The Initial Client Meeting: Transforming Prospects into Clients

The Final and Most Crucial Steps to Success

 

In my previous three articles for MorningstarAdvisor (place links here), we took a look at the art and science of seminar marketing, one of the most powerful methods in existence for rapidly building a large financial planning practice. Assume you’ve done everything right. You wrote a highly persuasive brochure and advertisement for the seminar and got compliance to approve it. You mailed to just the right list of high-net worth households. You obtained excellent placement of your ad in local newspapers. Your seminar was packed, standing room only (please don’t call the fire marshals) and you even had to turn people away.

 

The presentation you delivered at your seminar was absolutely mesmerizing and now you have a large number of people scheduled to arrive at your office in the coming weeks for their free, no obligation first meeting. How do you turn these prospects into clients?

 

Turning financial planning prospects into clients is not as easy as it seems. I’ve been helping financial advisors master this most crucial step for the past twenty years. In this article I will share with you some powerful first client meeting strategies I have learned from top planners all over the United States, Canada and Australia. I will also include some strategies I have developed on my own and some I have adapted from other marketing and sales disciplines.

 

Many of my financial advisor clients routinely turn nine out of ten prospects into clients. It does take some time and practice to develop one’s skills to this level. Why work so hard to perfect your skills in conducting the initial clients interview? From what I’ve seen, skills in turning prospects into clients can mean the difference between a $100,000 per year practice and a $1 million per year practice, with everything else being equal. Let me explain.

 

If you have two financial planners evenly matched on education, credentials, performance, honesty, thoroughness, competency, and integrity, the planner who more skillfully handles the initial client interview will win every time. He or she will pick up a few more clients from this seminar, a few more clients from that seminar and a few more clients from another seminar. At the end of the year, the client meeting expert will have dozens of new clients and millions or tens of millions of dollars of new money under management. These are the benefits that should motivate you to master the initial client meeting.

 

The Challenge Facing Financial Advisors

 

A few months ago, a financial advisor sought my help in turning prospects into clients. He had just conducted a seminar that drew 71 people. Thirty four of those people made appointments to see him and only twenty seven ended up coming to his office. He spent 90 minutes to two hours with each prospect and got not a single client. Not one client from all this work and expense!   It saddened me to listen to him, even though I have heard these tales of woe from financial advisors many times before. Sometimes financial planners give up on seminars because they never master how to turn seminar attendees into clients. Big mistake. Those planners will never have the thriving practices they deserve.

 

The financial advisor mentioned above had spent more than $6,000 advertising, promoting and conducting his seminar and spent more than 40 hours in meetings with prospects. All for naught. He got zip, diddly, zero, goose eggs. Plus, his prospects suffered because they did not become his clients and would not benefit from his expertise.   When I told him that many of my financial advisor clients routinely turn nine out of ten prospects into clients, he was dumbfounded.

 

Here are some of the techniques I shared with him that are already helping him build a much larger practice and a higher net worth practice.   I’ll also share with you some powerful “first meeting” strategies I am using with other financial advisors across the country.

 

Scheduling the Meeting

 

You might think that once you have scheduled the initial client meetings with attendees of your seminar, everything is set. It isn’t. First of all, why didn’t everyone want to book a meeting with you? What did you do wrong? What could you have done better? Why would someone go to the trouble of attending your seminar if he or she was not interested in working you?

 

My first suggestion to my new client was to do a follow up mailing to all of those people who did not sign up for a meeting. We offered them all a free initial client meeting—in person or by phone. You might be surprised at the phone option. While very few financial advisors use this option, I have found it very effective. Why?

 

Some individuals or couples do not want to commit to a live face-to-face meeting. Maybe they think they just have one or two questions that a planner can quickly answer and thus there is no need for a long meeting. A phone meeting is much easier for these people to agree to. During the phone call, you can build trust, answer their questions, inform them of your skills and the benefits your services provide and frequently get them to agree to come in for a personal visit.

 

With one more contact, you can thus convert many of these “slow to warm up” people into clients. A phone call takes only a few minutes and it can bring in several new clients per month. Try it!

