Manny was a fun interview – high energy, service-minded, insightful – and is also married to the awesome Kristen Gonzalez, as a sales-focused power couple, who both sold books door-to-door with Southwestern Advantage.
Many explores long-term planning (both his and his clients), how to choose your career, and cultures to look for to look through in this story-filled interview.
You can read Manny’s full biography here
Jamie: Manny, when you look back at your career so far, what has been most fulfilling?
Manny: It’s funny you mention that because about a week ago, I got a letter from one of my clients, and that letter is the reason I got into the business. Sometimes, when you start working, and you get in the grind and the hustle of daily life, you kind of lose sight of why you do what you do. When I got that card last week, just saying, “Hey, thank you for all that you do for us. I’m about to retire, and you’ve kind of been the person that has guided us in the right direction,” and they just feel really confident that they’re making a pretty scary decision and that they know they’re in the right hands, and they just wanted to personally thank me for all that I did for them.
I got a little teary-eyed when I read that because that reminds you of why I got into the business and to me, that was one of the best feelings you can ever have – you start a career to help people for a certain reason and then you reach that point. It’s a gratifying moment.
Jamie: What is the best thing about working in sales specifically?
I would say for the right person, with the right mindset, sales is an industry that you can have whatever you’d like. If you want to be a winner, or if you want more to life, there’s no cap on what you can do.
So, no one’s saying that no matter how hard you work, no matter how many calls you make, you’re only going to make this, or you’re only going to reach this in your life – there’s no glass ceiling where you’re only going to have this role the rest of your life. To me, in sales, that’s so awesome. You’re not capped under one income, and you’re also not capped on your potential either. To me, that is one of the coolest things about sales.
Sometimes sales has a negative connotation. To me, book people, alumni, people that have been in sales, you’re wired differently. You just see the world from a different lens, versus people on the other spectrum. I think the right person that has that right mindset, it’s an amazing career.
Jamie: Would you say there’s a personality type that should go into sales?
Manny: Personally, from what I have experienced, no, because I’ve had phenomenal salespeople that I’ve worked with that have very few people skills, but they’re extremely hard workers. They’re extremely disciplined. They follow a system; they do it very, very well. It doesn’t matter what your personality is. Sales provide a vehicle for just about any kind of personality out there.
Jamie: In terms of the sales that you do specifically, do you think there’s a certain type of person that should go into financial advisory sales?
Manny: As far as personality traits, no. But who wants to get into this industry? You have to have the right intentions. I believe that.
If you’re in it for the money or you’re in it the wrong reasons, this is not the industry that you should be in. But if you’re in it for helping people, building relationships, and growing a residual business, that is why you should do this. For my career as a financial planner, you have to put people’s interests first before yours, and if they’re not willing to do that, then you shouldn’t be in this industry.
Jamie: So, then do you believe that people, when they’re looking to go into sales, should make a distinction between long and short-term careers if that makes sense?
My career is more long-term. I’m more of what you consider a farmer. It’s a like farmer where you’re planting seeds slowly along the way, and then eventually you blossom this big harvest, but it takes years to do that.
Other kinds of sales, you say, “Hey, I don’t have that time. I want results now.” Well, there’s a different sales career for you out there, right? So, sales, depending on the person, what you’re looking for, you’ll find it, but it’s about what you’re looking for.
Jamie: What sort of skills do you think people should have naturally to want to go into sales?
Manny: To go into sales; it’s not really a skill, but you must be able to work very hard. You have to know that you have to grind it out, you have to work. There’s no secret to success without hard work. The second skill I would say is willing to be very coachable because you can learn from a lot of people and you’re going to pick up one or two things from certain people that will change your business, but if you’re closed-minded and you think you have all the answers, it’s going to hold you back. So, be very, very coachable.
Another skill that is helpful in sales is that you have to like people and be willing to work with people. You’re going to get certain different types of personalities. So, you have to get to know how to like different kinds of people, different kind of personalities, and tailor your presentation or tailor your needs or services to those individuals on how they need to receive your message; you’re a chameleon.
Jamie: What are the additional skills that salespeople would need to develop to be good at financial planning sales?
Manny: In the eighth grade, I knew what kind of career I wanted to have. So, one of my big buddy’s dad did what I do for a living, so I knew what kind of career I wanted to have, but I wasn’t ready there yet. So, I had a stuttering problem back when I was younger, so I needed to build up my communication skills. I didn’t know how to run a business, so I did an internship that helped me learn how to run a business. Three, I had to learn how to be self-disciplined and self-motivated. So, I didn’t have those skills leaving high school, so I had to go somewhere to get those skills developed. Now, I’m fine-tuning those skills, but if I didn’t have those before what I’m doing now, it would have been very difficult.
