This is the fourth in a four part series from The Pocket Guide to Sales for Financial Advisors , by Beverly D. Flaxington
T he selling process, to those who have not been trained in it, has its own mystique. The scripts, the proper words at the proper time, and the ability to listen past an objection someone is presenting to you in order to find what they really need are all skills that few people possess naturally. So how does a financial professional — one who wants to grow his business and desires to sell more effectively — do this in a comfortable and effective manner? Let’s look at five tenets of successful selling:
As talked about in the previous section, selling is all about being in relationship with another person, couple, or group. It may be a short relationship if you decide not to work together, or a long relationship if they become a client. It may be a relationship wherein they choose to work with you, or if they do not, perhaps they recommend a family member or friend for your wealth planning services. Many selling terms — for example “the target,” “the prospect,” or “the close” — sound negative and treat the person trying to make the decision as if they were a fish you were trying to get on your hook. However, if you change the dynamic and the way you think about the selling process, you will change your own attitude to a more positive one. Most advisors are excellent in client relationships — trustworthy, reliable, and honest. Those same skills need to be pulled into the selling process.
Selling, at its root, is simply solving a problem for a client by offering a solution that meets their needs.
Many businesses have the “if we build it, they will come and buy it” mentality, and they find out too late that not enough people saw the solution to their problems in what was built. Your job is to uncover the underlying problem and understand how your prospect talks about that problem. You want to get a window into why it is a problem, and what success looks like to them.
Most of us don’t realize what kind of problems we have until someone brings them to our attention. Think about an inventor such as Steve Jobs. No one knew they needed an iPod, iPhone, or iPad until he sold us on them! So your job in selling is two-fold — you need to ask the right questions to help someone uncover a problem you can solve, and also to paint a picture of what someone might be dealing with that would lead them to need your product, service, or solution.
Life insurance salespeople are particularly adept at this. When a person has their first child, an insurance person can stun them with stories of uninsured parents who left their children helpless and without financial support. Most new parents don’t realize this is a problem, but after hearing the horror stories about other young couples, many realize that they have a potential problem for which they need to be prepared. It works the same with financial planning — think of existing clients who came in thinking they didn’t have a problem, or identifying the wrong problem, or overlooking some very important information.
Effectively qualifying and knowing how and when to close is the place where so many professional salespeople falter. In many cases, a suspect or prospect is a warm body who offers an opportunity for a potential sale. As the hope-to-be seller, you may spend a lot of time providing information, following up with phone calls, keeping the person in your pipeline, and assuming there are assets attached that will someday be yours.
The problem is that you don’t want to be distracted by people who will never actually work with you. Some prospects may take years to close, so don’t immediately walk away from prospects that don’t show short-term interest. The longer-term ones may belong on your drip list to send marketing materials and updates to over time. Importantly, though, to determine who is short and who is long term for the close, you need to continually ask yourself, “At this time, does this person have a need or problem they are trying to solve, and do they recognize this problem?” The truth is that not everyone is a prospect: There are people who are simply curious. There are people who are nice and will talk with you all day with no intention to ever buy. There are people who want to shop around and make sure whatever they currently have is the best available. It’s your job to focus on the people who are deserving of your time and attention right now, and weed out those who will waste your time with no return on your investment.
As the service provider, you have a right to know at each stage of the process what’s happening with your prospect and why. If they ask you for something — brochure, information, to run some numbers, etc. — you can ask why they need it and what they are hoping to gain from it: “Help me to understand your decision-making process. How will you use this brochure? What will you do with it? I’m happy to send it, but I just want to understand your thinking about its importance to make sure it is the best piece for you at this time.”
We often observe advisors not making it clear to a client that they are looking for new business, or to the prospect that they want their business! We all like to be asked — we don’t want to be the one to assume the forward position, so be sure you are continually reminding the person how much you’d like their business (or additional business): “My objective is to meet your needs and I am confident I can do that effectively, so I ask that you consider working with me. Are we able to pick a date that we can sign an agreement and start working together?”
Summarize the key points of agreement or benefits acknowledged and ask them if you’ve missed anything. If not, ask them if there’s any reason why they couldn’t become a client now.
Many a sale has been lost because the advisor engaging in the process did everything right, but then neglected to actually ask for the business when the time was right!
While advisors talk about the importance of relationships and the depth of relationships they have with strategic alliances and clients, the truth is that there is always room for improvement. Find every opportunity to deepen a relationship by learning more about the person and what they care about, by holding events and providing education they could find useful, and by providing information they can use and share. If an advisor is investing in relationships on an ongoing basis and paying attention to clients and alliances outside of scheduled meetings, the process of asking for referrals and finding new prospects becomes much easier. Make sure you have recorded significant events and milestones for clients. Know their interests and hobbies. Know what information they have and use in financial decision-
making, and provide what they need. Find ways to provide value outside of the investment process.
Having new information, material, or updates to share can sometimes be the “ping” that a client needs to pass it along to someone else. Asking a client about a vacation and learning they love to golf is the clue to invite them to your golf club or send them monogrammed golf balls for their next trip. Learning about charitable interests and volunteer opportunities gives you a chance to talk about philanthropy.
Good financial advisors continually work a relationship and find ways to stay top-of-mind to the prospect. While you should qualify and be careful not to waste time, the flip side is that things change in the prospect’s life, and you want to remind them you are there and available to help when they need you.
Life is an exchange; in many cases, when you show a sincere interest in them as they are and not as you are, the person will often show a sincere interest in return. If someone believes you can meet their needs, solve their problem, and understand who they are, they will be loyal and committed unless something happens in the relationship.
If followed, these five tenets of successful selling will take your sales abilities to higher levels of success — and as a bonus they will, generally, help to improve your relationships.