 

Those who still don’t want to come in for a visit should be kept on your regular monthly mailing unless they ask to be taken off. Send them your newsletter, tax tips, information on Roth IRAs, college savings plans, or whatever you think might be of interest. Offer a free portfolio review. Make sure you are uppermost in their minds. Use drip marketing strategies. They work! Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip.

 

When the market moves against these people or when their existing advisor disappoints them, I guarantee that you will be the first person called. These people have already been to your seminar, they’ve met you, listened to you and they like you. They are almost ready to become clients, but not quite. Give them an extra bit of time and keep reminding them of all the benefits you offer. Do not give up on them. Some of these slow decision makers could become your very best clients. From what I’ve seen in more than twenty years of advising financial planners, these slow decision makers are very loyal. By doing these follow up mailings and phone calls, my financial advisor clients have been able to bring in huge numbers of new clients who originally just wanted to “think about it.”

 

The Most Powerful Components of the Initial Client Meeting

 

The prospect is now in your office and is waiting to see you. You know what you are going to do and say, but how can you do it more effectively? I will assume that you know all the basics about collecting the prospect’s history, doing a fact finder, reviewing insurance coverage, reviewing the current portfolio, looking at retirement issues, tax issues, debt levels, income and assets, etc. This is what all financial advisors do. How you do it will determine whether or not the prospect becomes a client.

 

I began studying the initial client meeting as part of my doctoral dissertation research at the University of Oregon. At that time, I actually sat in on initial client meetings to tape record and analyze what was going on. Nowadays, to protect client confidentiality, I usually just talk with my financial advisor clients about what they do at the first meeting and I sometimes listen to and analyze audio tapes of those meetings to determine the best ways of improving them. Sometimes we have some fun and use role plays to build the skill level of the financial planner.

 

From hundreds of analyses of these initial client meetings, I have determined that there are six major components that most reliably predict whether or not a prospect will become a client. These factors are:

 

1.) Trust and rapport with the client.

2.) Your credibility and believability.

3.) Your descriptions of the benefits you offer.

3.) Your unique selling proposition (USP).
4.) Your skill in handling questions and objections.
5.) The urgency and motivation you build in the prospect.
6.) The perceived lack of high pressure or salesmanship.

 

Please note that nowhere on this list will you find price or cost. I have worked with “inexpensive” financial advisors (charging 50 basis points per year) who can’t obtain clients and with “expensive” financial advisors (charging more than 300 basis points per year) who have more business than they can handle. The bottom line seems to be that if clients like you, trust you and are happy with the perceived value of your services, how you are paid (commissions, fees or both) and your level of compensation are almost irrelevant.

 

Throughout the initial client meeting and in all future meetings you need to be an active listener and a thoughtful, persuasive speaker. If you need help in those areas, work with a communications expert or a professional coach.   Whatever you spend on coaching should pay you back ten times over. Now, let’s look more closely at each of the six components of high-level success in the initial client meeting.

 

  1. Trust and Rapport.

 

In my seminars for financial advisors, I use the equation No Trust = No Sale. You can have the fanciest offices in town, the most high powered computers, the most advanced degrees and certificates, and might be able to deliver a 50%+ annual rate of return but if the prospect does not trust you, he or she will not want to do business with you. It is as simple and profound as that.

 

Entire books have been written on trust and rapport. In the book Unlimited Selling Power, which I co-authored with Dr. Kenneth Lloyd, we devote dozens of pages to trust building techniques. You can read our book or any other book on the subject to learn the most powerful trust building techniques. In the initial client interview, it is most important that you send messages of commonality to the client. In other words, show your future client what you have in common. Most people do not trust strangers or people who seem strange or different from the way they are.

 

Research studies show that we trust and like people like ourselves because we each think we are normal. We use ourselves as the ultimate yardstick by which to judge others. Each one of your prospects and clients is judging you at each moment in time, whether you are aware of it or not.

 

Maximizing the Power of the Human Voice

 

What do clients think of your voice? They will never tell you. Prospects who decide not to work with you are probably simply not comfortable with you. Your voice is one powerful factor that can make them comfortable or uncomfortable. What message does your voice send? I suggest you listen to yourself on tape if you really want to dramatically improve the amount of business you obtain from initial client meetings.

