Welcome back to the 114th episode of Financial Advisor Success Podcast!
My guest on today’s podcast is Dennis Moseley-Williams. Dennis is the founder of DMW Strategic Consulting, a boutique consulting firm that works with financial advisors in how to design and deliver a great client experience.
What’s unique about Dennis, though, is that he’s not simply focused on how to improve client service, but that he’s trained and studied under Joseph Pine, author of the seminal book, “The Experience Economy,” and has specialized in applying “The Experience Economy” concepts specifically to the domain of financial advisors.
In this episode, we talk in depth about the difference between simply giving better client service and a truly distinct client experience. How the focus of better service is to save client’s time and money, but a great client experience is about ensuring that the client’s time is well spent. How the delivery of a great client experience starts with viewing everything about your financial planning process as an experience to be staged for clients, and why in the end it’s not just about what you do for clients but what change for the better you help to create in their lives.
We also talk about the practical steps to take to start adapting your firm towards delivering a better client experience, starting with how to more effectively target who you want to serve by taking a niche, niche, weird approach to identifying your target clientele, why it’s so important to develop a theme to the experience you’re trying to create for your ideal clients, why you should think of your advisory business as a stage and industry products and your financial plan itself as props in that staged experience, and how the challenge of creating a unique client experience that there’s no clear instruction manual for how exactly to do it for your particular ideal clientele is part of what makes it so profoundly unique and differentiating in the marketplace.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Dennis talks about the importance of finding your own true authenticity and crafting unique client experience, and how in the end, building an advisory firm and a great experience for clients is really just about doing one great thing for one particular type of ideal client and then really going all in to own it.
So whether you’re interested in learning about how you can leverage “the experience economy” for your advisory business, why discovering your “theme” as a financial advisor is so important, or actionable steps you can take to improve your clients’ experience with you and your practice, then we hope you enjoy this episode of the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
What You’ll Learn In This Podcast Episode
- What most people don’t understand about the difference between experience and service. [05:28]
- How a theme differs from a mission statement. [14:27]
- Why it’s so important to develop a theme to the experience you’re trying to create. [25:02]
- The two different types of work that exist for every advisor. [30:14]
- What the “niche-niche-weird” formula is and how to apply it to your business. [44:50]
- Three things you need to figure out in order to discover your niche. [55:15]
- What business owners need to understand about customer satisfaction vs. customer sacrifice. [57:45]
- The four rules of the experience economy. [1:09:05]
- What a great client event looks like. [1:19:27]
- Dennis’ advice for getting from “here” to “there”. [1:29:50]
- What Dennis does for his clients. [1:43:18]
- Books he recommends to everyone. [1:46:37]
Resources Featured In This Episode:
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Michael: Welcome, Dennis Moseley-Williams, to the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
Dennis: Michael, delighted to be a guest. It’s way bigger in here than I thought.
Michael: Yes, the virtual room, the whole experience of just having the voice in your head. You know, I don’t know if our podcast listeners realize, but we record all of these virtually. You know, some podcasters do it like live in-person, but we do it all virtually. And so in the same way that, like, you’re listening to this podcast and, like, our voices just come into your head through your earbuds or whatever it is that you’re using to listen to this, we record it in the same way. So Dennis and I are just two dudes standing in front of a computer on our respective worlds with a headset and a microphone talking to each other. It’s kind of an eerie experience, isn’t it?
Dennis: It’s incredible is what it is. When you think about this technology that we all just shrug off and take for granted. You calling in, “Oh, and here you are right on time,” and the whole nine yards, and we think, “Oh yeah, that’s neat.” It’s so much more than neat. You and I own our own television station, broadcast station, newspaper through a blog. All of it comes built into this computer that’s sitting on my desk that cost 1000 bucks. It’s amazing. All of this is amazing: sharing ideas, connecting, very cool.
Michael: Well, and I’m looking forward to our discussion today because to me, it’s very much an extension of that. Our industry has had this focus over the past couple of years of the business is being commoditized. We’ve got these risks of fee compression. All this technology is coming in. And, like, the way forward, the path to the future is you have to have a great client experience that makes people still want to pay you well and, you know, push back these fee pressures that are coming at us.
And this drumbeat of discussion around, you have to have a great client experience, you have to have a great client experience, you have to build a better client experience has become, I feel like almost a mantra in the industry about how you fight these forces of commoditization, with the small detail that, like, no one actually explains quite what it means to build a great client experience and just what that is. And that’s literally what you do and why I’m excited to have you on the podcast. Like, your world is consulting about how to make a better experience for your clients as an advisor. And just to me, that’s what virtually no one else is talking about right now.
What Most People Don’t Understand About The Difference Between Experience And Service [05:28]
Dennis: Oh. Well, thank you. And you are correct, experience as a subject, customer experience, is having its moment. Everywhere you look, that’s what everybody is talking about. And I think one of the very first things I ever said publicly for money was a comment on Starbucks. I said, “Clearly, there is something going on at Starbucks that is, you know, bigger and a lot more than the coffee.” People are going to Starbucks. Like, this was in 1994 is when I started talking about customer experience. 1994 when I said, “Clearly, when somebody goes to Starbucks, they’re not buying coffee, they’re buying something else.” And what I didn’t understand then candidly was what I had figured out.
And I wish in 1994 there was this thing called YouTube. It would have changed my entire life as I was having this amazing revelation by myself and, you know, sharing it in groups of 2s and 5s and 10s. But that’s exactly it. Customer experience is having its moment. And what you sort of hinted at in your question here or your set up is nobody even really knows what it is. We talk about customer experience like it’s customer service. It’s almost like we think, you know, horrible service, you know, when improved becomes bad service, becomes good service, becomes really good service, becomes incredible service, equals experience. And that’s not actually true. Service is a part of experience.
But, you know, if everyone listening is to take, you know, as they say, that one thing, take this one thing away, which let’s hope you take loads of things away today, but the first thing you’ve got to take away and hold on to is this, experiences, experience as an economic offering is as distinct and separate from service as services are from goods. Experiences are their own economic offering, completely separate from service. It’s not even in the same headspace. And most people don’t get that. And that can be really dangerous.
Michael: Yeah, it’s an interesting phenomenon to me that Starbucks has become sort of the quintessential experience example these days. Like, why is it that we go to Starbucks and spend twice as much as what we could get for basically the same cup of coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonald’s or I guess Tim Hortons for you because I know you’re up in Canada? I mean, just at the most basic level, it’s this fascinating question like, why the heck does everybody not do the math and figure out you can buy coffee for a lot less than Starbucks? What is it that brings it in? You know, it’s fine coffee. I don’t know very many people are like, “Oh, the quality is just so freakin’ amazing that I’ve got to buy Starbucks.”
And likewise, I think your point about separating experience from service is a good one. Like, look, I like that when I go to Starbucks, like, I get in there, I order my drink, it comes up at the end of the bar. They make it pretty fast these days. But when I think, “Why do I pay the money for Starbucks,” the first thing that comes to mind is usually not, “Oh, well, their service is just so amazing,” but I’m paying for something else, right? And that’s where that intangible experience thing starts to come in. Like, there’s something else that’s happening there that’s not just about the service.
Dennis: Yes. Okay, there’s so much. Like, just right there, I think we could talk for an hour about what you just said. And everybody listening in podcast land just cringed, “Oh God, please don’t.” But here it is, first of all…
Michael: We’re like at the top of a roller coaster and like it’s going over the top and everyone is screaming as we go down. All right, take us down the roller coaster.
Dennis: Yeah. This is the nerdiest it’s been yet. Okay, so here it goes. Here’s two guys really excited about retail coffee. Wow, to share your life with them would be misery. So here it is. First of all, people don’t go to Starbucks to get a coffee, they go to Starbucks to get empowerment, community, and consistency. That’s why they go to Starbucks. If you think about, and I’m going to break this down in a second, but I want you to think about, there’s been no innovation, more or less, in the coffee world in 30 years. What Starbucks did, they didn’t innovate around coffee, they make good coffee. End of story. Well, so does everybody else you can name. And I don’t want to completely cheapen the product, but it has been my observation that if coffee is hot, it’s usually good.
Michael: Yes. And if you’re like me, you put so much cream and sugar into it that even if it’s not that good, by the time you’re done with the milk and sugar, it still tastes like warm coffee ice cream, so you can’t really tell the difference.
Dennis: Exactly, okay? So the coffee, you know, it’s just the coffee. In the Starbucks model, the experience is what you’re actually paying for. They focused on the coffee drinking experience, and they’ve done so well at it that the coffee itself almost becomes memorabilia. It’s like a t-shirt you buy after a concert or you buy in the gift shop, you know, in the airport when you’re leaving. You go into Starbucks for something entirely different. As I say, consistency, community, empowerment. They use some escapist language, you get exactly and precisely what you want.
You and I are probably very similar. Admittedly, I don’t really get the full benefit out of the Starbucks experience because I just have coffee with a little bit of cream in it. I don’t really even give them a lot of opportunity to get creative for me. But for those people that do, you know, the bottom line is you get exactly what you want. It’s also a lovely environment. You know, there’s a lot of ambience. Of course, there’s also a lot of theater in there. They’re generous. They give you free Wi-Fi. You can sit there and stay all day, which is all great. But the biggest difference is when you think about other coffee shops or…and let’s use this as a way to clarify right away, well, what is experience? There’s service and there’s experience. And the focus of service is always to save the customer time and money, whereas the focus of experience is entirely different. The focus of experience is to create time well spent. Or in the case of our industry, let’s call it time well invested.
So you go through drive-through windows and all these things. And in fact, Starbucks, you know, they’re in a little bit of, I don’t want to say trouble, that’s too strong a word, but they’re actually having to retreat and rethink some of their customer innovations because they actually slipped back into the service model. The app, if you’re aware of it, you know, you can call ahead to Starbucks, order and prepay for your coffees. So there’s now a special…
Michael: Great service, but now it’s not…
Dennis: It is great.
Michael: To use your framing, like, now it’s not time well spent, now it’s time well minimized. I just blow through that Starbucks in as little time as possible. I’m specifically not engaging there anymore.
Dennis: You’re not getting community now. You’re not getting that moment at the desk where they know your name. Or have you ever had the moment when you’re three or four people back in line but the barista looks at you and gives you the nod and starts to make your drink for you? You haven’t even ordered it but he knows it’s coming? A little customer secret, a little customer suspense, surprise, etc.? You’re like, “Oh yeah, this is my place.” And that idea of, “This is my place.”
So here we are, service, experience, service, experience. And we started by saying people confuse them. So very, very generally speaking, this is how it works. Service, I want to make it quicker, easier and more efficient for you. And all of this will lead to you saving time, which is great for the customer, but make no mistake, what it means to the business is saving time and saving money equals commoditization.
Michael: Right. Faster time, faster service, more turnover, get more people through who do it standardized and higher volume, just, you know, ratchet up my profits and out-compete everybody else on price doing my high volume efficient thing.
