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Becoming Peerless

By Terry Newman, Regional Director
Lincoln Financial Advisors

Becoming peerless isn’t easy. If you have heard me speak, you will undoubtedly know that I have long contended the financial services industry has unwittingly conspired against advisors becoming peerless due to how we are baptized into the business. It’s not anyone’s fault. We are simply creatures of habit because, at our core, we are survivalists. Let me prove this to you before we delve into the process of becoming peerless. It’s important that we begin with a cognitive clean slate.

I want you to harken back to the day you actually began in the business. You arrived at the office, crisply starched shirt or blouse draped across semi-confident shoulders, eyes not fully capable of opening yet as you were still awash in the amniotic fluid of creating wealth, your mind racing as you took in all of these new sights; monitors flashing, people moving about briskly, papers in-hand needing to desperately find their way to a compliance officer. Your ears buzzed with the sounds of phones ringing with clients on the other end needing the Solomon-like wisdom you were sure to one day proffer. Your heart raced as your training officer approached. What would be first? An outing to the exchange or the trading floor? A phone conference with the company’s top equity analysts? A quick rundown on derivative placements in portfolios?

You exchanged some small talk and were led to a conference room in which you were most likely alone or with perhaps one or two others. What transpired next was a shot to your solar plexus that you didn’t see coming. It was the hat pin popping the balloon in your head you so gleefully carried in with you, leaving you with deflated, broken fragments of mental rubber that now lay limply in your frontal cortex. Some of you were given a sheet of paper with 100 lines on it and asked to write down the names of your family’s closest friends and relatives. This would soon become your “prospecting” list. Others weren’t given that charge and instead found themselves staring at the mother of ALL prospecting lists … the Yellow Pages. No, there would be no thundering comments from the firm’s top automotive sector’s chief strategist, but you would still be able to call Tony’s auto salvage that day. Likewise, the only exchange you would see that day, would the currency exchange to purchase a new sticker for your license plate that had expired last month. The curtain had been pulled back. Oz was revealed. You were not in Kansas anymore.

But strangely, you (nor I) felt duped, because somewhere in the quagmire of auto salvage yards and your mother-in-law’s bridge club, you knew you didn’t have an established network, you knew that the work eventually needed to get done, and you knew that there had to be a process that connected the unknown to the known, or else all of these monitors flashing, phones ringing, and papers shuffling would not be happening. So, did the industry mislead you and me? The answer is an unequivocal “No!”

Our industry doesn’t only evolve to meet client needs. It evolves to save those who work in it. Let me rephrase that. It evolves to save a place for those who are willing to do what needs to be done to earn a spot to view the sunrise from their bullpen roost tomorrow. This has always been. Sometimes the client’s need leads. Other times the industry purges the unwilling. It is simple. It is raw. It is unforgiving. It is fair. When we both got the phone book, the same phone book, we didn’t need to be told a whole lot of what to do. We didn’t complain about not getting a short path to a Vice President title. We did what survivalists do.

We recognized instinctively, like the lion and the gazelle both existing on the same African plain, that activity was the key to survival. Inactivity was certain death. We carved out rules of engagement between the survivalists, “You call Evanston. I’ll start in Lake Forest.” We celebrated wins of setting appointments, opening accounts, and having good commission months. We felt bad when a bullpen member fell by the wayside, but only momentarily, because this is survival of the fittest and we could be next. There was an outright fairness in this baptism to the industry. I don’t find fault with it for that. Throw me into the deep end of the pool. I want to swim. I also liked seeing sunrises from my bullpen roost.

We master surviving. Our focus, our attention, and our subconscious actions all become hard- wired to being masterful survivalists. Therefore, any departure to the precepts of getting going, any deviations to the rituals of survival such as making calls, scheduling appointments, and opening accounts, revering those as primary levers to surviving, are met with rigorous denial. After all, you HAVE to have clients, right? They are not just going to show up out of the blue, are they? Are they? Well, to a survivalist, I will tell you with unquestioning certainty that they won’t. You won’t let them. Why? Because you are busy surviving. You are calling. You are scheduling. You are opening.

To most survivalists, green is green. You may get to a point where you don’t need small portions of green to survive anymore, as you once did. You found a way to survive. You ate. You paid bills. You struggled and came out on the back-end better for the process. These days, you can wait for large portions of green. But at your core, your mind is still hard-wired to survive and if you are like some who can wait for larger portions of green, you actually NEED that larger portion of green to survive. You’ve convinced yourself that you cannot survive on smaller portions of green. You need it to survive. And you have many industry compatriots who share that same story, or a slight variation of that, with you. You chat about green. You plan for green. You check for green in the markets. Protocol survivalist stuff. Masterful survivalist stuff.

