In a world where it can take as few as 50 great clients to build a successful advisory practice, many seasoned advisors have been able to build a business around a small group of clients who they like to work with (and who like them in return). Yet advisors who are at an earlier stage of their careers don’t typically have the luxury of being so selective in picking and choosing the clients who they want to work with and like, while instead there’s even more pressure on the advisor to be “likeable” in the first place; as the common aphorism goes, a client has to first “like you” before they’ll decide to trust you and hire you. Accordingly, then question then becomes, to what extent does likeability really matter in bringing on new clients and building relationships with existing clients, and conversely, how far should you go to come across as “likeable” to clients (even if it requires doing something that isn’t otherwise natural), and how common is it for clients to fire their advisors because they are “unlikable”?
In our third episode of “Kitces & Carl”, Michael Kitces and financial advisor communication guru Carl Richards sit down to discuss the question of how important it is to be “likeable” as a financial advisor, why being your “authentic self” when it comes to communicating and interacting with clients might matter more, and why it’s important for newer advisors to avoid sending mixed signals to clients when trying to differentiate themselves.
Foregoing the (remarkably intriguing) possibility of developing a practice around the “curmudgeon” niche, the reality is that those who self-select into a career of financial advice often do so out of a desire to make a difference in people’s lives, which necessitates having some level of competency in interacting with others. Though beyond just being “likeable,” being able to connect with others is also about your style, behavior, and even your appearance… all of which might be adjusted in order to be more appealing to potential clients.
Because the reality is that it is important to tailor the way you communicate with and present information to various clients, as not all clients have the same preferences in how they want to receive advice in the first place (i.e., some clients might “only” want a big-picture summary, while others love to delve into all the gritty details).
Still, though, that doesn’t necessarily mean advisors should try to be something they’re not… and in fact, the more you try to be something you’re not, the easier it is to come off as inauthentic, instead. Rather, the key to finding people who like you and want to do business with you is by being your “authentic self,” and recognizing that, while not everyone may respond well to you, some will… and those are the people who you ultimately want to work with anyway!
On the other hand, “being your true self” doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to totally throw social conventions to the wind. Be aware that, particularly when clients come in, they expect certain things of a “professional”, and if you stray too far in an effort to try to stand out from other advisors (or just be your authentic self), then you can easily create uncertainty in the client’s mind as to whether or not you have the professionalism and competency to help them solve whatever problem it is that brought them to you in the first place.
Ultimately, the key point is that likability is important, to the extent that you need to provide great service to your clients in a way that works well for them. But, especially for newer advisors, it’s equally important to not create more barriers for yourself being inauthentic, or by trying to differentiate yourself in a way that is off-putting to clients. Because the differentiator that matters the most resides not in how you present yourself (whether by manner or dress), but in the questions you ask and the experience you create for clients… effectively differentiating on the value delivered to clients themselves, and not just by the advisor’s own style and likeability!