With about 90,000 financial advisors in Canada – ranging from independents to those working in full-service brokerages – differentiating yourself should be your No. 1 business goal, said many advisors speaking at the virtual Canada Sales Congress TV Show. 

It’s been Tom Love’s experience that when any salesperson is asked what they do, most people panic. But instead of losing the connection with the potential client, the Tennessee-based financial advisor and author of Turning Clients into Advocates advises you to focus on the way the client is listening to your conversation, paving the way to work together. 

The so-called “explanation of services” that most advisors give to clients is the “most misunderstood responsibility of any salesperson from any sales career,” Love said. He learned from others that most people don’t care what you do, they want to know why you do it and how you can help them. 

Share your passion 

“If your purpose is to make a commission, I strongly urge you to open a fast food restaurant – fewer headaches and probably more cash flow,” said Love. “But if you can share with me what you’re passionate about, why you do what you do, and the benefit from those who have actually done business with you, I’m interested in hitching my wagon to your horse. I’ll follow you for life.” 

Successful financial advisors need to understand that they aren’t marketing a product – they’re selling what the product does, said Marvin Feldman, a 40-year member of MDRT’s Top of The Table, living in Palm Harbor, FL. 

Problem solving 

“It’s not that we’re trying to sell products – we’re trying to solve problems,” said Feldman. “We want to ask questions that make clients think… and sometimes squirm because they hadn’t even thought of a particular problem or haven’t addressed it.” 

The questions are particularly important for successful professionals and entrepreneurs who have been so busy with their businesses that they haven’t dealt with personal issues, such as inheritances. “I can rebuild and I can revise and I can continue to help make that client bigger and bigger. But I don’t want to do so much on the first call that they pay the first premium but are reluctant to pay the second.”

For her part, Cindy David, president of boutique estate planning firm Cindy David Financial Group in Vancouver, said the best way advisors can differentiate themselves is to make sure they’re the most educated person in the room.

Find a mentor 

She suggested everything from doing as much reading and writing as you can, seeking out coaches and finding a mentor.

David, who is also president of CALU, said she differentiates herself by spending a lot of time on details so she can have a client’s key information right at her fingertips, the basis for what David believes is a great client meeting. During that meeting, pay attention to what you’re doing, making sure you listen more than you talk and are meeting the needs of the client.

She has differentiated herself in the industry by creating a unique business model – only working with five families, rather than the typical 350-500 households many other advisors have.

Knowing your target market makes it easier to define them to your centres of influence and other specialists, but don’t limit yourself since no one solution fits all, said David. 

Adrian George, the Canadian chair of MDRT, has honed how he differentiates himself to clients. George, who lives in Calgary, first asks clients some questions about what they care most about and what he can do for them.

“I needed a process that was authentically me so that when I share it with the people I’m talking with they can really buy into what I’m saying because I really believe in the process of how I’m going to help them,” he said. 

George said he tells potential clients that there are only a few places where they can put their income – they can save it, spend it, pay down a loan, or protect their money, all the while figuring out how much will be taken in taxes. If talking about debt management, he asks whether the purpose of paying off a loan is to free up cash flow or save interest. 

Embrace technology 

Advisors should differentiate themselves by embracing technology, a veritable must especially since the onset of COVID-19, said Christopher Dewdney, Principal/CFP at Dewdney&Co. in Toronto. 

The pandemic has forced many advisors to keep evolving and technology should be welcomed to help them differentiate themselves, said Dewdney. Most clients are more than happy to look at their portfolio via an app. Advisors who take this ride with clients will be able to leverage the changes and make their practice more efficient, he said. 

He noted that advisors have a responsibility to help others and do so at little or no cost. “Just like a lawyer who does a certain amount of pro bono work, advisors should allocate time per month to help a client that you wouldn’t necessarily have on your book. If we could all commit to such an effort … our country would be a lot better for it.”

Shining a light on philanthropy 

Elke Rubach at Rubach Wealth in Toronto began to build a unique brand back in 2015, when she co-founded Fashion Heals for SickKids, an annual fashion show and fundraiser, including patients and employees at SickKids Hospital. The event funds pediatric oncology and mental health initiatives and indirectly shines a light on the importance of philanthropy, said Rubach. 

