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Dennis Hall: Simple problems and complex solutions

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There really is very little that is new, just old ideas that come around again, refashioned to suit the times. 

It is the same with sales or, to be more precise, sales ideas – though these days the word ‘sales’ is a difficult one for people to say in polite company.

When people of my age started on our journey in financial services, sales ideas and selling techniques were an important part of our training and development – in those early days, arguably more so than technical training.

The larger direct sales forces would produce reams of sales-based material, with Allied Dunbar perhaps the leaders in that respect. It is that DNA that is probably responsible for the sales success within St James’s Place, and they do seem to provide their ‘partners’ with a number of ‘marketing’ blueprints.

Today we hail people such as Paul Armson and Carl Richards as the ‘new messiahs’ for the simplicity of their ‘sales’ concepts. And I mean no disrespect to either Paul or Carl when I say what they are teaching isn’t new. 

In fact, it is a testament to their effectiveness that what they are teaching is old stuff that’s being recycled.

I saw a version of Paul’s ‘buckets’ technique even before I became a financial adviser. 

The person who eventually recruited me into financial services sold me my first (and only) whole-of-life plan using buckets. And I bought a Maximum Investment Plan – those buckets were a powerful sales tool.

Carl’s ‘back of a napkin’ diagrams used to be drawn on the back of a fag packet. 

OK, so the subject matter was slightly different, but it was about putting over complex ideas in the simplest way possible, enabling clients to see what it is they needed to see. 

Simple diagrams were effective then, and they are effective now. In those days, you didn’t even need a paper and pen. 

Word pictures were equally powerful. Telling a wife that her husband was a one-armed bandit machine – one that might suddenly stop paying – worked for selling life assurance. 

These days you might use a cashpoint analogy.

The thing is, there was no shortage of people coming up with neat, succinct ways of presenting complex problems and simple solutions. But for the past couple of decades we have been looking for simple problems and complex solutions, or at least that’s what it looks like to consumers.

If all they want to do is invest in a shares Isa, we make them jump through more hoops than a finalist at Crufts. 

Then we send them a package of documents they rarely read because it is the thickness of a telephone directory, and slightly less interesting.

It is a sign of the times that Paul, Carl et al are making noises and garnering a following. Regulation has its place, but it assumes that solutions to client problems do not need to be sold. 

It also assumes that the concept of fees do not need to be sold, and that might be the hardest sell of all.

Dennis Hall is managing director of Yellowtail Financial Planning

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