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Featured Contributor: Beverly Flaxington

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We finally had the chance to catch one of the busiest people in the industry for a chat on her career as an entrepreneur, a leader in financial services, a new offering and a hidden talent. Enjoy!

What’s different about you is that you’ve been an entrepreneur for a while now. Tell us about your path.

I had a very successful corporate career and had the opportunity to run large departments at a young age. I was always the “fix-it” person and could take on a challenge and figure out how to make it work. But, from the time I was in college I knew that I wanted to be a consultant. I took a course in my graduate studies where we worked with small companies that needed business expertise. I loved it and knew it is what I wanted to do for a living.

Over the years I’ve had a chance to serve Interim roles at a number of firms: Interim VP of Sales for a financial technology firm, Interim Chief Operating Officer for an advisory firm, Interim Director of Relationship Management for a custodian so I’ve kept my corporate skills fresh even whilst working as a consultant. I have a nice mix of “insider/outsider” perspective and have been able to continue to leverage my domain knowledge. It’s amazing how often it comes to bear and in so many ways. I’m thankful to have been able to stay in my original industry.

What made you make that jump so early in your career?

I was asked to take over just “one more” area that needed fixing. I was running an institutional investment sales organization that I had helped to develop and we were doing well. Honestly, when I was asked to take over a failing group instead and get it on track, I just decided I was done being the fix-it person! I tendered my resignation one week shy of my tenth anniversary. Many people thought I was crazy to walk away from such a wonderful career but thank goodness it has turned out well!!

How would you describe The Collaborative and its evolution over the years?

A learning process! I started out with a partner and we had worked in the retirement area. We believed that solid participant education was a business. We incorporated as The Collaborative for Investment Education, Inc and set out to sell our amazing educational programs. We found out, a couple of years into the process, that our sales and marketing talents were what the financial firms wanted. We transitioned into providing marketing support and sales training. Over the years we have added the behavioral element and the organizational design piece. We’ve also built a full scale marketing team that does websites, brochures, etc. Today we have a breadth of coaching, training, marketing support and program development focused on helping advisors, and those that serve them, to grow and prosper. At this point we’ve worked with the largest firms in the world, and down to the one-person advisor practice. There is very little we haven’t seen or done by now.

At one point in the journey — as I am told — you were a bit of a hypnotherapist, which is something we can talk about in 2015.  Tell us more about that.

Yes! I became Certified as both a Hypnotherapist and a Hypnosis Trainer in 1991 and 1992 respectively. I had a very active practice for many years. It’s one of the things that got me interested in the human behavior element for business. Why do some people make change and some don’t? Why do we make poor choices and then regret them? All of these are so important to business owners and their teams. I became a Certified Behavioral Analyst and Certified Values Analyst in 2002 and now also have that training.

Is it still part of your offering?

I was asked, by Adams Media, to write a book called Self-Talk for a Calmer You and most of it is based on my hypnosis training. I do use it with clients, showing them how their self-talk can hurt them but I don’t talk about it as “hypnosis” per se. It’s embedded in a lot of our work, however.

A couple of years ago I trademarked the term “The Human Behavior Coach” to bring in my deep knowledge of how people think, alongside my deep industry experience.

How can someone best use your resources?

Most of the time they work with us directly either to rebrand, redefine (or define) who they are in the market and how they tell their story. We create a platform of materials to support their efforts. They work with us directly for coaching and for training. We do a lot of program development for custodians and other investment firms. I still write books and just released The Pocket Guide to Sales for Financial Advisors so that is the cheapest way to access our intellectual capital!

We also do a lot of hiring support. Some of our advisors would not dream of adding a new team member without running our profiles and having us do a “debrief”. We’ve helped many new hires to succeed, and teams to work out their differences.

Our newest offering is the Advisor’s Sales Academy where advisors and their teams can access us live but do it remotely. It’s been a dream of mine for some time to take our proven work and make it more readily accessible.

You’ve also adopted a forward-thinking workforce as well.  Many of your employees are remote. I think this is important to discuss as Advisors have to outsource many of their business activities as well. You do it as a company — how does that work for you and can you share ways Advisors can manage this sometimes difficult practice.

