Position Yourself So Your Clients – and Google – Can Give You Better Referrals

It’s another “blog takeover” this week.  I’m putting the finishing touches on my book this week (so excited) and I asked Stephen Wershing CFP® to share his insights.  Steve has an amazing perspective on what it takes to become referable. He is the President of The Client Driven Practice, a firm that coaches financial advisors how to clarify their value, build their brand, and attract more referrals. He is also known for his work with client advisory boards. More on Stephen at the end of this post.  Take it away Steve….


How well can your clients describe your ideal client – the clients you most want to attract – and how well can your clients describe what steve wershingmakes you different from other advisors?

If you are fuzzy about exactly who you are looking for and if you use the same words as most other advisors to describe your value, you are missing out on many referrals you could otherwise attract.

The Sea of Sameness

Don’t make the mistake of saying what other advisors put on their websites.

So many sites I see say the same thing: independent, objective, comprehensive, wealth management, financial planning. How do you describe what makes you special?

Here’s something I pulled off the web site of a branch of a national brokerage firm: Our financial advisors make every effort to build one-on-one relationships with clients, offering personalized attention and financial guidance. If your elevator pitch or website says something like this, you’re adrift in the sea of sameness with most other advisors, brokers, and agents.

You need a way to summarize your value proposition – a fast and concise way to describe your worth to a prospective client and a clear statement that differentiates you from other advisors. Your need to teach it to your clients so they can remember it when they hear an opportunity to refer you. And it needs to be on your home page so people finding your website can understand if you are the right advisor for them.

The Google Effect

This issue is important even if most or all of your new clients come by referral and it’s because of The Google Effect.

In days past, a client who was referred was likely to pick up the phone and call you, but no more. These days, upon hearing a little about you, the first thing people do is go home and Google you. While they’re at it, there is a pretty good chance they will also search for other advisors using search terms that describe their challenge. They are more likely to search for “divorce” or “severance” or “adult day care” than they are to search for “financial advisor” or “certified financial planner.”

You may have an amazing presentation that you make to prospects in an introductory meeting, but you have to get that appointment for it to work its magic. If your website looks pretty much like your competitors, you have lost some of the advantage of being referred in the first place. You are now just one firm among many that turned up in the search.

“I talked to several hundred consumers and got a sense of how they were finding financial advisors” says Raghav Sharma, President of Guidevine.com.  “And overwhelmingly people were looking for things online. They were putting in the search, “find a financial advisor, XYZ city” and were getting lost in the results because websites aren’t differentiated enough and everyone says the same buzzwords. I wish I had a buck for every time I heard “I’m a holistic fiduciary.”

Advisors aren’t differentiating themselves enough in the eyes of the consumer and they aren’t creating compelling enough messages to cause action on the part of the person looking. So people were just hunting but not finding. One memorable quote for me was, ‘I can find more about plumbers on Angie’s List than I can find about financial advisors anywhere.’

How much might you be missing out on? A Fidelity Institutional study found that 640,000 people a month are using Google to search for financial advisors.

Establishing Your Brand

Establishing your brand requires putting your value proposition, and what makes you different, everywhere you have a marketing message. Whenever you have a chance to tell people what you do, verbally, in print, or on the web, you need to be reinforcing the description of your ideal client and that special solution or experience you deliver.

You need a way to concisely describe to people what is special about the kind of advice you provide. That explanation should explain, quickly and clearly, what sets you apart from other advisors and why your target client should hire you over the other advisors they might meet. To address that need I recommend that you develop a positioning statement for your firm.

“Positioning” refers to a marketing concept first popularized by legendary marketing strategists Al Ries and Jack Trout in their book of the same name in 1981. In the book they discuss the problems faced by anyone trying to communicate something in an over communicated society. (Imagine – it was an over communicated society and we had not yet invented the World Wide Web! Think of the scale of that problem today.) They point out that the attempt to communicate what you do may be futile and that what you really want is to occupy a certain position in people’s minds. The goal is to become associated with a concept that is not occupied by other companies. The way that IBM occupies the position of big computers, Kleenex occupies the position of facial tissue, and Lego occupies the position of plastic interlocking building blocks. What I refer to as “owning a spot on the client’s brain.”