 

Remember that your voice is the instrument that carries the power of your message. Even if the message is good, your voice (the packaging of the message) could hamper or help reception of that message.

 

How can you build trust with your voice? Slow talkers tend to distrust fast talkers. Research shows that fast talkers think that slow talkers are less intelligent. How can you use these findings to build trust in the initial client interview? If you are speaking with a slow talker, slightly slow down your speech rate. By doing so, what you say will sound more persuasive to the slow talker, will make more sense and he or she will like you more. If your prospect is a fast talker, speed your voice up slightly. Your prospect will not consciously know what you are doing. All he or she will know is that you seem intelligent and that what you say makes sense. He or she will feel comfortable with you and will want to see you again.

 

There are many other powerful subliminal communication strategies you can use to great advantage in the initial client interview. These include matching or pacing speech volume, sentence length and sentence complexity. Soft spoken people are not overly impressed by loud people. On the other hand, research shows that people with strong voices believe that soft spoken people are insecure or do not believe in what they are saying.

 

People who speak in shorter and simpler sentences sometimes do not trust people who speak in long, complex sentences. In fact, they can be overwhelmed by such complexity. Psychologically, when people are overwhelmed they shut down and do not make decisions. If your prospect speaks in relatively simple short sentences and you speak in long complex sentences, your prospect will be unlikely to hire you as their financial planner unless you simplify your presentation. Don’t talk down to them but also make sure you don’t overwhelm them. Find just the right balance and you will be richly rewarded.

 

In listening to hundreds of tapes of financial planners conducting initial client interviews, I have found that more than 80% of financial advisors do not adjust their speech rate or speech volume—no matter whom they are speaking to. In addition, very few financial planners adjust the complexity of their sentences. Despite making so few adjustments, the majority of planners are surprised when prospects do not become clients. They should not be surprised. Remember, no trust = no sale.

 

In addition to adjusting for speech patterns, you can adjust for the emotional state of your prospect, can pace certain forms of body language and can pace certain opinions and beliefs. Every client who enters your office is in an emotional state. They may be happy, sad, depressed, angry, frustrated or a combination of these and other emotions. How well do you tune into the emotional state of your prospect? I find that many financial advisors think they have to always be up or cheerful. If you are displaying a cheerful mood while your prospect is in pain, there will be a mismatch of emotions. Your prospect will feel you do not understand him or her, that you are unsympathetic or a phony. In any case, that prospect will not become a client.

 

Developing skills in all of these areas, including body language and dealing in differences in opinions and beliefs does take some time and effort. A full discussion of each of these powerful communication techniques is well beyond the scope of this article and ultimately, these skills must be developed through practice and feedback. If you are interested in learning more, I would suggest you read one of the books on trust-building or even better, work with a skilled coach. The payoff, in terms of having a much higher closing ratio at your initial client meetings, is tremendous.

 

  1. Your Credibility and Believability.

 

I know you. As a financial advisor, you can work miracles. You can: help your client achieve their financial dreams, pay off their home mortgage 10 years early, get rid of all debts, fund college educations for all the kids, prepare for an early and prosperous retirement, slash income taxes, and earn high rates of return in the equity markets with minimal risk. Given your incredible skills and abilities, why then don’t more prospects become clients? They don’t believe you.

 

There are many factors that contribute to credibility and believability. If you build a deep level of trust, whatever you say will be much more credible and believable. Education and credentials also enhance credibility and believability. Do you have a bachelor’s degree with honors, a MBA, law degree or other advanced degree? If so, make sure those hard earned degrees are prominently displayed in your office. They speak volumes.

 

Many prospects interview two or three financial advisors before selecting one. If the walls of another financial advisor’s office have lots of diplomas and credentials and your walls have none, who do you think will most impress this prospect?

 

Have you earned the CFP, CFA, CLU or other professional designation? Proudly display those credentials on your wall. If a client asks about them, describe what they mean and the benefits your educational attainments bring your clients.