Yes, I came to this kicking and screaming. I always thought “face time” was critical but then I found the best resources around but none of them wanted to move to Boston to sit with me! The one thing I have found is that we are amazing in our productivity being remote. We talk about what we’re doing and then we just ACT on it. We get so much done!! People are always asking me how we can create the things we do in such volume and with such quality but I believe this is one of the keys. We don’t have endless meetings. I think advisors needs to identify those areas that don’t require an on-site person – things like billing, accounting, marketing, follow-up calls, general admin can all be done remote. It allows the advisor to access the best talent and only use what they really need. The one important thing is to be disciplined. I know what everyone is working on, and when it should be delivered and we keep to very tight timelines. I’m fortunate to have very independent and dedicated staff, too. That’s another key – hiring people who are self-motivated.

Any keys to success on how to keep employees engaged?

Communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure they understand clearly how their role fits into the overall goals of the firm. Give timely feedback, not just as a performance review once or twice a year but real-time, “This is what you did well.” Or “This is what I would like to see changed.” Most people are hungry to know they are making a contribution and how they are doing. Being a part of something is a human desire and knowing that connection exists with one’s work is so key.

What changes have you seen in the industry in the past 10-15 years?

The most dramatic, and probably because it is my personal passion, is the recognition that this is not a numbers business, it’s a people business. We have two large clients with a sole focus on the “people aspect” and we see it woven into the stories of many others. Realizing this is whole-life planning and not just saving for retirement is a big change from where we were.

The other changes are, of course, technology based. Instant access to information can be great, and can be challenging. Clients know more (but yet less) than ever! Advisors are embracing things like video, audio, client portals etc like never before. I think there is more of a recognition that just because you are technically competent, doesn’t mean your services will sell. It’s a very crowded market and investors have a harder time than ever discerning how the offerings differ.

What do you think are the most important areas Advisors need to address in their businesses as they look forward?

Two pieces: One is recognizing that “sales” is not a four-letter word but a critical process to help the firm grow and thrive. Most advisors are financial people and learning to sell is something they overtly reject but it is going to become even more critical.

The other is learning how to select and motivate the right people. We use a behavioral tool called “DISC” and if I had my druthers I would have everyone on the planet go through the process. We work all day long with partners, teams, new employees etc who don’t get along or are ill fit for a role. Making the right hire, then motivating that person to success is something few firms do well but it has such a dramatic impact.

How do you think they should approach the millennial generation?

In addition to running this firm I teach college classes at Suffolk University in Boston. I work with 18, 19 and 20 year olds all of the time. What they want is to understand context – why are you asking me to do this? How does it fit into the  overall scheme? What does my contribution offer to the firm? Most are hungry to make a difference. They are willing to work their way up, but they want to see the path and know how to get from this stage to the next. Again, communication is the key.

You have a new offering — The Advisor’s Sales Academy — tell us about that.

This was a long-time dream of mine. We’ve developed so much proven content over the years but many advisors can’t afford our webinars or our training. However, they need the information. The Sales Academy is a one-stop shop to get live training and feedback in so many developmental areas. We see it as a training ground for new staff, a growth opportunity for successful advisors who want to improve and as a replacement for costly coaching and training.

The webinars cover a variety of topics and the Mastermind Group will be a way for advisors to share ideas with one another. Anyone who has trained with us will testify that we are all about action and impact.

And you have a special discount for IRIS readers.

Yes, we do – using the code IRIS20 will get the advisor 20% off on all webinars or our ecourse.

Does the industry have you hopeful for the next generation of Advisors?

It does! I’m very encouraged by the emphasis and recognition of what we call “the human factor”. Realizing how important people’s money is and how central it is to their lives has been a long time coming. The younger generation grew up more comfortable talking about needs, emotions and feelings so I think they will make very good advisors bringing these skills, alongside financial knowledge, to clients.

What would you like to leave us with?

The truth is that I still like to fix things and help people to succeed. I truly love the work we do here because we are able to see measurable impact on our client’s businesses. We believe our job is to make our clients look good and be the best that they can be. And we are always looking for ways to reach a broader audience and do more. We enjoy feedback and insights so I’m hopeful that readers will be inspired to share ideas about how we can continue to share our work with those who need it.

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