When it comes to her firm, she deals with the intergenerational transfer of business, trying to balance the needs and wants of each generation.

“It’s so easy to avoid that kind of stress on a family…but it’s the minimum level of financial planning that you owe to your family,” she said.

Rubach encourages clients to get a will and proper life insurance. Everyone hates buying life insurance, she said, but she has yet to have someone come back to her and say the claim was too large and offer to give back some of the money.

Jesse Vu at Exceedia Consulting Ltd. in Calgary differentiates herself by building a “financial cake” based on six layers of financial planning information. 

Vu starts with the foundation of financial planning – cash flow and how money is spent, where from and how it leaves the client’s hands. Other layers deal with how clients live their lifestyle, paying off debt or accessing credit, then saving money for an emergency fund. Following that is predicting how much money needs to go to taxes and creditors and finally, estate planning.

“Many people build their financial cake upside down,” said Vu. “They put all their money into assets but their assets haven’t had time to generate income for them. As a result, their upside down cake means they don’t have any lifestyle, they’re accumulating debt, they don’t have any emergency money and in the event that something unpredictable happens, they don’t have that money either.”

Clearly defining goals 

Vu suggested that advisors build their practice based on what they want by clearly defining their goals and being efficient in their role. 

Having a background in a different specialty has helped Marnie White, a senior partner at Mosby Insurance Agencies in Vancouver, connect with both clients and centres of influence. With her first education in actuarial sciences, White is able to provide comprehensive financial planning services, aligning with “the best of the best” in terms of lawyers, bookkeepers, lenders and travel specialists. 

“Too many people in our business want to be everything to their clients,” said White. “We really believe in building that team and board of directors so our clients have all that expertise from various areas of training.” 

While armed with technical knowledge, White learned quickly that putting together pages of spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations didn’t impress clients. “What I realized fairly quickly is that there are two things that clients want to know. One is: can I trust you? And the second one is: can you solve my problems? They’re not interested in what I know about the income tax act. … We’re there to simplify their situation, make their lives easier and present a solution that makes sense to them.” 

Former professional football player Milan Topolovec now calls himself a financial architect for business owners. The Ottawa-based advisor decided on a specific market – professionals and business owners – who believe in supporting their families, paying their taxes and making the next generation better.

“My passion is serving people who get it,” he said. 

Create a picture of the future 

Topolovec said he likes to create a picture of the future for his clients and makes sure they ask him all they can about their financial future, noting the importance of an accountant and lawyer to help them.

Tony Gordon may be retired, but with 43 years under his belt as a Top of the Table member, the UK advisor knows that goals are essential. In fact, Gordon said only when advisors have a clear definition of where they want to go can they plan for the future.

Gordon acknowledged that setting goals, particularly daily objectives, isn’t easy. “[But] those who have the courage to set daily goals will always, always, be more successful than those who don’t.” 

He told advisors to stop telling clients what they need and ask them what they want. While that’s only a subtle difference, Gordon said it’s that knowledge that can double your business.

While many people have been adversely affected by COVID-19, Gordon said discipline has seen advisors through the pandemic successfully. “If we need what we need to do and continue to work the way we need to work – asking for referrals, making calls , speaking to clients – then there is nothing that has happened in the last 18 months that should have slowed down our progress.” 

Succession planning 

Even when exiting your business, differentiating yourself from others can be what makes your practice more appetizing, said Florida-based Don White, a succession planning coach and author of two books on the topic. 

The problem with succession planning is that advisors generally identify with who they are in their business and are doing little to complete a successful transition to another advisor, even though many feel they have a responsibility to their clients, said White.

“But if people understand where they are going they can set a proper course to get there. So when it comes to succession planning, you have to know where you’re going – you have to have a goal beyond yourself. My goal has always been … that this business would survive me. So from the very beginning, I was always looking for a successor, someone who could entertain taking this thing over.” 

And if the first potential successor doesn’t work out, White said “keep trying and fail forward.” 

Did you miss the Canada Sales Congress Livestream event held October 20 & 21? No worries, you can still view the entire show until November 30. To learn more, click here.