It’s no joke. Simplifi LLC is the firm introducing this “upgrade” to the financial services industry. It seems that they have figured out how to have a cartoon do what you do – only better. It’s a digital cartoon character named Sophie, and here’s how they describe her – er, I mean “it”:

“Sophie is SimpliFi’s Virtual Financial Advisor, and her job is to help guide you through the online planning process. If you get stuck along the way or aren’t sure what to do next, just click on Sophie and she will tell you what you need to know. And once you’ve completed the process, Sophie will email you occasionally to remind to update your plan so you can stay on track. And because she is animated, she will always give you service with a smile!”

The firm goes onto describe their service like this:

“The easiest way to get independent, comprehensive financial advice on the Internet. No big words or complicated formulas. No boring spreadsheets. Just tell Sophie where you are and where you want to go, and she’ll do the rest.”

But why? Why would anyone think that a cartoon could do your job?

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past year, the headlines do not represent the financial industry in a favorable light. OK, let’s prove this. I say, “Bernie Madoff and AIG.” What happens in your mind? Do they conjure up an optimistic image? No.

Point is, all that negative ink adds up in the minds of consumers. Add to it the posturing and spin America sees in the news every day, and a message starts to become clear to the general population: financial people of all stripes are unprofessional and self-serving. Compared to that, a cartoon is a paragon of ethics and competence.

Bottom line, consumers seem to have gotten tired of the way the financial industry representatives present themselves and their firms. Simplifi simply recognized some of the problems and set out to provide a creative solution. Pam and I love creativity in this industry. So, rather than gnash your teeth and cry, “Antichrist!” consider learning from Sophie. The lesson is one word – perception.

Next logical question: What can you do to change that perception?

As wrong and pig-headed as it may seem, Sophie is the result of a terrible perception. It’s not fact, it’s just perception, but as such it is reality. Good news, because it’s only perception, it can be changed. All you have to do is debunk it. Prove that this cartoon is inappropriate when compared with you and your service.

What can you do to make that happen? Two things: 1) immediately launch a proactive communication program. 2) demonstrate your value. Let’s look how to do each one.

  1. Proactive Communication. These are approaches to paint with a broad brush. How do you normally contact your clients? Start doing it. And, add other media. So, send a personal note or greeting card to every client and hot prospect. For the most important ones, have a messenger hand-deliver a package. It almost doesn’t matter what the contains is, as long as it’s relevant to your work that person. If you send a newsletter, hand write a note on it. If you’re comfortable with groups, start hosting small meetings with three of four clients, at a restaurant where you buy pie and coffee. None of this is selling of any products. It is only selling yourself and your credibility.

  2. Demonstrate Value. This is how you paint with a detail brush – a personal touch. Place phone calls and talk with each client and hot prospect. Facilitate a conversation about the economy. Explain how today’s problems came to be. Explain that the best investment gurus have lost zillions of dollars. Show how you personally did not cause the market to correct, but that you were caught unaware like everyone else. Explain that you, too, have lost money just like they have. And, explain how you can guide them (and you) out of this mess. Talk about their personal lives and their goals. Get real with them. Do not be a sales person! Approach them as a friend who happens to be an expert.

If you read my articles, you know that I often write about professional credibility. Isn’t that what we’re talking about here? Isn’t Sophie actually based on a perceived lack of credibility? Realize that credibility is not based on your credentials or how much you know about your products. It’s not based on how long you’ve been in the business or how many sales contests you’ve won. But, that’s what many advisors think. Let’s look at one of the graphics we developed while writing our book Axis of Influence. The book explains how you can use likeability and credibility to build your business. Talk about relevance!

The first step in establishing your both likeability and credibility is Trust. If you’re the kind of advisor who needs to demonstrate your depth of technical knowledge, you’re shooting yourself in the foot from the start. Who’s going to trust you if they don’t understand what you’re talking about?

Credibility and/or Likeability Process

Diagram of Credibility and/or Likeability Process

Second step in the process is a split. You need to cover both paths. The top path leads to the prospect liking you, and the bottom path leads to the prospect seeing you as credible. They are distinctly different paths and in any relationship-based business, they’re both vital. Let’s look at the likeability steps first.

Interest. If you talk over the heads of your prospects, they won’t know what you’re talking about. Then how can you get them to be interested in you? People are interested in others who share their interests. They are actually looking for mirror images of themselves. This is actual shared interests, and interests are based on values. So, you can use either to ramp up the interest level.

Connection. The more areas of interest you can connect on, the more likely that you and the prospect can develop a meaningful, trusting connection. Of course, that’s not likely to happen if you don’t have the skills to maintain rapport and facilitate the conversation.

Relevance. The relevance step takes you into credibility. This step is where you show that this is not the first time you’ve helped someone with this problem. Simply make observations and ask short questions. You are simply demonstrating that your background of experience is relevant to that prospect.

Competence. Advisors often question us about which comes first – relevance or competence. Trust me, it’s relevance. If the prospect can’t see that you’re relevant, you won’t get a chance to show your competence. But, see how far along the path we find competence? If your technical knowledge is going to play a part, this is where it will happen, not sooner. By this time the prospect already likes you and knows that there is a probability that you can solve the problem.

In Conclusion.

Sophie the online cartoon could prove to be a real asset to you. She is the result of an advisor population that has lost touch with the market place. All you have to do is follow the steps laid out in this article and you’ll start to make giant strides in keeping current clients and picking up new ones from those out-of-touch advisors. If you’ve ever wanted to be in the right place at the right time, this is it. I’m convinced that you are positioned for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Your Reward

Perhaps the most important target market for you to connect with is the population of Decision Influencers. Those are the spouses of business owners and executives. It is those people who will inherit the vast wealth of America. If you follow the steps in this article when you deal with them, you’ll have a far better chance to keep that business, or take it away from someone who does not know how to talk to those people.

So, how do you talk to Decision Influencers? It’s all in our eBook: Inside the Mind of Decision Influencers! This eBook was very recently updated and greatly expanded. And, it’s yours free as a reader of Finding Gold. All you have to do is copy this paragraph into an email to me and include your contact information. I’ll email you a free copy of the book! Sound good?