Jamie: What are the biggest challenges you faced, in Southwestern, investment, and financial planning sales?
Manny: The biggest challenge that I see is when you start into a brand-new a career like this, it takes time to really develop it. The biggest challenge is, can you stick it out long enough to make it? Our industry has a ninety-six percent to ninety-eight percent failure rate. Within the first five years, a brand-new advisor will probably not make it.
A very, very small amount of people actually make it after five years. That is the hard part, it is so difficult when you first get started, but once you’ve made it, it gets easier after that. It’s kind of like pushing a train. It’s very difficult to push the train, but once it gets going, man, that thing is hard to stop, if that makes sense.
That’s one of the big challenges in our career. I took a huge pay cut. I started with nothing. I worked the greatest number of hours I’ve ever worked. Imagine joining a brand-new career, working the most you’ve ever worked, but also making the least you’ve ever made. But you have got to see past that. Now it’s great. But that’s one of the biggest challenges, getting past the first two or three years.
Jamie: Do you remember that tipping point where you knew you were going to make it?
Manny: Yes, three years in, I was like, “Okay, I can do this.” The first year, I worked a lot, a lot of calls, a lot of presentations, a lot of meetings, and a lot of work. I made just above the poverty line the first year. The second year, it got better. But the third year, man, I remember that third year, it just popped, because all the work I did during year one and year two… remember, it’s residual-based, so it grows, and it grows.
After year three, I got to the point where I had enough clients, and I was bringing on new business where there was extra money at the end of the month. That’s when I knew, “Okay.” When that happened, there was a correlation; I had my best year ever because now I’ve got more confidence and built more momentum. From there, I just kind of took off. Year three was a big year for me because you go from year two to kind of hitting a wall to year three, then pounding through the wall and then you see the other side. That was a very, very important year for me.
Jamie: Tell me a little bit about the kind of attitude and thought process that needs to go in to succeeding in slow-building momentum sales versus things that give you a little bit more instant gratification?
I give all props to my mentor for that because when I first started in my career, he sat me down, and I saw his track record. I saw Jeff Devine’s track record. I saw a bunch of advisors before me, they laid a path for me, and I saw their track record; that gave me confidence.
But when I’m talking to my mentor, he said, “Manny, the first five years are extremely difficult. They’re very, very hard. You’re going to want to stop, but I promise you, you push through it, it’s the most rewarding part.”
To me, that always stuck out, those words, that he was very honest with me. He told me what I was going to experience, and I experienced it, but he also showed me the end result. Going through, I had some times when it was difficult. I always remember his voice in the back of my mind like, “Keep going, keep going.” So, it was words of wisdom from a mentor that really got me through a lot of those years.
Jamie: In the financial planning industry – how much of compensation is fixed? How much is variable, and what should you expect going into this industry?
Manny: Going into it, one, you should know how you want to serve your people. Do you want to be a transactional advisor? Do you want to be more of a financial planner? What kind of advisor do you want to be? That’s very important because not everybody wants to be a financial planner. Some want to be a transactional advisor, and some want to be working on a team. You have to know what you want to get yourself into.
When I started this, there was a mentee role. It was a one-year-deal where you work under a senior advisor. In that one year, you got to figure out, “Do I want to be on a team and not be the man or woman, or do I want to be the man or woman and be the rainmaker, what they call, and say, ‘I want to run my own practice. I want my own business.'” Is that what you want? Not everybody wants that. Some just want to be on the team. So, I think you need to know that going in. If you don’t know, you better work under a senior advisor and learn. It might turn out you don’t want that, and it wasn’t the best thing for you. Those are conversations you’ve got to have with a mentor, people in the industry.
Before I did this, I called people that I personally knew that were already financial advisors and I’d say, “Hey, how do you like what you do? What do you hate about it? What sucks? What’s the most rewarding?” And I’ll tell you what. That was huge,
because my buddy David Geraldo, who’s also a Southwestern alumnus, says, “If I were to go back and redo it again, what I’d be looking at, number one, is how was the training two, how was the culture, and what is the niche?”
That always stuck out to me because he said if you just go into an industry and just kind of, “go get them, tiger,” and there’s no training, and there’s no niche, and there’s no culture, then, you’re just out fending for yourself, and it becomes very difficult. That’s why I joined Southwestern Investment Group because they had the thing that I was looking for.
Does every person do that before they apply for a job? Probably not. But to me, if I’m going to develop my whole entire life to a certain career because in financial planning you don’t just try it out. You have to go into it full-time. So, it’s almost as if you’re going to go buy a house, you want to take your time and find the right one, not just buy it online. I mean some people just buy houses online, but for me, it’s a pretty serious deal, it’s my life, so I want to interview as many people that I can to have a good idea of what I’m getting myself into.
Jamie: How would you go about measuring culture in your organisation?
