By Bill Bachrach, CSP
Bill Bachrach is the author of several books, including the best-selling Values-Based Financial Planning.TM He has delivered approximately 2,000 keynote speeches and presentations teaching financial professionals to build high-trust client relationships. For 20 years he and his team (www.baivbfp.com) have trained successful advisers to improve their client loyalty, build their business by referral only, and live a very high quality of life.
As a person whose professional life is all about coaching and training advisers, I am frequently asked, "What's the most important thing I can do to be more successful?" The answer is perfect your people skills, also known as interpersonal or communication skills.
Your success as a financial adviser has more to do with your people skills than your technical expertise. Of course, it's a good idea to have both. But in today's new reality it's your people skills that set you apart. These are the skills that enhance your connection with your existing clients because you demonstrate empathy for the pain they may be experiencing as they make the mental and emotional transition to their new economic reality. These are the skills that allow you to communicate your advice so it's acted on. It's your people skills that help you help your clients adjust their goals or their time horizons. These are the skills that help you meet prospective ideal clients. These are the skills that help you engage potential ideal clients in a way that increases the likelihood that they will become your next new ideal clients. These are the skills that help you effectively ask for referrals and make the follow-up connections with the people to whom you are referred.
What if you're not a natural people person? Don't worry about that. The problem with the "natural people person" is that he or she tends to talk too much. Talking skills are not the same as people skills.
How do you develop these people skills if you are new to our
business or polish them up if you've allowed them get a bit
Three key things: Ask good questions. Listen with empathy. When it's your turn to talk, be able to articulate your ideas and your advice with conviction so your clients and your prospective clients respond positively. It also helps if you genuinely care about people. It's hard to fake liking people.
People Skills and Referrals
Your people skills are invaluable for building your business by referral and self referral. In fact, regardless of your preferred client acquisition system, sooner or later you're going to have talk to a human being. The more you do it, the better you get.
Over the past 20 years I've seen several studies about how people with money meet and/or want to meet their financial adviser. Typically, 90 percent or more say "referral." The other methods (cold call, direct mail, drip marketing, seminars, advertising or radio shows) share the remaining 10 percent.
Of course, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. No doubt, you've read the same research. I'm simply proposing that you finally suck it up and get good at actually asking for referrals and making the follow-up calls. Can you think of anything more intelligent than becoming good at meeting new ideal clients the way they say they want to be met?
You might have been able to get away way with not-so-intelligent marketing in the old economy, but the new world is far less forgiving. Acquiring new ideal clients by referral is also the most cost-effective method. Your cost per ideal client will be the lowest by referral. Can you think of a better time to implement the most effective and least expensive method for acquiring new ideal clients?
It will be your people skills that will have the biggest impact on the success of your referral-based client acquisition strategy. That and consistency of execution are the keys to success for all client acquisition methodologies. You might as well consistently execute the system for acquiring ideal clients that those prospective clients have told you is the way they would like to be "acquired."
The self-referral is simply my terminology for the process of referring yourself to people you already know and new people you meet in the course of your everyday life. You meet lots of people you could engage in conversation that might lead to a business relationship, but you probably choose not to.
An excellent way to implement a self-referral program is to strategically put yourself in places where you know your potential ideal clients tend to be, provided these are places you genuinely enjoy being. It's painful to hear about advisers who pretend to be interested in the symphony just to meet wealthy donors. You will be far more effective when you get involved in things you actually enjoy and meet potential ideal clients as part of living the life you want to live anyway.
Like all repetitive motion, result-producing activities, at first these "muscles" may be weak. With consistent exercise they become strong. Being a financial adviser, you would probably like to have a formula that produces a predictable result. Here you go:
- Ask good questions.
- Listen with empathy.
- Resist the temptation to talk about yourself and/or what you do and how you do it.
- Ask more good questions.
- Continue to listen with empathy.
- Continue to not talk about yourself and/or what you do and how you do it.
- Lather. Rinse. Repeat. (the sound advice you find on the back of the shampoo bottle)
- When it's your turn to talk, say something relevant and offer something of value, whether they ever do business with you or not.
Because you were genuinely listening with empathy you will remember the things they say that are legitimate reasons to propose a next step-perhaps a telephone conversation or a face-to-face meeting. In adult learning theory, this is called "creating relevance."
Sending a relevant gift, like a book or an article or something else that might help them in the areas they have told you matter to them is also a good idea.
If appropriate, say something like, "Based on the things you told me about _______, ________ and _______, I think you would get value from our process for helping people like you make smart choices about your money in a way that positively impacts your ability to ________, ________ and _________.
What goes in the blanks? The most compelling and emotionally charged things they just told you while you were listening with empathy as they answered your great questions. How do you remember what they said? You listened. People with good people skills pay attention when others are talking and remember what they said, at least for the few minutes while they are together. (Later you may want to jot down a few notes to refresh your memory.)
Here's what it might sound like when you incorporate their personally compelling information: "Based on the things you told me about wanting to help your family be happy and successful, having more interesting experiences in your life like your goal to see the Grand Canyon, and getting more involved in community service, particularly programs to help at-risk youth, I think you would get value from our process for helping people like you make smart choices about your money in a way that positively impacts your ability to help your family be happy and successful, have more interesting experiences in your life, and get more involved in community service, particularly programs to help at-risk youth. Would you like to explore that?" Yes it's a mouthful. It's a mouthful of things that matter to them.
The key is to have a process. The next step in your process is likely a telephone appointment or a face-to-face meeting in your office, preferably with both spouses and all their financial documents.
Where do you have these conversations? Short answer: everywhere you meet people.
The little "secret" to make this work is simply to substitute meaningful conversations driven by your questions for the superficial chit-chat about sports, hobbies, the weather and politics that frequently dominate how many people interact.
Keep your list of these questions on a 3x5 note card in your pocket and refer to them often. Are these really the kind of things people with great interpersonal skills do? Absolutely. The glib, spontaneous people person is rare. Most have dedicated themselves to being students of this skill. Think about being to people skills what a professional athlete is to their sport or a professional musician is to their instrument or a best-in-class surgeon is to their specialty. What would your business be like if you had world-class people skills?
"What Do You Do?"
What do you say during these conversations when they ask what you do? This may not work exactly for you, so adjust it accordingly, but this is what we teach the advisers we coach: "I help people make smart choices about their money so they achieve their goals and fulfill their values. We do this by helping them get their entire financial house in order and keep it that way forever."
Whatever questions you get asked, answer them succinctly and directly immediately followed by another one of your questions. The objective is to keep them talking.
What are some good questions?
- What's important about money to you?
- What are your aspirations for the future?
- Who do you care about?
- How does money affect these relationships?
- What's changed for you as a result of the recent economic events?
- What are you doing to cope with this change?
- How would you like your financial adviser to help you?
- When you meet a stranger try this: "I'm a financial adviser. Is there anything on your mind you'd like to talk to me about?"
My co-author of High-Trust Leadership, Norman Levine, was brilliant at this. He called his self-referral process the non-interview. He described it to me this way: "I meet new people, strike up a conversation, and sometimes nothing comes of it. Sometimes I make a new friend. Sometimes I get a new client." Nothing bad ever happened to Norman by striking up conversations with strangers, but lots of good things occurred in his 50 plus years in our business.
Keep Your People Skills Sharp
Let me wrap up with a few things you can do to keep your people skills sharp:
- Have a list of questions.
- Get in the habit of engaging people wherever you are.
- Keep your interacting-with-people muscles active. Remember, muscles you don't use do not get stronger by themselves.
- Buy a small digital recorder and record your client meetings-initial interviews/discovery meetings, implementation meetings and progress meetings.
- Listen to the recordings to see how well you ask questions and listen. One objective is to hear their voice on the recording much more than yours.
- Go to a communication skills class, preferably one that puts you on video and provides personal coaching. You must see yourself on video. Painful? Probably. Valuable? Absolutely! An excellent and cost effective program is the Decker Communications Course (www.decker.com).
It's a great time to be a financial adviser ... if you have people skills.
Bill Bachrach will be speaking at FPA Anaheim 2009 and will be providing complimentary copies of his newest book, Roadmap to Success. Come to booth 527 to get your copy.