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29 Closing the Referral Gap

Steve Seid & Kurt Dupuis
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The Whole Truth Episode 29

Kurt Dupuis:
Welcome to the Whole Truth, where two wholesalers help financial professionals build great practices and thrive in a rapidly changing industry. We'll bring you the stories and voices from those on the front lines of this change. And we'll have some fun along the way.

Steve Seid:
This is more than a podcast. We're building a community of financial professionals who are growing, forward-thinking and want to get better. Thanks for listening and contributing to the discussion.

Disclosure:
The views expressed here-in are those of the participants and not those of Touchstone Investments.

Steve Seid:
Hi and welcome everybody, to the Whole Truth. From the Bay Area, California, I am Steve Seid.

Kurt Dupuis:
And from Atlanta, Georgia, I'm Kurt Dupuis. We have a two-for today. We have two great interviews, great conversations, very different subjects. So we're going to start off the conversation with Julie Littlechild from a company called Absolute Engagement. I have been studying her work for a few months now. I saw her webinar, she posts blog posts nearly weekly, she's pretty active on LinkedIn and just fantastic content around client engagement and referrals. So specifically, she's going to talk about the whole referral process and where a lot of financial professionals find friction and how to ease that friction. And also talk about the referral gap, which is the difference between the number of your clients that are actually referring you, that you don't know about, and the clients that are the prospects that become clients. So I think you'll be surprised to hear how much your clients are actually referring you, statistically.

Steve Seid:
You've heard us mention on the show before, even if you feel like you're doing a great job with client service, client engagement, it's something that you should keep raising the bar each and every year. And part of the conversation with Julie, she was talking about that, talking about the good being the enemy of the great. The potential for being comfortable and saying, hey, what I'm doing for clients is good enough. But what that prevents you from doing is taking your game to the next level. So I really, really appreciated hearing her talk about that. It was a great interview overall. And then our second interview is going to be with our friend James Schleicher. James is in a different channel than we are used to calling on, but he is wildly successful. And we want to highlight and share stories from as many successful financial professionals as possible. So we had a great time talking with James. One of the big takeaways from our perspective is the idea of creating a life plan before creating a business plan.

Kurt Dupuis:
And the conversation with James is something we'd like to do more, profiling successful people in their craft. So as always, if you haven't already, thanks for listening, please smash that subscribe button, leave us a review. That really helps us get more exposure and build out the community. And as always, if you have questions, critiques, ideas, or just want to lambaste Seid and I, feel free to reach out to us at thewholetruth@touchstonefunds.com.

Steve Seid:
Now let's jump into our interview with Julie Littlechild.

Kurt Dupuis:
So Julie, I want you to tell us a little bit about your background and what you do, but I'm going to rattle a few things off that I found really interesting about you, and tell a story about how I found you originally. So Julie is the founder and CEO of Absolute Engagement. So you can check out the website absoluteengagement.com. Where for over 20 years she's been doing research, writing blogs, all about tailoring a client experience and really helping become referable, which is the name of your podcast. Is that a fair description?

Julie Littlechild:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we focus broadly on client experience and leveraging client experience to drive growth. So it's both sides.

Kurt Dupuis:
How did you know there was a need for this?

Julie Littlechild:
Yeah. I mean, if you think about the business that we run, so we do a lot of research and we do a lot of speaking and writing, our core business is really helping advisors to use direct input from their clients. So whether that's feedback or input to inform the experience and to drive growth. So when I first got into the industry and I was working with a guy who did some great consulting work, and then I decided to go out on my own at one point, I was doing some practice management coaching at the time, and I discovered two things. One is that I'm a terrible coach and nobody should ever hire me as a coach. But the other thing is, anytime we talked about client experience, the natural conversation was always, well, what do your clients think? What do your clients need? And it was met with this resounding yeah, I don't know. I mean-

Kurt Dupuis:
The blank look.

Julie Littlechild:
... it's informal, but it seems like a good question. And it started almost as, well, let's ask them as part of this engagement. And then literally, over 20 plus years, that became the core of what we did. Because we felt like the client's voice is missing in a formal way in the client experience and growth plans.

Kurt Dupuis:
I want to bring up a couple of quotes that you brought up in presentations. The first was a quote from the Jim Collins' book Good To Great, that says, "Good is the enemy of the great." And the second one I think is from you, which is, "Stop satisfying and start engaging." So I wonder if you can comment on those quotes and as we talk about client engagement, how much is optimal?

