In a Nutshell: All financial advisors deliver services and advice. The ones who are growing their businesses find creative ways to stand out in an increasingly crowded marketplace and attract a niche of clients they can offer the most value to.

Guest: Steve Wershing. Steve is the President of The Client Driven Practice and the author of Stop Asking for Referrals. He’s also the cohost of a great podcast called Becoming Referable.

My Key Takeaway: To differentiate both your firm and your prospective client base:

1. Discover, design, develop, and declare your niche.

2. Craft a unique client experience that will cater to your ideal client.

3. Remember: a niche is a need that sets your clients apart, and a need that you are able to service in a unique way.

Also Learn:

1. Why separating “target” from “niche” is essential to transforming your business.

2. How simple tweaks to things like your meeting calendar can have a big impact on your niche client experience and drive up your value to clients.

3. What kinds of dialogues you can have with clients that will lead to referrals … without you having to ask for them.

Complementary Episode: Pair this with my conversation with Ian Chamandy, who discusses the blueprint he developed for explaining your story and your value proposition to your target client base. Listen/read here.

Resources Featured In This Episode

The Client Driven Practice Visit Steve and his team.

Stop Asking for Referrals Check out Steve’s book on how to master “the new referral conversation.

Becoming Referable Listen to Steve’s podcast. He has a really great guest on the December 14, 2019 episode!

Values Clarification Toolkit Click here to download this FREE tool and start living your values.

Full Transcript

Steve Sanduski: If you have a potential client and they’re interviewing you and let’s say a couple other firms. How do you make your firm stand out so that they choose to work with you?

Well, one way to make your firm standout is to focus on a specific niche that solves the needs of those ideal clients and then wrap it around a compelling and engaging client experience. Now, of course that’s a lot easier said than done. So on today’s show, we’re going to break it down for you and we’re going to do a deep dive on niche marketing and talk about how to discover, design, develop, and declare your nice so that you can get a steady stream of ideal clients knocking on your door.

Hey everyone, welcome back to Between Now and Success, I’m your host Steve Sanduski and my guest today is Steve Wershing. Steve is the president of the client driven practice, he is a former broker dealer executive, and he’s the author of a book called, Stop Asking for Referrals. He’s also the cohost of a great podcast called, Becoming Referable. And with that, I hope you enjoy today’s show. …

Steve, welcome to the show.

Steve Wershing: Steve thanks for having me, it’s a great pleasure to be on your show.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah well, it’s fun for you and I to connect here. Again, we’ve known each other for a long time and occasionally run into each other at different conferences, so it’s going to be enjoyable here to get you on the podcast and share some of your expertise with my audience.

Steve Wershing: I’m looking forward to it.

Steve Sanduski: So, I think where we’re going to focus today is on how do we create a differentiated practice, and as you think about the financial advisory business, they do the same thing, okay. So advisors, they deliver advice, they provide services to their clients. So that all is very similar, and so I want to figure out what are some things that advisors do to create a business that stands out from the other firms in the marketplace.

I know you’ve done a lot of work in that area, a lot of research in that area. So, I’d love to hear, let’s maybe start at the 30,000 foot level. So, how do you just think about this idea of creating a business that is differentiated from all the other advisors out there?

Steve Wershing: Well Steve, that is the challenge. Not only do we look alike to most clients out there, but the fact of the matter is, they don’t exactly understand what we do. And so, it’s even harder if you’re not exactly talking the language of the person who you’re speaking to, it’s really hard to separate yourself from everybody else who speaks the same financial advisor language that we do.

For us, differentiation is all about niche, and I want to clarify something because I use the word niche in a very specific way. I draw a distinction between target and niche. Now, a lot of people who talk about those words, they use them interchangeably and I used to before somebody finally educated me about this.

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Steve Wershing: And the target and niche are actually two different things. So the target market is the group of people that you want to attract as clients, but the niche is the unique experience that you put together in order to attract them and service them. And so, we believe that you should have a very distinct niche that you should have a unique niche. But, the paradox is, well if you really want to specialize, if you want a very special niche, doesn’t that mean that you can have such a narrow market that you can define yourself out of business?

Well, when you separate target and niche, now that becomes possible. You can have very, very distinct niche and still appeal to a wide group of people. So, the best way I’ve heard to describe what that means is to go outside of financial advice. And, when I speak to audiences, I’ll I ask now, “If I were to ask you for the name of a retailer that does really well with mass affluent women looking fashion in shoes, who would you say?”

Steve Sanduski: Target.

Steve Wershing: Target, let’s go even upscale, let’s go higher than that. Can you think of a-

Steve Sanduski: Nordstrom.

Steve Wershing: Nordstrom, exactly. Nordstrom, is a great example because they do really well in that market, they’ve got a very distinct presence in the market, and their customer service is famous. So Nordstrom has done really well with that market.

You know who else has done well with that market? A company called Stitch Fix. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them, but Stitch Fix is essentially a personal shopping service. You call them, you sign up for an account, they put you together with a designer and that person will find out what your tastes are, they’ll find out what your sizes are, they’ll find out what kinds of things you like to wear. And they’ll just send you a box once a month, and whatever you like in the box, you keep and pay for. And the rest of it, you ship back at their expense.

