Based purely on demographics—the average advisor is 55 years old and nearing retirement—newer advisors might assume merely surviving the next ten years or so would make the world their oyster. And, really, that is correct.

Don’t worry about future investors not needing advisors – that won’t happen. The bulk of investors will continue to rely upon trusted advice.

Need evidence? Vanguard’s founder John Bogle cited an internal study that showed the lag DIY investors suffer from performance chasing with their mutual funds was exacerbated when using ETFs. Yes, the potential returns offered by ETFs were higher than the aggregate actively-invested dollar, but without the stewardship of an advisor to reign in emotions, the DIY ETF investors didn’t even come close to actually earning those returns.

There are very few people who doubt that no matter what type of compensation structure an advisor chooses he or she is a salesperson at heart. But philosophical debates about payment structures are moot if you don’t have clients. What’s the point in being a competent and talented financial advisor if no one’s ever heard of you?

Acknowledging your role as a salesperson doesn’t preclude you from being ethical—and it could mean the difference between survival and failure. To prove the point, I’ve gathered some war stories from some masters of practice management: men and women who are both great financial advisors and slick salespeople.

Nail down the 3 processes

The single most prevelant trait of every successful advisor is having processes in place. And there are three you need to master:

  • 1. Finding clients;
  • 2. Closing clients; and
  • 3. Maintaining clients.

A good advisor will have two of the three perfected. A great advisor will nail all three.

Finding clients

I’ll assume you know all about the three tried and true methods of prospecting that don’t seem to work for you – seminars, mail-drops and cold-calling. These methods have their place in a business based on finding clients and assets, but consider some alternative arrows for your quiver:

  • Ask senior advisors in your office if they have any assets they can do without. Sounds forward, but you’d be surprised how easily some advisors will let go of clients they haven’t actively been in touch with. Chances are they aren’t generating revenue from them, but they might be happy to split part of the future revenues from those clients for a certain period of time in exchange for downloading the maintenance and compliance to someone who has more time.
  • Ask your branch manager for access to house accounts. These are the clients who no longer have an advisor because that person left or was axed. If there is competition for house accounts, then get creative. Tell your branch manager you only want five leads to start with, and every time you secure new revenue from one of those leads you’ll get access to another lead (or two). Maybe the clients have an insurance need. Or, maybe you’ll hit the jackpot and find a client who has assets at another institution that isn’t servicing him properly and will move the money over.
  • Buy assets. Since the average advisor is closer to retirement than you, many have succession planning on their minds. Lots of advisors like to pare down their client bases before really pulling the plug, and they’re keenly aware that 20% of their clients generate 80% of their revenue. Start planting the seed with advisors from whom you’re actively looking to buy books, or portions of books. Some firms can even help you finance the purchase, or you can go and get a loan from your bank.
  • Referrals. Yes, we all know the stats on this one. Most clients give referrals, and most advisors don’t ask for them; or ask timidly by putting something in their email signature like, “Referrals are the best complement!” Really? That’s your referral pitch? Ditch it. Instead, try the “one-shot, one-kill” approach. Pick out your top clients. Then, one by one, call the workplace and tell the receptionist you want to plan a surprise for your client. Ask her to put you in touch with one or two of your client’s friends at the office and get them to clear the client’s lunch on a particular day. Take them all out to lunch. Chances are you just earned two new meetings. They’ll wonder why their advisor doesn’t go the extra mile, and chances are they have similar financial needs as your existing client.