Blue ocean strategy is the secret behind the tenfold growth of my practice, and I have shared this strategy with many of my fellow advisors. So what is the blue ocean secret, and how does it apply to the financial services industry?
First, the concept of a “blue ocean,” as outlined in the book Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne, is the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost, creating value for both the client and the firm. This concept is known as “value innovation.” The aim of value innovation is not to compete, but to make the competition irrelevant by changing the playing field.
An excellent example of a well-known company using this strategy is Cirque du Soleil. Cirque du Soleil developed an exciting and entertaining show that commands a higher price than its competition (local or national circuses). It does this by differentiating itself from its competition by providing value at what the public considers low cost. In a similar sense, Starbucks offers coffee at a much higher price than the cost of making it at home, but again, it differentiates itself with perceived value that the public is willing to pay for.
I first learned of the blue ocean concept through one of my strategic coaches. After fully absorbing the concept, I faced the challenge of how to implement the strategy in my financial services practice and create value innovation. How could I make the competition irrelevant and grow my practice tenfold when there were countless competitors out there? I realized I would have to rethink just about everything I was doing, so I asked myself the following questions:
» If you were to die today, is your firm the place where you would want your family to go for wealth management services?
» Knowing what you know about your current staff, would you hire all of them again for the same positions?
» Do you have the right balance between work and personal life?
» Would you like to be married to someone like you?
» Are you keeping the most important person in the world (you) happy?
» Are your kids interested in joining your practice?
» Are you happy with the amount of money you are making for the time you are putting in?
When I honestly answered these questions, the unfortunate answer to each one was no.
The changes I needed to make all would have to point to one thing — differentiation! I could not achieve the blue ocean strategy of value innovation by simply working harder or longer. Just because other advisors were successful doing it the “old” way didn't make it right. I needed to differentiate my practice from the rest of the financial services world in order to achieve my two objectives: balance my life and still grow my practice tenfold.
I thought I already had differentiated myself from the competition by increasing my knowledge base. Education was to be my difference-maker. I hold eight designations in addition to my registrations with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). But I realized being the smartest advisor around still wasn’t going to make the competition irrelevant.
The next step on the journey to the wide-open blue ocean was to hire coaches. But not just any coaches. Like any great sports franchise, choosing the right coaches would be critical to my success.
I needed to put together a “coaching staff” if I truly wanted to differentiate and grow my practice tenfold. I hired coaches with specific talents in a way similar to how a head football coach hires his staff. I started with my “head coach” Dan Sullivan for his strategic vision. Each coach thereafter gave me their perspective and shared their expertise. Each coach added more items to the growing list of things I needed to put into place in my practice.
These coaches made me rethink almost everything: marketing (including writing a book), developing a “self-managing” practice, embracing and leveraging technology, and ultimately creating the differentiation I was seeking, which was creating an unparalleled client experience at a lower cost.
That was the key to reaching value innovation. That was the good news. I knew where I wanted to take my practice. The bad news was, I realized I still didn’t know exactly how to create an unparalleled client experience. That led me to retain a few more coaches to sharpen my practice further.
One of these coaches, John Bowen, showed me one critical piece of enhancing the client experience. It is called the “Wealth Management Process.”
The wealth management process can be expressed as an equation that looks like this: WM = IC + AP + RM, where IC = investment counseling, AP = advanced planning, RM = relationship management. None of these aspects of my practice were new to me, and they are likely not new to most who are reading this. What I hadn’t done was put all these aspects together in one consistent package for all of my clients and prospects.
The questions I asked myself earlier were coming back into focus. I wanted to build a practice I would want to work with, and one that my children would want to join. I wanted to get my work-life balance in the right proportion, keeping myself and my family content while making the money I wanted to make.
I wanted to make sure I had a top-notch staff, as I realized the client experience I envisioned would be profoundly impacted (good or bad) by how my staff interacted with my clients and prospects.
So the last building block was to hire an A-plus staff. I needed a staff that reflected my vision of unparalleled client experience — a staff that would provide top-notch, timely service while I was delivering the wealth management experience my depth of education allowed.
Only with the right support staff could I concentrate on putting the wealth management process in place as I now understood it. It wasn’t about what funds or advisory platforms or annuities or life products were needed for the clients to reach their goals — it was about the process of getting them there. It was recognizing where the advanced planning was needed and what other aspects of the clients’ lives were important to them. It was about considering all aspects of the clients’ financial and personal lives and how they were intertwined.
It was about how I would want to be treated as a client, and how to do it all for a reasonable fee. But I didn’t say “cheap” — there is a difference.
Once you create the unparalleled client experience at a reasonable cost, you have achieved value innovation.
Clients will be loyal and will refer you without you having to ask. Competitiors will be irrelevant. Differentiation is the key; hiring coaches and an A-plus staff will allow you to deliver the client experience that will grow your practice tenfold and sustain it for decades to come.