What are Your Customers Really Paying You For?

With my near-photographic memory, I used to try to be the smartest guy in the room by coming up with unique facts and information most people didn’t know. Today, the internet has taken away that edge—everyone has a smartphone and they can look up anything they need or want to know with just a few clicks. 

The internet has changed everything. People are no longer paying for the knowledge that we businesses used to deliver. What they’re paying for today is what no computer in the world can create: wisdom. As I write this, we still have one advantage over our robotic counterparts: computers can’t anticipate or handle human emotions, they can’s replicate the feeling of protecting or caring for someone, and they certainly can’t replace the joy of collaborating with your team. 

My photographic memory may no longer serve the purpose it once did, but I’ve found other ways to serve my clients best. In addition to the founding purpose to make people’s lives better, what we offer that they can’t get from their computer is wisdom—the ability to anticipate the future and to understand and control emotions around money. 

People typically equate money and finances to math. But the truth is, they’re actually about psychology. For instance, even though people want to buy low and sell high in the stock market, they often do the opposite because the anxiety induced by market’s roller-coaster behavior causes strong bouts of FOMO—fear of missing out. When investors see the numbers spike and people getting rich, they want in on the fortune. When the market peaks, they throw their money in the bucket so they don’t miss out on the big wins. Then when the market drops 30, 40, 50 percent, they think the world is ending and they want out, so they sell. 

When it comes to money and finances, computers may provide logic, but emotion ultimately drives decisions. That’s where financial advisors can help. We ensure that emotion never trumps logic and that decisions are for the long-term. For instance, when a client tells me they have no money to save for retirement or to put toward their children’s college tuition, but they spent their $10,000 tax refund on a fancy new watch, I try to help them understand that depositing that $10,000 in the bank would be the same as putting away $800 every month. Which is easier?  

As financial advisors, we find a way to change the trajectory of clients’ futures, no matter what happens in their lives. With proper planning, we know that great things can happen. That’s not by happenstance, but rather, because of our experience—and wisdom—and because we take very seriously the trust our clients place in us. 

Your Competition-Free Zone 

In addition to wisdom, your clients are paying you for a unique experience. I like to talk about that in terms of cultivating a competition-free zone. In the ideal, that zone means more than just leveling the playing field, it means you’re on a downward slope, free to run at top speed with no one impeding your progress. 

Achieving that ideal zone means analyzing your strengths and what your alleged competitors are doing, and being willing to acquire additional capabilities or do something different that your competitors are able to do. That may mean flipping the script—finding a way to distinguishing yourself from the pack. Instead of being pigeonholed into a box based on your industry type, how can you create your own box? What unique experience do you offer your clients? 

For instance, every time I’m in La Jolla, California, I go to a restaurant called George’s. What sets George’s apart besides the fact that the food is great? They confirm the reservation several times, their waitstaff is genuinely nice to me, the owner and the maître d’ visit my table, and the day after my reservation they call to ask me about my experience. Who else does that? So I’m a George’s loyalist. 

If you want to be a George’s, ask yourself how you’re unique, remarkable, and memorable. That’s what creates your competition-free zone. 

I’ve been creating a competition-free zone for decades. Back in the early 1990s, when cell phones were a rare novelty, I had one that came with a hefty $4,000 monthly bill, which I could barely afford. They were giant and heavy items that, when held to your ear, made you look like you were commanding a military operation. Why did I invest on this exorbitant splurge? Because it gave clients instant access to me at a time when the common method of communicating with someone was to call, leave a message, and wait to hear back from them. Lugging that cell phone around gave me a competitive advantage for five years or so before the rest of the people in my industry caught up and bought their own cell phones too.

Now, of course, everyone has instant access via phone, text, email, etc. Yet what continues to separate me from the competition is something very simple: using those technologies to answer calls and messages as quickly as possible. 

What can you do differently to separate yourself from the pack and create your own competition-free zone? Sometimes, that comes down to changing the way your clients view you.  

Uncommon Thinking 

Every year millions of drill bits are sold by manufacturers. But it’s not because people need a bit, it’s because they need a hole drilled in a wall. That’s the kind of uncommon thinking clients we ask of our clients. Instead of the just looking to “bits” like stocks, bond, and insurance for retirement planning, we want clients to dream as big as they can dream, and then we put together a plan that takes flight toward that dream. That’s the only way to achieve more than what was thought possible. 

An experienced financial advisor is a wise concierge, guiding and clearing the pathways through this incredible journey called life so you can traipse along unhindered. We believe handling finances should be a full-contact team sport tackled by rolling up our sleeves together. Your input is crucial on this journey—we need to know how you envision your life so we can put together a plan that achieves your goals and ambitions. 

Experience Plus Commitment

The ability to remove hurdles for clients boils down to a simple formula: experience plus commitment. That’s a final way to demonstrate to clients that you have their best interests at heart. 

When I was in my twenties, a very wealthy client hired me as his financial advisor. When I asked why he had chosen to work with me over others, he said it was because within a half hour of leaving a message at my office, I had returned his call—even though I was vacationing in Hawaii at the time. By giving up a few minutes of my time, I was able to show him that I placed his interests ahead of my own. When people sense you’re serving their best interests, they’ll sense that you can not only produce, but that you are committed to going the distance to make their lives better. They want to feel you are committed to them. And in the end, they’re paying for wisdom, not advice.


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Mark B Murphy

Mark B. Murphy is the Chief Executive Officer of Northeast Private Client Group, a national financial planning and wealth management firm. Mark has been ranked #1 in New Jersey and #15 in the nation on the Forbes America’s Top Financial Security Professionals List for 2022.

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