This is the story of how we lost an account. It was a painful lesson, but one that’s worth reading whether you’re an agency, vendor or advisor—really, anyone who’s invested in the growth of advisor firms.

Of course, I’ve changed the story to the point where it’s now completely fictional and no longer resembles anything that happened in real life. Only the lesson remains the same.

We had a client with a brilliant idea. Someone who recognized that it’s hard to grow your business when you’re competing with every other advisor for the same wealthy people. Even better, our client understood why it’s so easy to fall into that trap. Advisors are naturally risk-averse because their entire life’s work and savings are tied up in their practices. They want to wait until a market has proven itself as a viable source of revenue. Of course, the only way to be sure it’s viable is to wait until other advisors start serving it first. That’s the Catch-22. If you want low risk, you’re automatically going to have competition.

Our client decided to shift gears and focus on a new, different market: emerging energy in the Midwest. Apparently, even though oil prices are down, new wealth is being created in other parts of the energy market, ranging from battery tech innovators to farmers leasing their land for fracking or wind farms. The firm already had clients who fit the profile.

We were very excited. Nobody else was targeting this segment. Here was a chance to beat the competition to the punch. We recommended that they fully commit and make a name for themselves as the go-to experts in new energy wealth. Create content. Shoot videos. Network. Dominate the space. Our clients loved the idea, too.
Until, suddenly, they didn’t.

During all of our conversations, everyone had been so enthusiastic about this new direction. Every phone call ended on a high note. We felt great. Then the day came to present. We showed them a logo design, a new website, a shiny new messaging document and strategic marketing plan—everything they needed to implement. We were really proud.

They freaked out.

“How do we know we can even capture this market? What if we drive away our other clients? What if this is the wrong move? We have to tone it down. Make it appeal to more people.”

We were shocked. The strategy was on point. We truly believed in our work. But then, we made a fatal mistake. We backed down.

We scurried back to the office, tails between our legs, and rejiggered everything. We softened the message and made everything more generic. Then we sent the revised work back to the client.

They hated the new version even more.

That’s to their credit, I suppose. They probably recognized that our bland, toned-down strategy would do zero to differentiate them or fuel growth. In any case, they told us they had decided to head in a new direction. In other words, we were fired.

Ultimately, it was our fault. We should have gone back and pointed to the strategy that our clients had originally signed off on. Instead, we stopped listening to our gut and became order takers.

My message to marketing people:  always have the courage of your convictions. Believe in the value of what you provide. And don’t lose your nerve. Your clients only see their existing client base. You’re the one who sees the bigger picture.

And to advisors: You need to have courage, too. You can’t stand apart, if you’re just going to huddle together with everybody else.

And don’t fire your marketing people if they disagree with you. Fire them if they agree with you too much.