Dennis: Exactly. And then when I get into trouble, I start throwing in a donut, a cake, commoditize again. Okay. Experience, think of experience as the opposite of convenience. I am advocating and have been for a million years, spend more time with your client. Not less, more time, and focus on meaning. Starbucks has meaning. A moment ago you said, “It’s my place,” and I said, “Oh my goodness, that’s it.”
How A Theme Differs From A Mission Statement [14:27]
So do you know, like in an experience economy, we have this really fun thing that we talk about, which is this idea of a theme, okay? So a theme is not your mission. Every business in the world has a mission. And we’ll stick with Starbucks. They have a lovely mission statement. It’s this. And this, like, truly, before everybody hears this, I just want you to remember, I’m talking about a coffee shop. So here it is, “We inspire the human spirit one sip, one cup, one neighborhood at a time.” That should be applauded. That is a bold, ambitious goal. And it’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. To inspire you one sip, one cup, one neighborhood at a time, that’s beautiful. You could be an advisor, you could take that and borrow it and say, “We inspire our customers one appointment, one check-in, one conversation at a time.” And my goodness, that person would…you know, we would applaud them. This is a place that sells coffee, “We inspire you one sip, one cup, one neighborhood at a time.” That’s great. That’s their mission.
Michael: I have to admit, as I’m listening to this, so on the one end, I don’t know, there’s this piece of like, “We inspire the human spirit one sip, one cup, one neighborhood at a time,” and there is a part of my brain that’s going like, “It’s a freakin’ coffee shop.” Like, come on, I feel like we’re maybe taking ourselves a little bit too seriously. But then you went to the very next point, it’s like, “We inspire our clients one appointment, one check-in, one conversation at a time,” and like, “Hell yeah, I actually really like that.” Like, someone listening to this podcast is going to put that on their website within 24 hours of listening to this because that is awesome. I like that. Like, that’s meaningful engagement and impact for what we do with our clients every time we interact with them.
Dennis: Well, see, now you’re… Okay, so yeah. So, yes. And actually, it’s even bigger than that because what that mission statement is about is actually about transformation, isn’t it? If you think about what they say, they say, “We change our clients.” So let’s boil it back down to a coffee shop. What the hell does that mean? What does that mean they change us? Hey, it means even if you’re in Starbucks for three minutes to get your coffee and go, what you’re doing by going there, by choosing to pay a premium price is it means you see something unique in the experience and it’s also very personally relevant to you.
And even if you’re only there for three minutes, it’s the goal of Starbucks to change you a little bit so that when you walk out and they say, “Thanks for coming in, Michael,” or, “Thanks, Mike,” or whatever they might call you at your Starbucks, give you a phony name, whatever it might be, that three-minute check-in is worth it. It validates it for you, the worth of the place to you and you say, “Okay, I like it.” And more and more, we all evaluate the value a business brings to our life by asking ourselves, “Who does this place help me become?” And there are some of us that their luxury at this stage is taking themselves to Starbucks. It’s a little positive affirmation of, you know, what they do.
But I want to get back to this idea of theme because, as I said, there’s a mission statement then there’s a theme. The theme is something that you should keep secret. And let’s turn this into these financial advisors who are giving us generously their time today. So your theme is not your mission, what it is is it’s the conceptual law that informs your mission statement, that informs every single thing that you do. So we know that Starbucks is in the business to inspire you, we’ve established that, but what’s their theme? What’s their secret purpose that they’re all about that makes them different from everyone else? And it’s this. Starbucks aspires to be the third place. It was an observation that Howard Schultz made. He said, “Everybody only owns two things: their home and their job. Everything else, they just use it. They use gyms, they use hotels, they use clubs, they use Airlines, but my goodness, they own their job and they own their home. What we’re going to do is we’re going to become the third place, the third place they think they own.” Their theme is this: home, work, Starbucks.
Now, so far it’s interesting enough, I suppose, but what does that mean? Why does it matter to everybody listening today, and here’s why. Because every other coffee shop in town is in the goods and services business. They also have really good coffee and they have excellent service and clean restaurants and bathrooms and great hours and good music playing and pierced baristas. They’ve got it all. But every day when they wake up out and roll out of bed, what they’re obsessed with, the question that is in their head is, “How am I going to sell more coffee today? How am I going to sell more coffee? I’m going to improve my service. I’m going to come in, bring bigger cups, nicer decor, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” That’s all great.
Starbucks wakes up every day and asks an entirely different question, “How am I going to make people feel at home today?” And that is an entirely different business model, and it changes the posture of their business completely compared to all of their competitors. Which is why, you know, all jokes aside about Starbucks, some people call it five bucks, and I always joke well, they should call it seven bucks because they always tip. It costs more. Yeah. And you do the one and only thing you can do to show your appreciation, you give them even more, “Here.” And in Canada, with our 1 CAD and 2 CAD coins, loonies and toonies we call them, which is something we should probably reconsider if we want to be taken seriously as a global economy, stop giving your money nicknames, but just the same, you know, in Canada, I can dig into my pocket here and haul out 4 CAD pretty quick. One or two dollar tip on a coffee, no big deal.
So this idea you see of mission and theme, purpose is incredibly important, and the idea of transformation and how it all relates to the financial services industry. Everybody here listening is a financial advisor, yeah, and everybody listening has a mission, right? And one way or the other, as you joked, it could be somebody scrambling right now to inspire people one, you know, review meeting, check-in, and conversation at a time. Everybody is in this game to help their clients accomplish a goal. What I’m saying is goals aren’t enough, selling goods and services isn’t enough. That’s all been commoditized. It’s about outcomes. Who are you helping your customers become? That’s the proverbial million-dollar question right there. If it’s better served or wealthier and with better reporting, it’s like, fantastic, I have horrible news for you, there’s somebody else willing to do it for less.
Michael: There’s like a marketing image out there that I guess I will try to describe. It’s much easier to show it visually, but here we are on an audio podcast. Like, it goes back to the days of like early video games and Mario Brothers. So like, Mario would run around and every now and then, like, a mushroom or a flower would appear. And if Mario got the flower, he turned into like a supersized fireball-throwing Mario. And, you know, the classic view of businesses is like, I sell the flower. Like, I sell the thing. You know, you walk in, you buy my flower and, like, it’s cool and it gives you all these cool features and benefits. Like now you can throw fireballs.
And, like, the marketing image that really hit me was someone had, like, put up a visual of, you know, your customer, your product is the flower, and then, you know, you turn into fireball-throwing Mario. And that, you know, what you sell at the end of the day is not the flower, what you sell is transformed awesome fireball-throwing Mario. Like, you sell the transformation from where they are into that awesome and powered thing that they may do because of your product or service or offering or whatever you give them, but you’re not selling the product or service or offering, you’re selling the fact that you turn them into fireball-throwing Mario.
Dennis: That’s exactly right. If you will, we use this…there’s this wonderful thing that we say all the time, which is all work is theater and every business is a stage. It’s a workable business model. It’s, work is theater, every business is a stage. And what we say is, you use the business itself, the service of financial planning, that’s your stage, the investments, and advice, those are your props. And you’re using the stage and these props to do what? And this is it. It’s to change the person sitting in front of you. But think about it, it’s like not from a person who’s aspiring to be and then is independently wealthy. Is that the transformation you’re talking about? No, that’s the byproduct of having a financial advisor.
You could hire a financial advisor who doesn’t even want to talk to you, has no personality and brings your life no personal benefit. And if you just stay out of their way and send them money every month, the byproduct will be you’re going to do all right. All things considered equal. There’s no new technical knowledge. In fact, I cannot believe how much time we spend still in this business focusing on two things. One is the technical aspects of investing, you’ve got to be kidding me, and the second is sales. How to emotionally manipulate. How to overcome objections. The right thing…oh, all of that stuff drives me crazy. The transformation I’m talking about, and I’ll get very personal here, how about I talk about my own guy and me? All right.
Why It’s So Important To Develop A Theme To The Experience You’re Trying To Create [25:02]
So, like, there’s so much here, okay? And there’s lots of things that I like to talk about as it relates to experience economy. So let’s start with authenticity and generosity. So everybody is listening and hopefully, you’re thinking out there in podcast land, “Well, what’s my mission and what’s my theme?” Now, your mission, you probably came up with right away. Because as I like to joke, you know, you’ve had a big retreat about it and you and the team all went away. Somebody cried.
Michael: Some consultant came in and did a thing on a whiteboard. There were stickies involved. We came up with some words. Yes.
Dennis: Yeah. And you’re welcome, by the way. Yeah, exactly. And then it was written down and it was great. There was a group hug and a picture and a, “Yay,” you know, a big team thing. And then you quickly shoved that thing in a drawer and have ignored it for two and a half years. So you’ve got a mission statement, but the theme is a little different. It’s like, “Ooh, I don’t have anything on that.” So this is…what I want you to be considering is it’s like…I like to think of it this way. The theme, it’s even more than your purpose. I look at it as a secret. What’s the secret that you know about being alive, about the human condition, okay, that you’re willing to use your business to teach? Okay? So wow, that’s a big statement. I’ll say it again.
Michael: That’s an interesting one. Yeah. Like, your theme is your secret. It’s the secret thing you know that you’re willing to use your business to teach.
Dennis: Yes. And by me teaching you this, you will be transformed. I’m going to pretend I’m your advisor, right? It’s like, oh, no, no, no, no, I’m not about to teach you the secrets of portfolio diversification, are you crazy? That’s not secrets, that’s worse. You don’t want to know anything about that stuff. There’s way more interesting things to think about than that, okay? No, my secret is what my sum total experience on the planet has taught me about something that I want to share with you.
So I will in fact share mine in a moment. But for the benefit of everybody listening, let me tell you about my own advisor. Here’s his mission statement. He helps founders, presidents, and CEOs, of which I am somehow all of those things, navigate all critical financial events inside and outside their business. Things they plan for and things they pray never happen. That’s his mission statement. Isn’t that fantastic? Founders, presidents, CEOs navigate all critical financial events, inside and outside their business, both the things they plan for and pray never happen. That’s amazing. It’s also worth nothing. If my advisor, God love him, dropped dead, like, what would…in a city of 1 million people, oh no, what will I do? How on earth am I ever going to find another guy that can do that? Well, I guess the short answer is by walking 15 feet down the hallway to the very next licensed professional who could do exactly that. Now, get this, here’s his theme, “Better men, better husbands, better fathers.” Ooh, now why that?
So the secret that he knows is that most founders, presidents and CEOs, well, actually, let’s be honest, most founders, presidents, and CEOs fail. So the 10% of founders, presidents, and CEOs that make it become wealthy individuals. What he knows is that when surveyed, over 70% of self-made millionaires feel that they have paid too high a price. They sacrificed too much. I should have gotten a job. I should have been an advisor. Why was I trying to consult to them? I don’t even have a book to sell, so to speak, which is a disgusting term. That’s for a whole other podcast. When you call clients’ files or households and your business a book, you know, you should probably check in with yourself a little bit there.
