By Dr. Terrance J. O'Hara
Imagine the following scenario:
A person feels really bad and is experiencing difficulty breathing. As a result, he schedules an appointment to be examined by his doctor. At the end of the examination, his doctor diagnoses him to have fluid pneumonia and prescribes 500 milligrams of levofloxacin. However, the patient chimes in, "Hey Doc! I was watching an episode of House on TV last night, and he used 300 milligrams of levofloxacin to cure his patient. What do you think? Should we use 300 milligrams instead?"
With any luck, the doctor won't physically throw the patient out of her office, but you can be sure that the doctor will explain exactly who the professional is to her patient.
Our normal reaction is to laugh at how ludicrous the scenario is. Yet, it is frequently repeated in our own industry. Clients come in for an appointment...or worse yet, advisors visit them in a non-professional setting, and they want to discuss investment the advice they read in a magazine or, God forbid, heard on a one-size-fits-all, financial advice show on the television. Even more frightening, some advisors actually engage in the discussion. Why?
The predominant reason is belief. Specifically, some advisors believe that the client will go elsewhere if they do not entertain the discussion (i.e., "the client is always right"). All beliefs evolve from experience. If one's experience is limit, so may one's beliefs be limited.
Product-centric sales training is at the root of a lot of beliefs that are held sacred in the financial services industry-and notice, I said "industry" rather than "profession." We cannot claim to be a profession if our behavior does not support the claim!
Advisors are taught that "the client is always right" and that you have to impress your clients with the history of your company, your degrees, designations and licenses, and with your product knowledge so you can establish your credibility. Think back to the doctor analogy. Do you know how long your doctor has been practicing, what university he or she attended, or all the technical reasons associated with his or her diagnosis or prescription? In most case, the answer is "No" because that knowledge is not very important to you as a patient. You only care that whether you can trust the doctor can help you with your physical health. Similarly, your clients are looking for professionals who they can trust to help them with their financial health.
Another interesting aspect of sales training is its fixation with teaching us "ways to overcome objections." Why do you suppose clients "object?" Could it be that they detect that an advisor is behaving like a salesperson rather than as a trusted professional? We all have the same reaction to some who is trying to sell us something: we become defensive because we sense they are trying to do something for their benefit rather than for ours. Instead, if you create an environment that is so professional and client-centric that your clients immediate sense that their interests are the focal point of the appointment, there is no reason for an objection to arise. That is why doctors are not trained to "handle objections."
So, how can we evolve from being perceived to be financial service providers to being acknowledged as financial service professionals? They key lies in being will to expose ourselves to new experiences that, for a time, may be frightening and make us feel vulnerable. Remember, experience is the foundation of all beliefs.
True professionals work in a purely professional way. Continuing the medical analogy, doctors:
- Focus on their patients' best interests (their physical health) rather than on what medications or services they can deliver
- Tell their patients the truth, even when it is a difficult pill to swallow (no pun intended)
- Work by appointment only (other than to address medical emergencies) because they recognize the value of their time as well as that of their patients
- Work in controlled, professional environments to provide the best healthcare possible (traveling only to care for those who are incapable of traveling to them)
- Maintain their general professional skills while concentrating on areas of expertise
- Consult with specialists (or refer patients to such specialists) in areas in which those doctors have greater subject matter expertise
- Charge for their time
Substitute the word "clients" for "patients" and see if your behavior measures up to that of a medical professional. If it does, congratulations! If it does not, determine what areas of your practice you can improve to more accurately reflect the behaviors of a true professional. Specifically:
- Focus on your clients' best interests rather than on the products or services you can deliver; learn to help your clients identify their goals and the values upon which those goals are based so you can recommend solutions that offer them the highest probability of achieving their goals for the reasons that are important to them
- Tell your clients the truth, even when you have to risk the relationship because they deserve the truth
- Work by appointment only out of respect for your time and your clients' time
- Work in a controlled, professional environment ( no restaurants, homes, etc.) to provide the best experience possible (traveling only to serve those who are incapable of traveling to you)
- Maintain your general professional skills while concentrating on your area of expertise
- Consult with subject matter experts (financial planners, money managers, tax specialists, estate planning attorneys, etc.) who have greater expertise than you and form relationships with them that inure to your clients' benefit
- Charge for your time
If you provide comprehensive financial planning in a professional manner, interesting things will happen: objections will disappear and be replaced by trust; you will discover additional assets and financial needs among your clients because of the high-trust relationships that will be established; they will respect and follow your advice; and they will enthusiastically refer qualified individuals to your attention who are a reflection of them because they want to share such an outstanding experience with their family and friends, just as you would refer your family and friends to an extraordinary doctor.
If enough of us evolve to this level of performance, we will rightfully be able to introduce ourselves as members of the financial services profession. Be part of the foundation of that worthy movement.
Dr. Terrance J. O'Hara is the president and CEO of Bachrach & Associates Inc., a provider of professional development services for the financial services industry. He is as a nationally recognized motivational speaker in multiple industries and as an instructor of Financial Analysis for The American Management Association.