Saturday, April 1, 2006

What's My Line? ... Better Yet ... What's YOUR Line?

With the proper thought and development, your "elevator speech" can really make a statement.

April 2006
Financial Planning magazine

What's My Line
By Marie Swift

Louise Cole, managing partner of The Heritage Group of North America in Tom's River, N.J., introduces herself as an "affluenziologist" who helps people transfer their values as well as their valuables to future generations. It is a quick and catchy way of telling people that if family unity around financial issues is important to you, then you need to call her office to set up an appointment.

Others put it differently: "I'm a money doctor. I make sick money well," says Anthony Reguero, chief executive officer of Win-Team, an advisory firm in Lake Forest, Calif. Marge Randles, principal of The Practical Planner in Argyle, N.Y. says it this way: "My friends call me the financial farmer. I help my clients plant the seeds, nurture their crops and harvest the fruits of their labors when the time is right."

"It" is the all-purpose positioning statement, known in the trade as an elevator speech, because it should be short enough to convey who you are and what you offer in the space of an elevator ride. It helps you present yourself and position your capabilities in the listener's mind. While you should be prepared to talk with passion, power and clarity about your entire range of services (known as your value proposition), your positioning statement may be your foot in the door to that conversation. It should be at most a sentence or two-generally no more than 15 to 20 words that convey what you do for whom.

Although some people see the elevator speech as a cheap marketing trick, developing one can be a useful exercise because it forces you to identify and concisely articulate your distinct value to your client. Ideally, it will distinguish you from your competitors; in today's marketplace, no business or product is deemed "good" unless it has an original pitch, brand and message.

Positioning-creating perceptions in the listener's mind-is an important aspect of marketing yourself. You must be perceived as "the best" at what you do for your particular marketplace. Feeling a little pressure? Consider this wisdom from quintessential marketer Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead: "It's not enough to be the best at what you do. You must be the only one who does what you do." You don't have to be a deadhead to admire and learn from the band's success.


Some planners view the positioning statement as a crude pitch. "I believe it's just bunk and think there are only two reasons to use a positioning statement," says Mark Folgmann, a NAPFA-registered adviser with Ark Advisors in Tecumseh, Mich. "One, they [advisers] don't believe there is value and need for what they do without using manipulation. Two, they don't think the person they are talking to will think much of their profession and want their services." He says he can't imagine other professionals using this "cheap sales tactic." "When I meet a doctor, they don't tell me that they are someone that specializes in increased cardiopulmonary efficiency. They proudly say I'm a Doctor.' Then I usually ask, Really. What is your specialty?'"

As a marketer working with advisers for nearly 20 years, I venture that planners with Folgmann's view have misunderstood what a positioning statement really is. It doesn't have to feel sleazy or shade the truth. In fact, a good positioning statement isn't so much a sales pitch as an answer to the question, "What do you do?" No one likes to feel that they're "being sold," but we all want to know what other people do and how they might be able to help us. When I visited Folgmann's website, I couldn't help but notice his tag line: "Trusted guides for people who want to live happier and more fulfilled lives." It's a beautiful sentiment that I can see being tweaked and used as a well-received positioning statement.

It may be that veteran financial advisers have internalized their value and mastered their lines so well that they rarely deliver a formal positioning statement anymore. Linda Lubitz, president of The Lubitz Financial Group in Miami, doesn't use one. "It's probably a style thing, but I've found it most effective to draw people out and to listen to what they need," she says. "So the central question is what do they want me to help them with? What do they want out of a relationship with an adviser? And what is it they want to do? By learning this, I can determine if they are a good fit for my services. Once I hear a little bit about their concerns, values, interests and goals, I have no problem communicating how my firm and I can help."

But many planners start out their careers with a rehearsed positioning statement they may eventually grow into. Dan Moisand, principal of Spraker, Fitzgerald, Tamayo, and Moisand in Melbourne, Fla., mentioned he had not spent much time on an elevator speech in his president-elect address at the FPA national conference in San Diego last fall. As a result, he said, "I sometimes would bumble through a response to questions about my business. One time after witnessing such an episode, my wife, while diving home, gently explained that it might be a good idea to have a better answer. As she and I discussed some alternatives, my daughter Megan, who was maybe five at the time, chimes in with 'Oh Daddy, you take care of people's money.' Pretty good, huh? I've gone with that ever since." While Moisand is happy to have something simple and authentic to say, he wouldn't dream of using his speech to troll the halls looking for clients. Rather he views the question "What do you do?" as more of a conversation-starter.

Most advisers need to think through and be prepared to deliver a solid positioning statement-and a complete marketing message. The value of this exercise is in the process. Whether you use all of the phrases and thoughts in future interactions, doing the introspection, evaluation and construction of what you want to convey is a vital part of your own practice development. Just one powerful sentence could improve your elevator pitch, your seminar presentations, marketing materials and your website. Now imagine how being really in touch with your value-and having concise phrases to put this value into words-would help you whenever you are in an introductory or selling situation. Even if you aren't selling a product, it's helpful to remember that we're always selling ourselves.