Anyhow, what my advisor knows is that there’s a 70% chance that you’re focused on the wrong things, and his responsibility to me between now, well, no, not even between now and then, his responsibility to me is yes, he’s going to manage my portfolio. I have to give him all my money. I go to my review meetings. The service side is going to sound a lot like everybody else’s. But what he’s working on with me is to help me become the very best Dennis I can be, the best husband I can be, and the best father I can be. And these are…I’m not perfect at any of them, I’m just trying really hard. But I can tell you this, those important aspects of my life that I do so well, I owe it to him.
The Two Different Types Of Work That Exist For Every Advisor [30:14]
You know, I put this slide up when I’m presenting, and it’s for a very powerful point but I also…I get a little chuckle out of it. So I advance the slide and boom, there’s a great big picture of Julie Andrews. It’s a still taken from the movie “The Sound of Music.” And she’s on top of the mountain with her arms out and she’s just about to belt out the tune, like, we can all hear it in our heads. And I use this slide because I was watching the film with my little girls. We watch all the classics. They’re just little, you know. They love “The Sound of Music.” They can sing every word. If you have little kids, trust me, you think, “Well, they won’t like it.” They’ll like it all 53 times you watch it.
I use that slide to talk about the two different kinds of work that exist for advisors, for all of us really, for every job in the world. There’s the work that’s assigned, the assigned work for a financial advisor is financial advising, financial planning, rebalancing, and reporting, understanding the client, building the plan, etc., etc. That’s the work that’s assigned. But then there’s this other work, and it’s the work that’s required. And that’s the work that nobody wants to do. And ironically, it’s the only work that’s worth anything. I can get financial planning anywhere. Well, in general terms, it’s the hard work. It’s the human work. It’s the dangerous work. It’s the work that leads a person to a better place. It’s the conversation that’s difficult to have. It’s engaging with your clients in a way that’s not anywhere in your job description.
For my advisor, it’s this. Imagine this. We go out to dinner. I guess I’m oversharing, but I don’t know. It feels like the right thing to do. I’m not oversharing to impress anybody. I’m oversharing to impress upon everybody who’s listening how powerful this is. So imagine this. I’m an investor and I’m taken out to dinner by my advisor. And we are going out together because he wants to celebrate something with me. And what it is is that I am approaching an important investment milestone. Which I’m going to point…you know, there’s two things here. One is the story I’m going to tell but the other is just this little point to ask, you know, this open-ended question to everyone listening, how much celebrating do you do with your clients?
How many of your clients have a high school-aged kid that’s working their first job? Did you recognize that in any way? Are you even aware of it? And if you’re aware of it, did you acknowledge it? Can you imagine how that would matter to your client if you’ve checked in and you found out that your client has a 15-year-old kid that’s now working at McDonald’s and you said, “Okay, wait a second, that’s significant, congratulations, you’re a really good dad?” And that person would naturally say, “Oh, thanks. I’m doing my best. Yeah, he’s a good kid.”
And you could say, you know, “Michael, listen to me, do you know how many dads and moms I talk to every day? And when we talk about their kids they talk to me about how to get them off the couch, and you’ve got a kid that has a job. You’re fantastic. And you should come in. We should have a meeting as soon as possible, and you should bring your son or your daughter in to meet me. And you should let them sit in on this meeting and you and I are going to talk a little bit about portfolio and the markets and your goals. This is a milestone in your son or daughter’s life. Treat them that way. Let them see a little peek at part of your world they’ve never seen before, meeting with the professional downtown and talking about important stuff. And then I’m going to turn my attention to your son or daughter and I’m going to say, ‘Hey, by the way, the reason you’re here is I hear you’re working,’ and I’m going to give them a little five-minute pep talk on compound interest and why working, earning and saving is fantastic. Same stuff everybody’s dad has told them their whole life. But you know how it works. It matters more when it comes from someone who’s not your dad.” So that’s just a little…
Michael: It matters more when it comes from anyone who’s not your parent.
Dennis: Yeah, I just entered that with my kids. I’m officially the last guy they want to hear from on anything I tell their friends what to tell them. It’s hysterical. But just the same. That was a little sidebar on celebrating. So let me bring it all the way around. So I’m invited to go to dinner. I say, “Yeah, I’d like to eat here.” “Oh, great I’ll meet you there.” And I am aware that this is my first…I’m aware that something is up. Like, “Yeah, we’ve never done this before.” Like the first time you go into the bank and the manager comes out and calls you Mr. Moseley-Williams.
Michael: It’s like, “Oh, my business must have grown to a new tier.”
Dennis: Aha, suddenly you don’t want to lose me. Isn’t that nice? Yeah, exactly. So we sit down, we have this nice chat and he says, “Listen, you know, you’re coming up on this milestone.” And I say, “Yeah.” And he flatters me. He goes, “Good for you?” And he starts to tell me all nice things about how hard it is and all these things, which who doesn’t like to hear, but still, I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, I get that.” So he says, he goes, “So, you know, the check is essentially in the mail,” he says, “How do you think you’re going to feel when it shows up?” And I don’t know what I said, but I probably said amazing or relieved or good, something. It’s a positive thing.
And he goes, “Yeah, you see, here’s the thing right there, you’ll probably feel depressed.” And he goes on to explain to me about all this stuff that he’s read and knows about self-made, you know, millionaires and divorce rates and all these things. And he goes on and on. And I just, I can’t believe this. And I’m like, “Wow.” And he goes, “Yeah.” And he says, “This, Dennis, has always been my job. My job has never been to get you this money. That’s the byproduct. My commitment, my job is to keep you the same guy, the same happy guy, loving guy, optimistic guy, adventurous guy. That’s you. And that’s who I’m keeping here. I don’t want you to become some crusty, you know, fella who’s not pleasant to be around and has regrets.” Therefore, his entire focus with me forever has been on me.
So what does that look like in a financial planning practice? And so at least he’s never had an investment seminar. Never. Really no? When he talks to me about money, we talk about those things on the phone sometimes. Sometimes we talked about it in his office, of course, you know, it’s all very important. But who he brings in to present to me in small groups of clients, it’s child psychologists. Really? Yeah. To talk to us about how to raise kids free from anxiety, chefs, cooking classes so that…you know, this whole idea of assembling meals in 15 minutes? All this great…people have adult deliver to their house now? My advisor was on that 15 years ago.
And I remember him saying to a group of people in this small room, he said, “Yeah, so what we’re going to learn today,” now, imagine I go to this client event and he wants…when he set it up, he said, “Can you be there? I’m going to host this on a day you can be there. It’s Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, what works for you?” Wednesday always works for me. So Wednesday. Wednesday night I went in, there’s maybe 15 people there, maybe 20 people there. We’re in this interesting place. It’s a television studio that they film cooking shows in. So we all walk up to…there’s some cocktails ahead of time that we walk up to these little tables and on the little cook stations there’s…all the prep work has been done. I say to the guy beside me, “Is this a cooking class?” And he goes, “Yeah, I think so.” And I was like, “Oh, interesting. I wonder where this is going to go.”
Michael: This is with your advisor.
Dennis: Yeah. And a bunch of guys I don’t know that I just sort of met in the cocktail reception. So to cut to the chase here, the advisor stands up and he asks, you know, “Did you guys all get a chance to meet each other?” But he does like a new introduction from the front of the room. He points us out and explains to everybody who each other is. “So-and-so does this. You know this business in town? That’s his business. You know that stuff that janitors use in your high school? That’s called this. You know, on the floors, his grandfather invented it, founded, he’s the third generation, runs the family. This is Dennis Moseley-Williams. He has a fascinating business, but it’s not even in this city, it’s all…” You know, etc., etc.
So we’re all kind of feeling good about being celebrated and smiling and there’s some jokes back and forth, right, right, and our attention turns back to the front of the room and he says, “Do you know what else you have in common? You each fly a couple of hundred times a year,” at which case there is a gasp that goes through the room. Because that’s just like you and I. We could probably swap stories about airports and road travel and the politics and poetics of having a cool job. So same thing. We’re like, “Get out of here, all the time, you know?” And then he says, “Yeah.” He goes, “So this is what tonight is about. Tonight is about keeping your family whole.”
Now, this is the work that’s required, not assigned. He could have brought in a fund guy to talk about the mutual fund we’re all invested in and given us some report on it that none of us could have possibly understood while we all nod along like we do understand and we eat a really expensive steak dinner at some place. But it wasn’t that. He said, “Hey, the next time you’re on the road, which is, you know, tomorrow, and you call home,” these were his words precisely, “And you call home and your wife is down to her last mommy nerve and you say, ‘I’m going to be home tomorrow,’ it doesn’t mean you’re going to land and order dinner and pick it up or have it delivered. You’re going to go to the grocery store, you’re going to buy these seven ingredients and you’re going to make dinner for your family and keep them whole.”
Michael: Oh, and that’s why he’s teaching you to cook. Oh, it all comes beautifully full circle.
Dennis: That’s his secret. What’s his secret? His secret is if you lose your family, all the money isn’t worth it. Oh well, what’s the likelihood that’s going to happen? I don’t know. If there’s a 70% chance you’re depressed, what’s the likelihood that a depressed guy can keep loving people around him? Come on, we want to be happy here. We want to be happy. So he once coordinated with my wife to find time because I travel. My time is very precious to me. I don’t see my friends in the city very often because I’m already away so much. I don’t want to not be at home on Saturday night with my children and go with my buddies. Not to make myself sound like the sweetest guy on earth. It’s just the way it is.
So he coordinates with Sherri, my wife. He picks the right weekend. He does it all, da, da, da, da, da, da, da. Then he says to me, “Hey, look, I’ve already talked to Sherri. I’ve done this. I’ve got something I want you to do, like, in two and a half months. I want you to go to a Buddhist monastery in Montreal and spend the weekend there.” I was like, “What?” “Better Dennis, better husband, better father. Yeah, I think it would do you good to go to a place where you get to learn. Where you get to listen and you’re not allowed to make any noise. Just go shut up. Go listen to these beautiful guys talk about how to live a happy life of contentment and acceptance.” And I did, and it was amazing.
Michael: What strikes me about this, right? Like, I know plenty of advisors who, you know, do various social events and gatherings with clients, including one or two who’ve actually done, like, you know, cooking lessons with clients because it was a neat thing to do. There’s a piece of this, though, in your example with your advisor that, and I know this is kind of the point, but, like, that it comes back to that theme, right? Like, you know, it was a neat cooking class thing to do as a way to connect with and bond with your clients, until you get to that moment when it’s like, “And I know all of you are business owners who travel more than you want to and don’t get as much family time, so I’m teaching you to cook so you can make dinner for your family the next time you come back from a trip so you can be a better man, a better husband, and a better father, because that’s our theme.” And just there’s just this like, “Oh, that just came full circle so beautifully.”
It’s the theme part that to me binds it together in fascinating ways that go above and beyond just saying like, “We did a cool cooking event. We did a cool wine event for our clients.” Like, all these different things that we do sometimes.
