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How to Sell the Benefits of Financial Planning

Do you ever struggle to communicate the value of financial planning to prospective clients, such that they are willing to sign your planning agreement and write a check for the deposit, enabling you to move forward?

That was the question I was asked recently by a financial planning practice. They sent me sample copies of their proposal as well as examples of their executive summaries, action plans, fee schedule and even some success story descriptions.

I am confident that this is a practice that provides an excellent planning process and product—certainly well worth the fees they charge.

So what did I recommend? Here are the steps I suggested:

Before your Introductory Conversation:

  • Thank them for their interest in learning more about you and your practice.
  • Send a link to your website, pointing out any description or case studies you have there about your planning process and results.

During your Introductory Conversation:

  • Learn enough about them to determine whether they’re a good fit for your business model and how you can help them.
  • Explain your background and approach to help them understand whether you’re a good fit for what they need.
  • If you provide different “tracks” based on your clients’ situation (such as plan only, plan plus solutions or even solutions only), describe them. Tell them that the basis for determining which track is most appropriate generally becomes clear in discovery. Avoid discussing fees at this point; you want them to understand that you will recommend the track most suited to their needs.
  • At the end of the introductory conversation, if you believe they are a good fit for moving forward, say something like: “Based on what you told me about your situation, and how we generally serve our clients, I think we’d be a good fit to move forward to our discovery process.”

During your Discovery Meeting:

  • Your goal during discovery is to develop a list of the problems they need to have solved—the ones they’ve identified already and the ones they may not have realized they have.
  • At the end of discovery, you can talk through the list of issues to be addressed, particularly focusing on the ones you uncovered.
  • Then you can say something like: “Based on what we talked about today, and to help you address each of these concerns, I believe X is the most appropriate track for you.”
  • Then stop and listen. Test for agreement to move forward.
  • If they’re ready, provide your planning agreement and set an appointment and expectations for next steps.
  • If they’re not ready to sign your agreement today, go ahead and schedule a follow-up meeting and give them what they need to prepare for planning. Assume they will be moving forward, but need a bit more time.

In the case of the financial planners I spoke with, they were accustomed to sending a planning proposal that was mostly about how they would review, analyze and evaluate, but little about the specific benefits their clients would experience.

Instead, use your analytical skills during discovery to uncover issues that your prospective clients didn’t know they had and then help them see the benefits you can provide in solving each one of them.

susan-kornegaySusan Kornegay, CFP®
Pathfinder Strategic Solutions 
Knoxville, Tenn.


Editor’s Note: This blog originally appeared on the Pathfinder Strategic Solutions “Perspectives” blog. 

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Persuading through Themes

Effective advertising centers on repetition. Only after a certain level of exposure will the target audience gain familiarity with the message and visuals. And, only with familiarity will persuasive messages motivate the audience to purchase. This core tenet is nothing more than how humans naturally learn.

The typical advisory firm is a small business with a limited budget for marketing outreach. The good news is the resource for persuasion today—marketing through digital means—is readily available and low cost (if not free of hard-dollar costs).

Thematic Repetition
There are many resources available to guide advisers in establishing an effective digital and social media presence; that’s not the focus here. This post emphasizes persuasion through using strategic marketing themes merchandised through various digital outlets.

A theme can be reflected in content on an adviser’s home page, detailed in a blog, merchandised in an email blast or newsletter, summarized via Twitter, captured visually in a Facebook feed and tailored in an email message. To an adviser’s relationships, the theme—and the benefits it delivers—is internalized through exposure to these different communication channels.

The WIIFM Reality
WIIFM—an acronym for “what’s in it for me”—in many ways determines the willingness for a message recipient to be moved persuasively.

While we like to think that simply imparting our wisdom and advice should be enough, the market wants the benefits clearly presented and immediate. It’s essential to understand that WIIFM isn’t just the benefits at the final sale, but at every desired interaction.

Another WIIFM marketing aspect is the trust building from successfully delivering a string of benefits, even small ones within the larger theme itself. The more a recipient experiences valuable interactions, the more likely he or she will be to engage in intensive communication indicative of meetings deeper in the sales process.

Themes Linked to Business Strategies
Think of a theme as a story. The story tells a reader what the problem is, who is involved and the outcome. The same story can be told with gripping character details in a lengthy book, as a picture book or a simple two-sentence synopsis.

A marketing theme supports a strategic service. A lot of marketing money is wasted because an adviser’s service solution, and its associated benefits, don’t explicitly demonstrate how a market’s needs are satisfied.