The target market for Stitch Fix as described by its founder is 37 year old women, working 90 hours a week at their law firm. So same target market as Nordstrom, but wildly different niches, that’s the best way I can describe that. You can have companies that do essentially the same thing, but you can do them in radically different ways and that’s how you stand out from the competition.

Steve Sanduski: So, this idea of creating a niche, you’re saying that’s the key way to develop this differentiated strategy. So let’s tie that to the advisory business then, and give me an example of a target market for an advisor, and then how you then identify the niche within the target market. Do you have like a specific example for an advisory business?

Steve Wershing: Sure. So, let’s take a wide target market, let’s take a general target market, and that is people approaching retirement. It’s one that I know is near and dear to your house with return on life. But, people who are approaching … One of the things I say in the last book, Stop Asking for Referrals, is a niche is a need. If you’re looking at designing a unique niche, think about the needs that your target clients have that separate them from the rest of the population.

So, let’s say that you’re going for pre-retirees. Well, what things do people need as they go into that retirement transition that other people don’t need?

Well, they need somebody who understands the ins and outs of pension distributions, they need to know … they have a technical expert on social security, they might need something, they might need to find someone who can help them understand the difference in their lifestyle and how they adapt to it. They might have all kinds of those needs. Those are needs that come up once in your life, and that’s the time when they come up.

Now, that’s still a huge market, given how many baby boomers are retiring every year. But, you can create a unique experience around those particular needs and you can separate yourself from all of the general practitioner financial advisors. You can separate yourself from financial advisors that have very narrow target markets. You can say to somebody, who’s coming up on retirement, “Listen, I know things, I can do things. I have aspects of working with me that are tailored to what you’re looking for at this moment in your life.”

So, that’s one example of how to do it with a broad market. The way that is more commonly thought of is having a narrow target market, which is different than a distinctive niche. A narrow target market might be … Well your target market might be teachers, and so if you’re a financial advisor that is focusing on teachers, then you need to know some specific things, and you may design your experience for around some of those things.

So for example, you might have more appointments in the summer, or you might have all of your appointments after 3:00 PM, or you might go to the school. This is how a long time ago, the folks that built their business, they would hang out in the teachers lounges, you probably can’t do that anymore. But, the idea is you would put yourself in a place, or at a time that would work for them in addition to needing to have the technical skills about state retirement plans and 403(B) and those kinds of things. I’ve heard a lot of advisors say things like, “Well, my specialty is 403(B)’s.” I would suggest you not say that. Your specialty is teachers, and one of the particular skills you have to work with that target market is expertise in the 403(B) accounts, but you don’t specialize in 403(B)’s. So those are a couple of examples of what I mean by that.

Steve Sanduski: So we also see a lot of advisors that will target a profession, so they might work with doctors, they might work with lawyers, they might work with engineers. So, how would you think about that? Are you thinking, “Okay, that’s the target, now let’s find something sub-specialty within that where you can create the niche and have a specialized expertise for not just doctors, but maybe eye surgeons.” Or something like that?

Steve Wershing: Right, sure. And this is where we get back to niche in need. So, some of them may be, most of them may be financial. So you might say, “What is unique about this engineers’ outlook on life? Or, this engineers needs? What’s special about this doctor’s needs?”

Well engineers are famous for being detail oriented and being very analytical, and there are a lot of advisors that don’t necessarily like working with engineers because they ask a lot of questions. But, if you understand where engineers come from, one of the things that is fundamental to a lot of engineers personalities is they want to make sure that they ask any question they need to ask to make sure that they get it right. That they don’t make a mistake. And so, you might design a system that says … One of the advisors I work with, for example, what we eventually came around to was I know what kinds of questions are on your mind, and I know how to give you enough information and the right kind of information so you can be confident that this plan will succeed.

That’s speaking to engineers. It’s not that they just want endless amounts of detail. There actually is a pattern to that, and what they’re looking for is they want the evidence that this plan is not going to fail. Just like they want to make sure that, “The airplane wing I’m designing is not going to fail. Or, that the machine that I’m designing is not going to fail.” That’s what they want in their financial plan too.

So when you design an experience you might design it where you’re going to deliver enough of and the right kind of information to make those folks happy, that they can move forward with that plan. But, combining financial and nonfinancial things let’s go to the example of the doctors. What are the needs that the doctors have that separate them from the rest of the population? Well it kind of depends on what kind of doctor. Doctors are not one thing.

Steve Wershing: I did an advisory board a couple years ago for a firm that had a specialty in doctors, and we got all of those, we got a bunch of those doctors together and asked them, “So, what’s most on your mind?” And they came up with something that was not even on our radar. What they came up with was, we see where this industry is going, and all of us who are individual sole practitioners, we know that we’re going to be selling out to a hospital system probably in the next 10 years, we need to know how to navigate that. We need to know how to negotiate the right deal for ourselves and how to make that transition, and how to handle all the financial aspects of it correctly.”

