions with clients about your processes and services, and when you’re providing those processes and services. (There’s a sample of this on p. 68 of my book “The Financial Advisor’s Success Manual.)

All planned client meetings must have a written agenda

This includes meetings held in person, on the phone or online via online visual technology. No exceptions. This shows you are prepared and professional; it provides the client with a clear idea of what you would like to discuss, and it gives a record of the discussion. (You should also consider sharing agendas in advance of your meetings.) In addition, it helps ensure you will address all topics important to both the client and you, and it make it easier to input information to your CRM system and compose follow-up notes to your clients — another important mantra

Your clients and you should agree on the value you deliver to them

Part of your annual and/or semi-annual strategic Client Review and Alignment Meeting is to periodically review your client service model and get feedback from your client on what services they value and why — and perhaps which of your services they do not value and why not. It’s also a good time to ask questions about what services they may need that they are not currently receiving.

Since clients may not know or remember all your capabilities and the resources you may have within and/or outside your firm that may be of value to them (e.g., real estate professionals, credit services, education planning, charitable services, and more), it’s best to raise these points proactively.

The ultimate value you must provide to your client is their family’s happiness through their financial peace of mind.

Use your annual and/or semi-annual strategic Client Review and Alignment Meeting to seek introductions

It is simple, as part of your written agenda, to have a few points that provide you an opportunity to raise this discussion. Your agenda would include:

  • Meeting summary and next steps.
  • Service feedback (including your key questions).
  • Introductions discussion.

Somehow, having these items pre-written on the agenda eases your way into the discussion. Note that you precede the introductions discussion with the service feedback discussion. The service feedback discussion must be positive if you plan to move forward to discuss introductions.

You need a real business plan that is reviewed regularly with your team

A business plan is much more than a set of goals. Goals are “whats” and “how manys.” What do I want my 2023 AUM to be? What do I want my 2023 production to be? How many new clients do I want to acquire? A business plan also describes the “hows,” the “whens” and the “whos.”

In addition to the outlining “where I am and where I want to be,” the plan defines the strategies and tactics for how to get there.

For example, “I will identify 10 quality CPAs of my top 20 clients and five quality trust-and-estate attorneys of my top 20 clients. I will complete this project by February 28. I will acquire N new clients by seeking introductions from two CPAs with whom I develop a strategic relationship. I will establish two strategic CPA relationships and one strategic estate-attorney relationship by May 31.”

A business plan creates 30% greater chance of growth and a chance to double the business.

You need an ongoing, consistent and structured business development process

You must develop your marketing and new business development approaches to both grow your existing client base with new AUM and revenue from new services as well as acquiring new clients and their assets. Your business plan will call out the several marketing and sales approaches you will use as part of your client acquisition strategy.

The primary approaches available to you to acquire new clients include introductions from clients and centers of influence, LinkedIn, book of life/natural markets, niche marketing, networking, client events, and more.

Your financial plans should be life-centered, not data centered

Your clients expect, and for the most part receive, investment management services that include risk profiling, asset allocation, research, portfolio construction, investment selection, rebalancing and more. They have also come to expect, and as noted, a majority receive financial planning services. However, there remain shortfalls in getting into the depths of truly knowing your clients and their families so you can fulfill the broadest of their needs for financial well-being. You must understand their lives in-depth: where they are right now, how they got there, and where they are trying to go. You must discover their current lifestyle, and working with them, attempt to discover their go-forward lifestyle.

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” — time-management author Alan Lakein

In Summary

The intent of these practice management mantras is to have you build a practice of which you, your family, your team and your clients can be proud of, because you are providing the ultimate client value: Their family’s happiness through their financial peace of mind.

David Leo is founder of Street Smart Research Group LLC. He is an author, speaker, coach, consultant, and trainer to financial professionals. David has worked with the financial services industry for decades, originally as a consultant with IBM and then with UBS/Paine Webber before starting his own firm. If you would like more information about his services, contact him at or visit


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