A Thematic Delivery Hierarchy
A properly executed theme produces persuasive content in different forms and scope. At the top level in the hierarchy, the theme is explained in its fullest form while at the bottom the theme is tailored to particular client/prospect circumstances.

Marketing Content Hierarchy“Explain” Level: In many ways, this level is the most formative since the theme is fully presented and detailed. From here, each other level can be traced.

  • Delivery Method: White papers and presentations
  • Marketing Role: During the writing process, the theme shows itself as a prototype. As ideas are described and linked, any logic, persuasion or process weaknesses are exposed before the theme becomes operationally active. Once finalized, the document—attractively presented and written persuasively—becomes a guidebook illustrating the theme’s full benefit inventory to the client/prospect audience.

“Segment” Level: A marketing theme is actually comprised of key segments (i.e. features or functions) and each has associated benefits. Think of a segment as a subplot or episode in a larger story.

  • Delivery Method: Blogs, e-newsletters and website content
  • Marketing Role: Presenting focused segments one by one results in a content calendar. A segment has its own benefits, and these are spotlighted (and especially meaningful for those clients/prospects needing one set of benefits more than others).

“Point” Level: This level emphasizes specific WIIFM benefits.

  • Delivery Method: Email blasts, Facebook feeds and website visuals/photographs
  • Marketing Role: A single, key benefit is presented to motivate recipients to learn more (through the two higher levels).

“Fit” Level: This engagement level answers a client/prospect’s questions through the theme itself. Some people call this “staying on message,” but it’s more accurate to view it as retelling the theme directly through the client/prospect’s circumstances.

  • Delivery Method: Email replies, phone calls, face-to-face meetings and Facebook posts.

Persuasion Culminates in Conversion
Today, people have many defenses to persuasion. People want to take in information on their own time and under their control. Yet, persuasion happens every day when a mind is opened because a message hits a need and a solution’s benefits are there to fulfill it. A strategic marketing theme persuades through delivered benefits.

Kirk Loury

Kirk Loury
Wealth Planning Consulting Inc.
Princeton Junction, New Jersey

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In Praise of Good Financial Advisers (You Know Who You Are)

Ours is an industry that gets a hefty dose of negative publicity. True, there are scoundrels perpetrating Ponzi schemes and conducting other nefarious activities—and they cast a pall over the public’s perception of the well-meaning and competent financial professionals out there.

The good news is, these bad guys are few and far between. The bad news is, with our heavily regulated industry, sometimes the good guys may feel they are being micromanaged as a result. Still, there are so many financial advisers out there who are doing excellent work for their clients.

The Well-Adjusted Retiree
I recently had the opportunity to see this excellent work firsthand when I attended a client event hosted by an ensemble practice. At the event, a panel of recently retired individuals and couples answered questions from an audience of pre-retirees. The questions varied from cash flow, social security, Medicare and investment performance to how to align a couple’s “vision” of retirement, which included things like whether to downsize their home and how to stay connected and social with friends and family.

I was especially curious how the panel would respond when an audience member asked if the peaks and valleys of the market affected the panel’s daily decisions about drawing down on their nest egg. This question was especially timely, as the market had just dropped more than 870 points in the prior week due to the Brexit vote. The response? Daily markets weren’t a showstopper. In general, the panelists said:

  • They had their goals.
  • They had their nest egg.
  • They didn’t pay much attention to the markets unless their advisers said they should.

One couple talked about how they met with their financial adviser, estate attorney and CPA for an annual meeting. That meeting gave them the confidence that not only were their investments on solid ground despite market volatility, but that tax efficiency and an integrated estate plan were being managed by a team of professionals working together to help them achieve their retirement goals.

Helping Clients Not Sweat the Small Stuff
Financial advisers enjoy deep, meaningful relationships with their clients. Sometimes they garner appreciation and recognition for what they do. But just in case you haven’t gotten a dose of it lately, as one of the good guys in the industry, know that because of your competence and caring, your clients don’t need to sweat the small stuff like daily market volatility. Instead, they can focus on enjoying the retirement lifestyle you helped them achieve.

Thank you for all you do, financial advisers!

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for web


Joni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

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The Experience Story: In Reverse

It’s no secret that telling a great story can help prospects better understand your recommendations. Story-based selling is the art of using metaphors, analogies or stories to do just that. However, what is little known is that you can have a similar effect when you set the stage by having a prospect share an experience about themselves or about someone they know who has used a particular product or service. Many times you get them to buy into the products or services you are about to recommend based on a story they have just shared with you, so that there is little need for you to go down the path of a typical closing. This process is a reversal of sorts as the standard practice is for advisers or agents to have to share their existing client’s experiences in order to “sell” to a prospective client. So I refer to this as “the experience story: in reverse.”

