A couple of days ago I received an email from a financial planner regarding an article I wrote some months ago titled "The Medium, the Message, and the Financial Planner." The planner brought up a question about the difference between one's image and the substance of one's practice and questioned my assertion that a financial planner needs to develop a public image as an expert and that to do that he or she need not be technically the best in their field but rather they only need be competent.
My reader thought that I was way off the mark in encouraging less than the best to become recognized as an expert, and that by becoming so recognized, they would be damaging the profession. His complaint was that:
"(I) have spent years studying tax law, estate planning, investments, insurance, and other areas that are critical to helping a client formulate a financial plan. I've invested most of my adult life in becoming a real expert, not an image.
"What you call developing an expert image and reputation I call branding which in my opinion is nothing more than creating a false impression of who the planner is. I see all of this 'marketing' to be degrading to me and my profession. I am not a salesperson as you say in your article. I am a skilled, trained professional. I don't market any more than a specialist physician or attorney markets.
"Certainly, there are financial planners that market their practice and many have very lucrative practices. I equate them more to the ambulance chaser than to a professional. I have no doubt that if I followed your advice I'd make more money, but at the expense of who I am, at the expense of the dignity and respect of my profession, and at the expense of my self-respect. I may not be making a six figure income, but I make a good living and I've done it without prostituting myself or my profession. In fact, I believe that if you and the others like you who are advocating financial planners become common salespeople would cease with your self serving attempt to sell your services, I'd be making considerably more because my expertise would come to the surface. As it is with the advice and guidance you and others give on how to market, many of the best financial planners aren't acquiring the clients we deserve because lesser skilled planners are attracting them through their marketing practices."
The reader had a few other comments to make, but you get the general drift of his email. Unfortunately, my experience working with thousands of advisors in the financial services industry is that he is not the only one with this view of marketing and sales.
Like most sales trainers, I get a good number of very positive emails and my share of challenging emails, but I'm not sure I get any more honest than this one. This reader is very clear on how he sees himself and his profession-and how he sees salespeople, marketing, and other financial planners who are aggressive in developing their practices.
He is also very clear on his misunderstanding of what sales and marketing is about and how business is acquired. Unfortunately, being one of the best at what you do isn't going to bring in business. If no one knows about you, then no matter how good you are at what you do, you're not going to thrive.
There isn't a dichotomy between selling and marketing and being a professional, one doesn't exclude the other. Creating an expert image through ethically sound marketing isn't degrading or deceptive.
However, the arrogance and ignorance to believe that one is above selling and marketing is self-destructive. Being jealous of one's competition because they are acquiring clientele you don't think they deserve is self-destructive. Believing you warrant more business simply because you know what you're doing is self-destructive.
Being technically competent or even being a technical expert is useless if you don't have clients to practice on. Spending time and energy and using the strategies that create your public image and reputation as an expert is the sign of a true expert; believing you are above marketing is an indication of a lack of understanding of what marketing is and how business works.
Public reputations don't happen by accident. They have to be nurtured and cultivated. They have to be created.
How many great financial planners are languishing in near poverty because no one knows they exist? If simply being great at what one does was enough, there would be no need for marketing, advertising, and selling. If being good was good enough, there wouldn't be so many highly proficient technicians in every industry going out of business everyday because they are starving to death.
Success doesn't happen because one happens to be a highly skilled technician. Success requires the acquisition of a number of skills-from the technical skills of your profession to the skills to get the word out about your existence and how you can serve the potential client. Success happens by intention, not by happenstance. Image doesn't mean illusion and substance doesn't mean success. Technical substance must be combined with a public image created through marketing and solidified through selling if you want to create a practice that is both professionally and financially satisfying.
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