Julie Littlechild:
Yeah. I love those quotes, and they're quite tied together in a way. I love Jim Collins stuff and I believe absolutely that when things are good, we stop ourselves in some weird way from trying to aim higher. And the connection to satisfaction and engagement is really going back to this idea that when it came to experience, everybody's goal was to have satisfied clients. But it turns out that 90% of clients are satisfied. We're actually doing quite well on that. And that's good news, but the bad news part of that is that that can then stop you from trying to go deeper. “Oh, my clients are satisfied, they feel good about the relationship, so we're fine”. But we really look at engagement as a qualitatively different relationship, a deeper relationship, a more engaged relationship, one that's marked by higher satisfaction, stronger loyalty, and it turns out, referral activity.

Our goal is, if you want to differentiate yourself, if you really want to stand out, then having satisfied clients just isn't enough. I guess the short answer to how much engagement is optimal is there isn't a maximum. Because it would be like saying how much love is optimal in your life or something like that. It depends on how you define it though, and everybody has a very different definition.

Steve Seid:
To me, it seems like almost everything we do now, we get these surveys from something and it's like, I don't want to take a survey on the pack of gum I just bought, I don't care that much. But is there any advice you have on the advisory side where it can be too much or don't even worry about it because we're not even close to that line as an industry?

Julie Littlechild:
Is there too much? Absolutely. I have 100 stories, just as you say, about the survey I got about my fridge and it turns out I don't have a deep connection, not enough to want to provide feedback. But the way that I tend to look at it is, it's less about surveys and the number of surveys, it's more about really stepping back and saying, what are my priorities? What am I trying to achieve? And the answer to that question tells you what kinds of input you need from your clients and when. And so that's more a voice of a client strategy rather than a survey, if you will. So the answer to that question could be, I just need an advisory board. It could be, I need to measure satisfaction every couple of years. It could be, I need some input on how my clients are feeling as we're walking into a review meeting.

All of that is voice of the client. But I think the most progressive firms certainly that we're working with are saying, which of those are right for us based on what we're trying to accomplish? And then make sure it fits into the conversation. Make it more about, we're meeting next week, I'd love to get your input on a couple of things to guide our conversation. That feels more natural, more human to me, if you will, than the gum survey, for example.

Kurt Dupuis:
I'm going to see if I can connect some dots here. I believe I first saw your name in a podcast interview with James Pollard, who we've had on the podcast.

Julie Littlechild:
Yeah.

Kurt Dupuis:
And as internet rabbit holes would go, I found you had a LinkedIn article blog from a few years ago that I thought was incredible. Found the website and signed up for your emails and saw that your current blog posts were absolutely fantastic. And the webinar, I don't want to steal its thunder, but it talked a lot about myths in the world of referrals. What do you think is one of the more misunderstood myths that financial professionals think when it comes to referrals?

Julie Littlechild:
There are a few myths and they all get in the way of us actually tapping into the opportunity that's out there. I think it's huge. We're sitting on this absolute mountain of untapped referral potential right now. And maybe the simplest one which gets to the core, is that we actually need more clients to refer. And the reason I say that that's such a big one is because if we believe that we need more clients to refer, that triggers a whole set of activities. How do I ask? What do I say? What do I do? What we've certainly seen in the research is that advisors are getting more referrals than they would ever need, they're just not translating into introductions. And if we just focused on that group in a really hyper targeted way, I think that we'd see far more success.

Steve Seid:
Can you clarify that for me? Actually, what do you mean by that?

Julie Littlechild:
So when we ask investors ... so every year we do our investor research. And 13 years ago or so, in addition to asking about client experience, which is the focus of the study, we asked about referral behavior and we've been doing it every year since. And we asked, "Have you provided a referral?" Which was quite interesting because until that point, everybody who was asking clients about referrals was asking them, "Are you comfortable referring?" And it turns out, comfort, referring and satisfaction are almost precise proxies for one another. You don't learn anything. 90% of clients will tell you they're comfortable referring. It changes a little each year, but roughly, in the last couple of years, 42% of clients said that they'd provided referrals. And on average, it was about two and a half referrals each. That means just hundreds of people are hearing the name of an advisor. But then I talked to advisors and they're telling me, "I might get referrals from four or 5% of my clients."

So in my mind it's like, well, this to me is the best target because they already have a propensity to refer. In fact, they already think they've referred you. They were probably trying to help someone solve some problem by doing that, thought you were the answer. So if we can identify those people and have a comfortable but targeted conversation, I think that's where we see the results.

Steve Seid:
What's the missing piece?

