Las Vegas: "Is it possible to make a lot of money, run in affluent circles, and still be somewhat intimidated about approaching people for business?" asked Larry as we began our first break at one of our Rainmaker Weekends.
Larry, a veteran $1 million plus advisor, then proceeded to give me a quick personal confession. He told me all about his new 7 series BMW, his $2,000 Italian suits and his $200 shirts. When I asked how he was marketing his practice to the affluent, he simply replied, "I've always been intimidated by people with power and money. I continue to find excuses to avoid affluent people. I don't socialize with them. I don't even belong to the country club where all the serious money plays golf, and I know that I should."
Not only was Larry suffering from social self-consciousness, he was one of the few advisors attending our weekend who was acutely aware of it and willing to talk about it, albeit in private. I was fascinated as I listened to Larry's candid assessment of his image. "If I'm honest," he continued, "I use the BMW and expensive clothes to impress people who are lower on the socio-economic ladder - even my staff. For some strange reason, it makes me feel good. But I just can't make any money selling my services to those people."
I asked what he was looking to achieve at our Rainmaker Weekend, and after a long silence he replied, "I want to bring in fifteen new $1 million relationships over the next 12 months, which I've calculated as giving myself a $125,000 raise." As you might guess, getting over his intimidation is one of the first obstacles he will have to overcome to achieve that goal.
Larry is not alone. Affluent call-reluctance is pervasive in the financial services industry. But Larry was attacking his fear head-on and already understood that doing so would come with a monetary reward. Unfortunately, social self-consciousness can be contagious. Larry's support team, one assistant and one junior advisor, are similarly afflicted. Committed to service, they treat all of Larry's clients with great care, but, according to Larry, spend too much time with his smaller clients. Why? His support team is uncomfortable serving his more affluent clients.
Hello social self-consciousness! Or in 21st Century practice management terms you might want to call it affluent sales reluctance. George Dudley and Shannon Goodson, authors of The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance: Earning What You're Worth in Sales, define social self-consciousness as "salespeople who shun prospects of wealth, prestige, power, education or social standing." They go on to describe the negative impact it can have on an otherwise healthy sales career when a sales person shifts his or her emphasis to up-market clients. George Dudley explains the significance of social self-consciousness this way:
"One reason social self-consciousness is such a dangerous form of sales call reluctance is that it flies well under the radar of all but one sales selection test. That's because it is so highly 'localized.' Only one form of prospecting becomes impaired. All other forms are left unbothered. That means candidates may not be shy, timid or even inexperienced. Their other prospecting skills may dazzle recruiters. Personality-based tests are notorious for failing to detect specific prospecting problems like social self-consciousness, and award them scores like 'highly recommend.' That illusion persists only until it's time to contact prospective buyers with wealth, education, power or social standing."
Dudley and Goodson would also tell us that Larry's situation is not an aberration. No one is born with Social Self-Conscious Call Reluctance - it is learned - and it is highly contagious.
Obviously, none of this is really important until you begin to target the affluent. Whenever a member of your team / practice is intimidated by the affluent, that self-consciousness tends to spread throughout the team. In Larry's case, he was a carrier of this affliction. Regardless of the origin, the impact is the same. Here are the facts, backed by solid research:

  • Approximately 35 percent of all sales people across every industry struggle with social self-consciousness.
  • Social self-consciousness can negatively impact your practice even if you prospect effectively with those you do not perceive as affluent.
  • The issue is not how successful a financial advisor you are. The issue is the amount of emotional stress you experience when contacting, or even thinking about contacting, someone of wealth, prestige, power, education or social standing.
  • You can not get rid of your social self-consciousness by simply saying, "Just do it!" Emphasizing positive thinking does not work. In fact, people with social self-consciousness tend to read more self-help books than the average sales person. The studies show that all those books and tapes and seminars will not help with this issue.

Surprisingly, social self-consciousness is most common in veteran financial advisors. If you see a bit of yourself in Larry's story, you should be aware that this is not a case of low self-esteem, low goal motivation, or a lack of assertiveness. In fact, it often happens with those who are above average in all three of those categories--except when it comes to approaching prospects of wealth, prestige, and power. Following are some clues that, if they are true for you, would suggest you have a problem with social self-consciousness: …

  1. Setting sales goals, but then failing to follow through.
  2. Exaggerating the power, prestige, and fame of affluent individuals, both in your own thinking, and verbally to others.
  3. Telling others, "I'm not really interested in whether my customers are affluent. There are other segments of the market."
  4. Feeling self-conscious and actually becoming tongue-tied when in the presence of affluent people.
  5. The tendency to try to intimidate people at lower levels in your organization as a way of compensating for your own frustrations with feeling intimidated around wealth.

As Dudley and Goodson helpfully point out, these emotional boundaries are all self-inflicted. This means they can be overcome - with effort. The first step is to take a quick assessment to determine whether social self-consciousness might be holding you back. We are offering a free a tool to identify and correct social self-consciousness. Please visit Social Self-Consciousness for the document.
Also, if you brought in 10 or more $1 million-plus clients over the past year and want to participate in one of our current research projects, visit 2007 Rainmaker Best Practices.
Once again, we want to thank all of you who have emailed comments and questions to us. We will continue to do our best to answer each one. If you have any topic suggestions or special requests, please contact Rich Santos, publisher of Registered Rep. and Trust & Estates magazines, at rich.santos@penton.com.