Death of a Salesman Redux

May 17, 2012 by  Filed under: Sales 

One of my favorite plays of all time is Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. A lot of great actors over the years have portrayed the tragic main character,Willy Loman, from Lee J. Cobb to Dustin Hoffman to Brian Dennehy and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The play tells the story of Willy, a travelling salesman, and his family who suffer along with him as he fails to become the person he thinks he should be.

I won’t spoil the story for you but suffice it to say that there are a lot of “Willy Lomans” in our midst — Financial Advisors who for many reasons feel that there is a mold from which all successful financial advisors are cast and that they have to “conform or die”.

Those last three words -conform or die – are the battle cry of the mediocre. Your uniqueness is inherent in your success. While there are certainly some givens for success in our business there is no perfect model. If there was, we wouldn’t need the mountains of regulation that we confront each day, would we? There would be no need for arbitration because every client would be happy, right?

Back to reality or in this case, Willy Loman. There is a pivotal line in the play that is all-telling when it comes to Willy and his tribulations. He is talking to his two teen-age sons, Biff and Happy, and he tells them with all sincerity, “Boys, it’s important to be liked.” Now, Willy believes it is important to be liked for all of the wrong reasons. For example, Willy thinks it’s important to be liked so he will get the sale that never seems to arrive, however, as we discover in this play, Willy isn’t all that likeable.

In our business it is important to be liked but you have to become “likeable”. So let me define what I believe it takes to be likeable if you are a financial advisor working in a bank or credit union. I am often asked, “What are the qualities of a successful bank or credit union financial advisor?” Part of my answer goes something like this, “You have to be liked by the branch teams that you interact with on a daily basis.” Now, unlike Will Loman you can’t fake it and succeed, at least not for very long, because eventually if you are not “likeable” your referrals will dry up and then you become Willy Loman. And we all know that you are better than that.

So what does it mean to be likeable in our business? Here is my list of 7 Keys to Success for a Financial Advisor in a Bank or Credit Union:

  • Check your “cool” card at the door – have a pleasant personality. Be easy to get along with. Be yourself. Get to know the branch team.
  • Get the Branch Manager to be your advocate– the biggest fan you should have is your Branch Manager. Figure out how to get on their good side. Know their comp plan and that of the branch employees.
  • Get your Branch Teams to be your raving fans– yes, even bigger than your Branch Manager. They should be talking about you to members and their friends in other branches.
  • Become a top salesperson – you are never finished when it comes to learning in this business. You should wake up everyday and ask yourself, “What can I do today to improve my problem solving (selling) skills?” And then take action!
  • Recognize and be recognizable – be generous in handing out compliments and recognition for success in your branches. Walk around. Get behind the teller line and offer suggestions and ask questions about what your branch team members are doing each day.
  • Become a Financial Planner versus a Product Peddler – the best way to differentiate yourself from the competition and establish value is to have a Unique Sales Proposition and then use it with each prospect. Tell them why you are different and then execute on that promise. People want to understand your “why you do what you do” versus your “what you do”. Consider earning the CFP designation.
  • Become a “Marketeer” – Develop a personal brand. What do you want people to say about what you do? How can you communicate that to your Branch Teams, clients and prospects?

I have written a whitepaper on this topic so if you would like to read a deeper discussion of this topic drop me an email at

Mark Hoaglin is an expert on building investment sales programs and increasing financial advisor production. Visit his blog at

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