Speaking the language of trust

By Bill Bachrach

Bachrach & Associates

What’s more vital to your success and happiness as a financial advisor, your technical skills or your people skills? Tough question? Not really. It’s your people skills. Hands down. No contest.

How do you know that your people skills are more crucial to your success and happiness as a financial advisor than your technical skills?

1) It’s your people skills that get you hired in the first place.

2) Everything technical can be outsourced or delegated and nothing “people” can be outsourced or delegated.

You can hire technical experts to write the financial plan, do the asset allocation, manage the money, assess risk and recommend appropriate insurance, do the tax planning, prepare the tax returns and do the legal work.

But none of your people skills can be outsourced. You can’t hire someone else to be charming for you, ask good questions, listen with empathy, be trustworthy, build rapport, give advice with confidence, provide leadership, and hold people accountable to implement.

I’m not suggesting that you can be a financial moron and be a successful financial advisor. What I am suggesting is that you invest more time in your people skills than your technical skills, because it’s your people skills that get you in front of prospects and your people skills that get you hired.

It’s your people skills that manage your clients’ expectations. It’s your people skills that help you help your clients manage their emotions during turbulent times. It’s your people skills that generate referrals and convert referrals into clients.

People skills are like muscles and fitness. They can be developed to be strong and productive, and they will decline if you don’t consistently work to keep them sharp and strong.

One of the best books ever written about effective communication is “You’ve Got to be Believed to be Heard,” by Bert Decker. Bert is a leading authority on communication.

My favorite quote from this great book is, “The most important language in effective communicating is an almost unspoken language, the language of trust.”

How do you speak the language of trust? I believe it boils down to three things:
    1. Know the right questions to ask, when to ask them, and how to ask them.
    2. Listen with empathy.
    3. When it’s your turn to talk, be able to make an offer or give advice that is relevant for them, with confidence and conviction and in a way that tends to inspire action.
First, I’ll explain each of these three things and then I’ll give you an example for putting it all together. What are some of the right questions to ask? In the beginning of a potential business relationship, the questions are open-ended and about things that are meaningful, important, significant and compelling to them. Questions like:
  • What’s important to you?
  • What are you most passionate about? People? Causes?
  • What’s more important in your life than money?
  • Who do you care about?
  • What are your aspirations for the future?

Notice how the questions are oriented to draw out things that are positive and tend to stimulate positive emotions. Consider the positive orientation of these questions in contrast to how the old school salesperson would tend to focus on questions that draw out problems and fears. Don’t be a salesperson; be a trusted advisor.
Speaking the language of trust means that you ask questions where the answers inspire people about their futures, not scare them about the future. The better you understand what inspires a person about the future, the more likely it is that they will feel good about you, even trust you. This puts you in a much better position to make an offer that might help them have the future they aspire to. More about making the offer later.

My friend and colleague, Rick Barrera (author of the bestseller “Over-Promise, Over-Deliver”) speaks of the importance of “going deep.” What he is referring to is going deep emotionally. To do this, you ask clarifying and expanding questions in response to the answers you get from your initial meaningful, important, significant and compelling questions. An effective clarifying question is, “What do you mean by __________?” An effective expanding question is, “Tell me more about _______________.”

Clarifying questions provide more detail about their answer. Expanding questions give you more information about their answer.

Impact questions are some of my favorite questions. They take what you have discovered during a conversation that’s gone emotionally deep from someplace meaningful and bring it to a crescendo about the impact and results this will have on their life. Impact questions are questions like, “What impact will that have on your life?” and “Once you have achieved ____________, what will be the result of that?”

Listening with empathy is easy if you care about people, especially if you really care about helping people realize what’s important to them. But empathy is the hardest part of the process to learn.

An argument could be made that you either care or you don’t. If you don’t care, you’ll struggle to empathize. But don’t give up. You may find that by engaging people in conversations that are meaningful, important, significant and compelling and truly listening that you will become more and more interested, to the point where you actually care.

The risk of not caring is that people could feel manipulated by your questions because of the lack of emotional connection. Hopefully, you have discovered that the most rewarding aspect of being a financial advisor is helping people make better financial choices so they get what they want.

You have asked good questions, gone emotionally deep with clarifying, expanding and impact questions, and listened with empathy, so what do you do now? It’s your turn to talk. If you make them an offer or give them advice that is relevant for them, it will be music to their ears. How do you know what’s relevant for them? That’s what you discovered while you were listening to the answers to all of your excellent questions.

My three rules for making the offer are that it should be free, relevant and easy. We’ve already covered relevant. Free means they don’t pay anything to take you up on your offer and easy means little or no effort is required to accept your offer. Your offer can be to send them something relevant in the mail, to come to your office for a meeting or anything in between.

Here’s an example of using an opening question that’s meaningful, followed by clarifying and expanding questions, then an impact question, and wrapped up with a relevant offer to take the next step. You would ask this question after the usual pleasantries, depending on whether you are in a business or social situation.
    You: What are some of the things in your life that you are most passionate about?

    Them: We have had a few friends and family members who have been affected by cancer, so we have gotten involved in some fund-raising and support efforts to find a cure and help people who are battling the disease.

    You: What do you mean by “involved?” (Clarifying question.)

    Them: Well, some of our involvement is as simple as writing checks for donations and some of it is more personal.

    You: Hmm, interesting. Tell me more about the things that are more personal. (Expanding question.)

    Them: One of our favorite things to do is drive the van to pick up families who have transportation issues to get to their treatment.

    You: What makes that one of your favorite things? (Clarifying question.)

    Them: A couple of things. We get a lot more gratification from doing something hands on. And we get to know the people we’re helping on a more personal level.

    You: What kind of impact has getting to know these people on a more personal level had on your life? (Impact question.)

    Them: We are so much more grateful what for what we have! All the little crap that most of us complain about is so insignificant. When you meet people who are battling for their lives it really puts things in perspective. We always bring one of our children along and I think this is having as much impact on their lifetime value system as anything we could teach them at home. And the inspiration! I could go on and on.

    You: Wow, that’s really powerful. Thank you for telling me about that. (Pause to reflect and then make an offer.) Some of the work that I do as a financial advisor helps people free up time — both physical and mental — to do more of the kinds of meaningful things in their lives that you have described here. It would be premature to presume that you might be a good client for me or that I would be the right financial advisor for you, but, based on what you just told me matters to you, I believe you would get some value from a book that describes some ideas that could be relevant for you. I’d be happy to drop a copy of this book in the mail to you, with my compliments (free), and follow up on the phone to discuss how some of the concepts in the book could make a difference for you (easy). Would you like that?

    Them: That’s very generous of you. Thank you.

    You: Do you have a card?
Get their information, mail them the book or something else free, relevant and easy (not marketing or promotional material!) and arrange a time to follow-up on the phone.

You can apply this process everywhere with friends, family, at social events, at business networking events, and virtually anywhere you could strike up a conversation with a stranger.

Implementing what you have learned in this article will help you improve your people skills by speaking the language of trust. You’ll help more people, earn more and better clients, and more quickly attain the future to which you aspire.