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All Business is Personal: 3 Tips for Addressing Difficult Client Conversations

“Hi Jim. I wanted to inform you that your funds will be transitioning from an A share to a C share, which means you will actually pay less in fund fees, however, my fee cost will be increasing just a big. Let’s set up a time to discuss.”

Now there’s an email nobody wants to send or receive. As the financial industry evolves and advisers are held to an increasingly higher standard, you may have to take a new approach to difficult conversations with your clients. The ability to engage clients in these discussions is critical in building and retaining a successful practice.

Here are three tips based on the research of G. Richard Shell, award-winning author and creator of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School’s “Success Course,” on how to better approach challenging conversations and ensure you’re creating Demonstrations of Value (DOVs).

Talk About Client Goals First
When times are tough, take a positive approach by focusing on their goals while still acknowledging the concern. For example, you could say, “I know you set up this portfolio to save for Katie’s college education. She’s starting high school next year, so we still have four years until tuition starts. I know the markets have been rough, but I believe we’ll still be able to achieve your goal. Here’s why.”

By leading the conversation with knowledge of your client’s specific needs and concerns, you can better address the need to maintain an objective view throughout market challenges and not let emotions cloud a commitment to a longer-term strategy.

Help Them See the Big Picture
Your client comes to you with big news. She and her husband are ready to buy that house on Lake Winnipesaukee they’ve been talking about for years. While you share her enthusiasm, you want to make sure that she’s putting this decision into context.

During this conversation, you have an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of your client’s plans and needs. How long do they plan to own this house? Will they need to consider space for additional family members later on? Is this where they’d like to retire one day? If yes, how does that fit into their overall retirement plan?

When you help them consider the questions that matter, you reinforce your value more deeply than their investment positions. You can help be a leader when it comes to a family’s important life decisions.

It’s About More Than Money
Get to know your clients beyond their portfolio. While it may seem obvious, occasionally our time gets the best of us and we don’t focus on the details that could make a difference.

Keep notes on their hobbies and interests, where their priorities are, how old their kids are and family anniversaries and birthdays. Knowing these specifics can help foster a relationship that goes beyond just business, creating a partnership that can withstand even the toughest financial environments.

Are you ready to demonstrate your value in a collaborative client relationship? For more tips on how to boost your communication skills, learn about the 3Cs to enhance your negotiation skills.

JohnEvans

 

John Evans
Executive Director, Janus Labs
Janus Capital Group
Denver, CO


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Why Clients Choose You

Why would a prospect end up choosing you over another adviser?

There’s really only one thing that a prospect is looking for when they begin the conversation with you. If they believe you can provide it, it’s much more likely that they’ll become your client.

What Prospects AREN’T Buying

Despite what most advisers think, people aren’t working with them because of their:

  • Superior investment selection
  • Comprehensive financial plan
  • Account aggregation software
  • Years of experience
  • Credentials after their name, etc.

We’re all proud of those things and they play a role in the decision to work with you, but they’re not the reason people choose you over everyone else. Prospects aren’t buying the products or features you provide. They’re actually not buying the benefits either.

They’re Buying Transformation

The one thing that they are buying is the transformation that they believe they will get by working with you.

What do I mean by that? It doesn’t matter what people are buying. Whether it’s a candy bar or new car, we’re all looking for the same thing: we’re living in a current state and we want to move into a desired “after state.” We believe making the purchase i going to move us into that place we want to be.

Imagine what your prospect’s thinking. Why are they talking to you? Why are they looking for a financial adviser? I can definitely tell you that they’re not calling you because everything is perfect with their finances.

They’re calling you because they are discontent with some aspect of their financial life. They’re not completely happy with everything they’re doing. They have a problem that they don’t know how to solve and they may be frustrated, worried or confused. The fact is they’re looking for an adviser because they are in a place that’s less than ideal.

And that’s your ideal prospect. Why? Because you know that you have the solutions they’re looking for.

Where Do They Want Go?

If their existing state is discontentment, then they need to move into a place of contentment.

This is the entire value of your service business summed up in one sentence: you are helping people move from their before state to an ideal after state.

If you can clearly communicate this in a way that they understand, you’ll never have to sell anything ever again.

What’s The Next Step?

Take out a sheet of paper and write down answers to these questions.

  • Where are they now?
    1. What are their problems?
    2. Why are they looking for help?
    3. What’s their emotional state?
  • Where do they want to be?
    1. How will this change after working with you?
    2. What will they have?
    3. How will they feel?
    4. What will they leave behind?
    5. What kind of person do they want to become?