Julie Littlechild:
I think there's a couple of things. One is how we articulate value. Hey, you should talk to my advisor, great guy. Not the most compelling. And maybe I'll come back to that. But the other is simply the process. So the vast majority of clients will say, well, I mentioned my advisor's name to my friend. And then the subtext is, and hoped they'd go on Google, find their contact address, contact ... The things that nobody is going to do. So I think training clients a little on how to make that referral. Now, a couple of things come up for me there is, to make that comfortable though, like training people. That sounds self-serving.

But I think our mindset also has to shift to get back to this idea, which is very true that the clients are referring to help their friends and family. And it's not about us, and it's not about our business, that's a happy byproduct. But that should make us more comfortable saying, "Hey, if you did want to make an introduction, here's the best way." But the other thing that we've been thinking a lot about, and I don't know when this dawned on me, is that we're just asking a lot of clients to refer. So we want them to love us enough to refer, we want them to recognize a referral opportunity, and then we want them to be able to articulate our value in such a compelling way that people reach out.

I think even when they do love us, that's a lot. And so we've been toying with this idea for a while of creating a hidden page on your website or something. A referral page that says-

Steve Seid:
Interesting.

Julie Littlechild:
... rolls out the red carpet. Someone thought you'd be interested in talking, here's what we do. But the point of that is so that the only thing clients have to remember is to send people to that page. Not your whole site, there's too much there, but to a page. And then you don't have to worry about how they're articulating your value.

Steve Seid:
That's a great idea.

Julie Littlechild:
I think this is all under the umbrella of, how do we control the narrative a little. How do we help clients talk about us? Well, it turns out maybe we don't, but we just need to give them tools to use so that we can talk about the value.

Steve Seid:
No, that's an awesome idea.

Julie Littlechild:
Well, we even think about it in terms of sharing content. So we know, for example, that clients who refer are more likely to share the content that they get from their advisor, about three times more likely. So we send our clients a great article say, and we hope they'll forward it to someone. But again, we're not controlling the narrative there. So what if we said, click here to share with a friend, and when they clicked it opened up an email that had a little bit about the advisor. So it's just, a lot of this in my mind is just tweaking and getting really intentional about communications that you're probably already sending. It doesn't have to be new activity.

Steve Seid:
Yeah. So is it maybe the wrong approach or maybe the not as effective that people say, oh, I want to generate more referrals. And so what do they do? They spend time on scripts. Like, how do I ask? And to me, that's always struck me as a little bit like maybe not the best idea. But how does that strike you? Do you feel the same way?

Julie Littlechild:
Well, I do. And the only reason for that is I believe the data that we gather. And when we ask clients to tell us about the circumstances of the referral, the smallest percentage was because my advisor asked me for the name of someone. So why are we putting all of this effort into asking if that's not really why people generate referrals in the first place?

Steve Seid:
Is it more important to acknowledge referral intent or a closed referral?

Julie Littlechild:
Yeah. And there's probably three categories in a way. There's clients who referred, but you didn't even meet anyone. There's clients who referred, you met, and they didn't become a client. And then there's the closed referral. I'm a big believer that we should acknowledge and appreciate intent, and then help them do it better. Help them to make that connection. And the reality, if we go right back to that data, 42% providing a referral, all that means or one of the things that means is that you haven't had the opportunity to thank those people. And at the most basic level to just say, look, I want to do something a little special. I want to thank you for doing that. It doesn't hurt to remind them that you didn't meet anyone, because that might actually close the gap a little, but just say thank you.

Kurt Dupuis:
What is the research you do around referrals? I've got some stats here. Only 20% of clients said they referred because the advisor asked them. So what did you ask, how many people did you ask? I'm curious about that background there.

Julie Littlechild:
Yeah, for sure. So every year we go out and do a pretty broad based investor study. We do it in the US and Canada. And then from time to time, we've done it in the UK, looking at Australia soon. But if we focus on the US data for the time being, it's a study of 750 US. So over 1100 north American investors. It's higher net worth, so the minimum household assets is a half million, but it goes up to 5 million plus from there. They have to work with a financial advisor. So we're trying to get at the target for most advisors. That's who we're doing this for after all. And we've done this every year. We partner, in the last several years, with the Investments & Wealth Institute on this, who've been a great partner on the research. And it is big.

I mean, we go very, very deep on every aspect of client experience that you could imagine and then we have this set of questions on referrals. Because what we're trying to understand is, have you referred? If yes, how many? If yes, what were the circumstances? What were you trying to accomplish? If no, why was that the case? And understand not only client motivation to refer, but the circumstances of the referral. Because our view has just always been, if we can understand this through the eyes of the client, then we can come up with strategies and tactics to help advisors really focus on that. I will say though, that the industry as a whole seems so married to this idea that I just have to ask.

