Difficult customer types: Dealing with the "passive pleaser"

By Joe Anzalone

Asset Marketing Systems


You’ve just had an enjoyable client consultation with a warm, friendly couple. They asked several excellent questions, and you learned a great deal about their families, careers and their goals for retirement. The meeting went longer than you would have preferred, but they said a strong relationship with their prospective advisor was important, so you didn’t mind. They mentioned that they’ve met with a few other advisors in the area but really feel comfortable with you, and would love a second appointment to explore their planning options in more detail.

You never hear from them again.

Has this ever happened to you? If it has, chances are good that you’ve just met a couple of “passive pleasers.” This customer type is difficult to read, because they seem so friendly and interested in what you have to say. They talk at length about their families and communities, leading you to believe you’ve made a strong personal connection with them. When they disappear, you’re shocked, and wonder what happened to them? They really liked me!

Sure they were nice. Passive pleasers are nice to everyone, they meet with everyone and they talk to everyone. They just don’t buy from anyone. When you have this type of prospect in your pipeline, it’s important to understand how to deal with them. Passive pleasers are motivated by two things:
  • The fear of doing something wrong
  • The fear of not being liked
Hence, we call them “passive” because they are afraid to make active buying decisions, and “pleasers” because of their need to be liked. This type of prospect abhors risk and prefers the safety and security inherent in the status quo. So, when dealing with this difficult customer type, remember these tips:
  • Point out the risk in not acting: Fear drives the passive pleaser. If they believe there is more risk in the status quo than in your solution, they will listen. Point out the inherent danger in their current position:

    “Given what your goals are, there may be further risks to your principal in this portfolio due to certain factors. The large positions are susceptible to systematic risk, and some of these other positions may have exposure to both interest rate risk and reinvestment risk. What are your thoughts on these possible risks?”

  • Approach with caution: Pleasers fear decisions, because they’re always afraid of making a mistake. An early product presentation is a killer here. The relationship-building step — always important — will take even longer with them. You must also reassure them of the value you will place in your future relationship after any transactions take place:

    “No matter what we accomplish in the near future, we have a systematic follow-up plan that we believe in for all of our future dealings with one another. In fact, in addition to our in-person annual review meeting, we will contact you on a quarterly basis to gauge your comfort level with any of our recommended positions, and we’ll encourage your feedback, especially if your investment goals change at any time. How does that sound to you?”

  • Use “feeling” language: Pleasers are sensitive to what people think of them and prefer security. Use words like “comfortable,” “safety,” “prove,” and so forth when describing your solution, and make it clear to them that you have enjoyed their company. More than other types, they need you to like them.

    “We’ll talk further. I want both of you to know that I feel comfortable with our meeting and feel we’re on the same page. Just to reconfirm what we’ve agreed upon, we have decided that your three primary goals are... While any investment or savings program carries some degree of uncertainty, you have been smart to choose this type of proven course, which has worked for such goals in the past. Would you agree?”
These difficult prospect types can be maddening, because it seems you’ve done everything correctly before you lose contact with them. To ensure success, speak their language and give them good, constructive reassurance about their financial goals and needs.