Everyone has a filing system in their mind. And for every concept, every product, every person, every brand, we attempt to find a pigeonhole to put it in. Your goal as a marketer is to occupy the right cubby. You cannot occupy a space that another company or person occupies and you cannot occupy something that has no pigeonhole, like service or peace of mind. So your objective when you meet someone new who asks about your firm is to help them file you in the right place.

“I Didn’t Realize You Offered That.”

You have probably had an experience like I did early in my career. I was visiting a client’s office. I managed the investments in the company’s 401(k), and the personal portfolios of several of the firm’s executives and managers. I noticed that the client had a life insurance illustration on the desk in front of him. He was looking to add key person policies for several of the top people. I asked if I could bring him a proposal if only for comparison purposes to make sure they were getting the best value. His response? “Oh, you do insurance?”

I had inadvertently positioned myself as an investment manager even though my original training was as a financial planner and I always took a comprehensive approach with my clients. And, judging by the conversations I have, I am in good company. When I ask about the most valuable services they offer clients, advisors go quickly to their investment management services. And that will not set you apart.

This is why it is so important to make it clear what makes you different from other advisors the first time you have an opportunity to describe your firm to someone. And, it’s important to repeat versions of it throughout your relationship. You want to make sure they file you in the right pigeonhole so that you are easy to recall when one of their friends describes a need for what occupies that same pigeonhole.

And so you need a way to describe what you do to position you in the right spot in the clients mind. Ideally it will start by identifying the unique need of your ideal client and the special way you address that need. It may lead to listing a couple examples of what kind of outcome or experience certain clients had because they worked with you.

Creating Your Positioning Statement

Here is a structure I recommend as a way to start building your positioning statement:

  • A quick introduction that summarizes what is different and most significant about what you offer. It should run no more than about 10 seconds. And it should serve primarily to prompt a question if the person you’re talking to is in your target market or knows someone who is.
  • If they open the door to a longer conversation, give a sentence or two that summarizes the benefit you provide.
  • List a couple of challenges your ideal client faces. Often, you don’t even need to explain how you address those issues; simply indicating that you understand what they are up against (specifically – “the need to save for retirement” won’t do it) can help people feel like you relate to them.
  • Possibly include a surprising statistic that many advisors would not know if they did not have the same area of focus. You may want to introduce it with “for example, did you know…?”
  • Pivot to a client story that illustrates the benefit of the work you do. Stories are more memorable than a list of benefits and a great way to explain the outcome of working with you rather than what the process will look like.

A positioning statement is not a sales pitch. It is simply a more focused and meaningful way of explaining the business you are in. It is a way of telling people how to file you in their mental records. Even better, it is a lot more interesting than a sales pitch and does not come with the kind of pressure a sales pitch might generate.

Being consistent with a statement that lays out specifically who you want to attract and what unique experience you can offer them will help you teach clients and centers of influence who to refer and what to say when it comes up in conversation. Putting that message on your website and in your marketing will make sure that everyone understands the advantage of choosing you, whether they find you through a referral, through their accountant, or through Google.

I have created a short guide with 10 tips on putting together a great positioning statement for your company. You can download it for free at http://get.clientdriven.solutions/10-steps/.


More on Stephen:

Stephen Wershing, CFP® is President of The Client Driven Practice, a firm that coaches financial advisors how to clarify their value, build their brand, and attract more referrals. He is also known for his work with client advisory boards.

Ever read or see Moneyball? What Steve realized is that the common wisdom about referrals is just as wrong as Billy Bean discovered it was about winning games. And he has developed a research based system to show you how to position yourself to attract more referrals than ever.

Bob Veres calls Steve “the best marketing mind in financial planning.” His book, Stop Asking for Referrals: A Revolutionary New Strategy for Building a Financial Service Business that Sells Itself was published by McGraw Hill in 2012.

Steve has authored articles or been quoted in many trade and popular publications including Journal of Financial Planning, Financial Advisor, Investment Advisor, Investment News and USA Today.

Steve started as a registered rep 28 years ago, becoming a fee based advisor and later into a broker dealer executive. He became Chief Operating Officer of a national firm and subsequently President of a regional B/D before dedicating himself to coaching advisors full time in 2011.

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