Well that was … like I said, that wasn’t even on our radar, so it led that firm to research a whole bunch of things so they could be valuable to those doctors. Another example would be OBGYN’s, obstetricians are the most litigated against medical specialty of all. So, one of the things you might deliver in your unique niche experience is either some expertise or some centers of influence you could refer them to that do medical malpractice insurance. Or that you might have a specialty in asset protection strategy, so when they do get sued, what you’ve been able to work so hard for is protected against some of those things.

Other advisors recognize that doctors have more demands on their time than a lot of other professions so they might design their experience so that you could meet virtually, or so that you can deliver a financial planning experience in small increments, so that you don’t have to block out a two hour meeting because many doctors couldn’t do that. So, that’s a nonfinancial aspect of developing a niche experience.

It really all goes back to, what are the unique needs that these folks have because when you can talk to them, then you can talk their language and you can talk about things that are specifically meaningful to them.

Steve Sanduski: Those are some great example. Now, I’m wondering, how does an advisor identify the niche that’s going to work for them? And for example, what I mean is you gave the example of the engineer. So engineers have a very … Most engineers have a very specific personality, like you mentioned they’re very orderly, they’re very precise. Now, an advisor that’s going to work with engineers probably needs to have the same kind of personality as well, or else there’s going to be a big mismatch there and they’re going to drive each other crazy.

So what are some things that advisors should be thinking about when they’re trying to identify, “What is the right niche for me? And how much do I need to think about what my personality type is? And how I’m going to mesh with the people in the niche that I’m considering”?

Steve Wershing: Right. Well, somebody I like to mention when we talk about these kinds of things is Evelyn Zohlen, who’s a financial advisor in southern California. And when she talks about developing her niche experience, she got her staff together and they asked the questions, “Who do we most like to work with? And what are we most like to do?” And that’s a great place to start, because if you can identify the people that you really enjoy working with, then you can get a lot more joy out of working with a lot more people like that. So that’s where I would start.

Some other questions you could ask might include, “What expertise do I have that separates me from other folks? What resources do I have access to?” You might ask, “What are the most significant outcomes I’ve been able to create for clients?”

When you think back on the career that you’ve had so far, what are the biggest memories you have? Most of us have at least one or two memories of really changing somebody’s life. Well, what happened in that experience? What happened in that relationship?

All of those things can give you clues as to where you might start looking for … What kind of a target market you want to specialize in.

Steve Sanduski: What about an advisor who has been in the business for 10, 15, 20 years, they’ve got 50, 100, 150 clients and they’re at the point where they really want to accelerate the growth in their business. And as they look at their practice, their clients are just all over the board. They don’t really have a strong niche anywhere, but they like this idea of trying to create a niche. What do you suggest someone like that does in terms of should they reorient all of their marketing now? Should they revamp their website when they identify the niche and now they just kind of go after this new niche? Do they create a separate website? What do they tell their existing clients who may not be in this new niche that they’re targeting?

So how would someone go from having an established business to want to move to a niche? How do you make that transition?

Steve Wershing: Yeah, there are a lot of advisors have struggled with that and the best advice I can offer is, you would ask a lot of the same questions, “Of all of my clients, who do I most like to work with and what do I most like to do?”

And think about it as developing a specialty, there are a lot of advisors who worry that, “If I start specializing, and I start orienting all my marketing toward a group of people, then all of my clients who are not in that group are going to leave because they will feel unloved.”

Well, it’s certainly worth thinking about, but it’s probably not a big concern, as long as you continue to provide the great services that you always have. Your clients are probably going to stay with you. But, to help alleviate some of your concerns about that, one thing that I can recommend is to describe it to your existing clients as, “We have this new specialty, we have a … We love working with you and with people like you, and we’ve developed this specialty for a part of our business that is this …” And you can describe it to them. And that way you’re not saying, “We’re totally reorienting the business and no longer focusing on people like you.” What you can say is, “We’ve developed this area of specialty that we can no cater to.” Or you might even go so far as to say, “That’s really where we want to get our new clients from.”

So if it’s divorcing women and one of your friends tells you that she’s going to get divorced, that’s when we would ask that you think about us because we have this new specialty and we have an area of focus in that.

In terms of your marketing, you can reorient all of your marketing because most of your existing clients are not going to your homepage that often. But, if you have concerns about it, you can develop a micro site. So, you might have a separate page on your website that is tailored to that target market, and you refer to that in all of your marketing so that people who don’t know you yet would go to that and see the specialty. But, if your existing clients continue to go to your current homepage, they will still see the general message that you were projecting before.

And there are some firms that will do that with multiple markets, so some advisors for example that have a general financial planning practice, but they may have a specialty in veterinarians, so they’ve got a veterinarians page. And on their main page, there’s a little menu item that says veterinarians, but all of their marketing refers to the veterinarians page, so that when the vets go there, that’s the page they see first and it’s tailored to them.

So you can sort of bifurcate your marketing a little bit that way and again, portray it as sort of a specialty and not that you’re wholesale and replacing everybody you currently have with this new target market that you’re working on.

Steve Sanduski: So you mentioned marketing there, so let’s go a little deeper into that. How do you think about niche marketing and does that differ from just regular marketing if I don’t have a niche in my business, I’ve got to do some marketing things. How do you think about niche marketing and what are some specific things that advisors can do as it relates to marketing to their specific niche?

