The Lasting Impact of Effective Broker/Dealer Stories
by Jonathan Henschen, CFS and featured in Broker Dealer Journal
Effective broker/dealer recruiting stories provide structure, direction, inspiration and motivation. When properly done they’re remembered because they connect with advisors at an emotional level.
Broker/dealer stories are intended to connect favorably with advisors on the move. But so many of these stories fall short by sounding like mission statements followed by a string of tired details most advisors have heard many, many times before:
- We have top-notch service!
- Our technology is the very best!
- We’ll help you get to the next level!
Too many otherwise successful broker/dealers have one-dimensional recruiting stories like that. Instead, they should develop effective, multi-dimensional stories describing why they’ve done so well, and better yet, how they help advisors succeed, including:
- How our firm got started and why it has grown.
- Where our firm is now and where it’s heading.
- What our firm offers advisors.
- How we proactively help in transitioning to our firm.
Within each of these broad categories additional sub-stories can bring a firm’s culture and appeal to life, making emotional connections with and inspiring advisors looking for a new place to call home.
What Are “Emotional Connections?”
Here in Minnesota we often hear master storyteller, Garrison Keillor. When Keillor speaks he transports audiences to his “World of Lake Wobegon,” which although fictional relates to our everyday lives on many levels. Each of his stories has a beginning, middle, and end, as well as a distinct tone and unique theme. Keillor’s stories also have captivating subplots and trajectories that lead us to relevant conclusions.
As with Garrison Keillor stories, broker/dealer stories can also achieve important emotional connections with the advisors who hear them. Good stories provide structure and direction. When presented properly they are remembered because they connect with people at an emotional level. Your stories will soon be forgotten if they only appeal to an advisor’s intellect and logic.
Ineffective story telling hinders a firm’s recruiting efforts by giving people false impressions, and that will ultimately restrict your firm’s growth potential. Effective broker/dealer stories achieve the exact opposite effect by accomplishing these primary objectives:
- Reflecting the truth about your firm.
- Showing purpose by confidently communicating where you want to go as a firm.
- Motivating advisors to take action!
A Great Example
Each year we attend broker/dealer conferences where we hear upper management tell stories about their firms. Two years ago, the owner of a successful broker/dealer told one we’d like to share, primarily because it’s such a good example of effective story telling:
“In March 1993, I took my first European vacation where I met several entrepreneurs. Those hard-charging self-motivated types are what motivated me to resign from the firm I’d worked at since my university days and start our own broker/dealer on, of all days, April Fools’ Day. April 1, 1993.
“We started with five of reps who had worked for me at our former firm. We had a tiny office above a real estate agency, with a single desk and one lonely chair. At first everyone had to take turns at the desk processing paperwork while everyone else in the office at the time stood around. There wasn’t anyplace else to sit! We worked hard to generate enough revenue to move into larger quarters!
“That first year we ended up with six reps, and cleared through another independent broker/dealer. We soon discovered, however, that even though we we’re one of our broker/dealer’s largest producer groups, we had very little of the support we were expecting and needed. Our broker/dealer had antiquated technology, and absolutely no clue about relationship management. We didn’t even have an 800 number, and they actually turned the phones off when they went out for lunch. Something had to give!
“Rather than trying to find another broker/dealer, we decided to start our own. Roughly one year later, in the spring of 1994 with about 12 reps, we became our own NASD-member firm. A year later we were at 25 reps, the next year, 50. “The firm kept on growing. We never did find a broker/dealer that could offer the same combination of personal relationships, state-of-the-art technology, great payouts, meaningful conferences, or a heads-up compliance team. As a result, we were forced to build all that and more into our own firm. “And that’s just what we’ve done!”
When I heard that story I felt like rooting them on. You can feel their struggle; more important, the story conveys a noble sense of purpose along with humor and brutal honesty. Many firms shy away from sharing their struggles during the early years, preferring to trot out only their current achievements and strengths.
But as the saying goes, “People don’t care what you know, until they know how much you care.” Bringing your firm’s struggles, learning experiences and weaknesses to light adds that caring element that gives the rest of your success story the weight it truly deserves.
Recruiters often struggle with broker/dealer stories failing to jibe with what actually is going on in their firms. The problem is usually twofold: Stories that are just not true, and recruiters who are unwilling to sell something they don’t believe in.
An example of that can be found in an e-mail I received from a recruiter who had just left a major independent broker/dealer. His message revealed numerous problems at his former firm. He explained that staff and management turnover was high; reps weren’t getting answers to questions; customer service was backsliding, and any feedback advisors attempted fell on deaf ears. The recruiter concluded that he had just wasted the entire past year.
This was a clear case of management not knowing what they were doing. They were apparently in deep denial, refusing to face the truth about their operation. Although not mentioned in that email, management may even have maintained a dismal confidence in their firm’s story, despite the apparently overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Their recruiter did not share it, nor could he continue presenting his employer’s story to advisor prospects in good conscience. Any way you look at it, the firm had become dysfunctional and the recruiter was correct in concluding that any possible future there was for him impossible.
Sports figures such as golfers Tiger Woods and Jonny Miller often provide examples of living the truth of their personal stories for good or for ill. Personal foibles and strengths can make a couple strokes difference in their games, to say nothing of the effects they can have on an individual’s life.
While Woods has led a famously exemplary life, which is reflected in his remarkable story of personal and professional excellence, Miller has had to deal with alcohol, marriage and emotional issues that make his story as dysfunctional as the one that recruiter emailed me about. And that has had as predictable an effect on Miller’s competitive edge as it had on that firm’s performance. Jonny Miller, however, seems to have come to grips with the issues tormenting him, as he demonstrates in this revealing quote: “It’s not what you accomplish in life that matters, it’s what you overcome.”
Getting to the Truth
In developing their firms’ stories, broker/dealers often include what they think advisors want to hear, rather than conveying who they really are. Instead of the truth, they live in a fantasy land of wishful thinking. To see if you fall in that category, ask yourself if your story fulfills the following criteria for truthfulness.
Does your story…
- Take you where you want to go as a broker/dealer?
- Stimulate management & staff to purposeful action and hope?
- Have the ring of truth?
Articulating where you want to go as a broker/dealer is the foundation for everything else you want to achieve. And your unwavering belief in your future gives purpose to your firm’s day-to-day activities. Hope generated by a truly effective broker/dealer story energizes your management and staff to believe their objectives are worthy, noble and, above all, attainable.
Developing Your Firm’s Story
For many of us, excitement means being part of a work environment where everyone involved feels they are swimming with the current and seeing all the possibilities–not just looking for the pitfalls. When your firm’s story conveys a sense of inspiration and excitement to everyone who hears, you know it’s a winner.
If the story of your firm has not been developed, try creating one based on the criteria suggested in this article. If you’ve already developed your firm’s story, try evaluating it to see if it’s doing its job. If the answer is no, it’s probably time for a rewrite.