Can Every Advisor Learn to Sell?

December 30, 2014

by Beverly Flaxington

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Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.

Dear Bev,

I hired an advisor who showed great promise. He used to work on the sell side, grew his own business to a significant size and interviewed well in the hiring promise. Now, nine months later, he does not have a new asset to his name. I have hired a coach, worked with him myself and put him on a warning but nothing seems to work. He says he wants to do better but doesn’t change. I read some of your articles on developing selling skills but I wonder whether some advisors just can’t learn to do it. What do you think?

Marc C.

Dear Marc,

There is always the initial question of “can’t” versus “won’t.” I believe that everyone has the potential to learn how to sell more effectively, but some people don’t want to.

Then there is the question of interest and motivation. In some cases, an advisor is satisfied with what they are making, and where they are in their personal growth process and they don’t believe this is a skill they “need” to acquire.

So, there are a lot of different elements for you to consider.

Fundamentally can everyone learn the basic selling techniques and skills to enhance their business development outcomes? An emphatic yes. Just like everyone can learn to ride a bicycle if they so desire unless they are physically handicapped.

It takes practice and it takes commitment. It’s also important to have someone convey the skills and the steps in a manner that the person can understand and digest. Some things to consider before you completely give up on this hire:

  1. Make sure the feedback he is getting is consistent with his skill level and behavioral style. Sometimes we coach people in the way we would approach something and expect them to understand it that way as well. If we are wired differently and have different communication styles, it can be hard for someone to “translate” the learning for their situation.
  2. Boil it down to steps in the process. Some people need to know exactly what to do, how to do it and when to do it. They don’t naturally see the opportunity so it’s important to show them where the opportunity is and how to capitalize on it. This means everything; helping the advisor create an agenda for a meeting with a prospect,role playing the meeting itself, reviewing the words to use, and so on.
  3. Create a plan with the advisor for exactly who they will speak to, what they will say, etc. We advocate having a sales plan with specific targeted names and timelines. Have him translate the plan into his calendar so he knows what day and when he will complete each step and who he will speak to. The more specificity, the better.
  4. Follow up regularly. What worked and what didn’t for him? Where is he improving and where is he still struggling? Be clear and specific with him so he gets a picture of what he needs to do next time.

If you are getting the picture that it requires a lot of dedicated time and focus to help this person change his behavior, you are right. We have ingrained styles and things we do naturally. Moving out of our comfort zone and doing something differently takes time and effort.

It’s possible for him to learn but you have to ask whether you want to invest this kind of time and energy and whether it’s worth it for you. You should also establish a timeframe within which you are willing to work with him. For example if you don’t see progress in the next 3-4 months, do you want to keep going? Set standards for yourself and your firm about what’s acceptable to you and then put some of these steps in place. Good luck!

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