Sure. We actually, in our business, in our consulting business we have what we call the 4D Niche Strategy, which is how we take people through that, and the 4D’s are: Discover, Design, Develop, and Declare. Discover is, who’s the target market? What’s the unique group of people that you want to communicate with? And most importantly, what are the needs that they have that separate them from everybody else? Not a need for financial plan, not a need for a balanced portfolio, and not a need for a retirement plan, everybody has that need.

So it’s not something worth talking about at the beginning. You want to start talking about what’s different about them. So discover those people and what those unique needs are. Design an experience that would cater to those needs. Develop that experience so once you’ve written out that promise on paper, what tools, resources, connections, skills do you need so you can deliver on that promise. And then, declare, of course, is the marketing plan.

So for us it flows from the target market and those needs all the way through the process. So what you end up with at the end is a marketing plan, but since it was based in that target market it’s a marketing plan that is tailored to that group of people.

Steve Sanduski: So, let’s go over through that 4D here a little bit more. So, the first D, you mentioned is to discover that target market. So let’s just assume, let’s not use the pre-retiree, let’s pick another … What would be another example that may be is less common?

Steve Wershing: So, some of the interesting ones that I’ve seen have been airline pilots, McDonald’s franchisees.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, well funny you should mention McDonald’s franchisees. Let’s talk about that one specifically, so let’s just use that as an example and roll with that. So any other color you would add to McDonald’s? Or, lets just say franchisees in general, doesn’t have to be McDonald’s.

Steve Wershing: Yeah.

Steve Sanduski: Let’s just say it’s a certain franchisee, so we’ve discovered that, is there anything else to add to that particular niche?

Steve Wershing: Yeah, well that’s the label, right? We still have to figure out what those unique needs are, so if you are an advisor that works with a lot of small businesses, then you probably discuss a lot of business issues. But, those franchisees probably have some very special needs that other small business owners don’t have. If it’s fast-food, they probably deal with a transient young workforce. Well that probably sets up some special challenges. You need to know how to either advise the client on it, or connect them with other consultants, HR consultants or management consultants that can help them with that.

If you are a franchisee, then you have to buy most of your supplies from a single vendor, that’s unique. So, you can’t just talk about supply chain management, you probably have some other things you’ve got to throw in there. There are probably rules around who and when you can sell your business to somebody else. If you’re working on the exit planning, well you’ve got to know that stuff, and you’ve got to include that in there.

And you may or may not have some constraints over what kind of a retirement plan you can have or what kind of benefits you can offer, a lot of those kinds of things. So, you’ve got some special needs that not only are you a business owner, which is special in it of itself, but you own a very special kind of business that carries with it all kinds of other potential implications and that’s the stuff that you dig into as you learn more, as you discover more and more about that target market so that you can design an experience that accounts for or caters to a lot of those special needs.

Steve Sanduski: So we’ve discovered the target market, it’s a particular type of franchisee. And then the second D is the design and experience around that. So what are some things we should think about as we’re designing an experience around this franchisee?

Steve Wershing: Yeah, so one of the things that you want to consider in the discover phase, is what are the needs of the client, and what are the things that you’re going to have to address in your process?

One of the challenges that we have with advisors, we say advisors should be able to give us a very simple flow chart of what their process is. So if someone thinks, “Well I’m thinking about … I hear about this Sanduski guy. He sounds like a pretty good advisor, what happens if I sign up with Sanduski Financial?”

Well, you should have a little flow chart that says, “Here’s what we do.” The mistake that many advisors make is that they make that extremely general. And so, it doesn’t really help the client, it says, “Well we have a discovery phase, and then we have a plan presentation, and then we have implementation.” Well it’s true, it’s factual, but it doesn’t help because I don’t understand what I’m going to get from that process by going through it. So what we recommend is that in that flow chart you address how you are going to address a lot of those special needs as you go through it.

Steve Wershing: So, in a general sense, this is more general than I would advise for an advisor. Instead of saying “Discover, present the plan, and then implement.” We might say, “First we help you get control of your cashflow. And then we help you envision your retirement, and then we help minimize your taxes.” From our perspective, each of those steps in your process, a prospective client should be able to look at that and see each of those as a benefit, something that they want to accomplish, something that they really want to sign up for. And so when you’re designing that process then you might with a franchisee you might say, “Handle your workforce issues.” Or. “Design your exit plan with your specific franchise in mind.” Or whatever it is, but that comes out in that design process, so that you speak directly to the things that they worry about.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, so as you talk about, as you go through each step of that process you are getting more granular in terms of what’s going to happen. Whether some of the benefits or outcomes of that, I would also add to that, is helping the client understand how they’re going to feel as they go through that process? Or how they’re going to feel at the end of that process?

One phase might be, we’re going to identify where all your money is, where it’s located, and we’re going to aggregate it into one place where you can log in online. And you could see all your financial situation in one place. Once we do that, you’re going to feel like you’ve got a better handle on where your money’s coming in, where it’s going out, and you’ve got one place where you can look at it and feel comfortable about that. So, I think adding that emotional component probably would be helpful as well.