And the piece that strikes me about it as well is because he has this mission that to me is actually pretty specific. Like, helping founders, presidents, and CEOs, like, just the fact that he’s framed it that way, like, you’ve actually made a fairly small box of people and types. Like, the fact that he has made this fairly small box. You know, we’ve talked in the past on this podcast and elsewhere about the dynamics of having a niche, having some kind of specialization so that you can differentiate yourself by, you know, doing something more targeted for your clients.
But to me, this frankly starts taking it to a whole other level, that, right, things like, “I know 70% of my clients are going to be wildly successful people who feel like they gave up too much and wish they could have been better men, better husbands, better fathers, and so that’s what I’m going to do with them and help them,” like, you have to get that specific about your mission and who you’re trying to serve or you can’t get a theme that’s specific enough to pull off events like, “We’re not just going to do a cooking class, we’re going to do a cooking class for travel-intensive business founders who regret that they don’t spend more time with their family so that they can cook the next meal for their kids when they come home.” Like, there’s this level of specificity about what got created that only works because he has this fairly narrow targeted group he’s going after in the first place.
What The “Niche-Niche-Weird” Formula Is And How To Apply It To Your Business [44:50]
Dennis: Yeah, there’s something that’s…yeah, you got it, man. That’s exactly it. There’s a formula that I have used for years. You’ll hear it once, you’ll never forget it. It sounds like this, niche, niche, weird. Or if you guys prefer south side of the border, niche, niche, weird. I’m easy. I’m flexible, Michael.
Michael: Niche, niche, weird. We’re a niche podcast, not a niche podcast. Because there’s riches and niches, and it doesn’t rhyme if you don’t say it the right way.
Dennis: “Il la vie des riche dans des niche,” if you speak French. It still works, man.
Michael: Oh, no, no, you just destroyed my rhyme. All right. All right.
Dennis: I’m totally willing to do that to you. Yeah. So here’s how it works, niche, niche, weird. Let’s use my advisor again. What’s his niche or his niche? Small business owners. That’s not nichey enough. Give me another one. Oh, I’m sorry, small business owners who deal with almost exclusively intellectual property. They tend to be thinkers, creators, designers, and developers. They have no inventory, no storefront, no merchandise to sell, nothing, zero. Almost every client my advisor has thinks for profit. So niche, small business.
Go even nichier, I beg your pardon. Intellectual property, okay, what’s the weird part? Ah, that’s where the magic happens. None of us have a business background. Every one of us is very successful in business, but we didn’t start out to be in business. We started out in a totally different department or direction and the next thing you know, we have just found ourselves here. So what we need is a person who can help us understand the world of business and set up incorporated companies and holding companies. Who can explain to us how you pay yourself. All these great things.
Michael: Right. You know, that businessy people just know and nonbusinessy people who’ve never started a business and just kind of landed here because they did a thing and they got paid for it and now they have a business, like, “How do I get paid from my business? I’m not sure how this works.”
Dennis: Exactly. Or, “Oh yeah, how does any of this work? I need somebody that can help me find an accountant and hire the right one and all that great stuff,” which my person has done. Now, the other you said is, yeah, this only works because your advisor is that way. And it’s like, “Yes.” And everybody else who’s listening needs to stop hiding in the numbers. Quit hiding in plain sight trying to be a generalist. You’re going to be out of business soon. The only way to go is weird. If you’re worried listening, “I think I’m too weird,” I assure you, you’re not weird enough. How many conferences, Michael, do you speak at where there’s 400 men in it and everybody…there’s only 3 ties? They’re all wearing…they look the same. They talk the same. They walk the same. They’re all pretending. They’re all in a persona, the persona of whatever the hell they think a successful investment advisor is supposed to be. You have to get weird now. The internet has made that possible. I am looking for something that is completely and absolutely about me. Relevant.
I wrote this blog, it’s easily enough found, and it was like, The Seven Questions I Wish You’d Ask Me, which I will confess, I wrote after I did an interview, and the interview was with a car magazine. I’ve got to watch where I go with this story here. So, so, so, so. So yeah, I do this interview and I think to myself, “This is the dumbest interview ever.” Okay, this guy, oh God. And he says, “Oh, this is the best. This is great. People are going to love it.” And he hangs up the phone. And I thought, “What are you talking about? Nobody is going to learn anything from the questions. Like, it’s just no. You’re not going to…”
So I sit down, I write this blog called The Seven Questions I Wish You’d Ask Me. And the second question was how do I attract people to my business? And my answer was, by asking a better question than that. The question isn’t an, “Oh Dennis, I want to work with founders, presidents, and CEO’s, how do I attract them?” It’s like, “Well, that’s a dumb question.” The question is…I’m sorry, that’s not a nice thing to say. That’s not the best question you can ask. The question you want to ask, can you tell I have little children? Nothing’s dumb even when it’s dumb. Okay. Yeah. It’s this, what do your clients want to talk about? That’s the question you should be asking. The people that I want to serve, what do they want to talk about? Well, here’s a hint. It’s not their investment portfolio. You’re not going to get their attention that way.
This is something I would do. Here’s what I would do. If I wanted to work with a bunch of business owners, what’s a secret that I know about business owners? They have no time. They’re guilty. They feel guilty. They’re always putting their business in front of their family. Their family says, “Can we do this?” They say, “I think so.” They don’t say, “Yes, let’s do that,” they say, “Oh, that sounds like a great idea, I think I can, I just need a few days to sort this out to see if Michael is going to want this on Thursday or Friday. If he wants Thursday, we’re going on Friday. Let me let you know kids.”
Michael: Well, just like, painful reflection on my life right here. Thank you.
Dennis: Just leading up to Valentine’s Day. Figured I’d throw that out here. Okay. So there you go. There’s something I know about you, and I know about it because I could have been telling you I’ve had that conversation 50 million times too. “Dennis, have you booked that Condo in Mont-Tremblant for March yet?” “No, because I’m waiting for two wonderful people to decide when I’m speaking for them. So it’s going to be at the beginning of this month or the end of this week rather. Beginning of the week.” Okay. So I know that about business owners. So I have a choice now. Do I send them some letters on letterhead and tell them all about this stuff that nobody reads and believes and cares about? Nobody cares about anything you said in a prospecting letter. Nobody cares about your business, your offering or you, but you can tell yourself that they do and you can email them out all about what you do and your unique approach and everything. So long as you believe it, you’ll sleep at night. Nobody else does but fill your boots. Okay?
Or I could send you this. Imagine I send you this, I send you a photograph, and it’s not a clip art phony photo. I want authentic. This idea was inspired by a photo that my wife, Sherri, who from here on in I’m just calling Sherri. Everybody knows Sherri by now. Sherri took a picture of me because she loves me. I was on our little boat where our little cabin is in Canada. I am so quintessentially Canadian. You can probably all smell maple syrup right now. We have a little cabin up in the woods in Quebec and I spend my summer there, and it’s lovely, and it’s part of who we are. And my wife, who loves me and worries about me because I work hard, she loves to see me have fun. She loves the summer. I take six or eight weeks off if you can believe it. I don’t fly anywhere. It’s wonderful. I’m home every day. I’m a joyful, happy man. I love my children. I love making pancakes every morning. When we’re at that cabin, I am telling you, I make 90% of the meals. I love it because all the rest of the year I’m away hearing about what you had for dinner over the phone.
So we’re over at the landing where we pick up our friends, and just everybody picture it, I’ve fallen asleep in our boat, and Sherri loves me and sees it and thinks, “That’s all I wanted was for him to fall asleep. He’s so at peace. He’s sleeping.” And she snaps this photo of me with her iPhone. The photo is not framed right or anything. There’s half of a boat motor in it. There’s a pop can in it. Like, it’s not like…and the reason I’m stressing this is if you sent somebody a Photoshop clip art thing with a beautiful handsome, chiseled dude floating on the back of a boat, that’s clearly not me, it just reeks of inauthenticity. It’s just, it’s fake, right? So I see this picture.
Now, imagine if I sent you a real picture on a postcard-type thing that’s thick, thick like a coaster, like a beer coaster, and on one side was the picture and all it said on text is, “When’s the last time you took two weeks off work or when’s the last time you left your business for two weeks and didn’t worry about the whole thing burning down?” So you’re looking at this picture of this guy who’s just snoozing away in the summer sunshine, and that’s what it says on it. And you flip it over and on the back it says, “How does that question make you feel? You know, why don’t you call me and I’ll tell you how I work with people like you?”
I would send that out before I would send any prospecting letters. Because again, I know something, niche, niche, weird. “What’s your niche?” “I work with business owners.” “Okay, go niche here still. What kind of business owner?” “Hands-on operators, small businesses, big revenue, small staff.” But, you know, of course, the challenge is when you’re the chief cook and bottle washer is you miss one day at work, oh jeez, the whole place falls apart. Ah, what makes them weird? Well, despite the fact they’re successful, they’re riddled with guilt. And what do they really want? They want time, Dennis.
Okay. So if I was an advisor, how do I bring them more value, selling them investments or advice or teaching them all the things that I know about running a business? What if I had 50 business owner clients and I made my entire business just teaching them “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” wouldn’t that work? What if I then…oh, what am I going to do for year two? I’m going to teach them all about the book “The E-Myth Revisited.” I’m going to do that. Michael Gerber’s book. Okay, then what am I going to do? I’m going to tell them about Brian Portnoy’s book, “The Geometry of Wealth.” That’ll be my next year. So my entire focus is on the person, transformation, which is the economic offering that comes after experience, by the way, and I’m pretty sure it’s the last one. We’ve gone from commodities to goods to services to experiences, and the next one is going to be transformation. And what will come after that? I don’t think there will be one after that because that’s the ultimate. The ultimate outcome is enlightenment. I don’t think there’s one after that. Transcendence, I don’t think there’s one after it.
Three Things You Need To Figure Out In Order To Discover Your Niche [55:15]
So again, you’re recalibrating, you’re focusing on the customer. Starbucks focuses on the drinking experience, not the product. I’m saying quit focusing on the goods and services. They’re not interesting. Everybody’s got them. There’s nothing you have that nobody else doesn’t have. Instead, focus on these three things, who do you work with? And you’ve got to get super specific, like, outrageously specific. What do you do for them specifically? And the last, most critical, and what change do you help create? What do you do? For whom? Yeah. And as a result, what change do you help create? In my work, goals, outcomes, I know I’ve done my job, not when the laundry list of tasks is completed. We needed, you know, more team structure. We needed, you know, segmentation done. We needed to build processes in place. We needed this. Those are just goals. The outcome is when all the goals are complete, how are you going to feel? What’s going to happen?
So I know that Tom, my partner, that Tom and I have done our job when my client says to me in an almost aside, “Hey, by the way, Dennis, my wife says I’m a lot more fun since I started talking to you guys.” It’s like, “Perfect.” That’s what it’s about. Perfect. Of course, your business is fixed, now you’re more fun.
