Elite advisors are able to answer the “What do you do?” question with ease. For starters, elite advisors don’t need to be reminded of the value they deliver and don’t need to be scripted by some outside source. But elite advisors are rare (our research says they make up less than 5 percent of the industry), and role models are scarce.

Yet, answering basic questions about value proposition continues to challenge so many financial advisors. Here is a simple exercise: Without any prompting, ask your spouse to answer the “What does your husband/wife do?” question.  We’ve found this to be a good “true value” litmus test. With word-of-mouth influence dominating today’s affluent marketing and with social prospecting becoming so important, this issue needs to be addressed. 

Sadly, many advisors aren’t sure of the value they provide.  We have studied countless value propositions and constantly see red flags—anything that activates the affluent “sales alert antenna.”  Here are some common red flags:

• Mission Statement: This signals an advisor who has attended one too many “value proposition” workshops. Sadly, they sound like they’re reading a corporate mission statement that somebody crafted for them. I often liken it to their personal version of the “financial pledge of allegiance.” This response is quick to activate the sales alert antenna and is often more of a subconscious reaction. This type of response isn’t normal, comes across as disingenuous, and does more harm than good.

• “I’m smart”: Since advisors tend to be smart, they’re often encouraged to discuss process, use big words, and throw around industry jargon. Alas, this is exactly the type of language that activates the affluent sales alert antenna.  The affluent know that the only people who use that language around them are trying to sell them something.     

• “I really care”: Most advisors recognize the fact that this lingering financial crisis has heightened the importance of strengthening client relationships, especially with affluent clients. As a result, some advisors have opted to segue from “how smart I am” to expressing “how much I care.” This tends to have a similar effect as phrases such as “I’m being honest with you,” and “Trust me.” All of this should be a hygiene factor, a given, not something to brag about. This type of response activates the sales alert antenna on a subconscious level.

• “I’m different”: The old elevator speech concept was that an advisor’s response to the “What do you do?” question had to be so provocative, so out there, that the person asking couldn’t help but be intrigued and ask a follow-up question. That worked for a while, but it doesn’t work today. Today’s skeptical affluent won’t be dealing with someone on a professional level that comes across as goofy, flippant, or just plain strange. We continue to be amazed at the number of value propositions that come across in that manner. It would be like asking a cardiologist what he does and hearing “I help keep people alive.” Huh?

Here are four affluent realities about answering the “What do you do?” question:

1. Fifty percent of those asking aren’t listening to your response. It’s a superficial question frequently used in affluent social circles.

2. Each of the above red flags activates the sales alert antenna, which places you on the path to being pigeonholed. 

3. Good body language and less verbiage produce a better result. The importance of exhibiting a relaxed and natural confidence cannot be overstated. If you are asked a follow-up question, don’t provide all the details. Instead, summarize that much is involved and if there’s interest, invite them to the office so
they can see.

4. If your spouse and support personnel understand your true value and are able to articulate the “What do you do?” question with equal ease, you have passed the litmus test of true value. 

If you’re serious about defining your “true value,” focus on the fourth affluent reality—your spouse and support staff having the ability to articulate your value. Once this has been achieved, you’re in good shape.