Steve Wershing: It’s a great insight, it’s a really good point, and I think you’ve really … I think that’s a really important idea, I’m glad you brought it up.

Steve Sanduski: And then the third D here, is develop that experience. So any thoughts on how advisors can go about that. I know this is probably a tricky part here because it’s one thing to create the process and put the system in place to make sure that operationally we’re doing ABC and D, but then the experience adds a whole nother layer to it of nuance and emotions. So how do you counsel advisors on actually developing or implementing this experience?

Steve Wershing: Yeah, it comes from asking the question, now that we’ve designed this experience, what do we have to be able to do to deliver on that promise? It might be skills, you might need to get a designation or take some additional continuing education. You may need to hire someone from your office who has technical expertise, or you may need tools.

So for example, you’re working with pre-retirees, well one of the things that they need to know is how to make the most of their social security filing. So, you might need to go out and get a social security planning package. One of the pieces of software, or get your RICP designation, or something like that, that enables you to say, “I can show you the best way to subscribe for social security so that you get the best benefit.”

But then there also may be aspect to how you conduct a relationship, what kinds of things you present to them. It might influence what kind of portfolio reporting package you get. If you work with engineers, you want one that’s going to give you lots and lots of detail and is customizable. If you deal with people who are not that detail oriented, you might want something that’s a little more simple and a little more graphic so that people aren’t overwhelmed by what you’re putting in front of them.

And it goes all the way through to, do they come see you or do you meet virtually, if they come see you what’s the experience in the office? What does that kind of person really want to experience when they meet with you and go through that process? And it includes the décor and what they get offered when they get there. And how long the meeting is and eventually it gets around to all the various aspects of the experience that you deliver.

Steve Sanduski: And how do you think about the relative importance of delivering great services versus creating an amazing engaging client experience? I mean I’ve got some thoughts here, but just curious how you think about those two in relation to each other?

Steve Wershing: I would love to hear your ideas and to talk about it, because I’m sure there’s a lot to this. From me just saying, “Great service”, is kind of an empty phrase. Because first everybody says it, which means from a marketing standpoint it has no value whatsoever.

First, everybody says it, and the other thing is that nobody would say, “Well, we provide lousy service, but we’re really smart.” It’s not going to get you anywhere. So I think the real challenge there, and I’m going to stop talking in a second because I would love to hear your perspective on it, but certainly whether it’d be from a customer experience or from service. First we have to figure out what that means, because not everybody would see the service as the same thing or would appreciate the same thing.

From my perspective, we want to dig that in and find out … This is why we do so much work in advisory boards. Is we want to dig down into that and say, “What is it that you most value? What do you really like about this experience? What parts of the experience would you just soon not have? Or would you change?” Those kinds of things. But Steve, what’s your perspective on it? I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on it.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, the way I think about it is service is crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s. It’s all the things, it’s the operational things that you need to do that is table stakes and that clients expect that you’re competent, they expect that you’re going to return phone calls in a timely manner, they expect that you’re not going to make very many mistakes on the paperwork.

So to me, like you say, it’s really hard to differentiate your business on “great service” because I guess everybody says, “We have great service.” So, it’s not a differentiator, but I think the harder part is this idea of the client experience, where again, it gets into the emotional connection that you’re developing with your clients and since this is such a people business that it also gets back to making sure that you have the right people on your team that you have people who have the empathy and the ability to connect with other human beings and engage with them, and create a feeling of warmth around it. And so when a client walks into your office or a potential client walks into your office. What is the feeling that they get? What’s the vibe? What’s the energy that’s being given off when you walk into that office and you’re interacting with people on the staff?

To me that’s the harder part to really develop, so when that client or that potential client walks in and they start engaging with people, they’re like, “Wow.” Their shoulders drop down, they just relax, they’re comfortable, they’re like wow, I get a good feeling walking in here. To me that’s all wrapped into the client experience and that’s the harder part to me to get right. But, I also think it’s the greater opportunity to really differentiate your business because that’s something that the advisor next door or down the street is not going to be able to duplicate.

Steve Wershing: Yeah, it’s an excellent point, and I think what it really speaks to is the importance of looking at working with you, step-by-step from the client’s perspective. That a lot of advisors worry about what should our plan look like? And what kinds of things should we do? And how should we manage their portfolio? Like you were just saying a second ago, they don’t necessarily take it from the perspective of, “Okay, I just walked into the lobby, what happens? And does that make me feel good?”

Steve Sanduski: Right.

Steve Wershing: And I will add to that, that different people have different expectation. And knowing what your clients expectations are, will enable you to do that. … Most of the time, when I’m working with some kind of a retail establishment, what I want most is speed. I want to show up, get it done and get out because I got too much other stuff to do.

So if I get a chatty Kathy kind of a receptionist that my grandmother might love to pieces, it’s just like “Can I just get past this now and get this done so I can leave?” There’s an example that I wrote about a long time ago, where I opened an account with a local bank because I wanted to support the local institutions. And there was something about the paperwork that was just a little bit off, and I got buzzed by my secretary and she said, “Oh, the bank manager is out here with some paperwork.” And I’m thinking to myself, “Why is there a bank manager in my lobby?” It’s like you could’ve emailed it to me and we have DocuSign now, so I can just do that.