Michael: So can you talk just a little bit more about just, I don’t know, I feel like for a lot of us as advisors, like, you know, I’ve been doing this for a while, I’ve got a chunk of clients, they’re, you know, from all over the place because, you know, the way almost all of us grow our businesses in the early years is you take anyone who can fog a mirror and pay you something. And so we ended out with these kind of broad generalist, unfocused businesses. Like, how do we get from here to what you’re talking about? Because I think for a lot of advisors, as you said, like, we do this highfalutin like a made me a mission statement of…you know, to help our clients live great lives. Like, we put these words down on paper, maybe, and then it gets so hard to figure out what comes next? How do you actually translate that into something in the business?
What Business Owners Need To Understand About Customer Satisfaction Vs. Customer Sacrifice [57:45]
Dennis: Right, how do you make an actual shift where the next day you can say, “No, no, no, it might look similar, but I am doing it differently?” Okay, so that is the million-dollar question. Here’s the short answer first. So we’re going to go all the way back to the beginning here, to service and experience. And I said, one thing about service I said is service is about saving customers time and money, whereas experience is about creating time well spent. So I’m going to give you another one now. Two words are sacrifice…I beg your pardon, that is one of them, but satisfaction and sacrifice.
Most businesses would be delighted to improve their customer satisfaction. What satisfaction measures, customer satisfaction measures, let’s see if I can get this right, the difference between what a person wanted precisely and what they settled for. I really wanted a Diet Coke, but they only had Diet Pepsi, so I settled for a Diet Pepsi. And then they rationalize it, “Hey, it’s a cola. It’s diet.” Think, you know, you’re on the airplane with the drink cart. Well, they gave me the whole can, lucky day for me, and it’s poured on ice. It’s poured on ice, you know, and here it is. And I’m on an airplane. It’s a good deal. I was thirsty, now I’m not.
Okay, customer sacrifice looks at something different. It looks at what the client wanted precisely and what they settled for. So customer satisfaction is about improving, increasing satisfaction, experience is about decreasing customer sacrifice. So the short answer is, “Oh my gosh, this podcast made me think differently. What the heck do I do?” Immediately identify two areas where your customers have to sacrifice and eliminate them. That’s what you do. Start right there. That’s the very first step. I’m going to give you an example and I’ll show you how companies make assumptions. And in fact, this is an example that’s also an overlooked profit center.
So here you go. Airlines. You can tell I spend a lot of time in airports because I’ve got a lot of opinions on airports, airlines and how they work. Okay. So if you’re listening or what have you, you know that if you get really good status with the airline, you are allowed to get on the plane first. I fly with Air Canada, that’s known as Zone 1. I’ll have you know. So all the Zone 1 people get to go on first. Now, why do we really…what’s the real benefit to getting on the plane first? Overhead. Overhead, baggage storage. If you get on too late, you get to your seat, there’s already bags up there. You know what I’m saying?
Okay. So the assumption that the airline makes is to increase customer satisfaction it’s to let me on first so I can put my bag up there and sit down. But in fact, just think about it, I don’t want to get on the plane first, I want to get on the plane last. I want my bag to go on the plane first. Here’s the overlooked profit center. Would you pay an extra $50 a flight if you could go to the gate, not check your bags, go to the gate, go to your Zone 1 thing, yeah, and hand your bag to the person at the counter and they’ll bring your bag onto the plane and put it above seat, you know, 12D or whatever you’re in, and that’s now yours. It’s reserved and it’s yours. And now, think creating time well spent, while everybody stands in line and then stands in line in the jetway and then stands in line of the aisle of the airplane, where are you? You’re sitting in a comfortable seat in the concourse waiting, creating time well spent, enjoying your iPhone, looking out the window, relaxing. Where’s your bag? Above my seat. Right.
And then the gate agent says, “Gentlemen, you can get on now.” You go, “Thanks.” And you get up and you walk right onto the plane and you sit down with your carry-on that you slide under the seat in front of you and your rollaway is up top above your head, done. People complain about the cost of airline tickets, which is outrageous, they’re so cheap, and I’m saying, yeah, not only would they stop complaining about the price of the ticket, they would pay an extra $50 for what I just described. So step one is you need to find some places that are pain and decrease that pain right away.
The second thing that you have to do on a bigger…you know, the next step that’s a little bigger is you have to figure out what your theme is. It’s got to be something true and honest to you. It’s authentic. It’s something you truly believe. And the next part is generosity. You have to want to give it away. And you have to think about time differently. It’s not just creating time well spent, it’s understanding an event in terms of stages. So the five of them are the following: attracting, entering, during, exiting, and extending.
And, you know, one of the greatest things everybody listening can do is this. Just think about how this changes everything. When someone comes in to see you for an appointment, do you let them check in or are you waiting to receive them? How does it change the posture of everything? A person comes in and they say to the receptionist, “Mr. and Mrs. Jones are here, you know, to see this person,” etc. And they say, “Okay, great. Would you like a coffee? Would you like a this? Would you like a that? Okay, great. Just sit down and wait. Just wait. He’ll be out in a minute to gather you.” And everybody listening is probably shrugging their shoulders thinking, “What? I do that. Well, what’s wrong with that?” It’s like, nothing. That’s what my dentist does. My accountant does that. My doctor does that. That is what everybody does, but that’s not what we do. We’re guides. We’re guiding them somewhere.
How does it change everything if this happens? If my meeting is at 10:00 in the morning, what time am I going to get there? Who knows? 10 to 10? Quarter to 10? Not likely, but probably 10 to 10? What would it say to me, what kind of impression would it make if I walked in the door and you were standing in the lobby and you turned around and said, “Dennis Moseley-Williams,” and I say, “Yeah,” you say, “Well, I’m Michael Kitces, I’m delighted to meet you?” And I think to myself, “What the hell? Has this guy been waiting for me?” It’s like, yeah.
I don’t know if you noticed, but when you go to the Sheraton or the Marriott, there’s no doorman, but when you go to the Four Seasons there is. There is at the Ritz-Carlton. And that impression carries through to everything in the hotel. But because there’s a doorman, the Caesar salad costs $3 more than it does at the place across the street, because it’s more relevant to the client. So the first thing I’d tell everybody is you’ve got to define a deeper motive for yourself. There’s something that you know that’s true that you’re willing to use that business to teach. Now, what is it? And the problem of why we have a hard time coming up with that is we don’t like being vulnerable and we don’t like to show our true self. We like to show our representative. We like to show who we think they want to meet. The professional financial advisor, whatever that even means, instead of the real person that you are who wants to help them become more.
So start at sacrifice. Find two of those things right away you shift towards experience. Okay? But the bigger thing is, well, this does take some work, and, you know, it starts with a big introspection. What business do you think you’re in? Are you in the brokerage business where you’re a broker, where you create a market and that’s that? Buy, sell, no client touches nothing? Are you a salesperson? Do you sell goods? Do you sell features and benefits, this one over that one? Are you in the service business? Do you do financial planning? Is that what you do? And forecasting and comprehensive and all that great stuff? Is that what you do? Or are you in the experience business? You stage experiences, a series of various experiences that lead someone to what? Guided transformation. “What do you do?” “I’m a financial advisor.” “Okay, fair enough.” “What do you do?” I’m an advocate.” “Oh, interesting.” “What do you do?” “I’m a guide. I’m leading you to where you want to go.” The reason it’s the work that’s required is everybody wants that.
Like I read something, and I can’t back this up, so forgive me, but I read that 75% of books purchased are about personal development. And I don’t doubt it. Every time I am through the airport, that’s what everything is, all those books. Of course, there’s novels and there’s car magazines and the rest of it, but there’s always that big section and everybody wants to be more. It’s the most beautiful thing about human beings. We’re always trying hard. Even when it looks like we’re not, we are. We’re trying our very best. And we need somebody that can help us get there. And nobody is doing it. Nobody does it anymore.
Michael: So you used an interesting label and framing there when you were kind of distinguishing like, are you in the commoditized brokerage business? Are you a salesperson who sells goods? Are you in the service business of financial planning or are you in the business where you stage experiences that lead someone to something? And you used a framing like, where you stage experiences, which to me is an interesting language and choice of words there. I don’t think most of us think of our advisory firms as like I’m here to stage something. Frankly, I feel like there’s almost a negative connotation in the context of some businesses like, you know, stages are for make-believe, what I do here is real.
Dennis: Yes. I’m so happy that you said that and set it that way. You’re exactly right. Staging, on one hand, Dennis, you’re telling me about authenticity, on the other hand, you just used the word “staging.” Staging implies fake. That I’m going to pretend I’m something that I’m not. And I’m saying no, you are going to stage precisely and authentically exactly who you are. A staged experience is Disneyland. Apple is a staged experience. Everything is about the customer.
The Four Rules Of The Experience Economy [1:09:05]
In the experience economy, well, I always say there’s three rules or there’s four rules depending on how I present it. Four rules we’ll say. I’ll side with Tom, my partner. Here’s the first. The first we’ve already covered. Services are not experiences. That’s the first. The second is that experiences are their own separate economic offering, which we’ve touched on a little bit today. The third is that time is the currency of experience. We trade time to have an experience. And the hallmark of every experience is memory, is a memory. We want to create a memory. The fourth rule is that the customer is the product.
Usually, when a business wants to improve their offering, they work to improve the product itself, and I’m saying your products are already amazing. Instead, focus on improving the customer. And how we do that is by staging. Think theater. A coffee shop is a coffee shop, but when you take a coffee shop and you surround it in the ambience of a Starbucks and the theater of a Starbucks, you create an experience that is dynamic, engaging, and deeply personal and ultimately transformational for the client. So think of staging as intention. What do you want? And this is not to you so much, Michael as everybody listening. And I just feel I need to say, my goodness, you guys are lovely giving us all this time.
Dennis and Sherri Moseley-Williams walk into your office with our portfolio and we need someone like you. In the first five minutes, what do you want me to be thinking? Or even what do you want to have happen? The lazy answer is you want me to decide you’re the one I should hire and hand you the entire portfolio and be glad. And then come to my review meetings and let’s dream big and send you a referral. That’s what you want. But I’m saying that’s lazy. Think bigger. Here’s what you want. You want to stage an experience that is designed precisely, specifically for Sherri and Dennis Moseley-Williams and nobody else. It will be different for every person who walks in. And in the first five minutes of that meeting, what you want is for me to be saying in my own head, “I am so glad I’m here. This person is exactly what I want. This person is different, different. This person is speaking to me.” That’s what you want, and you want that to happen before you ever talk about what you do.
I’m going to tell you this little example of that. I met with this guy in San Diego years ago. Every time I mention his…I can’t mention his name because it’s a podcast. I didn’t get permission, etc., etc., but I will tell you every time I mention his name, including recently at a conference in Florida, somebody will come up and say, “I know that guy.” At the conference in Florida, this woman came up and said, “I went to high school with him.” I said, “You’ve just got to be kidding.” Michael, I’ll be anywhere in the United States, this has happened three times, I’ll be in a hotel, I’ll look up and he’ll be standing in the lobby. His name is AJ. And I’ll say, “AJ, are you here for the conference?” It’s like, “No, I’m just here to see a client.” Total coincidence that we’re there.
