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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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5 Steps to ‘Connecting the Room’

One of life’s simple pleasures for me is something that others might dread: public speaking. For more than 20 years I’ve had the honor and privilege to speak in front of a wide range of audiences—investors, financial advisers, insurance agents and wholesalers.

A rookie financial adviser client of mine explained that he had held his first seminar and it had resulted in setting several appointments with qualified prospects. However, he was disappointed overall because he said that the audience barely said a word during his entire presentation. Even when he would ask them a question or attempt to interact with them, the room was silent.

If this has ever happened to you, please know that it happens to most speakers at some point in their careers. To combat that challenge, I’ve developed a solution that I refer to as “connecting the room.” If you apply this technique, I’m pretty sure you will never just hear crickets during your presentation again.

The following is a step-by-step process for connecting the room.

Step 1: Ask Strategic Questions

It’s no secret that the audience tends to be more engaged at listening when you ask them questions. That’s why it’s important to map out your questions prior to your presentation so that you have a strategy ahead of time.

Typically, I tend to start off a new subject with a question. An example of this was years ago when I prepared one set of questions for each section of my presentation. Instead of reading the Power Point slide titled “Inflation Eats up Your Purchasing Power,” I simply asked a strategic question to the group of retirees, which was, “How many people here paid more for their last car then they did their first house?”

Step 2: Get the Audience to Take Action

Another great way to help the audience connect with one another is to collectively ask them to take action by raising their hand. After I asked the earlier question, I paused and said, “Let’s see a show of hands of who can relate to that. Please raise your hand if you can.”

Immediately, several hands went up.

Step 3: Make a Connection

Next, pick out one person who seems to be paying attention or actively listening so that you can ask them to tell their story to the crowd. Ask, “What is your name?” then simply turn the dialogue over to them by saying something like, “Joe, when did you buy your first house? What type of home was it (ex: rambler, townhouse, split-level, etc.)? Was it here in town or somewhere else?” Let this individual share the limelight for a moment then continue asking a few more questions. Examples might be, “What was the biggest purchase item aside from your home that you bought?” and “Do you think you the prices for items like that will continue to rise?” Your final question should be a closed-ended question which elicits a “yes” or a “no” so you can emphasize your point. Finish the interaction by thanking the person, “Joe, thanks for sharing! Who here can relate to Joe’s story? Let’s see a show of hands.”

Step 4: Connect the Room

Usually a group tends to listen more intently when a speaker is dynamic and uses dialogue, versus a speaker who is static and utilizes a monologue. If you sprinkle in interactions throughout your presentation, your audience will be waiting for them. Use as many as you can—as time permits—to solidify your messaging and to strengthen your connection with those in the room.

Step 5: Make Your Point

Before moving on from one topic to another be sure to ask a summarizing question. Here is an example, “Does anyone know why things are more expensive today than they were when you bought your first house?” Let someone offer an answer and then explain your point of view. You could say something like, “The reason things are more expensive is because inflation eats up your purchasing power!”

Transitioning from one topic to another is often the best time to engage with the audience and have the group collectively relate to each other. Be sure your questions are catered to the demographic to which you are speaking and that the questions support your point of view.

Why Connecting the Room Works

When you use this technique, watch what happens to the people in the room, they speak more freely and are more apt to want to speak with you afterwards and hopefully they are on their way to becoming one of your clients. If they feel comfortable then they feel connected!

To schedule a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with me at, email Melissa Denham, director of client servicing at Advisor Solutions.

Dan Finley

 

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

 

 


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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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Communication: The Foundation of Your Business Results

We all know what it feels like when there is a breakdown in communication—not being heard, not saying what needs to be said or receiving false information all leads to uneasiness. For your business to function at a high level you must have a consistent communication plan and all associates must commit to it.

We all know the importance of client communications, but do we neglect this vital need for our own employees? It is easy to get caught up in the day’s responsibilities and forget to effectively communicate with our team. Yet, when internal communication breaks down, challenges brew. Efficiencies decrease, errors increase, stress levels rise and employees can become dissatisfied.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution; you need to create a plan that works for your business. Be sure to include the following critical elements:

  • In-person and electronic communication
  • Frequency and location
  • Ownership, attendance and participation
  • Purpose and agenda
  • Priority system
  • Action plan and follow-up

In-person gatherings should be purpose-driven—having meetings for the sake of having meetings is a waste of everyone’s precious time! Monthly and quarterly meetings are often more project-driven and strategic in their purpose, whereas daily and weekly huddles are more task-driven and tactical in nature. Consistency is vital to effective communication; if a team meeting is established for Tuesdays from 10 to 11 a.m., then no associate should schedule anything during that time frame. As to location, planning sessions should be conducted off-site so you can focus on strategy and eradicate interruptions.

While all should be encouraged to participate, team meeting responsibility should be owned by one individual and should be agenda-driven to maintain consistency and organization. This helps ensure that nothing falls through the cracks and that all associates stay knowledgeable about specific project updates. Some agenda items will remain constant while others will come and go depending on the business focus.

In today’s changing world, it is critical to include standards regarding electronic communication. Using a networked contact management system (CRM) and calendar should be a foundational element of your plan. Multiple calendars and different systems to capture notes waste time and create confusion. Every associate should update the CRM as activities are completed or new ones are assigned, and all should be expected to enter client updates daily.

One of the most frequent communication challenges is not understanding priorities. We recommend establishing a simple system to ensure that all team members know what the real priorities are for the day or week. Use three simple words with clear definitions in order to be efficient and to meet expectations. You might choose words such as urgent, important and low to represent the priority, or simply be sure that every task is assigned with a specific deadline.

