What Advisors Don’t Get About Virtual Selling
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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Our advisors went through a sales program in 2018. We have a good culture around sales and most of us were doing well increasing our revenue. This year, with virtual life, we didn’t do so well. We just had a meeting to start off the year and debrief. Everyone agrees that selling virtually is a whole different thing and most of us feel ill-equipped to do it well.
We put a big emphasis on networking – “no go” in the virtual world. We put an emphasis on luncheons and meetings where clients can bring a friend – “no go” in the virtual world. We used to offer a free, in-person meeting for new prospects to review their existing portfolio. Not easy in the virtual world.
Can we reinvent ourselves? Do we wait until we are able to go back to doing it all in person?
It’s frustrating since we had a plan, but now we do not.
I recently conducted a sales training session with about 35 advisors. I asked them about obstacles and many of them mentioned selling in this virtual world. When we drilled down further, I learned the obstacles were more about perceptions than they were reality. In many cases the advisor believed they could read people more effectively when they were in the room with them, or they could get better answers out of the prospect or client when they were sitting in front of them. This is perception because it is a different way of thinking. It’s a belief that certain elements have to be in place for you to succeed.
But it isn’t accurate.
Are things different in the virtual world? Yes. I was recently asked to work with a pharmaceutical company, referred to me by one of our asset management clients. When you think about their sales approach, walking the halls of the hospital, buying lunch for a number of doctors and nurses and doing an in-person presentation, stopping in at a clinic to drop off information, you realize how different life is now. And yet, I was able to show them it requires a reframing of the way you approach things. In their scenario while an in-person lunch via Zoom falls flat, you send the lunch the day before and then do smaller more targeted Zoom meetings with subsets of the total groups – dieticians, specialty nurses, doctors and so on.
It isn’t the conditions that cause the problem, it is getting stuck in the paradigm that says there is only one way to make it work.
Offer portfolio reviews virtually. Have a specialized and targeted networking event virtually. Send lunch to a prospect and have a virtual meeting while you both enjoy something from a local restaurant.
Have your team get together – virtually – and make a list of the obstacles you are running into trying to mimic your success in the virtual world. Where, exactly, are you getting stuck? Then categorize the obstacles – what can you control or influence? What’s out of your control?
Examine the things you can control or influence and create some options to address them. You might keep everything you are doing, but change it up slightly so it better fits a virtual world.
Don’t wait until life goes back to something you had previously. Your competitors are not waiting – they are coming up with creative ways to talk to your prospects and maybe even your clients.
Reframe the way you think about this. You can “read” people over the phone and on camera almost as well as you can in person. It takes focus and listening but it’s very doable. Well before COVID, I closed about 90% of my business without ever having a chance to meet the person who was hiring me. I had to build trust without a face-to-face and, in my case, advisors are trusting me with their business. They are sharing very personal issues and concerns. It’s not an easy sale. I had no other choice, so I did it.
You can do it too. Change the paradigm. Change your focus from, “it won’t work” to, “what do we need to do to shift our approach and overcome the controllable obstacles?” Once you change the question, you change the possible answers.
Is there a fair way to allocate administrative resources amongst five partners who work very differently with their clients?
We have a pooled executive admin group, all of whom are high quality and very talented. Some of us use them for almost nothing. But when we need something, we need it quickly and done well. Others use them for everything and then things get backed up and the wait is long when an advisor has an important issue to be resolved. How do you divvy up time so it is fair and appropriate? We pay equally for their services out of our overhead.
Have you asked your high-quality admin team what they think should happen to institute best practices? Have you completed a time study to see where the requests are coming from, how long they take and whether the team is being efficient or not? Has the role of the admin team and how they are leveraged been defined clearly and agreed to by all five partners?
I am often asked to look at issues like this in advisory firms to make sure it is fair and running most efficiently. More often than not I find the questions I am posing to you have not been answered.
Have a whiteboard session where you capture the nature of the requests from each advisor. Why do some need more ongoing support than others and how empowered is your admin to respond most appropriately?
The answers often lie with your admin team. They see what’s happening, and they likely have ideas about what to do. They might not be confident enough to voice their views, so you have to create a situation where they can do so.
My warning: Sometimes one or more advisors are more vocal and direct than others and this can cause your less confident support people to shut down or be afraid. An open session like this needs to be managed carefully. With certain types of personalities, an outsider might be helpful to facilitate the discussion and ensure everyone’s views are heard in an objective and supportive manner.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. 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, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.