Can’t Versus Don’t, Either One Can Work


Your marketing power is directly related to the strength of your niche – that special client experience you have created to differentiate yourself from other advisors. There are two ways of setting yourself apart: doing things other advisors don’t do and doing things other advisors can’t do.

In the category of can’t are services you can provide clients that other advisors do not have the capability to offer. Most commonly this translates into technical knowledge or skill your competition has not developed.

Alan Hewitt is an advisor in Los Angeles. He has a deep technical expertise in a particular deferred compensation program offered to public safety workers there in the city of Angels. He literally wrote the book explaining the program. Police and firefighters in LA approaching retirement take advantage of the program cannot get advice as sophisticated as Alan can provide from any other advisors in the area.

Can’t may mean access to opportunities or resources. Chris Kowalik runs ProFeds, a company that assists advisors in working with the target market of federal employees. The government requires that employees within a few years of retirement be offered an education program to help them through the transition. In many cities, especially where the federal employee base is relatively small, government human resources departments have limited capability of offering these programs. Chris has been approved as a government contract agency that can provide these education programs. She offers access to that target market other advisors cannot provide.

One advisor I work with has a relationship with an outplacement firm. When an employer has to lay people off, they call this company in to provide guidance and counseling to the displaced workers. If some of those employees need individual guidance, they get referred to the advisor. Lots of other advisors are ready, willing, and able to do IRA rollovers, but they lack the access the outplacement firm provides.

Can’t does not mean could not ever. Other advisors may not have the knowledge, expertise, or capabilities at the moment. But, assuming they were willing, it would take time and most prospective clients need to make a decision now.

Can’t isn’t a requirement. Don’t can be just as effective.

You can set yourself apart not by doing something other firms are not currently capable of providing but simply by emphasizing or highlighting services other firms do not.

Several advisors I work with utilize mind maps as a way of documenting or communicating concepts with clients. Could other advisors utilize this tool? Of course. But most advisors have different deliverables. Some clients are attracted to the mind mapping exercise and, for them, advisors who utilize these maps stand out. The choose to work with, and refer, those advisors. It is one of the things those advisors do that sets them apart.

Successful differentiation does not require that you be unique. You only need to be different enough within your target market or within your geographic area.

Can’t is stronger than don’t. It is the kind of thing Warren Buffett refers to as an “economic moat.” But either can work. What’s important is that you have a strategy of doing something that makes you different from other advisors.

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