I have a meeting with this guy. He is the most beautiful human being I’ve ever met. He is in it for his clients. He is a giver. He is just wonderful. We have a full day of consulting, as is the way we do it, to kick off these relationships. When we’re going to work with somebody for a while, it’s a full day size-up, yadda yadda yadda. So we’ve spent a lot of time with each other and his whole team. We’ve been laughing. His team sort of teases him a little. It’s clear that this is a good vibe we’ve got going here. He’s got a nice thing cooked up. He says, “Hey.” You know, at the end of the meeting he goes, “Would you like to see how we welcome somebody on board, like for the first time when they come here?” I said, “I would love to.” He goes, “Okay.”
So first they gave me the background, which is every single person on the team. Now, one of the things he says to everybody is, “We take a team approach.” So I want everybody listening who says, “Yeah, we take a team approach” to pay really close attention. So he says, “Oh, you know, well, we take a real team approach, Dennis. It’s all hands on deck,” all these things. Tell me you haven’t heard that 10,000 times yourself, all hands on deck. I cringed when I said it out loud.
So he tells me all the background. That when someone…I’m going to use 10 a.m. When somebody is coming in for a 10 a.m. appointment, his words were, he goes, “Did you watch “Fantasy Island” when you were a kid?” I go, “Yeah.” Like, “Sure. Mr. Rourke? Ricardo Montalbán?” And I said, “Yeah, yeah.” So he imitates and he goes, “Places, places, everyone. Smiles, smiles, everyone.” I say, “Right, right, right.” They escort me out to the lobby and they leave me alone. Two minutes later, one of the people who I’ll call Karen, one of the people that I’d met with all day shows up in the lobby to meet me as though we’ve never met. “Dennis?” And I say, “Yeah, how are you?” She roleplays this thing like we’ve…I am starting to wonder if I’d ever met her, okay?
So we’re standing in the lobby. This is in San Diego, California. I’m so delighted. She’s gracious. She’s kind. She’s present. And I’m just amazed by it all. She says, “Before we go back and meet the team, I just wanted to show you a couple of things. You’re from Canada, right?” And I said, “Yeah, yeah, I am.” So we turned around. Now, imagine, we’re looking at over Downtown San Diego. She says, “Do you see that red bridge over there?” “Yes, I do.” She goes, “That’s the bridge to Coronado.” I say, “Oh.” She goes, “Yeah, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip would often vacation there early on in their marriage, over at Coronado.” She’s pointing that out because I’m a Canadian, the Royal Family, etc. In the experience economy, she’s actually hitting one of the realms of experience, which is education, which is kind of cool.
She shows me some other buildings, a visual tour, and what makes them interesting. I go, “Really neat.” She says, “Yeah, come with me to meet the team.” We walked down the hallway. When she puts her hand…she puts her hand on the doorknob, looks at me, says, “You’re ready to go in?” I go, “Yeah.” She puts her hand on my back on purpose. That’s done on purpose to make a physical connection with me. She just sort of puts it up sort of on the back of my shoulder as she opens the door to just gently push me in.
So I walk in. Now, I met this whole team in a boardroom. This is actually the first time I’ve seen their offices. So when I open up, they’re all sitting there, you know, picture Dunder Mifflin in “The Office.” They’re all sitting at their workstations working. But when the doorknob makes the noise, I’m going to make it with my own doorknob, you know, clicky, clicky, so they all know the door is about to open, we walk in, they’re all working, and in unison, they turn their heads and they look at the two of us standing there, they all smile, they all stand up, and they all come over. AJ is not there. I shake hands with each person. They say, you know, “I’m Michael Kitces. I do everything here that involves this. So anything that you do with AJ, just know I did all the work.” Okay? They say little funny things like that. “Hi, I’m so-and-so, I do…”
So I meet them all. I find myself smiling, right, right? There’s four of them. Karen, who walked me in, has disappeared. The four people in front of me split, two go right, two go left. They open up a line of sight, and standing right there while I’m looking straight at him is AJ. He walks up, shakes my hand, welcomes me, thanks me for being there, tells me what’s going to happen. “This is going to be a wonderful meeting for you today. You’re going to learn a whole bunch of things and you’re going to feel really good when you leave,” he says. He then puts his hand on my back. I’m 6-foot-5, he’s not. We’ll just leave it at that. He walks me down the hallway and into his office. When I walk in, there’s a round table, staged, tablecloth, flatware, glassware. Everything around the office, there is no hint that he is a financial advisor. There’s no money show on the TV, which nobody wants to see. Nothing. No.
In the experience economy, we call that harmonizing cues. It’s way better in that TV in your lobby to put a USB stick in the side of it and play 15-minute long Ted Talks on it. Or TEDx talks are three minutes long, play those. They’ll learn something and they’ll enjoy it while they’re waiting, instead of watching a bunch of stuff they don’t know that only reinforces that they’re out of their depth. Same thing when you’re sitting in an advisor’s office, I don’t know why you think your clients want to see your sales awards. But speaking of investing, like, dip into your savings and buy a clue, that’s a horrible thing for anybody to look at. “I’m in it for sales.” “Great, I’m glad I’m here.”
So I walk into his office. It’s all set. Karen appears right behind us with a big silver tray loaded with things, and the non-usual suspects. There’s San Pellegrino and flavored this and cool fruit and cheese and crackers and great stuff. She puts it down. AJ stands back. He says, “Please sit down and take two minutes to gather your thoughts.” He goes outside his office and closes the door, disappears, you know, and marks off two minutes on his watch and walks right back in. It’s staged. They welcome you. They deliver key specific messages. So later when he says, “I take a team approach,” what do you think? You think, “Yeah, I can see that. I felt that.”
What A Great Client Event Looks Like [1:19:27]
Dennis: Exactly. Exactly. They told me who they are and what they are and what it’s all about. I can see you’ve got something going on here. It’s a staged experience. You should stage every experience for your clients, and a series of them. What about your client events? What are you trying to teach them at a client event? And what can you do to turn a regular old client event into something that’s transformational? May I tell another story or am I telling too many stories?
Michael: No, no, this is great. I’m certainly curious, like, what does a well-staged client event look like compared to what I’m now going to shutter and reflect on what we do in our firm that’s probably going to feel embarrassingly bad by the end of the story. So please, please.
Dennis: Hey, well, don’t share whatever that is. Keep it a secret. Keep it a secret. So, you know, I will admit, I lean into it a little bit. And innovation, particularly around client experience is my thing. And I love businesses that try really hard, and I love businesses that try to be different. Well, to be kind, we work in sort of an older, established business filled with older, established people who are stuck in their thinking. And they don’t always care for me necessarily. Entertaining guy, I don’t know if I trust them though, you know.
So I’m speaking at a conference and this fella comes up, and I’m pretty sure he’s older than money, and he surprises me. He says, “You’ve got to keep talking about this. This is really good stuff.” I say, “Well, thank you.” And it’s just the way it is. I mean, no disrespect. Generally speaking, I have more of an appeal and I get more traction with a certain demographic, even, though, you know, I’m pushing 50 here. It’s not like I’m a kid.
But just the same, this guy’s got me by 25 years or so, and he goes, “You’ve got to keep talking about this. It’s really good.” And I say, “Well, thank you.” And I don’t tell him, “Jeez, I didn’t think you’d say that. I was waiting for you to look at me with one eye and go, ‘Thanks, this was great,’ but you don’t really mean it and you’re never going to come and hear me speak again.” No way, man, he’s in. He’s the last guy to leave the room. He says, “I’ve been doing this kind of thing since 1977. Okay? I’ve been taking this approach.”
I’m impressed. Michael, he’s read every book I’ve read. “You read this? You read that book? You read that “EMyth” by Michael Gerber?” I go, “I did when it came out a million years ago.” “You read the “EMyth?” I go, “Yeah.” He goes, “You read “The Experience Economy?” I’m like, “Yes, first edition 1999. And before I read it, I was talking about it.” You know, I literally read that book because it was…somebody said to me, “You must have read it. You’re always using the same example.” It’s like, “No, I’m in.” He’s read it all. He’s a beautiful guy. He could get this.
He goes, “Yeah, my theme there,” he goes, “It’s the bucket list.” Fair enough. Not really a complicated one, but it doesn’t have to be, but I get it, bucket list. He goes, “Yeah, since 1977, I’ve been doing that.” I go, “Okay, cool.” He goes, “Yeah, what do you think I found out in 1977?” Everybody got to pay attention. This is a big story here. I go, “I don’t know.” He goes, “That nobody’s got one, a bucket list.” Okay. And I went, “Oh, neato.” He goes, “Yeah.” He became a level three life coach, this man. Okay? His entire business is about teaching people how to live a fulfilling life. When you’re done with him, you have a bucket list and you’re actively involved in pursuing it. Okay?
Michael: So like, he helps them craft their bucket list and then sends them off to do their things?
Dennis: Yeah. Figure out who you want to be when you grow up. Yeah. Instead of just doing the work that’s assigned. Everybody listening has a client that has a lot of money and they’re miserable. And not because they’re a miserable person or an unhappy person, they’re a depressed person. There’s something wrong with them. You know, they should be happier than they are. This guy doesn’t just let them leave and pay him 1%. No way. He won’t let them leave. He’ll work on them until he helps them understand what the hell is wrong with them, and then he fixes it. Like, God bless my dad. He’s no longer with us. My Dad used to say, “It doesn’t matter who your client is, how powerful, whatever, if you scratch them, right under the paint, they’re suffering. Don’t kid yourself. That’s your job. Heal them. That’s what you do.” That is beautiful. My father said that. He is a beautiful guy.
So this guy, I’m just going to tell you about one event. So again, humbled, he’s blowing me away. I judged him. I judged him. “You’re an old guy. You hate me. You’d never make it if you had to start again.” Are you kidding? If he had to start again, he’d decide to do a real job, he’d become the president. Okay? This guy is the most impressive person I’ve met ever. Then he tells me about an event he hosts called The Art of Retirement. I go, “Oh, neato.” Yeah, ready? All the couples show up. They go to a lovely big, beautiful room he rents somewhere that’s lovely. He has the whole thing catered. What they find in the room are canvases on easels turned, so everybody works around the room on their canvas, nobody can see what the other person is painting. Husbands and wives, separates them. You don’t work on a painting together.
He walks around the middle of the room talking about purpose, meaning. Who are you going to be one day Michael when you’re not Michael Kitces? When you don’t want to do the podcast anymore. When you don’t want to fly around and talk to anybody anymore. When you’re done, how are you going to define meaning? This is the nature of this presentation, right? Now, contrast that with, “I’d like to talk to you about an annuity and guaranteed income.” Can’t you just send me that, you know, PowerPoint? Like, Jesus, do I have to go to a room to listen to that?
