Bestselling business book author and behavioral expert Beverly Flaxington talks with Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about her guidebook for financial advisors, why she feels passionate about helping others and what she thinks about the current race for the White House.
The role of a financial advisor has changed tremendously since the Great Recession. “We have gone from being a very product-oriented, product-pushing industry, if you will, to having to really look at the person on the other side of the money,” says Beverly Flaxington, founder of the Boston area-based The Collaborative. “Money is a key factor in all our lives; the only thing closer to us would be our health and our family. As an industry, we love our jargon and the mystique but we have to get away from that. Regulations are such that you’ve got to know your client and your client has to know why a particular investment is good for them. We have to interact much more human-to-human with people now, helping them understand what we are doing and why, and then make recommendations based not on commissions but what’s right for this person.”
In a marketplace rife with regulations, education is critical, Flaxington says. “There is always the danger of somebody telling you that what you did yesterday is no longer OK today. In a lot of cases, it’s not as clear-cut as you may think. Three different compliance people may view the same issue differently. There is no black and white; there’s a lot of gray. The key for people in any business is finding out how to apply these regulations and do their best work.”
Flaxington aims to help financial advisors do just that. Her latest book, The Pocket Guide to Sales for Financial Advisors, gives tips on how professionals can succeed in today’s environment. “If you want to grow your business, the bottom line is that you—or someone on your team—needs to sell, and to sell well,” she says. She is also an adjunct professor at Suffolk University, as well as a Gold-award winning author, international speaker, accomplished consultant, hypnotherapist, personal and career coach, corporate trainer, facilitator and business development expert.
Opportunist: What was the inspiration for The Pocket Guide to Sales for Financial Advisors?
Beverly Flaxington: I have never been a financial advisor myself, but I held corporate jobs in the financial industry and worked for a financial advisory firm in a senior role. My inspiration came from my work with advisors who, quite often, loathe having to identify themselves as being in sales. Sales is looked at as very negative because they believe they’re doing the right thing by their client—with their client’s money—and to put a sales angle on it, so to speak, is very negative to many of them. And yet if we are proud of the work we do, we have to be able to quote-unquote ‘sell it’ to someone else so they know. I have developed all different tools and approaches and ways of doing this over the years and I thought it would be helpful for advisors who perhaps cannot afford to hire us. The book gives specific tips and ideas and helps them to see that they, too, can become very effective at selling without being an overly salesy person. It really is all about your own brand and how you present yourself so that someone says, ‘I need you!’
Opportunist: Can you tell us a little about The Collaborative and your role there?
Beverly Flaxington: Simply put, we do consulting. We listen to what our clients’ issues are and help them figure out a way to fix it and achieve their goals. We assist them with team building and making good hires and, from a coaching perspective, we implement ongoing training practices and one-on-one coaching with people of all levels of an organization to help them improve in their role. All of the tools and techniques we use are actually proprietary to us. We develop our own methods and approaches and have trademarked quite a few of them, but I am really proud of the fact that we bring not only ideas but our own experience developed over time to help people get where they want to go.
Financial services is my personal background and about 90 percent of the firms we work with are in the financial services business and include large platform providers, custodians and asset managers and investment firms serving those advisors, as well as wholesalers and people who sell to advisors. As the primary person on the business development side for our firm, I have established lots of strong relationships and a strong following, fortunately, of repeat clients and referrals. A handful of clients referred to us are outside of this business. I’m very passionate about the work that I do, and enjoy being involved hands-on with clients. I am also the ‘thinker’ about what else we should and can be doing or offering, and I stay very involved with growing our business and day-to-day operations. I have an incredible team that allows me to focus on all those things.
Opportunist: It seems you’ve successfully melded both the art and the science to it all.
Beverly Flaxington: Yes, we have been very successful at bringing those two pieces together—the technical as well as the human behavior aspect—and I think we do a nice job of incorporating both of those.
Opportunist: We understand you have written seven books on personal and professional development. What made you decide to focus on this genre?
Beverly Flaxington: The impetus was that, as a college professor, I was asked to teach a graduate course called Dealing With Difficult People. Sometimes you’re provided a book and an outline for your lectures, and at other times you’re told to go ahead and make it up as you go along. I didn’t have a guide for this course, but the graduate students I taught were out in the world dealing with different personalities. At the end of the course, my students came up to me and said everyone should be required to learn this. I then wrote my book Understanding Other People: The Five Secrets to Human Behavior, which became an international bestseller. I won the Gold award for it. It’s still fairly popular and a couple of colleges use it in their courses. I got really excited about books becoming a medium for me to deliver my ideas to people, so they can learn what I am able to do and do it for themselves.
Opportunist: In a recent article for Psychology Today, you address how conflict instigators are ‘blamers’ who ‘attract, welcome and thrive in the conflict environment.’ The current presidential campaign certainly seems to be built upon conflict and negativity. How does this M.O. serve (or hurt) the candidates?