During a recent group coaching session on story-based selling, I had asked all the attendees if they told stories during their presentations to help close the sale. I had coached on this material dozens of times before, asking this question each time, but what was new that day was what one adviser said, “I don’t tell them stories but instead I have them tell me stories.”

She went on to explain that the reason she did this was so that the prospect could eventually tell her the benefits that the individual in their story received from having a product or service. Once that occurred, the prospect often came to the conclusion that they could also receive the exact same value. In other words, they sold themselves on why they should buy.

Let’s take a brief look at how this process works:

  • Uncover the Prospect’s Experience: It’s important to begin by asking a great question to identify if the prospect has any personal experience or has known anyone who has had an experience with what you are about to recommend. The key is not to formulate your question around the product or service but rather about a situation or scenario that would prompt the need for that product or service. An example of what NOT to ask would be, “Have you ever known anyone who had long-term care insurance?” However, DO inquire, “Have you ever known anyone who went into a nursing home or assisted living?” Remember to make this question common enough to ensure that they will have some type of a story to tell you.
  • Invite the Prospect to Share their Experience: Once the prospect answers your question, invite them to tell you more. Some examples of good “cue” questions would be, “Why did they go to the nursing home or assisted living in the first place? How long were they there? What do you think it cost them to stay there? How do you think they paid for it?” Make sure you sprinkle in these types of questions to more readily “cue” the prospect to share more of the story and create a strong dialogue.
  • Uncover the Benefits and Tell a Story: After you let their story unfold, it’s time to help them uncover the benefits of the product or service that you will be recommending. Use questions such as, “Do you know what it currently costs for one month in a nursing home or assisted living situation? What do you think it might cost in ten to fifteen years if you or a loved one would need to stay in one? How would you pay for it?” At this point, explain your own experience of helping a client who was in a similar situation and the recommendation you made to them. Here is an example of how to make a seamless transition, “I am here to help assist my clients so that don’t have to worry about the cost and here is why…” Then, explain the product or service and how it has helped your current clients.
  • Ask for the Order: All that is left to do at this point is to help them come to the conclusion that they can benefit from this product or service just like your existing clients. Simply, ask a question such as, “Based on what we just talked about, what do you think is the best course of action for you?”

Why the Prospect Will Buy
If you have followed these aforementioned steps, the prospect will typically come to the conclusion that they want to buy because they want the same benefits as your clients. You have strategically led them to uncover their own need(s). In this case that was to be financially prepared for either themselves or a family member to go into a nursing home or assisted living facility, as well as the solution, with this example, long-term care insurance.

If you read this article and would like helpful techniques about how to create your own experience story: in reverse, email Melissa Denham, director of client servicing at melissa@advisorsolutionsinc.com to schedule a free complimentary consultation with Dan Finley.

Dan Finley

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


Daniel Finley presents an FPA webinar titled “Beyond the Production Plateau: The Solution to Your Business Evolution” from 2 to 3 p.m., EDT, June 8. Register for the webinar here

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5 Strategies to Connect During the First Appointment

Have you ever gone into an initial first appointment with high hopes of connecting with the prospect only to later realize that you did not make a connection at all? Maybe you have had several appointments like this over the course of your career. If so, you may have been missing one, a few or all of the five strategies for the first appointment process.

Let’s take a look at what those are:

  1. Get the prospect’s story: One of the most important things you can do to establish a connection is to genuinely be interested in learning about the prospect. People love to talk about themselves and the best way to encourage this is to strategically map out questions that will help them tell you their life story. If you can do this, they will end up explaining the reason for why they are looking for a new financial adviser and what is important to them about finding just the right one.
  1. Show them how much you care: It’s been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I believe that is true. Oftentimes, advisers try to win over a prospect by dazzling them with their stock market and/or product knowledge. Unfortunately, this tends to create more of a disconnect with a potential client. Don’t start the relationship off by telling them what you know but instead tell them how much you care about their situation. Chances are you have had other prospects and clients experience similar things. If so, then you should share their story with them. Do this and you will set a prospect at ease. They will feel comfortable that you are familiar with their situation.
  1. Understand the prospect’s pain points: As you listen to the prospect’s story and let them how much you care, you will probably realize that they have real concerns about their finances–these are what I call the prospect’s pain points. Typically, these are the reasons why they came to see you in the first place. If you truly understand their concerns as well and what is most important to them, and they know you understand both, it is much easier to build a connection with them.
  1. (Strategically) sum up the appointment: At some point, you need to strategically shift the conversation into summarizing what you have learned about them from your conversation. Try a phrase such as, “We’ve talked about a lot of things today and what I’d like to do is summarize what I have heard.” Then, proceed to state their situation, issues/problems and the long-term implications of not fixing those issues/problems. If you do this well, they will be much more inclined to hear what else you have to say because they know you have listened, and more importantly, have heard them.
  1. Sell your solutions to set a second appointment: Once a prospect gives you the signs or tells you they are ready, it’s time to sell your solutions to set a second appointment. Ironically, the strategy that I am about to explain isn’t so much about selling as it is about helping them want to buy. Simply, use questions such as, “How would it help you most if I put together a full financial plan so that you can understand how much money you will need when you retire, how much income you may have to live off of once you are retired and whether or not you are currently on course to accomplish those goals?” Nine times out of ten they will instantly start telling you they would value that by saying, “That sounds like something I have needed for a long time!” All you need to do is agree with them and then simply ask for the second appointment. “Exactly, then that is what we will do! Are you available this time next week to review the plan?”