Culture is huge, it’s huge. Think about it, if you work in a typical business setting, you get there at eight o’clock or nine o’clock in the morning, you’re there until six o’clock in the afternoon, and that’s most of your day.
Then you reach home, you eat dinner, go to the gym, bathe the kid, and go to bed.
Most of your time is spent at work with these people. They’re essentially your family. So, you have to really enjoy who you work with. You have to work with a company, a culture that you can stand behind, that has good integrity, because I can’t look in the mirror and say, “I’m working for this company knowing that they’re doing bad or they’re not ethical.” So, some of these recruitment calls that we get, people do the same amount of work that I do, but they’re doing a different service and product that I could not put my name behind. So, to me, culture is very important.
You also want to join a culture and financial plan that no one’s going to go behind your back and take your clients or call one of your prospects that you’ve been calling on and talking bad about you to get that business. That’s very cut-throat. That has happened. Not with our firm. So, to me, that was important too, is I want to join a culture where it’s “one team, one dream,” and not cut-throat.
Jamie: And how can you tell that before you get inside the organisation?
Manny: You can’t. You have to get inside. You’ve got to open the door. On the phone, with Skype, we can all be good presenters for a short period. But eventually, the truth comes out, right? So, to me, I had a couple of phone calls, a couple of Zooms or Skypes, whatever it was, but I flew to the office to go visit. I had lunch with each individual advisor there. I got to know them.
Selling books, one of the cool things is that I learned is how to read people, learning how to really see if they’re genuine. You’re looking for certain things, the skill that I didn’t have back then but I have now. You learn if someone is being real with you, or they’re buttering you up to tell you what you want to hear. You can’t see that over a phone call. You have to go in person and do that. So, I would say, go shadow for half a day, a full day, take them to lunch, or take them to dinner.
I just hired a new advisor on my team, and I took his wife, and his family to dinner a couple of times, really got to know the person after work. I want his wife on board with us. I want her to meet me, my family, and my kids. To me, that’s huge. You have got to know the culture. You got to know the people and to do that you got to get in front of them.
Jamie: For an industry with a shorter-term view, would you still recommend the same in terms of making an effort to take people out and meet people?
Manny: I mean, certain industries may not require all that, but yeah. I mean, if you’re going to build a thirty-year relationship or a thirty-year practice, or a thirty-year business, I would think so. Or else, you might have a lot of turnover.
Jamie: If you look at financial planning in general, how do you feel like the sales training is?
Manny: It’s getting better. It’s getting better, and it’s also shifting. Our industry has shifted the last five, ten years. It’s going places. It was very transactional. Just sell a product, sell a product, and move on. It’s really shifting more into financial planning.
Overall, knowing everyone’s financial situation, really to me, I’m a financial quarterback, if you will. I know my client’s big picture. Then you coordinate with the attorney, the CPA, their home, auto insurance, and aid their business attorney. You’re just a connector, and you’re finance quarterback. So, it’s shifting, the way that you sell, and the way you run your business.
Jamie: Having a financial planner versus managing your own money, how do you sell that?
I believe there’s maybe four or five per cent of the population that can truly manage their own money, their own finances, and their bigger picture. Not everybody needs a financial planner, but ninety-five per cent of the folks do.
If you have the time, you have the money and the resources, as well as the emotional control, then, you can probably manage your own money and your own investments.
Where we see the biggest need for financial advisors is because it’s always good to have a second opinion. Money is very uncomfortable to talk about. It’s nothing that you wanted to get financially addressed in front of your relatives. A lot of folks just like to come in and talk to someone that is outside of their home. Just saying, “What am I doing right? What can I do better? Can you hold me accountable?”
The way I see it is; I don’t do my own plumbing. I don’t cut my own grass anymore. I don’t do the roof on my house. I’ll let the people who do that do what they do best. A lot of people hire a financial advisor because they have their own life to live. One of my clients runs a heavy equipment company. That’s what they do, that’s their job. Then when they get home, they spend time with their family. They don’t want to worry about how the market, tracking their stocks, tracking their portfolios.
They want someone that is on their side that can do all that for them. So, that’s why I feel that it is our biggest value to people is, I guess, at the end of the day, we’re an emotional barrier between people and their money, who can provide logical advice and not become emotional. I mean, we’re human. We’re very emotional. We make decisions based on emotion and not always on logic. So, having an advisor who can be logical with them and tell them what they may not want to hear, but it’s the right thing for them, could save their retirement.
Jamie: How did you go about getting into the financial planning industry?
Manny: So, the way I fell into this is that I worked for Southwestern, sold books door to door, and then I majored in finance, and so I knew I wanted to do this. I just didn’t have the right vehicle yet, and I wasn’t ready yet. So, after recruiting for Southwestern, I kind of built some skills that I needed. In 2002, we started our own investment firm. So, for me, it was good timing that when I was ready to go, there’s already a firm that I can move into that had the culture that I wanted. So, I’m probably the exception.