Beverly Flaxington: Many people today feel frustrated, feel they’ve lost control over things and that there’s a lot going on that doesn’t make sense. Taking a conflict-rife position ignites and triggers that innermost part of people that makes them think, heck yeah, we’re fed up and we aren’t going to take it anymore. The vitriol not only attracts this groundswell of people who react but also serves the candidates well. The ugly underbelly to that is that it’s so divisive. You start to look at friends, family members and colleagues as either ‘you’re in my camp or you’re not.’ You’re ceasing to look for solutions that involve people coming together to solve these issues that have triggered something in all of us. We are all seeing this, and yet we are losing that common connection in favor of ‘us versus them’ thinking. From a political perspective, this approach actually works to draw followers. From the perspective of what it will do to our country, I think it’s potentially quite disastrous.
Opportunist: How can we as a nation overcome this divisiveness?
Beverly Flaxington: The interesting thing about this—and I live in Massachusetts, traditionally a Democratic state—is that there is a huge swath of the population who would define themselves as independent. Why have they been forced to choose between a socially conscious persona and also being fiscally responsible? I do believe there’s a large mass of people, myself included, who aren’t comfortable with one clear side or the other. Many have beliefs that draw from both sides. I don’t mean to be Pollyanna, but I think each of us has to look at ways we are feeding into this divisiveness by either judging someone for something or putting them in a category or labeling them a certain way based on something we hear them say. This is, in a way, what these candidates are encouraging us to do. I think we have to stand up and say there’s not an upside to the divisiveness. It’s not going to help any of us.
Opportunist: What are your thoughts on the Kasich-Cruz alliance?
Beverly Flaxington: I have been squarely in the middle—almost apolitical—and I think the behavior we are seeing on both sides of the campaign is quite disastrous. We have real problems we need to solve. Mudslinging has been popular dating back to our founding fathers, but it has reached a point where you wonder if anybody knows what the issues are. Can they even state those clearly? Can they define what our biggest obstacles are? My concern is that we are setting a standard that makes it advantageous to attack your opponents. I would liken it to when, as a consultant, I go into a business and somebody tells me all the company’s problems are due to one individual and if that person gets out of the way all will be well. There are always other issues and attacking just one person is not going to solve them. Cruz, Kasich and Hillary are all party to this attack mode.
Meanwhile, there are real problems to be solved. Voters need to know how the candidates are going to rally people because nobody can sit in office alone and fix this. What’s their plan to rally people from both sides and make something happen? I guess I’m looking for somebody with a plan.
Opportunist: What about Senator Bernie Sanders and his economic ‘Agenda for America,’ a plan that he believes will move the country forward?
Beverly Flaxington: I do think Bernie Sanders has some admirable goals, but here’s where my business mind kicks in. I would like to be able to see how we get there without becoming a very different nation than we have been since our founding. I don’t have a clear picture.
In the Leadership and Social Responsibility class that I teach, my students are asked to solve a problem. I tell them, ‘Don’t bring me ideas—everyone has an idea—I want to see the plan.’ I need to know who’s doing it and how, what it’s going to cost and what the steps are. Without a plan, it’s still an idea. Who on the current platform can really show us a who, how, what and how much so we can understand what it’s really going to take?
Opportunist: It has been more than 50 years since JFK signed the Equal Pay Act into law and yet women in the United States still make about 79 cents to a man’s dollar—even less in states with a wider gender wage gap. What advice would you give women—female financial advisors particularly—on how to overcome this disparity?
Beverly Flaxington: I recently spoke at a women’s international event, and I did lots of research beforehand on the percentage of women at executive levels. The results were pretty startling. Women in the financial industry hold close to 60 percent of the jobs, but in the executive suite the number dropped to about 5 percent. At the time the study was done, there was not even one CEO of any nature in any financial institution. My research found also, from a manager perspective, that women get higher marks as overall managers, and even as sales managers. One thing the men in our industry need to recognize is that it’s beneficial to put more women in serious roles. Women, perhaps naturally, work well with couples, with families and multigenerational clients—and with about half the wealth being held by women that relational opportunity is there.
Women are not taught to sell their brand or do any form of self-promotion. There is research on that as well, and I think that is why we get held back in the sense that we struggle to really define our value and say we are worth what we are worth. Female financial advisors with great skills need to couple that with getting their brand out there and communicating why they are of value.
Opportunist: Can readers look forward to any upcoming book projects?
Beverly Flaxington: I have been working on a more generic version of The Pocket Guide to Sales for Financial Advisors for people who need to become more influential in their careers. The other big thing we have been doing is creating an online platform called The Advisor’s Sales Academy, which basically takes the work I’ve done over the years and makes it available online so it’s less expensive and more accessible to a greater mass of people. I really want to get as much information into as many hands as possible because I believe people are capable of doing a lot more but haven’t been given the tools and information.
I have also been toying with the idea of writing an inspirational book for women on how you don’t necessarily have to choose. You can have a lot of different aspects to who you are and celebrate that. People are always waiting for this or that to get on with life, but I don’t think we have to wait. Opportunities abound. In fact, my title might be Why Wait? When I shared my own corporate journey at that women’s international event there were so many people who came up and said how inspired they were. So I believe there are many things I need to put out there to inspire women specifically.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer, editor and journalist with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance, real estate and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides between Florida and Michigan. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @lescstone.
Follow Beverly Flaxington on Twitter: @BevFlaxington