I mean, I did a demo recently for a program on referrals that we have, it was half an hour, and at no point did I mention asking. In fact, I would be the first one to say, asking is not that effective. And inevitably, I will get an email that says, I'm just uncomfortable asking. You should be uncomfortable asking. So it's funny how our mind is just so wired. Even though somebody is saying something else, they just want to go back to that.

Steve Seid:
Yeah. So then, when you're working with financial professionals, what is the work that you do with them? Tell them about the business and then you give them some strategies of how, and what do those strategies usually focus on? So talk a little bit about your engagement with your clients.

Julie Littlechild:
Yeah. The work that we do is very focused on the voice of the client. So we will design and implement strategies to gather input from clients and then to leverage that input. So it always comes back to what are your clients saying. And leveraging that input depends a little bit on their objectives. So if an advisor is working with us and says, I'm really just focused on referrals, that means we're going to ask a very targeted set of questions and we're going to connect that to a very targeted set of follow-up activities. Largely it's a bit broader than that, I want to involve my client experience, I want to personalize communications. And so for an individual advisor or small team, sometimes that's an annual survey. For larger clients that we work with, as in say a larger RIA, that's probably a more robust, ongoing, full voice of the client strategy.

Kurt Dupuis:
Okay. So we had talked about one of the friction points being, how do you get people to refer you. And so you had the great idea of creating a separate landing page, but you also discuss language triggers. What are some of those triggers that you found?

Julie Littlechild:
When there's a good referral opportunity, people probably aren't talking about whether you know a good financial advisor or not. I don't think anybody needs training on that. But if someone is talking about their kids making bad financial decisions, if someone's talking about their business or we're not knowing what retirement will look like, I mean, just life, those are often the best referral opportunities, but I don't know that everybody sees them as that. So what we've been talking to advisors about is crafting stories that reflect the problems that you solve for some of your clients, in very specific terms. And I don't mean really high level, like we give you peace of mind. I mean, that's lovely, but nobody talks about that over dinner. But if it is helping the kids or communicating as a couple or any of those things, if you can share stories, then you're going to help clients spot a referral opportunity.

Now, where language comes into that, I think is that ... and this is not easy, I think for a lot of people, is to use language that your clients are going to use, not your language. So there are little tricks to helping you do that. I've talked to so many people who have just said, what happens if I get sick during the pandemic? And so, let's use that kind of language. And if you can share stories that use the language, then it's like a light bulb that goes off for your clients. If they're at dinner and they hear what happens if I get sick or some variation, there's, I know who you should talk to. In the same way that I might recommend a book or a website or an article, I want to say, you've got to talk to my advisor because I really think they can help. But it's the language piece, how do they talk about it? And I tell you what, it usually sounds a lot more simple than when advisors talk about it.

Kurt Dupuis:
And there's such a strong, emotional connection there too-

Julie Littlechild:
Oh my gosh, yeah.

Kurt Dupuis:
... because you're not in dire straits financially like, okay, that's my trigger, now I need to talk to a financial professional. No, it's like, it's human, someone's sick, someone's making bad decisions, or there's a new marriage-

Julie Littlechild:
Absolutely.

Kurt Dupuis:
... all of these positive, emotional life experiences. If you can connect that with and reduce that referral friction, I think that's wonderful.

Julie Littlechild:
You can, and I think these days it's easier. Because frankly, we're all having a lot of very similar conversations.

Steve Seid:
You're telling stories in conversations with clients. Is there other way you communicate those things? Or just, hey, it's part of my process that when I do, for example, a client review, I'm going to have a couple of these stories that I'm going to make sure that I communicate. Is there any other way to think about it?

Julie Littlechild:
Yeah. And it's a good question because I think crafting a story is one thing, but knowing how to share it comfortably actually requires a little practice, it doesn't always come naturally. And so in my mind, the ideal way is to listen for triggers that suggest, oh. And then it's pulling, okay, this story is actually going to work here or be helpful here. Having said that, I mean, depending on the firm for which you work, because there's always going to be different restrictions here, I mean, it could be shared on websites. I think the changes in the testimonial rule are going to make a lot of this easier, frankly, going forward. We can share these stories also with centers of influence, by the way, it's not just necessarily client referrals, or even in emails.

The method can change, but the intent I think is to just say, this was the problem, this is how we helped, and this was the impact. But just like a good story. And my co-host Steve Wershing does some great stuff around storytelling. And he talks about ... it's like a Hollywood script. There's a hero, there's conflict, there's this. The more that you can make sure ... A story isn't, hey, let me tell you about how I help my clients. A story is, a client had this problem, we came in as the guide, and here is where they got to.