I would caution all of us to remember that the industry evolves, however. Sometimes it is the client and sometimes it is the business itself. This iteration of the financial services industry finds us at a unique place. It is a conflation of client needs and industry evolution that is requiring us to make a fundamental shift in how we approach, take on, and care for clients moving forward. You must become peerless. You should become peerless. You ought to become peerless. I will show you why and how, in that order, you will be peerless. I am going to make two assumptions as we march forward together. One, you are a survivalist like me. You know activity means survival and therefore inactivity still means death to you. You know that your survival is contingent upon YOU acting and that waiting for a fellow member of the pride to bring back a gazelle carcass for you does not earn you the right to watch the sunrise tomorrow. You. Will. Act. Second, that glimmer of the first day in the business is still there. The candle has not been blown out. You still get a twinkle in your eye when you see monitors flash, hear phones ring, and witness papers shuffle. There is still unfinished business for you in this industry. You like green. You appreciate green. But something’s not quite green enough. At least, not for you. You don’t want to stand out in a sea of advisors. You feel best, you act best, and you are your best when you are an individual. When you are … peerless.

This paragraph is dedicated to the willing. In fact, the rest of my professional journey is dedicated to the willing. We are indeed at a defining moment in our business. You must pick a lane and then fight like heck to survive. I can’t tell you what sunrises will look like for those that choose not to be peerless but can state that the peerless roost will have a better view. Let me help you with that description. The peerless view will have little to no direct competition (clever adjective “peerless”, right?). The peerless view will have extremely loyal clients whose price conscious wallet-o-meter won’t clamor with the force of hurricane siren every time a Schwab commercial comes on. The peerless view will have confidence and peace of mind knowing their value is measured by knowledge applied, persistence displayed, and contributions made, and not assets, not revenue, and not products. Sunrises look much better when you don’t have to peek around a hundred heads in front of you. Nice view.

This industry has evolved before our eyes. You know this because your business has already evolved to a certain extent. Clients have more options to plan and invest than at any other point in history and may do so at tremendous economically advantageous costs. For the willing, this a definitive call to action. Willing survivalists know they must adapt, and that adaptation is action, it is growth, it is learning, and it is uncomfortable. The unwilling, blissfully ignorant of the evolution, believe the current issues of born of this change can be solved by simply adding “more”; more clients, more assets, more fees, and more territory. To the unwilling, more green is always the quintessential solution to the issue. More counteracts less. More fees counteract compressed fees. More revenue counteracts less clients. More territory counteracts less opportunities. Volume always rides shotgun to the unwilling on the road to witness those sunrises. To the willing, however, more green is merely the by-product of having the answer itself and delivering that to the right client. Are you willing?

It is good to be among the willing in this paradigm. The willing survivalists are afforded luxuries the unwilling will later lament not having. Chief among those luxuries is the fulfillment of that vision you carried when you first entered the business. To be sure, not all luxuries come wrapped in Tiffany blue boxes. They must be mined for, extracted, and polished and refined. They don’t lay out on the surface in plain view of the unwilling. But they aren’t deeply covered either.

What was that vision you had when you entered the business? Has it changed a bit? Has it grown? It probably isn’t of the same practice you have now. Or, if it is, do you feel like you have so much more to offer the world? You are a survivalist and a willing one at that. You must change. What if, in the course of that change in which you nimbly avoid the purge, you could give yourself a competitive advantage and connect with clients at the level of not only their needs, but one that heeds the call to offer a potentially better life? How do you do that? Especially when that adaptation seems like it conflicts with your known survival instincts?

The harsh reality of being a willing survivalist is that all-too-familiar whisper that echoes inside your mind every day. It creates a bit of confusion that demands education before you can make it go away. You know it is only a matter of time before how you do WHAT you do becomes outdated, antiquated, devalued, and replaceable. The silent, omnipresent beseeching to stop what you are doing and see how others are winning clients over, gaining new assets, and generating more revenue is in a constant battle for supremacy with your survival skills of making more calls, scheduling more meetings, and writing more plans for clients. You engineer a mental truce between the two by rationalizing your actions and recognize that you have survived, that you have adapted, but, if you’re truthful, you’re still a bit unfulfilled.

Recognizing the unfulfillment is the first step to becoming peerless. Embrace it. Don’t own it, however, because you are going to make it go away. You are going to fulfill the promise of that day one vision or of the “what comes next” vision and I will share with you the process that I have created after working with hundreds of advisors helping them grow. You can achieve that dream you have held onto. You need to be distinct in this iteration of our industry, though. There will be a place for the willing survivalists who partially adapt toward distinction. But for those who dream big, establish a clear vision of what they want, craft a thorough plan for their dream practice, and execute with detailed accountability, there are better sunrises ahead. That is their path. For the truly peerless, it is distinction or extinction.

Next week: Dreaming Big

Terry Newman is a registered representative of Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp. Securities and investment advisory services offered through Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp., a broker/dealer (member SIPC) and registered investment advisor. Insurance offered through Lincoln affiliates and other fine companies. Lincoln Financial Group is the marketing name for Lincoln National Corporation and its affiliates. CRN-2750957-093019