One gets behind on reviewing books. Publishers send books selected to be of interest to Investment Edge readers. (Outlines are mailed first; I read them and try to select appropriately. Otherwise, we would have no space at home and books would be everywhere.) I read other books — discovered on bookstore prowls or Kindle forays — that I feel will be of interest to Investment Edgers. And then, one day, it happens — there are too many books. So, gentle reader, here is a smorgasbord of books for your consideration, maybe the biggest Broker’s Bookcase of all time.
Presenting numbers effectively
“Painting With Numbers — Presenting Financial and Other Numbers So People Will Understand You,” by Randall Bolten (John Wiley & Sons, 2011).
The most important thing you need to understand about this book is in the first two sentences of the introduction: “This book is not about numbers. This book is about presenting numbers and doing it clearly, concisely, elegantly, and most of all, effectively.”
This book came along, for me, at exactly the right time. I am presenting some numbers tomorrow. And, before I read the book, I had already come to the conclusion — not big news for any of us — that the way we present numbers to customers is insane. I’ve written for years about the craziness of using company-prepared presentations. Customers look at them and their eyes glaze over. A big question the book asks is, do the numbers tell a story? It’s a given that if you are using numbers in a presentation, the presentation is important. I think we (and “we” includes companies) get so involved in how happy we are to have created a worksheet with formulas that work like gangbusters (or, in the case of companies, a columnar presentation that shows every nuance of mathematical argument) that we fail to think about how the customer will perceive our efforts. I’ll bet their eyes glaze over, whether it has to do with investments or life/health insurance. One of my first rules of business: I never use company-prepared illustrations. You know the box on the broker-dealer and/or investment company paperwork that asks about using an illustration? I always check the box next to the word NO.
Here’s one (of many) thing(s) the author has to say about worksheets: “Make different types of cells visually distinguishable and physically separate.” Note that I put that in boldface. Why? Because most of our worksheets, to use a technical term, stink on ice, that’s why. Fortunately, author Bolten provides stunning examples that would even make my graphic-designer daughter smile, and when it comes to styles, that, to use a popular phrase, ain’t easy.
When you must use columnar numbers — you know, the achingly familiar vertical lines of figures we are all used to — “Painting With Numbers” shows you how to do it right (and gives examples of wrong, too).
Do you want to tell a story with numbers? If so, I recommend you run, don’t walk, to buy this book. The author has good chops and is the son of a CIA officer and a history professor. Bolten has been CFO of a number of Silicon Valley companies. He earned a Princeton economics degree and has an M.B.A. to boot. He says (and my daughter, who works for one of the nation’s biggest accounting firms, would agree in a heartbeat) that handling numbers is like handling any language — you have to know the rules and how to handle grammar, spelling and punctuation. Most of us don’t have a clue.
Improving communication skills
“The Secret Language of Influence — Master the One Skill Every Sales Pro Needs,” by Dan Seidman (Amacom, 2012).
Is anyone else old enough to remember Sid Stone, the pitchman on the old “Milton Berle Star Theater” in the late ’40s and early ’50s? He was deliberately corny and bad, even rolling up not only his shirt sleeves but also his suit jacket sleeves before telling us “what he was gonna do.” He was always selling something shady — hair dye that didn’t work or magic lotion — at his little stand, but he sold plenty of Texaco gasoline without really trying. Author Seidman, to the contrary, writes about causal, comfortable conversation. He postulates that influence occurs just below the level of the customer’s awareness, and he shows us how to identify the 10 most common types of buyers.
I like simple, so one of my favorite Seidman quotes is this: “What would you like me to do now?” I can imagine me asking that question following an interview. But then I always assume that the person comes to see me because he or she needs my help, and I act accordingly. I don’t want to give away the keys to the kingdom or anything, but I used to mystify a fellow who watched me, time after time, close the sale/appointment/whatever. He asked, time and again, how do you do that? And, of course, the answer was/is/always will be that I assume they come to me for help and I help them. I never do salesy things; instead, I always act like a consultant, a professional. Of course, I also confess that I am the world’s worst marketer, so it’s probably a miracle when someone does come to see me. They are often recommended by someone else whom I assumed came to visit because — you got it! — they needed my help.
Sorry for the digression — I understand “The Secret Language.” I may not use language exactly like Dan Seidman, who also wrote “The Ultimate Guide to Sales Training.” However, I share common elements with the approach. Another divergence would be establishing things that the suspect/prospect and I have in common, recommended in the book. My assumption is that the suspect/prospect and I have investing in common. He or she needs help, I like to help, so that’s the meeting ground. I figure we have probably nothing else in common, right? If you have read this column for any length of time, you know I like jazz. And while I confess to having two jazz musicians as customers, 99% of my customers are not jazz men or women, and they have nothing to do with jazz. In addition to jazz, I like investing and writing and am pretty ambivalent about sports. See, hard for me to establish common ground.
I do like this book. If you want to learn to effortlessly get yourself into position to help people, lots of people, you need to read it. Dan Seidman will teach you a lot. I especially like how he uses humor. I enjoy using my sense of funniness, too, even though my wife and kids might use the word corny to describe me. I was blessed by starting out as a journalist, which helped me learn how to communicate by writing and speaking. And my family background is such that one had to have a sense of humor in order to survive. Seidman even gets into the humor of George Carlin, who said, “Swimming isn’t a sport. Swimming is a way to keep from drowning.” So if humor is not your forte, loosen up. Dan Seidman gives you helpful hints, even about writing funny. Not amused? Well, writing funny is more likely, if you think about it, to keep a prospect’s attention. Most of us will keep reading to get to the punch line.
