This blogger can sit still and talk about almost any subject. There is just one topic that usually sets off a dash for the exit—feelings. Oh, the thought of being reeled in is enough to call it quits.

Getting people to talk about what matters to them seems to be working for Shamrock Asset Management, though. The business development officer there has a talent for empathy that has helped the firm grow its business, and established a model of behavior that the firm looks for in other new hires.

Shamrock Asset Management represents a distinct preference for business development hires at broker-dealer and registered investment advisory firms, according to takeaways from Fidelity's 13th Annual Executive Forum. Fidelity fielded a study among a sampling of about 100 attendees, and found 75% of the broker-dealer and registered investment advisory firms are planning to hire up to 30% more employees over the next 12 months.

That is a major finding, but here is another illuminating part: A lot of the respondents said they were looking for business development professionals. Demand is heavily weighted toward production. 

“There was a deep-rooted discussion for a business development officer, generating business through community activities,” said Scott Dell’Orfano, executive vice president of sales at Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services. “Kind of like a rainmaker of sorts.”

More than 335 broker-dealers and RIA firms sent delegates to the Executive Forum, where advisors talked a lot about how to compensate these key players.

That brings us back to Dallas-based Shamrock Asset Management, where selling products within the context of holistic wealth management is a strong part of the culture at the registered investment advisory firm, Thomas C. Goyne, the founding principal and managing director of Shamrock Asset Management, said in a telephone interview. The business development officer closes about 50% of all new prospective clients. Since 2010, roughly the time that the new business development professional joined, Shamrock Asset Management has hired three key employees. The firm is also looking to acquire smaller firms in the area.

In Goyne’s experience—he has been around the financial services industry for almost 40 years—go-getters are most effective when they can understand and give sincere feedback to a client as he or she starts talking about money. It is very different from sympathy, where a professional might acknowledge the client’s feelings and even agree with them. That sounds good, but sympathizers do not tend to go the extra step, which is to relay that information back to the client before understanding the whole picture and taking action.

“I’m a very strong believer in the concept that it is more important to find a person with the correct personality traits than it is to worry about compensation,” Goyne said.

The industry hears the word empathy a lot these days, as advisors come around to the idea of opening up more of their client discussions to what moves the customer. It is critical in a business development officer, Goyne said.

“That person has got to understand the whole concept of ‘diagnose before you prescribe,’” Goyne said. “The typical sales guy says ‘this is what you need’ and goes to sell it. You’ve got to listen with your eyes before you listen with your ears. The eyes get the client’s intent, while the ears only get content.”

Once that skill becomes second nature to a financial advisory professional, the sales process becomes easy. It is no longer about pushing a product on someone, he said.

Empathy is an important skill, Goyne says, requiring constant practice for those who are not innately gifted with it. Precious, too. An unfailingly polite Texan, Goyne declined to name this treasure at his firm, not wanting the professional to be lured away by recruiters, poachers or any other agent.

Another finding that came out of the Executive Forum: 32% of respondents said that ongoing industry consolidation has made it easier to recruit. Although 62% said consolidation has had no impact, Goyne is firmly in the former camp. With about $250 million in assets under management, but is growing that at about 7% per quarter, he said. It has other prospects for expansion. 

A smaller advisory firm did not work out as an acquisition prospect, but went to a family office. During the transition, the principal’s lieutenant at the smaller firm became available, and the firm hired him.

“He’s one of the sharpest guys I’ve met,” Goyne said. “There is a lot of talent out there.”

Indeed, Shamrock has stocked up on a lot of talent since 2010. Goyne has brought on his potential successor, the new business development officer—with plans to add another—and a client relationship manager.