Steve Seid:
Yeah. So the prep work is just as a team, to go through and flush that out. And we should have mentioned it upfront, but you also have a podcast. Talk a little bit about what you're doing there.

Julie Littlechild:
Yeah. On “Becoming Referable”, which I do with Steve, we've done this for some time. Becoming Referable is pretty broad, so it's partly about facilitating referrals, but it's partly just about the hard work that we need to do to make sure we are referable in the first place.

Kurt Dupuis:
The most recent one talks about systems Seid, so I know how excited you get talking about systems.

Steve Seid:
I need a system….I need a process…

Kurt Dupuis:
Framework, process, system. You use any of those words, Seid just starts to get giddy.

Steve Seid:
So before we leave this topic, are there any other frictions in the referral process that we should be thinking about?

Julie Littlechild:
There's one that might be worth talking about since we're talking about process, and that is just helping clients understand what your process is. So for example, there may be a lurking unspoken point of friction that if I refer to you, somehow you're going to be on a daily followup call with my friends and family. I don't know. I trust you, but I don't know. So just taking the time to say to clients, "Hey look, we truly appreciate referrals, do you mind if I just talk you through my process so that you understand?" And then you can make it really clear. Look, we will do an outreach. If they're not interested in meeting now, we might invite them to join our mailing list or our blog list. And if they're still not interested, we won't call them again. Just make it clear and get it on the table. So it's not one that's spoken a lot about, but I think it can help.

Kurt Dupuis:
So to put a bow on this before we throw a couple of lightning round questions at you, I want to leave with, if not an action step, something laser-focused to think about. So you mentioned that clients on average recommend two and a half times a year. I think most financial professionals would be surprised to hear that number. But the gap between what's being referred and what's being acted upon is that referral gap. So what's one thing people could do to really start closing that gap?

Julie Littlechild:
I don't want to sound grossly self-serving, but I do believe that the first step is asking clients if they've referred. And I say self-serving because obviously that's part of our business. But if we can identify people who've referred and you haven't met someone, it then starts to become a very comfortable conversation. It's more, "Hey, I saw that you referred. Thank you so much, it means a lot. We didn't actually meet anybody, I was just wondering if you could tell me a bit about the circumstances and how you thought we could help." Lean into why they referred in the first place, have that conversation. They were trying to help somebody, you're just really trying to help them do that. To me, that's the low hanging fruit here.

Steve Seid:
I'm picking out a couple of things I want to close on. The first one, you had mentioned the idea, the Michelangelo concept, quick questions, quick answers. What is that?

Julie Littlechild:
You sculpt the people that are closest to you. So here's the quick theory. You get really excited about something at work, you're going to put the best plan in place, you go home. And you're so excited and you say to your spouse, "I can't wait to put this in place." And the first person you tell, if their response is, "Huh, okay. Well, maybe you'll be working late now," or something like that, that alone can limit your success. So it's really about being careful about the people with whom we share our biggest ideas.

Steve Seid:
So there's this idea of the honeymoon effect. What is it and how to address it? I actually really liked that commentary.

Julie Littlechild:
Well, I think the honeymoon effect is like dating, where we put on the best show possible while we're dating. And then you get married and you realize what it's really all about. And so I think the same happens with clients. We over communicate, we're doing everything, and then all of a sudden, while money is being transferred and all this is going on and they don't even know what's happening. So I just think we need to think about onboarding as before it starts and then for 90 days after, and ensure that we're being very intentional about communication.

Kurt Dupuis:
This has been awesome. You have been wonderful Julie.

Julie Littlechild:
Thank you so much.

Kurt Dupuis:
You can check out Julie's work at absoluteengagement.com. Check out her podcast, “Becoming Referable”. I've learned so much. I can't wait to listen to this when it goes out and actually take notes of my own notes. This has been wonderful. Thank you, Julie.

Julie Littlechild:
Thank you so much.

Steve Seid:
Thanks, Julie.

Kurt Dupuis:
We are very, very happy to be joined by our friend James Schleicher. Now, did I pronounce that correctly, James? You coached me on this prior to-

James Schleicher:
Yeah, man. I'm impressed.

Steve Seid:
Yeah? I did good?

James Schleicher:
I'm impressed, man. Very good. Very good.

