Old Dogs, New Tricks: Training for Veteran Advisers Pays Off

A new case study suggests even advisers with decades of industry experience can attain measurable growth improvements with the short-term addition of training, coaching and peer accountability.

A new case study published by the Kelley Group, aptly titled “The Coaching and Training Impact Study on Advisor’s Client Acquisitions,” argues that even experienced financial advisers should consider updating their sales training and client acquisition strategies.

As explained by Brooke Kelley, co-founder of the Kelley Group and a co-organizer of the study, the main goal of the research was to ascertain if seasoned financial advisers, defined as those with 10 or more years of experience and a robust client roster, could experience measurable growth with the short-term addition of training, coaching and peer accountability.

Kelley says the results of the study were “conclusively” positive, as advisers participating in the case study averaged double-digit percentage growth in client acquisition and subsequent new assets for management. For reference, the study trained and tracked participating advisers over a four-month period between December 2020 and April of this year. Kelley adds that the study was “commissioned by a major Wall Street firm” seeking insight on whether periodic training would be beneficial for its experienced staff of brokers and advisers.

As part of the study, the 15 participating financial professionals (all drawn from the sponsoring brokerage firm after an extensive screening process) were trained in “innovative client acquisition” strategies that sought to deal with a variety of relevant business development hurdles. These include the continued increase in technology designed to screen or block cold communications and the growing ability of prospects to opt into a do-not-call, -email or -market lists.

“The need for innovation in client acquisition has become critical for service-based professionals, specifically the financial services industry,” Kelley adds. “We brought innovation to the group, along with the training and coaching to help participants apply this innovation in a structured way.”

During the study, metrics tied to adviser rankings for new client acquisition and growth in assets under management (AUM) were evaluated in December 2020 and again in April 2021. On average, the members of the sample group experienced a sizable increase in their firm-wide rankings for net acquired asset growth during that period.

According to a study summary, the advisers saw a 303% average increase in requests for introductions to prospects from existing relationships; a 329% average increase in referral introductions received from existing relationships; and a 198% average increase in assets received.

Sarano Kelley, co-founder of the Kelley Group and a co-organizer of the study, says a key finding in the case study is that “accountability is key.”

“Where most people fail is not sticking to their plan,” he proposes. “Accountability is the key to reaching and, more importantly, maintaining, top levels of success across any industry, financial included.”

The study describes processes and procedures aimed at instilling accountability and strategic innovation, with an emphasis on creating systems to define, track and socialize growth goals. For example, the study emphasizes the importance of weekly team interactions and reporting on goal progress, and the importance of ensuring daily interactions with an accountability partner. The report says another critical element of success is for experienced advisers to embrace metrics-based accountability to stakeholders—for example by sharing asset-growth goals (and deadlines) with family, friends, clients and team members.

“This really does illustrate that no matter where an individual is in the course of his career, even at the top, training and coaching can be effective,” Sarano Kelley says. “What really makes the difference is … a formalized system of accountability. This ensures advisers work to incorporate any new processes and procedures they’ve learned into their daily routines and remain focused and committed to reach the personal and professional goals they have set.”

As explained in the study report, during the 12 weeks of active training and plan execution involved in the study, advisers did such things as videotape themselves in key communications scenarios related to the training to establish a baseline to benchmark their progress and to heighten awareness of unconscious nonverbal behaviors that undermined their message. Participants in the study also worked to hone virtual communication skills to purvey a professional and interactive message that encouraged feedback. They also learned the often-misunderstood signs of whether or not participants are actively engaged.

According to the management of the research-sponsoring firm, on average, advisers in the study moved up 47 positions in success rankings compared with their peers based on “net acquired asset growth.” The management deemed the results as superior when compared with nonparticipating advisers over the four-month time period.

The study report concludes by distilling some key lessons learned:

  • Ongoing communication skills training is a necessary strategy, even for the most seasoned of advisers, for an effective relationship-prospecting approach to client acquisition;
  • In the short term, a relationship-marketing approach is comparable to and often exceeds the results from other marketing methods, including cold calling; and
  • Advisers who are held accountable for rigorously tracking outreach and engagement statistics have a greater ability to stay on task and control the outcome.