So, I know that what she was trying to do was to go above and beyond and I really liked my relationship with her, and I like my relationship with the bank, but the amount of time that she had to dedicate to doing that meant nothing to me. So, it didn’t get her any farther forward. It didn’t hurt, but it didn’t get any farther forward.

So being conscious about what it is that those clients want, is really important, and if they want the friendly person who will have a conversation with you and ask you about your kids in the front lobby, then yeah, you want to know that, and that is the part that’s hard to duplicate. If they want something different then it’s important for you to understand that.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, that’s such a key point that each of us are unique individuals and so you’re about speed, I just want to get this thing signed and move on, I don’t need to know what your favorite sports team is or whatever. But, someone else is different.

Steve Wershing: Exactly.

Steve Sanduski: It’s so important as you talked about where you’ve really got to go into that discovery conversation with your clients and potential clients to understand, how do they want to be communicated with? Do they want someone who’s going to be nice and friendly and talk about the weather or whatever? Or an engineer who, I’m stereotyping here, but might want to be just the facts man kind of person and give it to me that way. So really understanding who you’re working with, your specific niche, what their personality type is and being able to communicate effectively with them in that way.

One other comment I want to make here about this idea of service versus the experience. I also think about it in terms of how I coach financial advisors and that we can talk about tactical things like specific, here’s something that we need to figure out, it’s a specific issue, it’s very solvable, so we go through it step-by-step, we solve the problem. So that’s tactical, and to me that’s like the service thing where we need to get these things done and do them well.

But then, I also want to talk about, I want to go from tactical to transformational. So, I want to talk about, what are the things that will really move the needle in your business?

That will dramatically increase the impact that you can make in people’s lives and in your teams lives, and in your life as well. So that to me is more like a kin to the experience. It’s the harder part, but it’s also the piece that can have the much bigger impact that you want to drive towards.

So again, I think there’s a big opportunity here for advisors to move beyond systematizing the practice beyond getting the operational details correct. What you absolutely have to do, but that’s table stakes, now let’s move to more of the experience the emotional engagement, because that’s something that no technology is ever going to make obsolete, that whole experience piece.

Steve Wershing: Let me … elaborate on what you were just saying. I would disagree with you a little bit that systematizing and then what happens with those folks is different. I think one of the challenges is that many advisors have systematized their paperwork and they’ve systematized their account reporting, but they have not systematized that experience when somebody walks in. You should know what your reception’s saying to people in a general sense, and that should be managed. You should design that, that should be part of your overall concept.

So, I would take systems all the way out to … There should be a system for greeting a client and ushering them into the right room, and sitting down for the meeting.

Steve Sanduski: I agree with that, I think those should be systematized, but then all the things that happen on a consistent basis within the office, you need to have a system and a process for that. But, how each of your clients is going to experience that system could vary, and I’ve given this example before in a podcast like with Starbucks. Everybody likes to talk about, we want to have a consistent Starbucks type experience.

Well, Starbucks has 87,000 different combinations of drinks, and so Starbucks has a very systematized process to create your coffee, or to create your tea. But, how each of us experience that is going to be different. I like coffee, sometimes I get the really gooey ones, my wife likes tea. I like the ambiance and the hustle and bustle in Starbucks, my wife doesn’t necessarily like that. So, we have different experiences within the same system. So, I think advisors need to also pay attention to, I’ve got a system, but how are each of my clients experiencing that. So just like today, two people can look at the same piece of information and come to wildly different conclusions about what that information means.

So I think a system, it could be similar, everyone can go through the same process but have a different experience of that process, and I think advisors just need to be really cognizant of how or each of my clients experiencing this process.

So I think we’re talking the same thing, but maybe looking at it from a slightly different angle.

Steve Wershing: Yeah, well it could be nuanced too. So you’re totally correct on that. And maybe part of it is understanding which parts of the experience you need to standardize. Because there might be a lot of … People might do different things or experience different things about Starbucks, and Starbucks would benefit from understanding what is the one consistent thing that we always have to do because that’s the thing that’s going to please all of our clients, the ones who like the lattes, and the ones who like the teas. And the people who just come in for the snacks.

Steve Sanduski: Right. Yeah, and to touch on that, to connect with what you said here just a few minutes ago is, you also have to be really clear on which pieces are important. So you gave your example of the bank situation where they came in and the bank manager came in and personally delivered something to you. It’s like, “Man, that’s not important to me, I just want to get this done in the most efficient way possible.” So while we may think we’re delivering some great piece of service, if our clients don’t highly value that, then we’ve just wasted our time. So we have to be really thoughtful about what are the one or two or three specific things that I can do for my clients that they most highly value.

And I think maybe through your advisory board work, that’s probably one of the things that you really come to understand is, “What do my advisors clients, what do they really value most from me and how can I do more of that, and how can I get better at that?”

