Three more problems with your first client meetingArticle added by Katherine Vessenes on September 14, 2009
Katherine Vessenes

Katherine Vessenes

Chanhassen, MN

Joined: August 21, 2010

My Company

It is amazing how the simplest things can sabotage even the best advisors. Here are three key mistakes that keep advisors from closing more business:

1) Not using follow-up notes. One of my best sales ideas is really a compliance idea

I have been preaching about for years as a way to keep clients happy, avoid litigation and paper your files at the same time. Little did I realize that it also helps close more business. I'm referring to the simple process of follow-up notes.

At the end of each meeting with a new prospect, I take five to ten minutes to compose a one-page summary of the meeting. Fortunately I am a very fast typist, just not very accurate! This isn't War and Peace, but a very short summary of the meeting, in bullet format.

The notes are easy; I just copy them off of the flip charts that we use throughout the first meeting to focus on what the client wants to accomplish.

Here are the things that I would usually cover in the notes:
  • The client's top 3 financial goals

  • The client's top 3 financial concerns

  • Any other pressing issues

  • Their expectations of us as their financial advisor

  • Special circumstances, if any, such as a handicapped child or inheritance

  • The next steps (which almost always included a financial plan presentation two weeks later)
While I was quickly typing up my notes, my client service manager (CSM) was reviewing the paperwork with the clients. This made the process very efficient. I would be in the same room, in case my CSM had any questions, and it kept the clients busy filling out paperwork -- activities that weren't the best use of my time.

After finishing them, I would move back to my place at the conference table and present the client with the one page of notes. Complicated cases with a lot of assets or numerous businesses were usually longer. I would quickly review them, reading them out loud, and then ask the clients if I had forgotten anything.

Not once did they tell me I had. In fact, they usually complimented me on being such a good listener. Twice they found grammatical errors, which I cheerily fixed with my pen on their copy. I then initialed the notes, dated them and asked the clients to do the same. I gave the clients a copy for their file and then saved one for my own.

This turned into a valuable sales tool. First, by reviewing the notes and asking the client if I had forgotten anything, I am confirming the sale. They have once again affirmed they are moving ahead with our process. This seemed to help make the sale stick and much less likely they would back out later.

Second, the client clearly understood, that I clearly understood them and their objectives. There were no misunderstandings. This brings the client a greater sense of peace and trust, a crucial element in closing more business.

Third, we all know financial sales can get very confusing. If clients start to have buyer's remorse when they get home, or cannot remember why we are doing a particular thing, they don't have to call me. They can just check out their notes.

Finally, it became part of the "wow" experience. I could see the pleasant surprise in their eyes when I gave them the notes. I knew other advisors were not providing this simple courtesy. It became another key reason to do business with us and not the other guys.

2) Not differentiating yourself and your firm with a compelling story. I know you don't want to hear this, but in a sense you are selling a commodity. There are lots of places in your community where clients can get a similar service and the very same products that you recommend.

A big mistake advisors make is not differentiating themselves from their competition.

These advisors may say they provide wealth management, financial planning, estate planning, insurance, etc for their clients. Big deal. So do a lot of other firms. This is not very motivating to the prospect to do business with you.

Somewhere near the end of the first meeting, after you have thoroughly explored what the client wants to accomplish, you should have a conversation like this one that we wrote for one of our favorite clients:

"Now that we have been talking about your goals and objectives, I think it would be helpful if we spent a few minutes reviewing how we do business, because it is not the same as other firms. So let me ask you this: have you ever taken your children white water rafting? (Wait for response). Well we have, too."

What do you think is the most important part of preparing for that trip? (Wait for a response). Yes, I agree the life jackets are crucial, but we think there is another preparation that is even more crucial, the white water guide.

If you've been rafting, you know the trip can be very deceiving. It is possible to be happily floating along, enjoying the scenery and calm waters, without knowing the most dangerous part of the journey is just around the corner. The change from calm and serene to wild and dangerous can happen in an instant. It is during the rapids that the experienced and trustworthy guide is essential. The guide knows when the bad waters are coming, and more importantly, how to get you and your most precious cargo -- your family -- through them to safety.

We do the same thing for our financial clients. We help them through both the calm and troubled waters of their financial lives. You could call us the guide for your financial journey."

This story is deceptively simple, and a lot more powerful than it appears on the surface.

First, we wrote a story about an activity that appealed to most of this advisor's clients.

In addition, all of his clients had young children, so the story evoked a picture of having fun with them and protecting them at the same time. It also set up the importance of having an experienced and trustworthy guide without saying "I am experienced and you can trust me." Finally it ended with what we call a brain trigger, a short description.

In this case the brain trigger was the guide for your financial journey. That became a shorthand way of describing the entire financial process, something the client would remember and see on the advisor's website and other marketing materials.

Taking this message of differentiation to your clients is important for a number of reasons, and you should repeat it in as many ways as possible: on your website, in your newsletter, and at seminars. Differentiation is vital as it gives your clients a good way to describe you to their friends. They have the message down so they can be your own free advertising campaign.

3) Failing to set the stage for referrals. My favorite marketing strategy is always word-of-mouth advertising, or referrals from your best clients. Unfortunately, in one informal survey we conducted of multimillion-dollar advisors, not one of them had a strategy in place for encouraging their clients to make referrals.

What was even more shocking was this same group was eager to spend money, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars, on stupid marketing ideas, but seemed reticent to use a marketing tactic that didn't cost them a dime!

The first meeting is the perfect time to start planting the seeds that your business grows mostly by referrals. You just need to bring it up at the right time, and it a way that is not threatening or offensive. A common mistake we see among advisors who do ask for referrals is that they bring it up too early in the conversation, typically before the prospect has seen what you can do for them or bought into you and your services.

I like to wait until the very end of the first meeting. After we have heard all their goals and objectives; after we have reviewed our compelling story; after we have confirmed the next steps, and probably after we have given them a copy of the notes. Then you can conclude your meeting with this off-hand script:

"Sometime in the next six months, you will run across someone who really needs what we do here, they need a guide for their financial journey. If it seems appropriate, and you feel comfortable, would you be willing to recommend us?" You job is to shut up and give them a chance to respond.

It is a rare person who won't agree to this as you've set up the situation. There are two big "ifs" here. Your new client must feel like it is both appropriate and they feel comfortable before they will recommend you. This becomes a non-threatening request that most people are happy to consider.

Each of these no-cost techniques: meeting notes, compelling story and a soft request for referrals can powerfully increase your business.

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