 

Solutions for Those with Minimal Credentials

 

What can you do if you are not a college graduate or if you do not have any professional designations? First and most importantly, if you are only a few credits away, do the required work and obtain those credentials. If you haven’t started, get started. I recently did an all day training session for a group of about 87 financial planners. A senior executive of the company told me that sales and profits are down for his group. Obviously, many factors contribute to that, but I asked the group how many were CFPs and only one person raised his hand. That, in itself, is part of their problem.

 

For those lacking in credentials, I strongly suggest joining the FPA and every other legitimate professional association you can. There are many benefits of professional membership, starting with the membership certificate itself.   Some of these certificates of membership are quite handsome and impressive! Have them attractively framed and display them proudly on your walls. Remember that Americans respect experts. Your certificates and diplomas establish you as an expert.

 

If you have received any significant honors or awards, place those in a beautiful frame and hang them on your walls. In addition to my BA, MA and Ph.D., I was selected as a Governor’s Scholar by Ronald Regan and I was included in Who’s Who in Business and Industry. These and many other awards and honors hang on my walls. I am not trying to show off. In fact, I’ve gotten so used to these certificates and awards that I don’t even see them anymore unless someone (usually a new client!) mentions them. I have them on my walls because they are important to some people who are meeting me for the first time.

 

Resist the urge to put meaningless awards on your walls. Many prospects will see through them—especially your most sophisticated prospects. I especially recommend that you avoid the temptation to display anything that looks like a “Salesperson of the Year” award. Many prospects and even clients see these awards as indicators that you are a product pusher rather than a trusted advisor.

 

However, do display awards or commendations you have received from charities or non-profit groups. Some of my clients donate a tremendous amount of time to various charities. They don’t do it to receive certificates of appreciation but rather to make this world a better place for us all. The certificates they have received speak volumes about their character and selfless service to others. Your prospects want to know what kind of person you are and these awards from charities fill them in.

 

Building Credibility with Articles and Books

 

Have you written articles or books? These can be the ultimate credibility builders. Written publications establish you as an expert. Give prospects copies of your articles with your business card attached. You can also frame one or two key publications and display them on your walls. If you have been interviewed by a prominent newspaper or magazine, hand out a reprint of that article—it is like being stamped with the “Good Housekeeping” Seal of Approval!

 

Books can be the ultimate credibility builder. Authors of books are considered by many people to be the most knowledgeable experts of all. Ask your prospect if he or she would like a copy of your book and then autograph it. Make them ask for it–don’t just hand it out. When you autograph your book, it instantly becomes a collector’s piece. It may very well be the only autographed book your client owns.

 

When friends and neighbors of your new client ask, “Who is the expert who wrote that book on financial planning that I saw on your coffee table?” your client will smile and say, “Oh, that was written by MY financial planner.” He might add, “I hope your financial planner reads the book MY financial planner wrote—the knowledge in it is really powerful!”

 

Your autographed book is not only the ultimate credibility builder, it also serves as a silent salesman for you. While you are on vacation in Hawaii, a few dozen to a few hundred people all over America will be reading your book and thinking of hiring you as their financial advisor.

 

If you haven’t published anything, start now. Publish one article, then another and then another. It gets easier with time and practice. If you need help, use a business writing coach. After you have published a few articles, add some additional content and put them together in a short book. A book does not have to be long to be good. Get the book published or publish it yourself and miracle of miracles—you have doubled or tripled your credibility and moved to the top of the list of financial planning experts in your area.

 

In my next article on mastering the initial client interview, I will show you how to persuasively describe your services, how to develop and use a powerful Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that will distinguish you from every other advisor in your area, and how to skillfully handle each and every question and objection that comes up.

 

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Dr. Donald Moine, based in Palos Verdes, California, is a Sales and Marketing Psychologist specializing in working with financial advisors, mutual fund companies, brokerage houses and wholesalers. A popular seminar leader and marketing success coach, Dr. Moine is the author of seven books and more than 200 articles. He has just designed a new series of seminars for financial planners based on his popular MorningstarAdvisor articles on Practice Building. To receive a free copy of his report “How I Help Financial Advisors Rapidly Build Profitable Practices,” write to DrMoine@aol.com or call (310) 378-2666.

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