But people that are wanting to get into this, I would say, and if I was just Manny Gonzalez day one, I want to get into this industry right now,
I would ask my mom and dad, “Who’s your financial advisor?” Then I’d just go shadow that person. “Hey, I want to do what you do. Can I shadow you for a day, or half a day?” That’s where I would start.
If their parents don’t have a financial advisor, then I would go to the most successful person in the community and say, “Hey, who’s your financial advisor? I want to talk to them.” That’s where I would start. Shadowing, and connecting with people.
Jamie: Stepping away from financial planning for a second, what advice would you give to young or aspiring salespeople generally?
I would recommend reverse-engineering it. “What kind of lifestyle do I want for my family and me?” I’m from Mexico. I was six years old when we came here. My parents worked at a jewellery company; a traditional nine to five job. I was never hungry; I wasn’t poor. But, when I saw my buddy’s dad that was in every single practice, was in every single game, was always present, was always available for his kid, but had a great lifestyle, had money, freedom, time, and had a good house, that’s what I wanted. Not everybody wants that, but that’s what I wanted.
I wanted that time, I wanted that freedom, I wanted the money, and I wanted a legacy for my kids.
So, I said, “What can I do to have that?”
Sales provided that vehicle where I could have that, and then I said, “Okay, what am I really good at?” It was relationships. I love helping people. “So, what career path out there can I be in sales that I can help people and work with people?” That’s how I fell into financial planning.
Jamie: If you had your own sales career again, what would you differently?
Manny: The thing that just keeps coming up to me is complacency. If I was to go back and redo it again, there are moments in my life where I started a new sales career. Back then, I was never really good at the beginning; I was a slow grower. Once I got going, man, I got going, but then I got comfortable, and I relied on my talents versus the hard work that got me there; it’s happened to me twice. When I started this career, I said, “All right, I know what’s going to happen, I’ve been through it before, I cannot let myself get to that position again.” If I were to go back and redo it all over again, it’s complacency – you’ve never made it, the moment you think you’ve made it, that’s the danger zone because now you’ve stopped growing, you stop developing, you stop having fresh ideas, and you’re starting to go backwards, so for a salesperson that is your biggest killer. It is complacency.
Jamie: Could you tell me a specific story about a time where you didn’t make a sale, but it really taught you something?
Manny: Yeah, it actually happened to me quite a bit around my career. One part that really changed the way I viewed sales is when I started in the recruiting world, it’s a different type of sale, you’re selling a different experience, and I was recruiting people for sales jobs, so in recruiting, when I first started, I was really bad at it. Let’s say, I started in January and finished mid-May. When I started in January, it was very difficult. I wasn’t very good at it. I saw people that I knew I was sharper than, and I worked harder than them, but they were beating me, and I couldn’t figure out why they were doing better than I was and I put too much pressure on myself.
Finally, I came to the realisation, when I kind of analysed what I was doing, I was trying to be somebody who I wasn’t. So, I had to go back to, okay, “Who am I? What am I doing?” Then I just shifted, turned the pressure off, went back to being Manny and what do you know? I had a rockstar recruiting season from that point forward, I just kind of forgot about impressing people, and I forgot about trying to be somebody that I’m not, I just focused on being me and doing what I do best.
Jamie: Could you tell me about a time when something went really well, you made an unbelievable sale which showed off all the skills and the knowledge that you’ve learned over your career?
Manny: Yeah, so that was two years into my financial planning career. One of the biggest prospects I ever had, had a lot of money, and it was the first time I did the meeting all by myself, I used all my techniques of rapport building, of listening, finding a need, and kind of showing value in what I’m doing and when it came down to it, it was me. I was twenty-eight at the time, and he was also interviewing a fifty-five plus year-old advisor.
I went for the close, and I just said, “The next step is just paperwork, and I can mail it to you or email it to you, what better for you?”
“You can just go ahead and mail it to me,” he said. I got the account! I got my biggest client to this day, and I got that client two years into the business. I asked the guy, “Why did you pick me over a smarter, more veteran advisor?”
He said, “Manny, the reason why I picked you is that you’re young, you’re hungry, and you’re a hard worker. I know that you’re going to be around at the most important time in my life when I’m in retirement. Also, when I pass away, you’ll take care of my wife, and you’ll take care of my daughter.”
When he told me that, I was just on fire, and that’s when I thought, “It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter your age. It doesn’t matter your race. People are going to like you for who you are.” I was just twenty-eight years old. It was actually a positive thing that I was young. That won the business. So that was a phenomenal victory for me.