Once you’ve written these answers, you’ve taken the first step to discovering the transformation your ideal client is looking for. Start using these things you’ve discovered as you talk with prospects moving forward. Pay close attention as you talk about their desired “after state.”

dave-zoller

 

Dave Zoller, CFP®
Financial Adviser
Streamline My Practice
Warrenville, IL


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A Client’s Evolution

It’s no secret that advisers want to have a client base made up of loyal clients. However, most advisers may not take the time to fully understand why some clients are one-time customers while others are lifetime advocates.

Let’s take a brief look at what I call “the client’s evolution”—an evolution that we all have with our clients to some degree—so that you can better comprehend how you can build client relationships that last a life time.

The Customer

More than 20 years ago, I began building my business by following some simple advice from my branch manager: Find a good double tax-free municipal bond and tell everyone you can about it.”

As an eager rookie I did just that and soon I was opening up new accounts with what I thought would be “forever” clients. Unfortunately, I soon realized that many of those clients were simply one-time customers—people who had decided to buy a product. They were trying to find the best-yielding bonds and it didn’t matter who they were buying from. Some of those individuals bought additional bonds but for the most part I was one of several advisers they were working with and my value was merely a function of how well my product was doing at the time.

If you have several “customers” working with you and you would like to forge stronger relationships with them, you must find a way to show your value to them. One of the best ways to do this is to stop being a product pusher and start being a problem solver by getting to know them. Once you do, you can find their needs and fill them.

The Client

As my practice grew, I decided to take a different approach and offer prospects a complete plan to help them achieve their financial goals. This opened the door to creating solid connections from the start because I was able to identify specific needs that the prospect had and share with them how my products and services could be their solutions. I was no longer pushing any specific product but rather solving their financial concerns. As a result, these types of people became clients.

If you have customers you’d like to turn into clients and get to know even better, it’s time to get to know them on a more personal level.

The Friend

After a number of years, I noticed that some of my clients had turned into close friends. Just as any friendship evolves with communication and respect, so can an adviser/agent/client relationship.

I never started out to form friendships with my clients, but friendships occurred naturally over time after I showed genuine interest in their lives. They were no longer just clients to me, but friends who I wanted to help—not only with their financial goals but in any way that I could.

The Advocate

At some point in my career, I realized that a select group of clients whom I had formed friendships with had an interest in my success. I had developed a level of professional and personal trust with them and they were absolutely convinced that I was not only capable of helping with their financial advisory needs, but that I truly had their best interests at heart.

That’s when I realized that I had what I now called “advocates” or clients who willingly wanted to help me succeed by introducing me to their friends and family. In addition, some of these people shared their own experiences in business and suggested marketing, staffing and even branding strategies to help me.

Why Clients Evolve

I’m sure by now you might relate to having clients of every stage that I mentioned. The secret to evolve your client base is to evolve as an adviser yourself and be involved with your prospects and clients from the very start.

If you are ready to evolve your practice, schedule a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with me by emailing Melissa Denham, director of client servicing.

Dan Finley

 

Daniel C. Finley
President
Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.


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To Instantly Connect with Your Prospects, Use The Magic Question

After learning this single question, your initial meetings with prospects will never be the same.

This question will help you instantly connect, differentiate yourself, and pre-qualify your prospects within the first few minutes of the meeting.

Once you see the effect it can have, you’ll most likely make it a mandatory part of every first meeting with a prospect.

Why Is This Question So Effective?
I first learned about the Magic Question from the business coach, Dan Sullivan. He wrote an entire book (titled The Dan Sullivan Question) on this question and why it works. After reading the book, I tweaked the question slightly so that it would make sense for financial advisers to ask their prospects.

At first, you may be a little hesitant to ask the question because it’s so different. And you can be pretty sure that they’ve never been asked this by their financial adviser before. Once you start using it, it will become clear how quickly you can connect with complete strangers over the phone.

The great thing about the question is that everyone can answer it—but they are required to think before they do. This is an important part of the process because you want to make sure you’re working with people who care about their finances and want to put the proper effort and thought into planning their future.

You may notice that about one out of 20 people do not answer the question. Either their brain cannot function in a way to think futuristically or they simply do not want to answer. This is actually a great thing because the people who don’t answer the question or don’t give authentic answers are probably not the right fit. They are the kinds of people you can disqualify right away before wasting any more time.

There are three reasons why this question works:

1.) It’s about them. About what they want. The results they are looking to achieve.

2.) It brings clarity. To where they want to go. To what’s most important to them. To how they define success. As you know, It’s hard for some people to specify their goals. This question makes it easy.