Okay. So you’re ready? What they’re instructed to do is while he’s talking about all these wonderful things, they have to paint. They have to paint their inspiring vision of their retirement future. And the next thing they have to do is somewhere in there they have to paint the monster, the thing they’re afraid of. Okay. So when the whole session ends, it ends by everybody reveals their art. They eat, they drink wine. Okay? There’s some entertainment value, and everyone shares what they did and they explain it.
He tells me this, as I tell you this right now, I wish this were video, I would show you all my goosebumps, I’m like, “This guy is amazing. Oh my God, he’s a step ahead of everybody. This is brilliant stuff.” He looks at me, he sees what I’m thinking and he goes, “Oh yeah, oh yeah,” he says. He goes, “I get people to cry.” And I say, “I bet you do.” He goes, “Communication breakthroughs. And I would also like to share with the group, wife turns to husband, husband will turn to wife perhaps and say, ‘I had no idea this is what you were trying to tell me.'”
I work with young guys in Chicago. They have an event. We do the whole thing. We go through, “What’s your theme, theme?” I just bust their chops, these guys. Young guys who called me after a seminar to see if I could give them five minutes. I don’t want this getting out. I have such a soft spot for a person like that who would ask a question like that. I gave them hours. I say, “What’s your theme?” They say, “Oh, we want to be the sons you never knew you had.” So I’m having fun with them. Before they spit that out they gave me all the usual stuff. “Well, we’re really trustworthy. We really take the time to get to know you. Comprehensive this, holistic that.” “You’re lying,” I say to them. “That’s boring. I’ve read this 10,000 times.” You know, we’re just having fun.
Then finally one of them says, “We want to be like the sons you never knew you had.” To which I say, “That’s something I can work with. I like that.” And I go, “What kind of son that you didn’t know you had? The one you didn’t know you had and he’s a troubled kid and now he lives in your basement?” They go, “No, no, no, like, hero son.” I go like, “A grandson.” They go, “Yeah.” I go, “Okay. What would a grandson do for his grandparents?” These two young guys changed their entire approach. Instead of talking to older folks about investments advice, security, annuities, insurance and this thing known as the death benefit. Could somebody please call a public relations firm on that? That is not resonating with me. It’s the death benefit.
Michael: It’s the benefit of death.
Dennis: Yeah. Maybe it is easier the other way. These kids, and they’re kids, they’re 25, 26, 27, they changed everything. What would a grandson that you never knew you had want to teach you about? He’d want to teach you about Netflix and how your iPhone works and what Uber is and Taskmaster and all these things. These guys host these mini-retirement symposiums, they changed everything. They don’t talk about money. Clients don’t care about money, they care about how to go green, how to downsize, what to do with all this stuff in my house I don’t need. A certain generation, right? You and I, we’d throw it out. My mother, Michael, will not throw it out. She wants to repurpose it. She wants to bring it to a charity. Okay, they want to know about that. They want to know what Uber is. Suddenly they learn they can sell their car. They want to know about elder tours and elder hostels. They want to know about diet, nutrition, health. They want to know what the heck an app is. They want to know what their iPad can do, how they can make it talk to their TV.
These guys run seminars where they basically become your grandchildren. What they did with their business in under two years was amazing. By having events that people would want to go to and determining what the event would be by asking a better question than, “How do I attract?” How do I attract a bunch of seniors to be my client? I should talk to them about this annuity and my low fees. Oh my goodness, really? They don’t want to hear…you’re crazy. Now, here’s what they want to know. Every time they try to talk to their actual grandkids, the grandkids are staring at a screen. They want to know what the hell is in that screen and they want to know how to use it. That’s what you want to teach them. Be their hero.
Dennis’ Advice For Getting From “Here” To “There” [1:29:50]
Michael: I love it, but I’m still struggling for most of us as advisors, like just, how do we get from here to there? Like, just figuring out these items, like, I feel like there’s…the world of these themes and phrases is like so overwhelmingly open-ended. Like, how do I choose one? How do I choose the right one? How do I know which one is actually likely to work? Like, how do I get from here to what you’re talking about?
Dennis: Okay. Okay. How do you stop doing the work that’s assigned and choose instead to do the work that’s required?
Michael: Figure out what that work is and who exactly I’m supposed to be doing it for.
Dennis: Okay, so let’s agree to this. If this was a podcast about best practices, this is the part where I would say something cheesy and convenient about, “Oh, and by the way, you know, Michael, on our website, we have this wonderful manual that everybody can have for $49,” and we don’t, by the way. Every job in the world comes with a manual, including being a financial advisor. Every job in the world comes with an instruction manual and a mentor to show you how to do it. And that’s why financial planning is a commoditized service, because it’s a manual. What I’m saying is you’ve got to go off script. You’ve got to be willing to try some things that might not work. And at the risk of appearing like I’m dodging the question, which I’m not, it is valuable precisely because I don’t know how to tell you to do it.
Michael: Well, to be fair, like, that’s what makes it differentiated and unique.
Dennis: Yes. But I can tell you how not to do it. So here’s how you don’t do it. You know earlier you made the joke when I gave the Starbucks mission statement and I said, I mean, come on, it’s a coffee shop, but if you changed it and just made it like this to financial planning, said, “Gee, somebody is writing that down.” I was going to say this then, I’m glad I didn’t. I’ll say it now. Only write it down if when you heard it you thought, “Yes. My God, that’s what I’m trying to do. I am trying to change people one interaction, one review meeting, one communication at a time. Oh my goodness.” Then write it down and do it. But if you didn’t feel that way when you heard it, if you just thought, “Yeah, I can see, that’s good, that’s kind of thing I couldn’t come up with necessarily. You know, that’s pretty good.” Well, it means nothing to you. Don’t try to do it.
Where you have to start is here. It all starts by asking yourself, “What do you know? What’s your secret, man? What would you tell your kid?” My father called it a foxhole conversation. My Dad was in the Second World War, called it a foxhole conversation. It’s where you don’t have a lot of time to share information, so you just give what’s essential. Go left, end a story. So it starts with, what do you know? What’s your secret? What’s your secret about life that you would tell someone that you know won’t judge you? Someone that loves and trusts you already? What would you tell them?
Let me tell you what happiness is, Michael. It works like this. And you tell them, “Let me tell you how you have to live your life, my friend. It works like this.” Something that you could defend and would defend, okay? So you’ve got to dig into that. What your real, true secret is. And you have to appreciate something. When you discover what it is, it will not be any easier to share it. Once you figure out what your thing is, you go, “Oh my God, that’s it.” It’s like, “Yeah, feel like sharing it?” “No.” Because it’s terrifying to share it, isn’t it? It’s terrifying, because maybe not everybody is going to get it.
Which brings us to the second part. The second is to accept that not everyone will agree with you, and that’s fine. That’s fine. This little bit of advice, point three was handed to me by Stephen Covey. I had the opportunity to work with him 50 million years ago, and I asked him, “What’s it like for you?” You know, and it happens to all of us, Michael, when you’re presenting in front of the group and you’re giving it everything you’ve got and one guy is looking at you and he’s communicating a message, and the message he’s communicating is, “I don’t like you,” or, “I don’t agree with you,” or, like, he’s giving you the look like, “I hate you and wish you weren’t here.” We all don’t see the other faces, the faces that are nodding yes and smiling and writing everything down, but you always just see the angry ones. I said to him, “What do you do, like, when that happens?” He goes, “Oh, easy.” He just shook his head, he goes, “Shun the nonbelievers. Your message is not for them.”
You know, think of the band the Grateful Dead. Think of the band Phish. Think about the Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones is a bad example. Think about the band the Grateful Dead. They’ve never had a top 10 hit that I know of. They had that song Touch of Grey there in the ’80s there. That did pretty well. Got regular radio play. But my point is simply this, the Grateful Dead have sold…they must have sold over $1 billion in concert tickets by now. They’re the biggest show in town, right? They did it without ever having the number one mutual fund or the biggest return or the lowest fee, so to speak. How’d they do it? They did it by being honest and authentic and giving the people exactly what they want, and they never once looked outside the fairground, where way more people were choosing not to come in than come in and say, “Hey, Jerry, hey, Bob, hey, guys, why don’t we just write a lousy pop tune? It’s not like we couldn’t write one in 37 seconds and get radio play on it.” They didn’t do that. They kept playing their show for their fans.
You can’t be all things to all people in the experience economy, but you can be all things to some people. The whole world out there is drowning in mediocrity, drowning in average, drowning in boring. That’s why if you’re marketing your services listening to this podcast and nobody pays attention to you, it’s because you’re boring, candidly, okay? You don’t stand out. You’re invisible. It’s terrible, okay?
Here’s what happens when we, all of us, see something where we go, “Whoa, look at that. Whoa, look at that. Whoa, what’s that?” We see it, we react to it, we embrace it, and we share it. We go bring other people to the show. That’s how it works. So it starts with, get in touch with you. No, no, Dennis, I can’t do it. Well, depending on where you’re at in your career, that could be okay. If you’re near enough to the end, you’re probably going to be all right. If you’re not, you’re in trouble. What do you know about the world you’re willing to share? Who do you share it for and what change do you help bring about?
Michael: The thing that strikes me about this as well is when you come down to these themes and the way that people are implementing them, like, they’re not complex things, right? Like, we’ll be the grandson you always wanted and never had. Better man, better father, better husband. Like, you know, it’s not rocket science stuff, right? It’s just here are the things that are actually really, really relevant for a subset of human beings, and just going all in on whatever that thing is.
And, you know, as we’ve written about on the blog as well, like, to me, financial planning has always been especially well-suited for this because most advisors, at the end of the day, like, we can have wildly successful practices with 50 great clients. We tend to top out at about 100 that we’re working with actively. But most advisors can have great businesses with just 50 great clients, 50 top tier clients, whatever top tier target is for you, is usually enough. And so, when you’re only hunting for 50 great clients, like, you really can be ludicrously niche-focused in sort of your niche, niche, weird framework. Like, you can just keep going deeper. There’s 7 billion people on the planet, you only need 50 of them to care about your thing and then go do it for them.
Dennis: That’s exactly right. Yep. And you know what? Here’s how much I agree with that. Yeah, I often tell people one. Everybody starts with, “How am I going to find 100 clients like Dennis?” Like, well, you’re not, but you could find one. I’ll find your next one. Just one. It all starts with one. The experience is your best marketing. When I find that one thing that for me just works, I refer to this as the secret you can’t keep, I share it. That’s what I do. I’ll share it. I’ll bring other…don’t worry about finding 5, 10, 50. One. I’ve got to find one person.
That example I used about, you know, the picture of the guy in the boat and I said, you know, imagine if I sent this out and it said, “When was the last time you took a couple of weeks away from, you know, your business and that you didn’t worry about it burning down,” okay, well, right away there’s some people who would look at that and go…look at the back, you know, “How does this make you feel? Maybe we should talk.” There’s a whole bunch of business owners that would look at that and go, “This is ridiculous. I never take time off work because I’m all about maximizing how much money I can make.” Okay, me and that guy, we’re not going to have a lot of fun in the same room together. But somebody else, it’s more than fine. I don’t want that guy in my room anyway. He’ll give me cancer.
