What have you done so far this year to differentiate yourself from the more than 420,000 wealth managers out there competing to serve the affluent market?
Here's one of the smartest things you can do: Become fascinating to the people around you - clients, prospective clients and others who can help you build a great business. That means taking your own individual strengths and applying them strategically to create memorable experiences, build meaningful relationships and create a better business. That line of thinking has been developed by Sally Hogshead, a pioneer in what it takes to successfully market yourself using the concept of fascination; she's also the author of Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation.
Hogshead has been working with CEG Worldwide and the top advisors in our coaching program to enhance their success. Here's what we've learned:
I suspect some of you are thinking: "This doesn't apply to me because nothing about me is especially fascinating." But, as Hogshead says, that's not the case. In fact, we are hardwired to fascinate other people, although it's a trait we tend to bury over time.
Think about infants: They know innately how to make connections and attract others. (It's evolutionary; constant attention helps ensure their survival.) But soon enough, we stop standing out from the crowd and start wanting to fit in.
The key is to tap into what Hogshead calls the "triggers to fascinate." People crave engagement; our brains don't want to get bored. Being completely focused on whatever is in front of us actually feels good. Our barriers drop, we become more connected to people, our cynicism diminishes and we connect more deeply to other people.
The upshot for advisors: The best way to get noticed and be persuasive is to fascinate clients and other people around you.
It is important to understand the seven specific techniques - or triggers - that can help you command people's attention.
* Power: Take command by showing your authority and control. People who use power are decisive, opinionated and in control of a situation.
* Passion: Draw people in by making emotional connections.
* Mystique: Arouse people's curiosity. Our brains constantly search for ways to fill in missing puzzle pieces and see patterns. If you are carefully selective in the way you deliver your message, people stay with you because you haven't satiated them. You can cull your communication and edit what you say so that every detail carries more weight.
* Prestige: Increase your perceived value to command more respect. This is essential if you want to move upmarket.
* Alarm: Present the negative consequences of inaction in order to get people to act. This is especially helpful in getting people to move forward when they might not want to do, like paying their taxes. (The IRS is expert at leveraging people's alarm trigger.)
* Rebellion: Focus on change, innovation, creativity and surprise. (This trigger is key for entrepreneurs.) Rebellion allows you to view the world, a market or your business in different ways from the rest of the pack. People tend to take notice because they're getting a different view.
* Trust: Highly valuable because it's the hardest to earn - but also the easiest to lose.
Anyone can use the various triggers, although each of us has one or two that are dominant. And advisors can apply some of these triggers in common situations.
If you want to be perceived as a leader, for instance, use the power trigger. Identify and communicate your own "opinions of authority" - those beliefs that aren't accepted facts, but that you can stand behind and would be valuable to clients.
Next, improve your relationships with clients by empowering them directly. Allow them to choose their preferred channel of communication, for instance, by asking what their choices are during a first meeting: Do you prefer phone or email? Mornings or evenings? How often?
On the other hand, if you want to raise your fees, use the prestige trigger. Make one aspect of your client experience go above and beyond the norm to stand out. (As an example, Hogshead highlights a hotel she stayed at recently that has a pillow menu - including, among other choices, a buckwheat pillow.)
Ask yourself how your company can really stand out. It might be the way you answer the phone, or the way your invoices look. The smaller and more specific the aspect, the better - don't try to reinvent your entire operation. Rather, develop a signature that elevates the whole picture and changes people's perceptions.
In another scenario, you might have a prospective client who won't pull the trigger and commit. In this case, use the passion trigger. Passion is all about emotional connections, and too much information can kill passion. Start with an emotional basis - a story - for the conversation instead of throwing out a lot of facts.
Incidentally, you don't have to be hugely passionate to use the passion trigger. If you can tap into what your clients are passionate about, you can effectively use passion to improve your business. Focus on what your clients care about deeply (perhaps their children or their hobbies) and offer support in that area.
If an existing client won't take your recommended action, the alarm trigger may be the key to success. It won't build long-term loyalty, but it does drive decisions and immediate cash flow. It's best used when people are waffling or procrastinating about a decision to move forward.
To tap the alarm trigger and make a client more likely to act, first define a deadline. Also use specificity, accountability and concrete deliverables to create a framework that will cause people to respond.
One final example involves the trust trigger. People's brains seek regularity: They want to know exactly what you will do so that, in a world of uncertainty, they will have a pattern to guide them. But when something breaks a pattern, they instinctively pull away from it.
That means it's crucial to make your service predictable: If your clients don't know exactly what will come next in terms of their dealings with you, they will withdraw their trust.
You can further build trust by embedding clients in your business. For example, you might take a picture of clients early on in your relationship and hang it on your wall - then take another picture five or 10 years later and hang the two images side by side, creating continuity.
RISK OF BEING BORING
It can feel uncomfortable to be fascinating. But we live in a world - and work in an industry - where boring is no longer a safe option.
Spend time thinking about what makes your business stand out from your competitors' firms. Then figure out where those key differentiators intersect with Hogshead's fascination triggers.
Maybe you have strong opinions of authority that allow you to present yourself as a powerful leader to prospective clients, staff and others. Or perhaps you are adept at wrapping information and advice into stories that show your passion for helping clients.
Whatever the case, take some time to think about how you can leverage fascination triggers in your interactions with clients, prospects and centers of influence. That insight can help transform all of your communications - from a quick elevator speech to extended group presentations.
John J. Bowen Jr., a Financial Planning columnist, is founder and CEO of CEG Worldwide of San Martin, Calif., a global training, research and consulting firm for advisors.