People are the most important element of your business, and a lack of good communication is the number one reason problems occur. A consistent communication plan can make a difference to both the revenue and efficiency arenas of your business; the plan can even mean the difference between associate retention and departure. So ask yourself, what actions do you need to take to drive more effective internal communication?

Sarah E. Dale, President of Know No Bounds, LLC

 

Sarah E. Dale
Partner
Performance Insights
Atlanta, Ga.

krista_sm

 

Krista S. Sheets
President
Performance Insights
Atlanta, Ga.


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The 3Cs to Enhance Your Negotiation Skills

A new calendar year represents a fresh beginning and an opportunity to think anew about the adviser-client relationship. Financial advisers know that their annual planning conversations with clients may need to address sensitive topics related to the changing regulatory environment, particularly as we near the proposed timing for implementation of the Department of Labor’s Final Rule. These issues will certainly be on the agenda if you are transitioning to a fee-for-service model.

But the ability to engage clients in potentially difficult discussions is always key to building a successful business.

Central to these discussions is the ability to negotiate—a skill I have spent years cultivating through personal successes and failures, and through teaching thousands of business leaders and professionals at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. I consulted on a Janus Labs program, titled the Science of Negotiations, to prepare advisers to have better planning meetings. The core tenets of the program, and negotiating generally, are what we call the three Cs: commitment, candor and credibility.

Commitment: We know that as a financial adviser, your commitment is to serve as a trusted counselor to your clients. Working in a client’s best interest isn’t something new that rules require—it’s what you’ve always done. You need to convey this commitment clearly and consistently in order to build and maintain the kind of trust that allows for open dialogue. By reminding clients of your commitment to them, and connecting your actions to that commitment, the value of your relationship and services should always be top of mind for them. This way you can raise sensitive issues when the client can hear and process them fully, not simply because a deadline requires it of you.

Candor: We’re big proponents of the “radical candor” used at Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and Google. For advisers, this means demonstrating that you care personally about each client, while also directly addressing how DOL-related changes will affect them. Be a straight talker. Don’t beat around the bush: be clear that this is a difficult subject but the new services you offer are commensurate with what the client needs. Telling clients about the products and services you are not recommending is also important. Transparency is key. When you reveal information that’s not necessarily in your best interest, but is clearly in the best interest of the client, you build trust.

Credibility: Openly and willingly revealing information about products and fees increases your credibility, and research shows that credibility is the single most important asset of effective negotiators. Your credibility rests on expertise, competence and trustworthiness. It means that: 1) you bring your clients valuable knowledge and insights; 2) you apply your expertise to their benefit with skill and diligence; and 3) you consistently use your expertise and competence to create long-term value as a trustworthy counselor.

Strong negotiation skills will help you communicate more effectively in all your interactions. Demonstrating that you are credible, candid and committed will put you in a position to better navigate the sensitive topics that are inherent to financial advice, including fees and regulatory concerns. And this is a good time to start strengthening those skills, as you begin scheduling the conversations that will guide your client relationships throughout the new year.

For more information on how to use The Science of Negotiations for meaningful conversations with your clients, please contact your Janus Director or visit www.janus.com.

G. Richard Shell

 

G. Richard Shell
Legal studies and Business Ethics Professor
University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School
Philadelphia, Pa.


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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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4 Tips to Help Grieving Clients

Amy Florian, CEO of Corgenius, was a 25-year-old with a 7-month-old baby when her husband John kissed her good-bye for the last time to go on a business trip.

A car hit his car and John died instantly.

Florian was devastated. She had money from a life insurance policy she needed to invest so she sought out a financial adviser. He did right by her in terms of investing her money well, but he just didn’t understand what she was going through. He sometimes made her feel like a number in a portfolio rather than a whole person.

“I stayed with him for some time because it was clear he knew how to invest my money,” Florian explained. But then she switched. She found a planner who made her feel more comfortable.

Widows oftentimes feel uncomfortable with financial planners as shown in the fact that more than 70 percent switch advisers after their husband’s death. It’s helpful for your clients for you have the skills to help them deal with their grief.

Helping Them Through
Baby boomers are getting older.

“We had a baby boom,” Florian said. “We’re in for a death boom and we’re not prepared.”

You are going to have to deal with your client’s grief at that first appointment with them after their partner dies. It’s going to be difficult.

“It’s awkward,” Florian explained. “It’s uncomfortable.”

But with these helpful grief support tips, you will help your clients. It is important, Florian said, to note that grief happens whenever there is a transition, whether it’s death or moving to a new city.

Ask open-ended, invitational questions. Some examples include: What happened? Who was with you? How did you find out? Then after a few months have passed: Last time we talked you said you felt a certain way, do you still feel that way now? Grieving people want somebody who will listen.

Stay away from the standard responses, “I’m sorry,” or “I know what you’re going through.”

Know that there are two main styles of grief: instrumental grievers, who focus more on their heads (things like logistics and specific events); and intuitive grievers, who focus more on their heart (the experience of everything, what they are feeling).

Have boxes of tissues everywhere, but never hand them a box of tissues when they are crying as doing so will send the message that you are making them uncomfortable and you want them to stop. Say, “You could use any of these tissues if you’d like, it’s up to you.”

Let them know that your office is a safe space and that they can cry. Encourage them to feel their grief, because that is the truly strong thing to do.

Have them write down their fears. Ask them what’s the worst thing they can imagine happening to them right now and have them write it down. Studies show that when you write down fears, you take away their power.

“I’m teaching you to do the right thing for your client,” Florian said. “It’s what we all should be doing, we just haven’t been taught.”

AnaHeadshot

 

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