Steve Wershing: Yeah, exactly. And that is, those are a lot of the things that we ask clients because that’s the only way you can learn, is get a group of clients together and ask them questions about that experience and really break it down into the nitty gritty, into the granular level and say, “What do you like about this? What don’t you like about this? Which parts of these … We’re going to eliminate that. What do you think?” And see what they say. That’s how you got to drill into it.

Steve Sanduski: And then the fourth D here is to really talk about that marketing plan to declare the marketing plant. So, any initial thoughts on what you counsel folks on when it comes to marketing in a particular niche?

Steve Wershing: Yeah, well since it’s a process and it starts with the target client, those marketing plans. There are a couple things that we suggest those marketing plans have. So, talking about the description of the target market is really important. One of the things that Julie Littlechild, and I have found in our research, is that advisors who talk about their target client profile a lot tend to get a lot more clients, tend to get a lot more referrals, which makes perfect sense.

One of the questions that is on your client’s mind is … Or, when it comes to the opportunity to refer, people don’t refer as often as they might because they don’t necessarily understand who you’re looking for. But, if you can be really clear about that, you will get more referrals. So talk about your target client, talk about the unique needs. Chances are your clients don’t talk with their friends about your depth of the financial plans, or your investment process or those things. But, if you know that their unique need is something in particular, and you talk about having a process for that in particular. Then that will help with those referrals as well, and it’s also a basis for the marketing plan.

If you are coaching new widows through that process of transitioning and taking control of the family finances and learning how to get by on your own. Well if you have a specific process to coach people through that, you can say to people and you can put on your website, and you can put on your brochures, “We have this seven step process to help widows to get through their grief and to take over their financial affairs.” And that way, when you say, “So, if you hear of anybody in that situation, we’ve got a very special process and it works really well for those people.”

Now, they will remember to refer you when they bump into that friend that was just widowed. If you just mark it the general financial planning idea, they may not remember that. So some of the things … The marketing plan should reflect the target market, the unique needs, the unique experience that you’ve put together to cater all that. And if you talk about those things in your marketing plan, then you will be niche marketing.

Steve Sanduski: I’m glad you touched on this idea of referrals and you mentioned just here that making it easier for your clients to remember what it is that’s unique and specific about you, makes it easier for them to make a referral.

Let’s talk about referrals here for just a minute. I know we’re bumping up on time here. So you actually wrote a book called, Stop Asking for Referrals. Which certainly grabbed a lot of peoples attention.

Steve Wershing: Yup.

Steve Sanduski: So good name, good marketing there.

Steve Wershing: Thank you.

Steve Sanduski: So tell me about referral marketing. We all know that most of the studies out there show that the number one source of new clients for advisors is referrals and I’ve always said, referral marketing, to me it’s a bit of a misnomer in that … I guess you can actively seek referrals, but to me it takes it out of your hands where you’re relying on someone else to bring the business to you as opposed to maybe some more direct actions. But, would love to hear some of your thoughts here as it relates to referral marketing. Maybe one thing that advisors should be doing, and maybe a big mistake that advisors are doing when it comes to referrals.

Steve Wershing: Yeah, well let me just draw a real quick distinction because I think this’ll help with the question you just posed about turning control over to other people. And that’s the distinction between marketing and selling. Selling is the direct process, that’s when you have an interaction with one or a group of people and you have some control over that. All marketing is in other people’s hands. Whether you print an ad in a magazine or put an ad on TV or help people with generating more referrals. It’s always in their hands, you have no control over that, that’s just the nature of marketing.

Now, referral marketing can still be a very active process and that’s what we suggest for advisors, but there are few things that you can do. One of them talk about that profile of the target client a lot. That helps with referrals. Emphasize how your process addresses the unique needs of those target clients.

But, you can do other things too, like when someone asks, “How’s business?” You can slip referrals in there. Steve, if I were to ask you, “Hey Steve, how’s business?” How do you think most advisors respond to that?

Steve Sanduski: Well, most advisors, well I have 10 years after bull market the price, it’s pretty good.

Steve Wershing: Yeah, “Business is great.”, right. First of all, never ever, ever say, “Oh my God it’s so busy.”

Steve Sanduski: Because then they’re not going to refer to you.

Steve Wershing: Exactly, “Well I don’t want to increase your … I don’t want to add to your problems. So God, I won’t send any new people to you.” Most people just say, “Hey, it’s great.” Which it may be true, but it doesn’t help. You can put referrals into that, you can say, “Business is amazing, you know we just looked over the last six months and we’ve got more referrals from existing clients than we ever had before. Clearly we’re doing something right.”

Okay, so I’ve just said to people we get referrals, we love to get referrals, and we work on doing things right so we can get referrals. That’s a whole lot of messaging in that little response there and people ask you that 5 or 10 times a week. So lots of opportunities to do that. That’s one thing you can do.

Another thing that advisors can do is keep scrupulous track of who refers and what happens with those folks. You want to know who your referral sources are, you want to thank them later, you want to thank them immediately certainly. Anybody who sends you a referral should get a handwritten card saying, “Hey, we just talked to Joe, we understand that you sent him over. We really appreciate how much confidence you have in us. Thank you.” No present, no gift, not a transaction. Just a thank you.