3.) It encourages them. One of the fastest ways to influence someone is to encourage their dreams. They are opening up to you about what’s most important and you are their ready to stand next to them and show them how it’s possible. People are attracted to those who encourage them in what’s most important in their life.

The 4-Part Magic Question
The first part of the question is the most important. That’s the one you will ask to instantly connect with someone. The following three are not necessary but they can be great to follow-ups to delve deeper into what they’re are looking for.

Here is the magic, four-part question:

If we were meeting three years from today, and you were looking back over those three years, what has to have happened in your financial life for you to feel happy with your progress?

  • What are the biggest challenges you will have to face in order to achieve that progress?
  • What are the biggest opportunities that you would need to focus on to achieve those things?
  • What role would you like an adviser to play during those three years?

Give the magic question a try during your next initial meeting with a prospect. After you do, I’d love to hear how it went. Email me at dave@streamlinemypractice.com to share your results.

dave-zoller

 

Dave Zoller
Financial Adviser
Streamline My Practice
Warrenville, IL


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Helping Your Clients Face Their College-Financing Fears—Part 1

Higher education is expensive—frighteningly expensive. For most parents, providing for their children’s college education is second only to retirement as their largest investment goal. But even with diligent saving, the first tuition bill may be a shock to your clients, so you may want to keep a jar of smelling salts on your desk just in case.

How can you help your clients face this fear head-on? It’s all about creating a solid plan. With a proper plan in hand, you and your clients will be better prepared to tackle college tuition bills in an organized and financially sound way. Sallie Mae recently published research titled “How America Pays for College 2016,” that reported families are paying less out of pocket for college as they take advantage of scholarships and grants. The report noted that scholarships and grants funded 34 percent of college costs in the 2015-2016 school year, up from 30 percent the prior school year.

Vanguard’s new research, Tackling the tuition bill, provides a practical framework to help you develop a plan with your clients. In this post, I’ll explore the factors that affect financial aid eligibility. (In Part 2 of this series, I’ll provide tips on how to help your clients maximize federal tax perks while also considering how to spend tax-efficiently from assets earmarked for college.)

As you know, household assets and income affect financial aid eligibility, but these sources are not treated equally, based on whether they come from the student or the parents. The graphic below summarizes the key points—income matters more than assets, and student income matters more than parental income.

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The potential impact of student and parental income and assets on financial aid.

So what does this mean? Obviously, individual circumstances will vary, but here’s a savvy strategy to pitch to your clients:

  • Spend the student’s assets first.Because student assets affect aid eligibility more than parental assets (oddly enough, 529s owned by dependent children are considered parental assets), it can make sense to spend student assets before spending from a 529 plan. Such an approach gives 529 savings more time to compound tax-free. And by spending the more heavily penalized assets early, students increase their aid eligibility in later years, when inflation may boost tuition costs.
  • Tell the grandparents to hold off.Gifts from grandparents and others are considered student income, which has the greatest impact on your student’s financial aid eligibility. As a result, consider tapping those grandparent-owned 529s in the later years of college, when they will no longer be reported or considered in financial aid evaluations.
  • Don’t drain the 529 right away.Parent-owned assets, including 529 plan accounts, have more limited impact on aid eligibility. Unless a client plans to pay for the entire degree with 529 savings, it can make sense to spend from this account strategically over the course of a student’s college career. The account can benefit from continued tax-free growth. A client may also be able to time 529 withdrawals to create opportunities for additional aid or benefits.

I realize there’s a lot for you and your clients to think about; but with a bit of knowledge of the rules and some planning, the tuition bills can be tamed. Look for part 2 of this series, in which I’ll share some tax-savvy tips for tackling tuition.

maria-bruno

Maria Bruno, CFP®
Senior Investment Analyst
Vanguard Investment Strategy Group
Philadelphia, Pa.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the Vanguard Advisor Blog. The author also gives a special thanks to her colleagues Jonathan Kahler and Jenna McNamee for their research contributions.


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Creating a Childlike Curiosity

We have all heard the saying, “Curiosity killed the cat,” that implies it is better to mind your own business. However, as advisers/agents do we truly believe that that is the best course of action to make a connection?

I think it’s safe to say that most of us think we ask a lot of questions. Unfortunately, I’ve found that many of the questions that we ask are merely designed to uncover facts and not to truly understand the prospect or client’s situation and how they feel about it.

Young children have a genuine and innate curiosity when they want to get to know someone and they seem to have no problem asking a multitude of questions. Let’s take a look at how this type of curiosity can benefit you and your prospects/clients.