But somebody else is going to look at that and literally think, “Yeah, testify man. No kidding. My God, this is just what I was talking about the other day.” That guy knows other guys like him. And what are they talking about when they’re together? They talk about how they’d love to get away from work. And in that example, and what am I going to make my goal? Well, secretly I’ll be managing their money, but in fact, I’m a business consultant. So what are you going to do with them? I’m going to teach them how to be a better business owner, a better small business owner. I’m going to teach them how to schedule. They’re never going to go join…
Let’s talk about another guy like you and I. They’re never going to have the smarts to go hire Dan Sullivan at the Strategic Coach, but I’ve done enough with that program, I know some stuff, you know what? I’m going to teach them that. They should, but they’re not going to. I’ll teach them. I’ve got a choice. I can bring them to a review meeting and I can talk to them about emerging markets or I can say, “Look, we’ve got this all covered. Here’s how it works. Okay. Here’s what I want to talk to you about today. I want to talk to you about this. I want to talk to you about your business. I want to talk to you about the entrepreneurial work week. I want to share with you an idea that will allow you to free up and liberate yourself. And I want to know from you if we could accomplish this and we could liberate you from your business and we could carve out and create true time and space, what would you do with it? Where would you go? Who would you spend and what would you do?”
Then you’ve got to help them schedule that and do that and make that happen so that when they find themselves, as I’m sitting in my office looking at the north side of Mont-Tremblant on the map that is forever on my wall here, and I think, “I’m going to be right there with my wife and my kids in a condo at the bottom.” Yeah. And when you are there, I want to know, I want to send you congratulations. I want to send flowers to that hotel. I want you to remember you wouldn’t be there without me. It’s not about 7.6% return and a standard deviation of 13 or less. It’s about, “Oh my God, I’m not at work. My kids aren’t in school. It’s a Friday. I’m an amazing dad.” And there’s that secret little thrill when you feel like you’re getting away with something. You know what I mean? This is so bad. But it’s not bad, it’s actually good. Oh, this is amazing. That, bottle that. That is what you’re trying to create for your client.
They’re going to go get returns from AI man. And you know what else? What people don’t realize? Service experience, AI isn’t just going to save them time and money. How long do you think it’s going to be before we all have a digital assistant that talks to us? It’s in our car, in our office, in our house. That says something like, “Oh, Michael, you know, do you want to plan this holiday and do you want to do this and that and we’ll rebalance this and that?” And they do the whole thing for you. AI is going to be used to personalize your entire financial experience. And people think, “Oh no, that’ll never happen.” It’s going to happen. It’s going to happen faster than you can possibly imagine.
And our relationship with technology is already entirely too trusting and enmeshed. The very next step, the only thing that’s left with technology is love. We already trust it. We type things into Google search bars we would never tell our best friends about. Okay? So I’m telling you, everybody, oh, AI, it’s like a really…that computer, oh yeah, then they’re going to come in, they’re going to do the whole thing for 50 basis points and crush us. That’s not your problem. Your problem is they’re going to save customers time and money, and then they’re simultaneously going to create and work with their client to create a dream that they can pursue and actualize. Watch out. This is serious stuff.
What Dennis Does For His Clients [1:43:18]
Michael: For advisors who do want a little bit more help with this, like, can you give folks a little bit context just for what do you do? Like, what does Dennis Moseley-Williams actually do that we’ve been having this fascinating conversation about client experiences in the experience economy for the past hour or so?
Dennis: Sure. For a while, it’s been good. It must be good because it feels like we’ve been doing it for 10 minutes. Hopefully, everybody else agrees. Well, we do what you would assume. We’re a small boutique consulting agency, and we work with specifically and exclusively financial advisors, and we advise on strategy. So what is your strategy and does it make sense? Business planning and measurement. So this is a terrible thing to let everybody know, but there’s so many people I talk to, they don’t even know the difference between a strategy and a business plan, I know, but believe it or not. So I want to know, does your strategy make sense? Is it dialed in enough? If it does, the next is business plan, operations, deployment, measurement. Can we build a plan that can make that strategy work?
And the third, which is what we’ve been talking about, is innovation around customer design and experience. That’s what we do. And I speak on it around the industry. And we do consulting work on a limited basis, one on one. We literally work with less than 15 people a year. I have a very different business. I have no desire to scale my business. We’ve talked about a lot of cool stuff today. And so one of the things that I aspire to be is a secret. I’m literally coming out here on your podcast.
Michael: We’re going to share you with a few more than 15 people. So for anybody who is really fired up, like, I don’t know, call Dennis soon because he doesn’t have a lot of slots apparently.
Dennis: Well, I’ve always joked, you don’t want to be…you want to be a secret. You want to be someone that people think they’ve heard about. I remember literally, I used to refer to you as, “Do mean the guy in the blue shirt?”
Michael: The brand is working.
Dennis: You know, lovely branding. But it would literally…yeah. And the other guy, I said, “The other guy that says dangerous things? Oh my goodness.” But if I may, and what I would like most for everybody is, what I enjoy the most, I love my job, this is a gift. What I enjoy most about my job is sharing my blog. So we have a blog we put out three days a week. For years I did it five days a week. It was when my second…yeah, man, for years. I don’t even know how many I’ve done.
Michael: I know what that’s like. That’s a slog. That blog is a slog. That’s a lot of content.
Dennis: Of my whole job, everything, it’s my favorite part. I love it. I agonize over every word. And when I’m really enjoying had to even kid myself and, like, let myself believe I’m a writer, if you can believe it. But if they went…if you go, everyone listening, to our website, our blog goes out three days a week. We don’t sell anything. We have nothing to sell. We don’t put… nothing. It’s just a blog. It’s had the same call to action on it for 10 years, have a great day. But we just share thoughts on experience economy, doing work that matters, and being amazing. So you can find us there.
Books He Recommends To Everyone [1:46:37]
Michael: Yeah. So we’ll include a link out to it. You know, for folks that are listening, this is episode 114, so if you go to kitces.com/114, we’ll have a link out to Dennis’s blog and website and, you know, some other books and resources as well for folks that want to go deeper on this. You know, I know for me, I guess, like, the formative book, the book that kind of set this all forward is “The Experience Economy” by Pine and Gilmore. And I know you did your own book around just applying experience economy in the advisor context. Like how to apply experience economy in your practice. So we’ll have some links out for those as well for anybody who’s interested in going deeper. I don’t know if there’s other starter books or guides that you recommend to people who want to go deeper on this and do some of their own background reading first?
Dennis: Well, they can…certainly “The Experience Economy” is the place to start. Joe Pine, Jim Gilmore. Not only a great book but two really fantastic human beings. I’ve spent a lot of time now with Joe. I actually just spent two days in his house a few weeks back. It was terrifying. Oh yeah, it was all arranged. And in his office he had me lay out like, “Here’s everything that we learned from you and here’s how we’ve applied it.” And it was…when I went to write it on his whiteboard, I actually was nervous. I thought, “Oh my gosh, is he going to say, ‘Way to go’ or is he going to say, ‘Is that it?'” It turns out he said, “Way to go.” It was really, really good.
The other that I might recommend is, there’s two other books that I love that everybody should read. One is “Linchpin” by Seth Godin. I buy that book for everybody I love. So there you go. It’s about doing…it’s about mattering more to your clients. It’s really, really good. And another wonderful read is “Do the Work” by Steven Pressfield. Those are essential reading. And I suppose if you go to this, if I may say this, if you go to seriousshift.com, that’s sort of my secret site, and I’m letting all my secrets out, you can go download our white paper called Megatrends. And that’s really good. And we have some e-courses and things you can look at, too. But if you’re looking to read, just go there. Always start by reading. It’s good for you.
Michael: Amen. Well, we’ll put some links out for all of those for anybody who wants to dig a little further. Where does this go for you from here? Like, what’s next for you?
Dennis: Guided transformation. My daydream is I’d like people to come to me. I have this really wonderful place here in Canada. It’s an old resort, and it’s really beautiful, and I’d like to have eventually, you know, 15 people come up and spend 3 days with my partner Tom and I and a couple of other pros. One of them could be Joe Pine. And we would do a three-day experience economy retreat where the entire thing is an experience all themed around summer camp. That’s next. Ultimately, I’d like people to come to me. I’d really like to dig in. As you know, it’s lovely to go get to talk, but you get an hour and you never get to really get into it. You’re shining a light on everything as you drive by it, you know. So that’s what’s next. I don’t think I’m ever going to stop doing this. I enjoy it too much. So there you go. That’s my dream. My dream is three times a year I’d like people to come up to me. And I’d like to reduce the amount of flying around I do a little bit. But, you know. I’ve got another book I’m working on. The usual stuff, brother. The usual stuff.
Michael: So as we wrap up, this is a podcast about success, and one of the things we always observe is that just literally the word “success” means different things to different people. So you built this, you know, fascinating niche consulting practice yourself in the world of teaching everybody else to go niche, niche, weird. So how do you define success for yourself?
Dennis: For me, success is I guess made up of a few things. One is that I am exactly who I really am. I’m not pretending to be anybody else. And I share…how I represent myself to others is authentic. I am who I am and what you get is exactly who I am. And I know what makes me happy and what doesn’t. So the great privilege of my life, of anyone’s life is getting to be exactly who you are, and as far as the work, where the work is so rewarding, that’s the payment, where it’s, you never consider being paid. For me, success is loving what I do, not ever thinking about the financial aspects of it, and having the freedom to do the things I love. Like I choose to not scale my business because I have learned what I need to be happy. I need time with my family. I don’t need stuff that I have to go pay for. Success is being where you are, not working. Wishing you were on vacation, not being on vacation, feeling guilt. Like, that’s all just insane. Happiness is being comfortable in my own skin, success is being joyful and certain that I’m doing what I’m doing and I’m supposed to be doing this. That’s a really good question.
Michael: I love it. I love it. And I think it shines through well in a positive way for just your whole discussion here. You’ve been genuinely authentic. Maybe slayed a few sacred cows along the way. I think for some people who are looking and trying to figure out where do they take their businesses next and what does it mean to be authentic to their own true selves, like, this is a powerful discussion of, yeah, if you’re really, really, really, really just you and go all in on that thing you know that you wish you could share with the rest of the world, like, that actually works, and we can make an entire experience around it.
Dennis: It’s the gift that you can share.
Michael: I love it. Well, thank you for sharing your gift, Dennis, and joining us here on the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast.
Dennis: Thank you for inviting me. I mean this sincerely. I am a fan of yours. And one of the things that I so appreciate is what you’re trying to do out there. I like to think that you and I are somewhat singing from a similar song sheet. We are trying hard to make this business a kinder, gentler place where people are not reduced to numbers. So when I heard that you were interested in having me on, I was flattered and delighted. So thank you. And again, thank you to your audience for tuning in today. You’re all lovely folks. Thanks very much.
Michael: Thank you. Take care.