Steve Wershing: But then also, it’s a good idea to mention it six to nine months later and saying, “Hey, I just wanted to let you know. We really appreciate you sending Joe over to us six months ago.” That’s a pretty big statement that you remember, that you remember that kind thing that your client did for you. So that’s something that advisors can do that will really make an impact on people.

Steve Sanduski: So when you say, “Stop asking for referrals.” You don’t go, “Hey, who do you know that might, blah, blah, blah.

Steve Wershing: Exactly.

Steve Sanduski: Is that what you’re saying by stop asking for referrals? So you have another way, one example that you just gave here. Someone asks, “Hey, how’s business?” You have an opportunity to answer in a way that encourages them to give referrals without you actually asking for a referral. Was that what you were suggesting there?

Steve Wershing: That’s right. The book is called, Stop Asking for Referrals, it’s not called stop talking about referrals. We want to talk about referrals a lot. We just don’t want to do it exactly what you just said, we just don’t want to say, “Who do you know? Who needs my services?”

What you do want to do is to drop referrals into conversations frequently and in contexts that will help people remember to do it. You want to let people know that we are referable. You want to let people know, we love getting referrals. You want to let people know, people refer us. That the strongest social pressure is to know that everybody else is doing it. And so, if all of your other clients are doing it, well maybe I should think about that too.

So it’s talking about referrals and promoting referrals in a bunch of different ways. Rather than putting people on the spot and demanding something, and the biggest problem with that frankly is that it has nothing to do with the client, it has everything to do with you. When you say who can you refer to me, it’s all about your needs, it’s not about the clients needs.

Clients have needs to refer too, they have social currency. It’s a way of extending influence. So, if you can help clients realize those benefits and keep them in the spotlight. You can get a lot more referrals.

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, well I’m glad you mentioned that last point in terms of it being social currency for the person who’s making the referral. So if someone asks me, “Hey, have you seen any great movies lately?” I’m going to jump at the chance and I’m going to say, “Oh yeah, I saw such and … It’s great. You should go see it.” So, I now become this curator. So that makes me feel good, and so if a client is going to make a referral to you. They’ve got to feel like I’m this influence person like you just described. So yeah, I think that’s a really important nuance that I’m not sure that everyone really has picked up on when it comes to referrals. It’s like, what’s in it for the person making the referral and how can it be positioned in such a way that they’re going to feel important, that they’re going to look even better in the eyes of the person that they’re referring to that they are this influencer, that there’s this curator of great resources type thing.

Steve Wershing: That’s exactly right. Scott DeGraffenreid who is a social network researcher. The way he put it was, “People refer because it increases their esteem in the eyes of their peers.”

Steve Sanduski: Yeah, he said it in just a few words that took me a whole paragraph to say. …

Steve Wershing: Yeah, he worked on it a long time.

Steve Sanduski: Awesome. Well I think that’s a great place to wrap up here, so we’ll just do two quick things. So one is, is there anything else Steve that you want to share here that we haven’t talk about yet?

Steve Wershing: Well we’ve covered a lot. No, if people want to go to or listen to our fabulous podcast that will very assuredly star Steve Sanduski They can find us there. Other than that, I think we’ve covered a lot.

Steve Sanduski: Excellent. All right. So to go to your podcast is it Is that the site for that?

Steve Wershing: That’s it.

Steve Sanduski: And then your website is

Steve Wershing: That’s right.

Steve Sanduski: Great. We’ll have those in the show notes. All right and well lets just wrap here finally with two or three rapid fire questions. So the first one is, you look well rested Steve, I’m looking at you one the screen here. But, is there anything that keeps you awake at night?

Steve Wershing: It’s all the lighting that makes that. Well I mean I’ll tell you it has nothing to do with the financial planning business. What keeps me awake at night is the … I probably shouldn’t even say this publicly, but the Centennial of Hochstein School. I am Chair of the board of a school of music and dance here that provide high level music and dance instruction regardless of financial means. And we will be 100, come 2020. So anybody who believes in providing the opportunity to get high level musical and dance education to inner city kids, who may not otherwise be able to afford it because it helps their math and other school scores. Go to the Hochstein School, go to and give lots and lots of money.

Steve Sanduski: So, I’m going to guess here that you’re a musician?

Steve Wershing: I have played an instrument when I was younger. I was a dancer when I was younger.

Steve Sanduski: Oh okay.

Steve Wershing: Yeah, my mother was a Rockette, and I took tap dancing for about eight years and I can still do a passable time step.

Steve Sanduski: Okay, I hear a little YouTube video coming out. …

Steve Wershing: I think I successfully eliminated all those from the internet. …

Steve Sanduski: All right, how about are there any habits that have led to your success?

Steve Wershing: Habits? Hmm … I think it’s just tenacity. Just keep pushing. Just keep going after it. … Plan your work and work your plan, it’s just … keep going after it because that’s what’ll get you through the highs and lows.

Steve Sanduski: Excellent. All right Steve, I think we will wrap it up right there, great place to end. I appreciate you being on the show today. It’s great to catch up with you.

Steve Wershing: Yeah, good to see you and thanks very much to having me on, it’s meant a lot. So thanks for the invitation.

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