First meetings that work
By Jason Kestler
Kestler Financial Group, Inc.
We've seen hundreds of "fool proof" marketing and prospecting systems. Direct mail companies and marketing organizations have made millions of dollars off gullible agents who believe more prospects will fix anything. Don't misunderstand, an abundance of prospects is not a bad thing. What's important is what you do with those prospects you actually meet.
As the industry has migrated towards independence from captivity, the benefits have been huge for both companies and producers. But, this independence comes at a price.
The agency system, which historically recruited and trained producers, is constantly shrinking. Today, when a new agent enters the system, who teaches them how to prospect, ask for referrals and overcome objections? How do they learn what to say during the initial, data-gathering interview? A well thought out, memorized, first presentation is the best way to establish credibility and gather information from your clients.
Your first visit with a client will dictate how every successive meeting will be conducted. You must take "tactful" control of the situation in the first 30 seconds.
If you meet clients in their homes, ask to use the kitchen table "so you can spread out a little." Avoid the dining room table — that's for guests — you want to be family. Avoid the family room — you don't want the "king" and "queen" sitting upon their "thrones." Eliminate distractions — television, radio, and kids (if possible). Consider carrying a Disney DVD — to keep their attention — and Tootsie Pops to keep their mouths busy.
Positioning is very important. Sit around the end of a table with the husband and wife at right angles to each other. You want the eye contact to be with you — not each other. When you are ready to begin, the only thing you should have on the table is a legal pad and a pen. Don't make them apprehensive with stacks of paper or product brochures. You don't want to give them the impression you are ready to sell them something without first trying to understand their needs. Remember, "Prospects don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
Put yourself in your clients' position. If this is the first time you've met, they have a lot of questions going through their mind. Who is this person? What are their qualifications? What is this going to cost me? How does he/she get paid? Unless these questions are addressed within the first 15 minutes of your meeting, the client will continue to focus on the unanswered questions rather than the important information to follow.
The confidence a prospect places in you as a professional is directly proportional to the confidence you display in yourself. What you say is important, but how you say it is vital. Fumbling for words gives the impression of being unprepared or disorganized. Going directly to product explanations tells the client you are a salesman rather than an adviser.
Once the client begins to open up, let the stream of consciousness flow. The more information you acquire at this point the better. When they've finished, begin asking a lot of open ended questions. "Tell me more about…," "How do you feel about…," What are your objectives with…," What is your relationship with…." This is the time to begin getting more detail on the topics you've already uncovered. Your objective is to get original paperwork out on the table — original policies, original account statements, original trust documents, etc.
You can use several techniques to accomplish this. "Who are the beneficiaries of your life insurance policies? Are you sure?", "What are the specific sub-accounts in your 401-k?", "How are they allocated?", "When was the last time your will was updated?", "What class of shares are the mutual funds you own?", "Why don't you go grab that so we can be sure?"
The more you get to know the client — their hopes, their dreams, their fears — the more you will be able to provide a solution they will endorse. In addition, by listening intently, you will uncover sales that may not have been obvious at first. All too often I've seen advisers zero in on a sale (within their comfort area) and totally miss a huge potential sale somewhere else just because they didn't listen or ask the right questions.
After gathering all the information you need (and some you don't), you can say, "Let me make a recommendation. It appears you have several issues that need to be addressed. Let's schedule a time to get back together next week. In the mean time I can take this information along with me and (prepare a needs analysis; evaluate your asset allocation, etc.). Would Tuesday morning or Wednesday afternoon be best for you?"
It's important that you avoid specific product recommendations on the first visit. You can plant some seeds like, "Quite often, annuities can solve this problem" or "Anyone over the age of 50 should seriously consider owning long term care coverage" and then continue with "but we can discuss that the next time we get together." This type of comment is like subliminal advertising — it subconsciously prepares them for a discussion on this topic at your next meeting.
If you feel comfortable about the attitude of the client at that time, gather your stuff, say your good-byes and be on your way. If you sense reservation, you may want to try pre-closes now. It's better to find out now that they don't want to do business with you rather than doing hours of work and wasting time with a second appointment.
You could say something like, "I have no problem investing several hours of my time analyzing your situation and preparing the reports we discussed. However, I sense that you may have some concerns and I'd rather settle them now before I waste my time and yours by scheduling another meeting." They need to understand that there is never an obligation to buy — all you ask is that they will respect your time as you respect theirs.
The day after your first meeting, send a handwritten follow-up note. This shows courtesy for their hospitality and keeps them "warm" until your next meeting. Something like, "Thank you for your time on Wednesday. I've already done some preliminary work on your case and the results look very promising. I look forward to our next meeting on … If I can be of any service in the mean time, please feel free to call."
By starting and ending your first meeting with a client on a positive note, your future meetings will be much more successful.