Don't forget: Salesmanship is what caused your success
By Ed Morrow
Intl. Assoc. of Registered Financial Consultants
One of my good friends once said to me, “I used to be a salesman. I sold life insurance policies, then a bit of long-term disability.” He said, “But now, I am a financial services professional! Not being a salesman anymore has increased my self-esteem, but reduced my income. What’s wrong?”
I asked him, “Would your self-esteem grow if you doubled your income? Would it increase if you were in more prestigious offices? Would you feel more professional if you were attracting higher-caliber clients?”
His face immediately resonated positively, and then you could see the doubt and fear creep in. “But how can I do that?”
The answer was simple: Go back to being a salesman! Not a policy peddler — but someone who closes new relationships more effectively. When my friend’s insurance sales level initially rose, he delivered policies in nice, simulated leather wallets. His life illustrations were in attractive binders and the benefits were apparent in the illustration charts.
He sent a financial, estate and insurance newsletter to his clients monthly, mailed personally signed birthday cards, and had an annual client luncheon in early December of each year. He was an extremely successful life insurance salesman. Every year, he was adding about 40 to 50 new clients.
He made the transition to financial services and planning, and for a while, his income continued to increase as he delivered more sophisticated investment services to his established clients. Unfortunately, his client acquisition started to decline. I asked him to tell me how many new clients he contracted last year. He counted them on his fingers, and stopped before reaching 10.
As he and his clientele aged, he would lose some every year to retirement, death, disability and fierce competition for the most affluent of his clients. Already, he was fighting to retain his best clients, who were being solicited by younger, more aggressive independent firms and by major financial institutions.
My friend was forgetting the skills that brought him to a status of success — salesmanship. His stance was that of “I am a very competent financial consultant and you would do well to hire me!” All of that enthusiasm and confidence that had accelerated his early career was disappearing. We scheduled another meeting the following week and I commented, “I’m going to show you some techniques that will correct this long-term decline.” I was not really planning to tell him something new; I was going to re-acquaint him with his past. When I arrived at his office, he greeted me enthusiastically and said, “I’ve really been looking forward to what you have brought to show me.” He was looking for magic answers, but they were already there in his office and in his mind. We just had to pull them out and re-activate his successful practices.
I opened this session with, “Let’s imagine that I am your target client: age 55, owner of a successful electronic distributorship, married, two children, three grandchildren and making modest contributions to my church. I drive a Cadillac Escalade and share ownership of a summer cabin with my brother. I plan to retire at 65 — but that is not so major with me, as I enjoy both work and leisure, so I could quit at 60 or work into my 70s. You got my name from one of my best customers, so show me what you can do for me!”
He responded, “Well, I am a professional financial advisor, so I will prepare a plan for you, help you improve your investment return, and review your wills and trusts. You are going to appreciate these benefits.” I turned around and walked out of his office. I waited for about one very long minute and returned.
I said, “You just turned me off — big time. After that introduction, you would have a very uphill battle acquiring me as a client. You have forgotten to use all the skills that propelled your success.”
I started with what needed to take place before the prospect and the advisor met in person. “Where is the letter you send to a prospect making reference to the meeting? Where is the agenda of what will be covered?” He answered, “Well, I don’t send those out any more.”
“You are talking about preparing a plan for me. What will it cost?” He answered, “That will range from $2,000 to $3,000, more or less.” I responded, “That is pretty inexpensive for someone who is obviously worth more than one million dollars. But show me what the plan will look like. He said, “Oh, I can’t show you that, since all our work is very confidential.” My reaction was, “Well, Cadillac has some secret electronics in their cars, but I’d never buy one without seeing it, driving it and imagining myself tooling safely down the road in luxury and new car smell.” I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Where’s your sample plan?” No answer.
“Are you going to need a lot of information from me?” I asked him. He said, “Yes, of course,” and he pulled out a fact finder with a life insurance company logo prominent on page one. So I told him exactly what a new prospect would be thinking: “You just want to sell me a life insurance policy, don’t you?” We all know that a lot of the information required to prepare a high-level plan is contained in various documents. Therefore, I challenged him, “What do you have to make it easier to gather all the other documents?” No answer. And then I counted off all the other things he did not have readily available:
- His brochure about the services he offers
- A simple, one-page engagement agreement
- An objective fee schedule
- A satisfaction assurance certificate
- A plan acceptance certificate
- A privacy and non-disclosure statement
- A planning documents archive case
I then asked to see a real financial plan, and he got one out. In some ways, it was a great plan and in other ways it was awful. I quickly saw some colorful graphics that clearly pointed out surpluses (in green) and shortages (in red). Several pages had columns of numbers that clearly illustrated past or future performance. His recommendations, near the front of the plan, were appropriate and creative — but in the wrong place and wrong order. The binder was furnished by a life insurance company which was imprinted with their logo, further emphasizing insurance as his motive.
This three-ring notebook included 120 pages of columns, charts, text and suggestions, but there were no table of contents or dividers to separate the components into a logical format. His business card was glued (crooked) to the inside of the plan notebook, and there was no identification of his service assistant.
I had to tell him the truth. “Your recommendations are very solid and would make major improvements in this client’s financial situation, but the plan looks cheap, and your fee of $2,000 is far too low for a client like this one with a net worth of over two million. The plan and the fee are lacking in credibility. You do not identify the relationship between the cost (your fee) and the benefit (improved retirement or survivor income) of your planning services. You have omitted a critical issue – the justification for hiring you.” Pride is transmitted
When you are well and fully prepared for that first meeting with a prospect, it will be reflected in your attitude. It was missing in my friend because he had not updated his initial presentation — and deep inside he knew that. So, he did not appear ready, his body language and his vocal inflection detracted from the presentation. One reason that he was not charging an adequate fee is that he knew his preparation and plan were not up to snuff. When I showed him how to open and present a documents archive case, he instantly realized how this would transform the interview. He asked me about the cost of a case, and when I replied “between $60 and $80, depending on volume,” he thought that was expensive. Why should he care — the cost was easily recoverable by increasing his plan fee to a reasonable level. The quality was apparent and matched the caliber of his target clients.
Preparation is inspirational
When you have taken the time to be well prepared, it will inspire you to deliver the presentation of your services with confidence and flair. Your voice and mannerisms will impact your prospect. After all, why would anyone want to retain a financial consultant that did not have pride in his or her work and preparation?
The interview folder
This is essential to displaying a sample plan effectively, because it avoids the issue of a client wanting to study the plan binder. They will have a nice folder with various items they can review at their leisure. Never give a sample plan to a client to take away for a review. They will not understand how the plan recommendations match the verbal comments of the client for whom the plan was prepared. I once had a physician request to take a sample plan home for study, and he was a bit upset when I declined. So I said, “Doctor, if one of your patients needing cardiac bypasses asked you if they could take home a sample, how would you reply?”
His response said it all: “What do I sign for us to get started?” As you hand each item to your prospect, sign them with a flourish and pass them over with both hands. This is just a small bit of ceremony that emphasizes each one is important. These should be printed in color on nice stock.
As you gravitate from primarily selling products to becoming a provider of sophisticated financial advice and service, it is easy to forget that from the very beginning, you are still a salesman! The only difference is what you sell. When you make careful and professional preparation, it will produce significant results. You will increase your fees, improve your closing ratio, gain more referrals, and enhance your own self-image. Not only will you feel better, but you’ll also soon feel richer.