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Conversation: The Relationship-Builder That Actually Wins


Conversation: The Relationship-Builder That Actually Wins

While the headlines all seem to indicate that robos and technology will rule, it’s the real relationship-builder that actually wins.

It seems easier than ever to communicate with others: The Internet, smartphones, texting and social media, each at the ready to comment, share and respond. Yet for all of the communicating that we do, real “conversation” seems to be a less frequent occurrence. Pile on the barrage of headlines and rhetoric – especially those we’ve been seeing regarding the elections and the DoL rule – and people tend to react rather than engage with one another.

So it was refreshing to attend Schwab IMPACT a few weeks back. Their forum and theme – “Join the Conversation” ­­– gave advisors, recruiters and others that work in the independent space an opportunity to hit the pause button and reconnect with others in the industry with less noise and more human connection.

“Lots to think about, talk about, and take back to your firm.”

There’s no doubt that we’re all scratching our heads over what’s next for the financial advice industry. Having the opportunity to open up the conversation about the changing landscape helped to demystify and diffuse some of the concern in a way that only real conversation can.

As recruiters, our business life is built around conversation. In this hyper-speed, super-busy world that we live in, it’s imperative that those conversations we have with those we counsel are rich in substance and benefit—only then can we develop the trust that relationships are built upon. The same holds true for financial advisors: The ability to have “real”, consistent conversations with clients is key to developing strong relationships and businesses.

Yet the emergence of new technologies – such as social media and “robo advisors” – has created more disruption in our ability to actually speak with one another. Communication is often left to posted messages or automated emails—with little to no engagement, and therefore no real conversation.

The reality is that the value of conversation as a relationship builder will never go away. It’s our job to find new ways to re-incorporate it into what we do. So, with this unifying theme of the value of conversation in a new landscape, here are 7 takeaways that I found can be applied to an advisor’s daily regimen.

  1. Many advisors grew up in the “trust-me trade era,” said Schwab’s President Bernie Clark. That’s not the future the next generation relates to. They want to know you care about them. So having conversations that share greater detail and engage them in outcomes will go a long way to establishing trust.
  2. “The Robo advisor will not take over the industry,” posited Clark. Investment advice will increasingly trend toward a mix of technology and live professionals who have meaningful conversations with clients. How you bring the human touch into your firm is part of the “secret sauce” that will separate you from your competitors.
  3. Schwab’s CEO Walt Bettinger opined that in the past you could pay for advertising, and get brand loyalty by buying your way into the “cultural conversation”. Today, it’s completely different. It’s no longer what you say about yourself; it’s what others say about you.
  4. In the past, our Centers of Influence (COIs) were those that we wined and dined over lunch with the hope of garnering referrals. Changes in culture and the emergence of technology have pushed two-hour lunches into extinction (and who has time for them?). Understanding who your COIs are and seeking their partnership by having open and direct conversations with them will help you to develop mutually beneficial relationships.
  5. Sherry Turkel, an MIT professor and renowned social scientist, summed up our obsession with texting, Facebook and Instagram as, “I share, therefore I am.” That is, people believe that by participating in our digital culture, they are having real conversations. While this might be true at times, that is often not the case. Many social media conversations are superficial, and while they can influence relationships they often lack the intimacy needed to build lasting relationships. Our focus instead should be on striving for deeper relationships with real meaning.
  6. Emotion, stress and repressed feelings influence our decision-making and communication process, Dr. Marc Brackett of Yale University reminded us. Our “emotional Intelligence” drives our ability to have conversations about “how and what we feel” with our clients and co-workers. And having those conversations is key to a more balanced business life; one where we are more in touch with what our clients’ and others need from us.
  7. “Stories matter…and whoever tells the best story wins,” shared Pixar artist and writer Matthew Luhn (known for his work on “Toy Story”, “Finding Nemo”, “Monsters, Inc.” and many others). Stories that are “memorable, impactful and personal” allow people to connect not only with the story, but also with the storyteller. So understanding the power of storytelling in our professional interactions will help to develop those important connections and build more lasting bonds.

While Schwab did an amazing job of gathering experts in communication, all was brought to light during a conversation I had with an advisor about what differentiates one advisor from another. According to “Bob”, he attributes his success to lasting relationships he built with his clients through consistent communication. Instead of just reaching out to clients to schedule year-end reviews or when potential market-impacting events are on the horizon (e.g., Brexit, the elections, etc.), he has timely, consistent conversations with them. Some are in-person, others by phone, e-mail, and even traditional mail; sometimes just to check-in or to see if they have questions.

By communicating regularly, Bob believes events that could have short- or long-term impact are “normalized” in his clients’ minds. That is, he’s not just calling because there’s bad news. Bob believes that by doing this, he develops trust with his clients and they become less sensitive to the market, political and international gyrations that send others who may be less informed into tail spins.

The reality is that while technology may provide us with a vehicle to reach others, it’s the ability to understand the value of consistent, interactive conversation that enables us to develop deep and lasting relationships. Actually engaging in that conversation is what will provide real impact to your business and life.

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