Success in business often comes down to strategy. But based on the responses we received to our Top 50 ranking last year, I'm afraid that too many advisors don't know what that means. For the last question, we asked for a brief explanation of what sets them apart from the competition. It was a chance to boast a bit, but it essentially asked for their "elevator pitch"-or what exactly makes them valuable to clients. I cannot tell you how many responses we got saying the same thing: Listen to their needs and goals; devise a personalized plan that accounts for their risk tolerance; use all the tools and solutions offered by my bank; educate my clients and return all phone calls promptly.

Before anyone takes me to task, I know that's the gist of what good advisors do. It's not the process that gives me pause; it's the fact that well over half of the respondents said the same thing. Rather than describing their uniqueness, they were describing their commonalities. You see your industry through your eyes—everyone does—but you still need to know what sets you apart and be able to convince clients that you have a unique approach.

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