Take a moment to think about what you have just learned. Are you using these strategies in your first appointment process? If not, you now know how.

If you are ready to strategically run your prospecting process, schedule a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with Dan Finley at Advisor Solutions by emailing Melissa Denham, director of client servicing at Melissa@advisorsolutionsinc.com.

Dan Finley

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


Daniel Finley presents an FPA webinar titled “Beyond the Production Plateau: The Solution to Your Business Evolution” from 2 to 3 p.m., EDT, June 8. Register for the webinar here

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4 Ways to Make Clients Feel Special

What has the digital age meant for you? Does the information at your fingertips make you more decisive or paralyzed? Do you command your devices or do they rule your life?

All the technology and information available doesn’t replace the need for special client interactions. In fact, our industry is losing the heartfelt touch that defined what it meant to be an investment adviser years ago.

Communicating is Not Relating
Technology facilitates productive communication between people via email, texts, tweets and posts. However, communicating does not necessarily mean the adviser is relating.

Wealth advisory is a relationship business from beginning to end. When clients entrust their financial lives to an adviser, it’s more than just handling money. Wrapped up in the “money” are families, emotions, conflicts, histories, anxieties and aspirations. These are dimensions visible only through heart-to-heart socializing that make humans unique.

For the majority of the individual investor market, and all segments therein, a human adviser (vs. solely a robo/technology interaction) is the preferred medium for receiving advice and counsel; the trusted adviser is someone to relate to, to share with, and to be inspired by.

Both Feet Firmly in the Relating Business
Over-reliance on digital technology is the greatest temptation facing today’s wealth advisory business. Volume of communication doesn’t equate to a high-quality, adviser-to-client relationship. Advisers may know more surface details about their clients than ever before (because of social media), but this veneer masks what’s really happening within the client as a person.

The volume of “stuff” pouring through an adviser’s smart phone or other device overwhelms particular details about a client that otherwise would allow a relationship to deepen. All this disconnected information becomes white noise to the client/person the adviser needs to know.

Budgeting Daily Time for Relating
The adviser’s communication feed to its clients (e.g. newsletters, LinkedIn updates, Facebook posts, blogs, etc.) is delivered impersonally—but it sure is efficient!

That’s the problem. How often does an adviser pause and read a client’s Facebook page and send a personal email reflecting on the content? Or, after a meeting, sit down and write a meaningful, hand-written reply?

While keeping technology in its rightful place, an adviser can deepen client relationships with these four steps.

  1. Schedule daily relating time. In every day, there’s an hour available to do special relating with clients apart from the normal reporting and associated activities. The time is there, it just needs to be a priority and a matter of focusing on the “few” and not the “many”.
  1. Partition the hour to specific clients. For the allotted time, take, say, two clients and devote 30 minutes to each with the end task being a personal interaction of some form. Write a note thanking them for their business; send an article about one of their interests; write a meaningful comment about a family picture on a Facebook page; send a book with a note inside the front cover; place a phone call just to see how the client’s children are doing or the status of a parent’s illness. Unlike business-type communications, these relational interactions are of a higher standard: something the client will keep. Each keepsake you create for your client, the deeper his or her loyalty to you will be.
  1. Log the activity in your CRM. Make a note in each client’s activity file. It only takes a few minutes of the allotted 30 minutes, but it results in a diary of meaningful contact. Across the year, the adviser will see the volume of these interactions (i.e. there are about 260 business days in a year * two interactions a day = 520 quality interactions). Also, use the CRM’s follow-up system to create a client rotation program such that each client will receive at least two keepsake communications from you each year.
  1. Get the company involved. Make this “relating hour” a company priority. Encourage the team to come up with creative ways to express care and concern. Especially for a client’s life-changing events such as marriages, births and deaths, engage the company in the joy or sorrow.

