Perception bias is a problem in almost every industry, but I would argue that it can be especially difficult for advisors.
Starting with the antics of Charles Ponzi and rolling all the way through Bernie Madoff and beyond, a few high-profile instances of negative behavior can make some prospects assume that all advisors are only in it for themselves and have no real interest in doing good for their clients.
Impact on business growth
How we manage perception bias, both when its directed toward us and when we direct it toward others, can have a powerful impact on business growth.
Michael Lewis — the author of many books that have attracted Hollywood’s attention, such as Moneyball and The Big Short — has a new book called the The Undoing Project. The book itself covers a wide range of stories, some small and some big, but much of the writing has to do with how we make decisions and the factors that might influence those decisions.
Lewis tells an anecdote about how NBA scouts were evaluating a draft pick of a basketball player from a European league. One of the scouts commented on the player’s physique, saying that it looked like he had man boobs, a little extra fatty tissue around his chest than other NBA athletes. Soon, the description turned into a nickname, and every scout for this particular team knew this player only as Man Boobs.
Eventually, they realized that any objective ability to evaluate the player was completely clouded by the derogatory nature of the nickname. They couldn’t look beyond his nickname, and thus didn’t draft him. This player turned out to be on the top picks of the season, and they had missed out. From then on, the general manager banned the use of nicknames, hoping that would help scouts focus more on ability and potential than on appearance.
How perception can afffect decision-making
This is a humorous example of how perception can affect decision-making, but it’s a very real challenge that affects us at both ends of the spectrum. Our perception influences our choices, and the perception people have of us influences theirs. Being mindful of how we make choices and how the people we interact with — such as prospects and clients — make choices can help us to overcome the problems that perception might present.
To bring it back closer to our space, I do new business development for an appointment setting firm, and I quickly learned that many advisors hear “appointment setting” but think “telemarketing.” While we do do a lot of calling, the image advisors have in their minds is that of an overseas call center with overworked employees, mindless robo-dialers, and dubious ethics. Though that’s incredibly far from who we are and how we operate, that knee-jerk reaction is still there, and even after 25 years it can still be pretty intense.
How we address these perceptions in the sales process could be applied to your work as an advisor because ultimately our challenge is similar to yours: We have to address the perception bias our prospects might have, and find ways to overcome it to show advisors who we really are.
So, how do we respond to inaccurate perceptions?
Your first step is to identify the perception bias you are facing as it could vary from target audience to target audience. (Image: Thinkstock)
Here’s what we do:
We challenge status quo thinking: Our sales conversations utilize the Challenger methodology so that we can quickly connect with prospects on the points that matter, which typically means highlighting a problem or pain point that is deep within their business and might not be immediately apparent.
We tell stories: We develop close relationships, on the level of partnerships, with our clients, and we make their stories a part of our sales and our marketing.
We play the long game: We have been in business since 1992, which has meant a lot of reputation-building through conference visits, seminars, webinars, blog articles, and social media posts.
We continue our education: We spend as much time as students of the space as we can, learning from experts from various corners of the industry to stay on top of new developments and also to challenge our own thinking so that we don’t get locked into a view that holds us back.
Have conversations with your customers
For you, as an advisor, your first step is to identify the perception bias you are facing as it could vary from target audience to target audience. Have some honest and intimate conversations with your customers about what they first thought of you and your practice when you engaged them. Go through your own on-boarding process or ask a customer experience consultant to go through it for you. And maybe talk to some of your peers at a conference about how they deal with perception bias in their practices.
All of these practices can be applied to your business. The more you address your own perceptions and the perceptions of your prospects, the more your conversation can center on what’s actually at stake, which is a big win for any skilled advisor.