Coaching can boost advisors’ sales and confidence

By Susan Yellin | March 12 2013 08:57PM

Golfer Tiger Woods has one, so does tennis star Andy Murray and virtually every professional and amateur sports team: a coach.

It may not be their swing or serve that advisors need tweaked, but when it comes to increasing sales, strengthening leadership skills or bouncing ideas off a reliable sounding board, many have sought the aid of a coach to boost their bottom line, instil confidence and help them move further along the way.

“When you pay attention to almost anything a coach points out, you will almost always get better, because that old story is true: whatever you measure will improve,” says Jim Ruta, business tactician, motivational speaker, author and president of Expert Institute, Productivity and Performance Consultants. “And if it’s really good advice then a good student who is prepared to listen and is prepared to do things can make huge things happen.”

Before any coaching session with a new client, coaches will have a pre-meeting to set roles, responsibilities and expectations of both the coach and the client. And while many say there are long-lasting benefits that can result, advisors need to ensure they don’t set themselves up for disappointment.

Fit: A coaching-client relationship is very personal and if the two don’t click, it’s not going to be an easy fit. For their part, advisors need to think about the way they operate and how they receive advice and the way they would want to work for someone, says Julie Littlechild, CEO of Advisor Impact.

Execution: “This relationship usually brings up areas the advisor needs to change and it’s not just good enough to have the conversations, they’ve got to do something about it. They also have to know they’ve got the time, the inclination and the motivation to act on what comes out of it, otherwise the best coaching will fail,” Ms. Littlechild says.

Coach vs motivational speaker vs. mentor: Not all sounding boards are the same. A motivational speaker tends to talk in larger groups, while a mentor is generally from the same profession.

Understand what a coach really does: There can also be disappointment if people think coaches will give them a lot of great ideas and then do all the work for the advisor, says Eric Sheikowitz, senior managing partner with coaching company Focus Partners LLC in New Jersey. “Sometimes they think: I’m looking for the silver bullet, the great idea and that’s what I want my coach to do. And it’s disappointing because as coaches, we try to set expectations right from the beginning about what we are going to do.” Mr. Sheikowitz says coaches do bring ideas to the table but it’s not up to them to make it happen – it’s up to the client. “I can lead the client to the phone, but I can’t make him dial.”

Be coachable: By the time an advisor gets to a coach they often know they have to make changes, but that doesn’t always mean they’ll like what they hear, says Mr. Ruta. But having a coach means you have to listen and take action based upon advice that you might not exactly agree with.

Courage: “It takes courage to change,” says Mr. Ruta. “A coach needs to inspire you and also has to be tough sometimes and say the person is doing something wrong.”  Owning up that you don’t know everything and need help is part and parcel of the coaching experience.

Credentials: Like financial planners or advisors, anyone can call themselves a coach, so check out a potential coach’s credentials before diving in, says Eileen Chadnick, principal, Big Cheese Coaching & Chadnick Communications. Accredited coaches have been through a training process themselves on how to best work with a client.

Industry knowledge: While it’s not essential for a coach to have knowledge of a particular industry to do a good job, there are some who find this preferable. “We hold the clients as experts, we just have to get them to think it through,” says Ms. Chadnick.

Be prepared to invest time and money: She says coaching assignments can be long or short. Tightly focused agendas may mean there will only be a few meetings, but most coaches tend to work with an advisor, senior executive or manager over a longer period. Some of Ms. Chadnick’s clients keep an online journal so even if they meet less frequently they keep in touch in between meetings.

Mr. Sheikowitz says most coaching assignments at his company last six months to a year, but could last up to three years.
And he says it’s paid off.  “We have taken sole practitioners who, say, three years ago would have $500,000 in production and over the course of time we have helped them market their business better, create more efficiency in their practice and have been able to bring on junior partners.” he says. “Three years later, that individual is on track for $1.4 million in production, has hired a junior partner, a sales assistant and a marketing firm to help with the client service.”

As for cost, some companies will often help pay for a coach, says Michael Silver, who works with Mr. Sheikowitz. But even for those who have to foot the bill themselves, Mr. Silver gives the example of an advisor in Virginia whose production went from $420,000 to $525,000 a year and now makes $40,000 a year more in net pay. The advisor paid $5,000 for a year’s worth of coaching, meaning he made a return of eight times his investment.

Many of the coaches themselves say the profession is growing because advisors appreciate the end product. While increasing the bottom line is a motivator, a truly good coaching experience will end up affecting a person’s entire life, says Ms. Chadnick.

“How they go about executing on what a coach suggests not only ends up meeting their individual goals but they grow themselves in the process. In the end, they have more confidence, more self-awareness and more tools that they can transfer to other goals and dimensions of their lives.”