"We see developing our elevator speech as a means to get all the staff focused on what we're all about," says Jim Tarvin, a fee-only adviser with MCS Financial Advisors, a high-end boutique firm in Eugene, Ore. "It's a succinct way to tell our story and distinguish us from others. And it's a way to qualify potential clients, since we are intentionally casting a narrow net. We also hope that we can get enthusiastic clients and co-professionals-attorneys and accountants with mutual clients-to know our elevator story as a means of helping them generate referrals for us. It is also a good conversation-starter at community functions, and gives us confidence as we work a room of strangers."


So, how do you develop a good positioning statement? You want to tell people who you are and how they will benefit from working with you, with an eye to what makes you stand out from the crowd. If you're a fun and spunky person, you might play up your personality with colloquial language. If you are more serious, trying to deliver a cute positioning statement will just come across as phony.

Here are two examples. Both advisers have taken the time to identify their target markets and create statements that will appeal to their ideal clients. These examples go beyond a short positioning statement and become a more complete value proposition as the adviser moves along. The savvy adviser will, of course, pause after a sentence or two, gauge the listener's interest and determine if she has permission to say more.

Kathleen Rehl, principal of Rehl Financial Advisors in Land O'Lakes, Fla., works mostly with niche clients who are clergy members. When asked what she does, she says: "I work with bright, creative, visionary, mission-minded...and very busy clergy persons...who tell me they often feel clueless about many personal money matters. That's because their focus is on more important things. So, I help pastors, ministers and rabbis navigate through their financial wilderness, to get to their financial promised land, whatever that might be for each of them." This generally elicits a smile and a nod of agreement, according to Rehl. "It's as if they are suddenly freed from an awful burden and embarrassment that they haven't attended to all of their financial matters very carefully before."

Deidra Fulton, principal of Fulton Financial Planning in Plano, Texas, takes a more formal approach, which suits her personality and allows her to speak authentically. Her short positioning statement is very simple, yet helps to differentiate her from other advisers: "I'm a fee-only financial planner, and I help people make better decisions about their money." This is the first module of a whole marketing statement that she can add to as necessary for a particular situation. "My short positioning statement is easily combined with and readily leads to a medium version. After my opening, I frequently continue with:

"Services are flexible and may range from help with one or two financial issues-perhaps a 401(k) review or working with you to lay the framework toward achieving a specific short-term goal-to more in-depth planning assistance-such as a complete portfolio review or retirement projection. Or even a second opinion, such as whether a life insurance or annuity policy is right for you. Whatever the issue, I can help. Plus there are no account minimums or long-term contracts required."

Fulton conveys that she is a fee-only planner who offers flexibility in how she works with clients. "I find that prospective clients these days are much more in tune with the fact that there are fee-only financial planners, and many specifically seek them out," she says. "Many also like the fact that they can obtain professional, unbiased advice without having to turn over all of their assets for the adviser or sign long-term contracts."

Once you've developed something that feels right, you'll want to practice and internalize it so you speak naturally whenever a need or opportunity is presented. Notice how people react when you deliver your positioning statement. Do you pique the listener's interest? Do they say, "How do you do that?" or "Tell me more?"

Whatever your style, create a clear, compelling positioning statement that quickly answers the listener's fundamental question, "What's in it for me?" If you truly believe in what you do and how you help people, you'll exude a confidence that will attract people. The more clearly you define and communicate the value of your services, the more distinct your marketing edge will be.


Here are four sample elevator speeches. The shorter version is followed by further elaboration if there is time and interest. While the names and qualifications of the planners are missing, you can see that each speech conveys a distinctive description of the firm.

1. New Means is a special kind of financial planning firm that specializes in working with independent-minded women and couples who know where they want to go, but need various levels of help getting there.

New Means doesn't expect its clients to be rich before they walk in the door-"growing rich" is part of what we help our clients do. Nor do we sell any products, which means all our advice is rendered commission-free. In addition, we don't require long-term contracts nor insist that our clients turn over their assets for management. Instead, we think it makes more sense to provide hourly, "as needed" advice.

2. The H Group provides comprehensive financial planning and investment advisory services to a select clientele.

We specialize in working with small-business owners, busy professionals and affluent retirees who want to reduce their taxes, invest for the future, leave a legacy and sleep better at night.

3. At Path Financial Strategies, we deal with money and the human experience. As a registered life planner, I provide holistic, life-centered financial services that include tax preparation, retirement planning, investment advice and estate planning.

I work for you, the client, helping you discover what makes your life worth living and building a financial plan to support your heart's core. I bring life to your money. I'm looking for clients who are on the path of growth and discovery.

4. Anthony Financial Management is a fee-only registered investment adviser and retirement plan consulting firm with offices in Pittsburgh and Wheeling, W.Va.

We work with a select group of employers that offer company-sponsored retirement plans who want to maximize the value and effectiveness of this very important benefit for their organizations and their employees.

Marie Swift is a marketing consultant and president of Impact Communications. To request a copy of her Marketing Muscle Worksheet, send an email to:

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