Kurt Dupuis:
Seid and I talk a lot about common questions that we can ask financial professionals, just to understand their path and their journey. And yours is unique. And a lot of our audience, they might be at a wire, they might be at a regional broker-dealer firm. Your firm is a little different and probably even tougher to make it in, yet you've been wildly successful. So help us understand how the heck that happens in a job that's typically high burnout anyway.

James Schleicher:
Yeah.

Kurt Dupuis:
How did you get so successful?

James Schleicher:
I have to just say that I became the biggest failure I could be, I became the biggest seeker of rejection I could be. I tell people coming in to our side of the business, you got to be ready to be treated less than human for the first five years. Things that stick out to me, the term that we use was called you would get porched. So that meant you would drive somewhere to ... You schedule the meeting, they say yes I want to meet, I want to talk about ... And especially in the early days, I was just doing life insurance. And just life insurance is super important. It's not something that most people want to talk about all the time, and that was proven. We would get porched, because you'd walk up on the porch, knock on the door and no one would answer.

It was something to where people in the office would come back and be like, oh, I got porched. It was more like you were more expecting to get porched than you were to have someone to answer the door. So sometimes people would answer the door and I'd freak out. Like, wait a minute, I'm not ready for this.

Steve Seid:
I'm not ready for the meeting.

James Schleicher:
You weren't supposed to answer your door. What am I supposed to say? I had to get really good at messing up and learning from it. And seeing as many people as I could, when they would open the door. One of the times that sticks out to me though, where I almost quit was, I remember the window was open and when I knocked on the door, the wife was like, "Shh, don't answer it, it's him." Those are little moments that I try to make sure I help people understand. It's not a matter of if that's going to happen to you, it's just a matter of when and how fast can you get through all those moments to the point where you start to build your own client base and start to get introductions on a favorable basis. I think what came natural to me was wanting to help people, truly help people, and also wanting to find a way to solve their problems.

And to me, what we do, no matter where, what part of our industry you're in, our job is to solve problems. And that's why we get up. And if you're being wildly successful, that means a lot, thank you for saying that. But I'm doing the same thing today that I did 13 years ago, it's just people actually listen to me now.

Kurt Dupuis:
Can you talk about what's changed over those 13 years. So you said starting on the pure insurance side and transitioning to more ... Is wealth management the right way to describe where your business is now?

James Schleicher:
I'm still licensed to do the insurance, but I couldn't even get you a quote. If you asked me today, there's a guy, Reed Shockley on our team, he's fantastic, he helps me and my family, everybody. So that's something over the last 13 years I've had to ... Again, in the quest of getting rejected and failing, my whole goal was to, how can I do the things that I love to do and somehow delegate and give away the things that I'm not very good at?

Steve Seid:
Yeah. It's interesting. So many really successful financial professionals, we hear the same thing, that they want to focus exclusively on what they're uniquely qualified to do. And yet you also come across the financial professionals that are so hesitant to add additional staff and salary. And I'm just like, every time I come across that, I'm like, do it, because what is the chance that you're going to regret?

James Schleicher:
Yeah. I will say it's because of my team I've been able to not be such a control freak and have such trust issue. I mean, you're dealing with people that spent years and years and years building that relationship, and then now I'm just going to hand them off. I would love to tell you I was one of those people that was like, oh yeah, this makes perfect sense, I'm going to do it. It was people like yourself, people like you guys saying, hey man, you probably should let go of this piece. But it's weird, the more money I give away, the more money I make.

Steve Seid:
Yeah. I love that.

James Schleicher:
And that's what's been wonderful too, is the more money Reed started giving away, he started making more money. I can't remember the movie that Will Ferrell was in, that basketball movie. I can't remember the name of it.

Steve Seid:
Oh, what is that called? The '70s movie, I love that movie. We're going to have to find that.

James Schleicher:
Yeah. I can't remember the name of it. Okay. That might be a pop quiz for later, but when he's in front of the bus and they're fighting in the back and he's like, "Everybody love everybody." For me-

Kurt Dupuis:
Semi-Pro.

James Schleicher:
... that's where I've always wanted a team. Yeah, Semi-Pro.

Steve Seid:
There it is. Thank you for that, Kurt.

Kurt Dupuis:
You got it.

James Schleicher:
Semi-Pro. I think that Semi-Pro sums up the Schleicher career right there.

Steve Seid:
Thank you Kurt, because I literally could not have focused on this interview if you didn't give me that answer. Talk to me a little bit about client service. So you build this business in the beginning, you're getting some clients on board. At some point you probably have a realization because you have a critical mass, oh wow, I got to actually serve these people. And then as you add more clients ... I'm curious how you have thought about client service over time.