Whether it’s thinking positive, avoiding the negatives, or physical and nutritional conditioning, Dan Seidman covers it from soup to nuts in “The Secret Language of Influence.”
Achieving sales and networking success
“Switched-On Selling — Balance Your Brain for Sale Success,” by Jerry V. Teplitz and Tony Alessandra, with Norma Eckroate (Happiness Unlimited, 2010) and “Switched-On Networking — Balance Your Brain for Networking Success,” by Jerry V. Teplitz and Donna Fisher, with Norma Eckroate (Happiness Unlimited, 2011).
Jerry Teplitz is a lawyer and doctor (a Ph.D., so no doctor-lawyer jokes, please). Tony Alessandra is also a Ph.D., and Norma Eckroate has a master’s degree and an impressive list of publications to her credit. Donna Fisher has a business background with tours at Exxon and McDonnell Douglas and is currently the executive director of an organization.
All of these folks have very impressive curricula vitae and are used to presenting in college and seminar settings, as well as writing and teaching. It’s instructive to copy one of the comments from “Selling”: “My sales tripled after taking your class!” That comment from Kit Cruise about the application of Tiplitz’s Brain-Gym technology, combined with the street-smart savvy of Alessandra, offers a seminar course that your broker-dealer might pay hundreds or thousands per attendee for you to attend, in friendly $20 book versions. (If you can’t find either book at your bookseller, try www.teplitz.com.)
“Selling” says, in some rules regarding goals, that goals must be personal. Many things grabbed my attention in these books. One of the best, in “Selling,” was, “A goal must be personal. This means that your goal must be something you want to do, rather than something that you think you should do. Know your reasons for having the goal. Whether you want to achieve something for status, money or good health is secondary as long as you want it badly enough to work hard for it.” Both books are chockablock full of charts and drawings, even ones showing at-work exercises.
The books work well together — they have a style, a kind of energy that moves from one to the other. If you want to find out if you like what the authors have to say, go to the website — again, www.teplitz.com — and check the demos. The books have a lot to do with the energy of selling and networking. Both are important parts of our lives as financial planners. Did you know that you can use your brain as a gymnasium? Check out the site. Teplitz and Company are folks into the science of selling and networking. You will be able to soak-up good knowledge in the pages of these two books. “Networking,” for example, spends time on the mental exercises that we do, almost unconsciously, to avoid networking success. My only criticism is not with the books; it’s with the website. My graphic-designer daughter would be miserable with its busy-ness and complexity, and I probably would not have mentioned it had I not also reviewed “Painting With Numbers” in this Broker’s Bookcase.
Polishing your brand
“Brand Real — How Smart Companies Live Their Brand Promise and Inspire Fierce Customer Loyalty,” by Laurence Vincent (Amacom, 2012).
Vincent is a brand strategist who has worked with some of the top companies in America — Disney, Microsoft, the NFL and Southwest Airlines to name just a few. So, why in the world would I think this is a good book for financial planners? Simple answer: you are a brand, as in the way Peter Montoya titled his book, “The Brand Called You.” I attended a Montoya seminar, years ago. It impacted me enough that I named my company Richard Hoe Investments LLC and not Acme Financial or Excelsior Planners. Montoya said the idea was to make my name stick in the customer’s mind. I didn’t figure Acme or Excelsior would work.
This book goes w-a-a-y deep. In the “Mind the Gap” section, Vincent writes about the 2010 decision for a new Gap logo. Disaster! One customer wrote, “Your new logo makes your brand look cheap.”
The Gap tripped, creating a “crap logo;” not so much a Gap logo. Brand identity is truly and completely important, and a slip can be very, very hard to correct. And the Gap’s intentions were good, by the way. No one deliberately sets out to sabotage the company brand.
My favorite part of this book — and there are many good parts to choose from; I’m a sucker for advertising-related books, ever since I read David Oglivy’s 1963 tome, “Confessions of an Advertising Man” — is about natural brands, those companies so focused on their core values and beliefs that they virtually become the brand. What was that line in the movie, with the great pairing of John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”? Ah, here it is, from the Internet Movie Database:
Ransom Stoddard: “You’re not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?”
Maxwell Scott: “No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
See, Four Seasons Hotels is such a good brand that it believes its own legend and ignores consumer research. And you know what? Laurence Vincent says that’s okay. Four Seasons is a natural brand in spades. “Four Seasons doesn’t need to be great at marketing because its brand is so true to its character that customers are more than happy to share stories about their experiences.” And you know what? He’s right. My brother-in-law and his wife, several years ago, shared their Four Seasons story with us.
If you have any thought of being a brand — and I encourage you to do so — “Brand Real” is going to help you get there, and to have a good journey in the meantime.
See, I said there were a lot of books. Guess what? There are more, but, ye gods, the others will need to wait until next time.
Evaluation copies of software and review copies of books are sometimes furnished by publishers without charge; however Mr. Hoe only reviews books and programs he feels will be of value to LIS readers and avoids writing reviews he feels would be of little interest to financial professionals.