Quick, who’s your most important client? Don’t look at your contact list. He or she may not be on it. But there is a good chance you’re within 100 feet of them right now.

It’s the branch manager.

We constantly write about practice management, which we characterize as the daily routine of an advisor’s job. Prospecting, marketing, segmenting your book and so on.

No doubt, those are important to an advisor. But to get the most benefit from those tasks, you first need to work double time to impress the man or woman who runs your branch. They’re the ones who will set the tone within the bank on daily routines. And their attitudes will go a long way on whether you’re accepted as “one of the gang,” or if you’re labeled as “one of them.”

A lot of advisors and headhunters talk about the cultural gap between brokerage and banking. The bankers just don’t understand how advisors work. Or worse, they don’t understand the way advisors think. Much of the problem comes down to compensation: bankers don’t really and truly understand the pressure of working on a commission.

Fine. But that’s something you need to try to overcome. Don’t wait for them to do it. Talk to the branch manager. Or if it’s a small bank with an open atmosphere, talk to the president. You need to talk to the other staffers, certainly, to explain what you do and the services you offer. But first, you need to get the branch manager on your side. Consider your client base an audience of one, at least for now.

Anyone could say they have a boss they need to please. My boss is an editorial director, and his boss is an even bigger editorial director. And his boss is an executive vice president here. And yeah, I try to make them happy.

But here’s the difference: My bosses and I generally all want the same thing. Good magazines, a good website and engaged readers (the publisher wants ads, of course, but he’s not in my chain of command). For bank advisors, you can’t assume you’re on the same page. In fact, you’re not on the same page. The advisory program is a small portion of the overall business at most banks. The banker is worried about gathering low-cost deposits, making quality loans and customer service. The tellers especially have been instilled with the idea of customer service: be nice, get their banking business done and get them on their way.

I used to work at another magazine that covered banking. And I talked to the other side of this fence, the bankers, especially at regional and community banks. And of all the issues we discussed over the years, their investment programs never came up.

So you have different agendas. But that doesn’t mean you can’t work on that and get them to at least understand the value you bring to their customers. If you prospect outside the bank, that’s great. But the big advantage you have over advisors in other channels is a built-in base: all the people who walk into the bank every day.

To take full advantage of that, though, you first need to lay the groundwork. Don’t let uncertainty about you and your services fester within the bank. Only once the staff is really comfortable with you will they refer customers your way.

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