James Schleicher:
Our wholesaler through Western and Southern Brokerage Services, Kevin Burns, I'm lost without him. But he's like, just call your clients every quarter, no matter what, and check in with them. I think the number one thing we pride ourselves on is the continual ... It's kind of like a video game for us. It's like, don't get frustrated with how much time it's taking. But it's like, those quarterly calls create pretty much the majority of our business for the rest of the quarter because you're going to have that person that hasn't called you back in four years be like, oh, hey, yeah, I switched jobs and I want to move this. Or, hey, we had a kid, now I want to get the insurance going. Just keeping that conversation so you're obviously digging in your old gold mine.

Steve Seid:
Yeah.

James Schleicher:
But I take what I do and the relationships we have with our clients very personally.

Steve Seid:
So on that point, I've asked this question to a few people and I'm curious your take, do you deal with the client situations where they don't pick up? You're doing your quarterly calls and you're like, that client is not responsive anymore. How do you handle that? How do you think about that?

James Schleicher:
We started playing with the language we were using and magically we started getting better responses. It's not the phone call that they're ignoring, it's just that they know what you're going to say. So if you throw in things that gets them to respond ... One thing that we do is, I'm very big on, "Hey, I'm the most annoying person, I'm so sorry. I'm always doing these check-ins, I just want to make sure everything's okay." And magically people that would not respond would respond. They'd call back, "James, you're not annoying. I love that you give me a call. I know that you're always there for us. There's no updates right now. I was thinking about you. I do want you to talk to my sister." Just out of anybody listening, if you say, hey, it's the most annoying person you know, sorry to bother you, the likelihood of them calling you back, I'm telling you, for us, it's been magic.

Kurt Dupuis:
What was your most successful marketing strategy?

James Schleicher:
It really wasn't really meant to be a marketing strategy, but it was heavy involvement in the community. We were getting involved in things we genuinely were passionate about and wanted to change in the community. So it wasn't work for us, and I think that really came through, because we weren't the only ... You go to any community event, there's 27 financial and insurance people. And there's one person that is not in our industry and they're just like, oh no, not another one of these meetings. Please no, not another event where everybody's trying to sell me something. I remember people coming up to us, "I don't even really know what you do. I think it's finance, if that's the case, I want to give you all my money."

So again, it wasn't planned, that wasn't my strategy, so to speak, but it was just something that, just get involved. That feel good in your heart where it's like, okay, I am making a difference maybe now. Now it's just completely word of mouth, referral-based. So one of my mentors has always said, "Buying leads is punishment for not getting referrals."

Kurt Dupuis:
Ooh, I like that.

Steve Seid:
Good one, I like that a lot.

James Schleicher:
So basically, everything is punishment for not getting referrals.

Kurt Dupuis:
I want to take a minute to reference your book, it's called, “It All Starts With A Plan”. You talk a fair bit about business planning, but you also talk ... As I understand it, the precursor to business planning is life planning. And so I'm curious because you started in this business at a fairly young age. And if life planning is the precursor to business planning, how do you know when you're in your 20s? I'm almost 40 and I don't have a life plan. Where do you draw inspiration on building that life plan, which then feeds into your business plan?

James Schleicher:
In the Cleveland area where I'm from, there's a Cleveland 20/30 Club, which is a young professionals club. And you'd have these big-time CEOs come in and have dinner with us and share their story. And one of them, right as we were wrapping up, I remember him saying, "You need a 30-year career plan, but more importantly, you need a 50-year life plan." So for me, it put a sense of urgency to do the things I vowed to do. It forced me to start keeping promises to myself. So I don't know if that makes sense, but I feel like we make a lot of vows and promises and we have all these goals and we have all these dreams. But there's no sense of urgency because every human alive, we have this thing where for some reason we don't think ... everybody else dies around us, but not us, we're different.

So for me, the life plan just really put a sense of urgency on the things I really want to get done. But more importantly, the little teeny tiny decisions that create the result of your life and where you're at now. Think of like, the three of us are here because somewhere along the line we had to make the series of decisions to end up where we're at. So a lot of those little decisions are so difficult when you don't know where you're going with life or what your North Star is. What is your guiding compass, so to speak.

Kurt Dupuis:
I'm always curious, especially when I have someone on a podcast, because podcasts are like truth serum, you can't lie. Seid and I are wholesalers, but we talk and focus a lot about practice management. And I don't particularly love the moniker practice management, but I'm curious what that means to you. And specifically, do you find that the asset management community is a resource to you in helping you manage your practice better?

