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Provocation plea

Advisers should consider moving away from solution selling to dealing with areas of anxiety

Through the day-to-day technical support of our financial adviser clients and through the conversations we have with advisers at the various events we present at, it has become abundantly clear to us that successful advisers (that is, advisers who are likely to withstand the current turbulence and come through it with a stronger business), will be those who have regular communication with their clients as a strong habit.

Regular communication on issues of relevance to clients is a highly valued commodity. It is also a service that can be hard to maintain in a business life packed with lots of “stuff to do”. Some of that stuff will be urgent and pressing but not important. The urgency will cause it to jump the queue and this will often relegate the important but not (apparently) urgent stuff to be deferred.

Regular, unprompted client communication would typically run a high risk of falling into this easy to neglect category.

I have mentioned before in this column that proactivity s the key to all business development – a statement of the obvious if ever there was one. According to Gary Hamill, in his book, Competing for the Future, it is proactivity that underpins the uncovering of the all important unstated needs of one’s existing clients – and, of course, the getting of new clients who will have both stated and unstated needs.

And there is no shortage (ever) of “reasons to be proactive” (homage to the late, great Ian Dury).

This is especially so when it comes to tax and tax planning. With so much activity (in personal and business worlds) being centred on reducing costs, reducing tax cost should most definitely not be overlooked.

Keeping more of what you earn and losing as little as possible of your investment return (capital or income) seems eminently sensible.

With this in mind, isn’t it worth considering the carrying out of a tax reduction audit? This is especially worthwhile at the end of a tax year, the beginning of a tax year, post-Budget – actually, at any time.

If reducing costs is a subject that is important to clients and cost is a pain, relief from which will be valued, then communication focused on this pain reduction is likely to hit many spots – so to speak.

In this vein, in the latest Harvard Business Review, Philip Lay, Todd Hewlin and Geoffrey Moore powerfully make the case for a move away from solution selling (itself, a move on from product selling) towards “provocation-based selling”.

They encourage us to decide on the source of provocation/ anxiety first. This must be an issue that is strongly facing a business or individual client.

The financial services adviser will need to truly understand each client in order to pick the area of “provocation” that is most likely to resonate.

As I state above, tax could well be one such area. There will, of course, be others.

For SME owners, for example, it may be cashflow, falling resources, reducing tax or securing access to cash.

For investors it could be security of capital and, in light of such historically low interest rates, it will certainly be the securing of a reason- able rate of return at an acceptable level of risk.

In short, especially in such turbulent times, there will be no shortage of areas of provocation.

The key to success will be to pick those that are most relevant to particular clients. In this quest, the principle of mass customisation will come to the fore.

In other words, being (genuinely) able to present a communication as being highly personal (to the recipient) by virtue of its relevance to their business, while also being able to secure the benefit of scale on the intellectual input necessary to produce the communication because, in any client base, there is highly likely to be more than one client who face the same challenges.

For IFA consultants, the challenge in producing provocation will be in understanding the business drivers for their IFA partners.

In this, having an understanding of what is likely to be causing their clients anxiety will be an absolute necessity.

The truly valued consultant will be the one who brings capability for provocation and proactivity (with resulting action or, at the very least, relationship enhancement) to their IFA partners.

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