Gives you time to think. During one of my group coaching critic sessions, in which we role-play with our group members as if they were on the phone with prospects, I noticed that one adviser used what I call a “curiosity question.” It was, “That’s interesting could you tell me more about that?” This was in response to a prospect who gave him an objection about how he didn’t like to use certain investment products and thus wasn’t interested in setting up a meeting. After using his curiosity question, his prospect relaxed, opened up and ended up telling a story about his investment experience. This gave the adviser more time to think about what direction he wanted to turn the conversation.

Uncovers important information. The prospect revealed some interesting information about his concerns regarding a financial adviser he had worked with because years ago that adviser put him into a product that he perceived as expensive and it had lost him money when he was told that it was safe. As a result, he felt that he was misled and that consequently all advisers would mislead him. This helped my adviser client truly understand that his prospect’s real objection was trust and not about a specific product at all.

Shows that you care. After listening to the real objection about trust, the adviser acknowledged what he had heard by summarizing how it must have made the prospect feel. “That sounds frustrating, was it,” he posed. The prospect quickly shared with him how frustrated he was and the adviser in turn showed he cared by being even more curious and asking, “Why is that? Why do you think some advisers don’t take the time to fully explain their recommendations?”

Creates a connection. By now the adviser was creating a connection because he was open to getting to know the prospect and the prospect was connecting because he felt that he was being heard.

After a lengthy conversation the adviser inquired, “I’m kind of curious, if we met and I did give you a second opinion on the investments you own, would you be open to speaking with a couple of my clients to hear what type of experience they have had working with me? It’s free and maybe it would help you see that all advisers are not alike.” It didn’t take long for the prospect to simply reply, “Yes, I would like that.”

Why Childlike Curiosity Works
It’s no secret that people want to be heard. The reason that childlike curiosity works is because when you truly exude through your choice of words and tone that you care, prospects are more open to telling you a lot more about themselves. Everyone has a story, so get genuinely curious and find out what it is.

If you are ready to learn this and other valuable techniques for connecting with prospects and clients, email Melissa Denham, director of client servicing, to schedule a complimentary 30-minute coaching session.

Dan FinleyDaniel C. Finley
President
Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.


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3 Tips to Incorporate Health Into the Financial Planning Discussion

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Carolyn McClanahan presenting at FPA BE Baltimore 2016

When a client who Carolyn McClanahan thought was 70 walked into her office, the woman told her she hadn’t been to a doctor in decades.

“Why are you coming in to see me now,” McClanahan, MD, CFP® asked.

The woman, who was actually 98, wanted to participate in her weekly tradition of acting out a play with her friends and needed a doctor to cut a thick toenail so she could fit in her fancy shoes.

When it comes to clients’ health, it runs the gamut from people like the 98-year-old recreational actress to chain-smoking overweight clients to vegan yoga practitioners. McClanahan said it is a good idea to incorporate discussing health into your practice to help your clients save money on insurance rates and overall health care spending.

“People are more comfortable talking about their health than they are about their money,” McClanahan said.

Regardless if your client has health issues, start with Livingto100.com, which helps project people’s longevity so you can do better planning.

McClanahan says incorporating health care into the discussion has three components: getting a health history, finding out what your clients’ health care mindset is and discussing advance directive planning. McClanahan offers the following tips to apply to discussing health with your clients:

The health history: start with open-ended questions. To get a better sense of your client’s health history, ask them an open-ended question. A good one is, “Tell me what you do to take care of your health.”

With that question, McClanahan said, people will tell you all you need to know. If your clients are overweight or they smoke, you can encourage them to get a little healthier before they start shopping for insurance and taking physicals. The cost-savings of doing so are “astronomical,” she said.

A basic health history includes the client’s body mass index, height, weight, smoking status, their exercise habits, whether they use drugs or alcohol, what medical problems they may have and their family history.

The health care mindset: figure out their attitude. Do they go to the doctor for everything? Do they go to the doctor only if they’re really sick? Figure these things out then figure out what it their projected cost of care will be over time based on these habits. Also encourage healthy clients to keep working.

Encourage all your clients, no matter their age, to have advanced directives. Simply having an advance directive can save your clients money. Have them map out their medical decisions now that they are healthy and ensure they have been shared with family members and health care professionals.

To see the slides from McClanahan’s FPA BE 2016 presentation, click here.

AnaHeadshot

 

Ana Trujillo
Associate Editor
Journal of Financial Planning
Denver, Colo.