James Schleicher:
Yes. Oh, totally. For me, practice management, I think it is more of life optimization. Especially now having a team, I'm dead without it, I'm lost without it. There's always going to be problems because people are involved. Humans are always going to find a way to screw up. And so to me, boss execution, practice management, life optimization, whatever you want to call it, it's perfecting the process as best you can to support and provide your people tools and resources, and the “how to” of when things go wrong, because they always will. How do we still operate and succeed and achieve the mission?

Steve Seid:
Talk about your three Cs. We saw that in your book, and we think that'd be a good thing for you to comment on.

James Schleicher:
The first is clients, second is community, and the third is continuing education. So maybe I tried a little hard with the last C, the continuing education. But to me, clients, it's very easy to forget that we work for them. Especially when you get to a certain level, your ego creeps in and you get ... It's easy to lose sight of who's the most important person in this equation. And it's just always keeping the fact that the person across the conversation from you is the most important person in your world. And that you should be treating them with the utmost respect and doing everything you can to make sure that they are taken care of. And if you help them achieve their dreams, every dream you ever want to achieve is going to be achieved hand-in-hand.

That's what I love about what we do, is the better our clients do, the better we do. So you're on that journey with them, and then it's very easy to let your guard down when you get home. I mean, you guys are fellow fathers like myself, and it's real easy to let the stress of work and the professional world come over to the personal side, letting that work stress come out. So treat your personal world like clients too. Give them the royal treatment as well. Roll out the red carpet for your personal people too. Another thing I talked about, the community is a great way to feed your business, but you got to be genuine. It's got to be that one or two things that if you won the lottery, you would spend every bit of your free time out doing and out making a difference in that area.

And then the last thing is continuing education. It keeps you alive. It keeps you always feeling excited to go face the next day. Because like, okay, well, even if I read two pages of this book today, now I can try and figure out how I'm going to implement that into my professional life and my personal life.

Kurt Dupuis:
So before we let you go, I want to nerd out on a little Star Wars. You mentioned a quote in your book. It's a good one. It's not my favorite. My personal favorite is, "Only a Sith believes in absolutes because I dwell in the gray area that is life." But you had a quote, and after hearing your story, I think it's perfect for you. And it's a Yoda quote that said, "We do or we do not. There is no try." So I just want to say, congratulations on not trying, you've actually done it. It's been a great chat of the day.

James Schleicher:
Thank you.

Kurt Dupuis:
Stay tuned for the Costanza Corner, we'll be right back.

Steve Seid:
This is the Whole Truth, stick with us.

Kurt Dupuis:
And welcome back to our closing segment that we call Costanza Corner, because we leave the show on a high note. And Seid, I have no idea what you're bringing to the table today. But I can't wait to hear it.

Steve Seid:
Well, besides the fact that I'm turning the big 40 on August 5th, which should be Costanza Corner enough.

Kurt Dupuis:
You made it, congratulations.

Steve Seid:
I did. Thank you very much. This episode is coming out the end of August, so it's not too delayed to give myself a happy birthday. But what I did bring though is a story about police in Colorado and an auto parts store, which really, really made me smile. So a new partnership with police in Colorado is putting smiles on the faces of motorists who might not have the money to fix a broken part on their vehicle. So you know if you've got a broken tail light, especially if you don't have the money to replace it, you're getting pulled over, you might be getting tickets, it's this issue.

Kurt Dupuis:
Multiple citations. Yeah.

Steve Seid:
Yeah. And so, a big shout out to Advance Auto Parts because there's a store that basically gifted the Denver Police Department 100 gift cards worth 25 bucks a piece that they can hand out at their discretion for people to get their headlight fixed if it's not. And I just thought that was a super cool story.

Kurt Dupuis:
That is fantastic. I mean, police have been in the news a lot in a good, bad, ugly or different, but I love stories where we're solving problems on the local level. It's just like, business people, like state organizations and the civilians that they serve. That's a great solution. I love it.

Steve Seid:
Yeah. I just always think about, where did that idea come from? But there's probably some really awesome people over at Advance Auto Parts in Denver. I guess that's really what it comes down to.

Kurt Dupuis:
And how helpful is it to remember that, a $25 gift card to get your light fixed? Really helps some people out.

Steve Seid:
Absolutely.

Kurt Dupuis:
It's important context for life, especially in our world.

Steve Seid:
Absolutely. Thanks everyone for listening. We'll see you next time.

Steve Seid:
You can find the Whole Truth and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. We'd love it if you took the time to rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts, it helps others find the show. And for more episodes of the Whole Truth, go to www.touchstoneinvestments.com/thewholetruth. That's touchstoneinvestments.com/thewholetruth, all one word.

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