How to Avoid Typical Advisor Syndrome (TAS)

Avoid TAS

True story: I recently sat down to work with an advisor who was planning for an initial meeting with a prospect. When I asked about what call outcomes were possible if the first meeting went well, the advisor said “of course” presenting recommendations would be the next step. When I asked why, they replied, “Well, that’s the way it typically happens.”

Other true story: A client once asked me to help them prepare and execute a major capabilities presentation for a prospect. When we got together, the first the boss did was open up a draft PowerPoint deck and start going through it. When I asked why they were preparing a deck, the VP said, “Because that’s the way these presentations always go.”

Other, other true story: I once sat in the customer’s shoes as three different financial services companies competed for payroll slots in our school district (I was a member of the school board at the time). They all had a PowerPoint deck. They had all customized it with our logo. And the first ten slides of each presentation were interchangeable to the point of indistinguishable. In other words, they were . . . typical.

And that’s what we’re talking about in this part—the problem with typical (otherwise known as the curse of Typical Advisor Syndrome).

We’ll get right to the clinical. Typical Advisor Syndrome (TAS) is a common and highly contagious sales-transmitted disease (STD) usually spread through contact with infected customers and salespeople.

Typical Advisor Syndrome (TAS) = Salesy

TAS results in completely predictable selling. Common side effects include inability to differentiate, client disengagement, and sudden feature vomiting.

Without treatment (or good luck), TAS can be fatal to your career. It’s essential you avoid Typical Advisor Syndrome!

History: TAS has been a fact of life in commodity or transactional sales forever. It’s been a benign condition, though, because products were the difference, and salespeople didn’t have to be.

In many of today’s more complex sales, though, sellers are required to differentiate through process, consultation, and brokering of resources. That’s where TAS is a limiting condition.

You know where it’s fatal? In jobs where the consultant is part of the product.  Like your job as a financial advisor.  You’re competing against robo-advisors, DIY investment platforms, and Vanguard. You’re competing with other reps from other firms, most of which are mostly the same as yours. You have to be part of the difference, not the sameness – or you are dependent on the firm for your career!

How It Spreads

Typical Advisor Syndrome is highly contagious, and in some cases chronic.

Here’s how it propagates: First, Advisors – and really people in general – repeat to a fault. Why? Because they mistake correlation (I make sales when I do these things) with causation (I make sales because I do these things).

Here’s an example: Once upon a time, somebody asked a client, “What’s keeping you up at night?” and made a sale in that same call. Now that person asks the same question in every single call. (“What’s keeping you up at night this week, Bob?”)

Second, people emulate to a fault. We subconsciously seek shortcuts in complex situations.  That’s why everyone now everyone asks, “What’s keeping you up at night?” I even see people in my seminars “cheating” by copying questions off other teams’ charts. Well, that was pre-pandemic – now people copy them off the chat.

But do you really want to ask the same questions as everyone else? Especially since they probably aren’t causing sales?

Self-check:  How typical are you?

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “I don’t ask the insomnia question!”   Of course not – you’re smarter than that. But we all have our version of that question.

Here’s how I know: write down your favorite five questions you typically ask a perspective client in your first meeting. Do it quickly, and don’t overthink it – write down the questions you always ask.

Now go back to the list and ask yourself, if my client interviewed ten other advisors, how many of these questions would they ask?  Those questions are your version of, “What keeps you up at night?”  Right there, you’ve identified an opportunity to avoid Typical Advisor Syndrome.

I understand that your questions are both necessary and good.  That’s not the problem – it that if your approach to these meetings is not differentiated, neither are you.

In the big picture today’s typical advisors actually reinforce a commoditized buying process—clients end up requiring the very behaviors they typically see. (Where to you think the corporate procurement and RFP process came from?) Ultimately, clients grant less access and advisors into a reactive process, doing themselves a disservice in the process.

What can you do about this silent relationship killer?

Avoiding TAS: Five Easy-Seeming Steps (That Aren’t Easy At All)

There are some strategies you can use to avoid Typical Advisor Syndrome. As usual, these are easy to understand but hard to do well. And as usual, that doesn’t stop me from offering my advice.

Start from conviction.

You know who’s willing to apply the strategies I’m about to share? Someone who believes in process, and cares enough about getting client results that they’re willing to challenge convention and not just do what they’ve seen.

Avoid salesy questions.

One side condition of TAS is clients who are bracing themselves for questions that every advisor asks. I’ve heard a lot of witty, well-rehearsed, and purposefully non-revealing answers to advisor questions, precisely because clients have had so much practice answering them.

Example:  Leading the witness.  If you already know the answer you want to hear, and the purpose of the question is to elicit that response, you are leading the witness.

Take all your “wouldn’t you agree?” and “would it be fair to say that?” questions and toss them – even though you’re herding the client down the path they want, clients generally don’t like that.

If the client is bracing for it, don’t do it.

You know what causes clients to put up the shield? It’s when they feel like they need to arm themselves against salespeople.

Example: Objection handling.  If you’ve read up or been trained on the topic of objection handling at all, your most likely response to a client’s fee concerns (yours or a product’s) is either explanatory, comparative, or both.   That’s typical advising right there, and that’s what clients are bracing for.

So instead, don’t rebut the objection.  Take it in, try to understand it and where it’s coming from, and what clients need to get to the proper valuation of fees. That’s not typical.

Here’s another example:  Offering your value judgment is typical – we all reflexively affix adjectives to nouns (“good deal”) versus just offering facts (“deal”),

The atypical alternative is withholding your own value judgment and instead asking clients about theirs. That sounds easy because it’s simple, but it’s not easy at all – you’re fighting your own nature and most of the training and examples you’ve been exposed to.

Avoid premature solutioning.

The clearest, most shining example is the fork in the road where average sellers start presenting and great sellers keep asking.

Because the path of premature presentation is so typical, the path of deeper questioning is often disarming simply by virtue of being atypical.

Here’s what I mean:  Have you ever had an initial “discovery” meeting with a prospect, and scheduled a second meeting to share findings and recommendations…except when you started preparing for the presentation, you still had holes in your discovery? Or you were concerned that you might not have built sufficient rapport with the client?

Has that ever happened because you reflexively promised some recommendations in your next meeting?  If you’re like most of us, it has.  Why? Because that’s what typically happens.

The best advisors I see will propose additional discovery meetings when warranted.  They’ll ask for additional time getting to know clients.  And most importantly, they’ll keep engaging until they’re sure they can deliver value, and not just because they’re supposed to.

Ask uniquely valuable questions.

I love those moments in client meetings where I ask a question, and three things happen:

The client pauses.

The client looks up and around as they try to formulate an answer.

The client says, “That’s a good question.”

Those client responses tell me I’m asking uniquely valuable questions, and I’m probably breaking trail where few or no advisors have trod.  That’s not typical!

Be Atypical! 

Choosing the atypical path carries a little bit of risk —you force clients to adjust, and change is hard. There had better be some value in it for them. If you’re going to ask more questions, make them count.

The bottom line is, salesy is typical.  If you can just avoid being salesy, you’re choosing an atypical path, and you’ll stand out among similar options.

With self-awareness and good meeting planning, you can avoid Typical Advisor Syndrome and its negative effects on client relationships.  Good luck!