Relating Impacts
In a people business like investment advice, clients want to be treated specially (and they’re paying good fees for this treatment). Attending to the inner person with focused—and unexpected—communication shifts the business from money to friendship. And, advisers that have both a business and personal relationship with clients always win.

Kirk Loury

Kirk Loury
Wealth Planning Consulting Inc.
Princeton Junction, New Jersey

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The Value of Being a Client’s ‘Chief Editing Officer’

It’s been said that if you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t much matter which direction  you’re headed, because you are certainly bound to end up somewhere. This parable, while likely outdated, could not be any truer in today’s world of infinite choices.

There are literally thousands of different things clients could be doing with their lives every day. The number of trips, shows, apps, movies, jobs, people and organizations that people have the opportunity to watch, visit, work for, talk to or engage with is dizzying. Fifty years ago there were five channels, now there are 500. The same proliferation of choice can be applied across virtually every aspect of life. iPhone apps anybody?

It is this proliferation of choice that makes focus and clarity so critically important in our lives today and therein lies the opportunity for financial planners.

The Idea of a Chief Editing Officer
Jack Dorsey, the chief executive officer of Twitter and Square—yes, he works 60 hours a week at both companies—has been often quoted as saying that as CEO he is the “chief editing officer” of his organization. What he means by this is simply that each and every day, every employee has brilliant new ideas and visions of how to enhance each respective company. Engineers have ideas on how to redesign Twitter to engage more users. Square marketers have ideas on how to build a stronger brand to help drive sales growth.

And as chief editing officer, Dorsey sees his most critical function as being able to provide clarity of direction for his organization by sifting through all of the noise—amazing ideas from really smart people—and pulling out and focusing on the one or two things that are critically important to the long-term success of the company. Everything else is cut in favor of pinpoint clarity around one main purpose.

What if, as financial advisers, we operated as the chief editing officer of clients’ lives? Sure, ultimately the client must choose what their main purpose is, but what if we could help facilitate that process in a more structured way?

And no, “How much do you want to spend in retirement on a monthly basis?” is not clarity of purpose.

Clarity Around Values
Financial planning is about creating an orderly framework for evaluating trade-offs in a world of limited resources—time being first, money being second. Which is why skipping over this critical first step of clarifying values (i.e. what is most important to clients) can be a huge mistake. Most plans require some give and take, whether that is “we’ll spend a little less now, so we can save a little more to be able to retire a little earlier,” virtually all planning requires trade-offs.

And without clarity around values and purpose, there’s essentially no great way to decide what that trade-off is. Which is why it is essential for us to create a consistent process for uncovering what is really important to clients before jumping into the trade-off discussion.

Take for example, an exercise that behavioral coaching firm, Think2Perform, offers. There are roughly fifty cards in the Think2Perform card deck, all listing out certain values. From money to health, work to religion, friends to family, cards list out all kinds of different values a person could hold. During the exercise, which works great in an initial discovery meeting—or what I like to call the clarity and organization meeting—clients are asked to narrow down their selection from half the deck, then to their top 15 choices, then to top 10, then to top five.

Once a client has narrowed in on their top five values it becomes considerably easier to make the hard trade-off decisions later on. For example, if a client lists: family, health, integrity, security and community as their primary values, then we have a framework for helping to evaluate trade-offs once we get into the planning.

Clarity Around Critical Behaviors
Enter the technical side of financial planning. Yes, after all, the technical side of financial planning is important, but it isn’t the only piece to the overall puzzle. Once clarity is established with a client it becomes our job to determine what behaviors are critical to success (i.e. the plan).

Just as there are a million different things clients could do each and every day, there are also thousands of different options when it comes to how they might arrive at their ideal destination safely. This is where the chief editing officer comes back into the picture. We must help clients understand—and then hold them accountable for—the critical tasks and behaviors that must occur consistently over long periods of time to achieve their vision of a perfect life.

For example, should a client be saving into a Roth or traditional IRA? Saving into an HSA? Buying term or whole life? The decisions are endless and our job as advisers is to help build clarity around where exactly a client wants to go and then edit out all of the less desirable actions that are necessary to get there.


image by Dan Phillips Photography - Cedar Falls, Iowa

Matt Cosgriff, CFP®
Financial Adviser
Lifewise powered by BerganKDV
Minneapolis, MN


Editor’s Note: The following Financial Planning Association content may be of interest to you: