By Kirk Hulett
Just between you and me-did it get a little too easy prior to the Meltdown of '08? We could run our advisory and planning businesses a bit on cruise control. Incomes were up and clients were confident. Then the world turned upside down. Now, incomes are down 40 percent and clients are pessimistic and untrusting. It's a good time to start strengthening our prospecting and sales muscles that have become slightly atrophied. Let's take a look at the basic sales process. There are seven primary steps:
1) Build rapport. The first thing you want to do is establish rapport. This is best done by engaging in meaningful (not small) talk and making a personal connection.
2) Determine your commitment objective. Know your next commitment objective. It may not be the final sale; instead it's moving the client one step further in his or her decision process (a follow-up appointment, to complete a plan, to implement, to give you a referral, etc.).
3) Identify hot buttons. Hot buttons are key pieces of information gathered from or about your clients. The best way to probe for hot buttons is to ask some basic questions: What are the client's short-term or long-term goals and objectives? What is the client's problem, challenge or obstacle? What is causing the client pain?
There are two kinds of probes-open and closed. Open probes encourage the client to respond freely and share the info she thinks is appropriate or useful. Closed probes tend to elicit yes or no answers, or a selection among a series of choices, and are effective for understanding what's important for the client and for helping you move the client to the next "commitment objective."
4) Check for understanding. Before making your pitch, accurately understand the client's needs so you can avoid misunderstandings, lost opportunities and annoyed clients. It also tells the client that you have heard what she has said. Restate the issues in your own words, e.g., "If I am hearing you correctly, you want/need ... ." Some confirming questions will emerge naturally from the preceding conversation, e.g., "You'd like to help fund your grandchildren's education?"
5) Make a pitch. Wait! If you think you are ready to make your pitch, check one more time to be sure that you've got as much information as possible. Only when you feel satisfied you've achieved that should you move on to the pitch.
Obviously your pitch will be based on what you are trying to achieve or what service or product you are trying to sell. Provide the client with an appropriate balance of features and benefits. It's important that the client understands the details of the product or service, but it's absolutely critical that you effectively present the benefits to ensure that the client "gets" how you can help.
6) Close. This is the point where you ask for the client's commitment. "Are you interested in ... ?" "May I go ahead and [take whatever action you've set as your objective]?"
7) Deal with objections. Don't be surprised or discouraged if the client raises objections. Respond quickly to show you are listening and you respect the client's viewpoint. If you dismiss the objective or fail to respond directly and honestly, it tends to confirm the doubt or misunderstanding in the client's mind-and that can shut the door on further conversations.
Whether you're actively prospecting, quietly trying to bring in additional assets from existing clients, or attracting new clients via referrals, brushing up on your sales skills is always a good idea.
Kirk J. Hulett is senior vice president of strategy and practice management for Securities America Inc., an independent broker-dealer based in Omaha, Neb., where he leads an internal consulting firm that assists financial advisers on practice management issues. He hosts a bi-weekly podcast on www.advisorpod.com and serves on the editorial advisory board of Practice Management Solutions and the FPA Business Solutions 2010 task force.
Tools to Use
For a free basic sales process presentation, go to www.securitiesamerica.com/sales.html.