From the May 2007 issue of Wealth Manager Web • Subscribe!

May 1, 2007

The Art of Selling

Wealth managers who achieve the highest income levels are not only consultants; the most successful among us are salespersons, too. Yet far too many of us believe that selling is somehow unprofessional. Well, it's not.

The old stereotype of a salesman was a loudly dressed, glad-handing, backslapping, joke-telling buffoon. In the case of financial advisors, nothing could be further from the truth. Our knowledge, experience and wisdom elevate us far above that. We are the professionals who help people achieve their financial goals.

Being mindful of that, we still have to sell. The way we see ourselves and the way we present ourselves to the public will determine how they perceive us and how they respond to us. For example, I would never display an award that read "salesman of the month" because most people still see a salesman as someone who works hard to convince them to buy something they don't need or want. Thus they define "best salesperson" as the one with the most talent for reaching into their pocket and taking their money. (If I were a sales manager, I would immediately change the award to read "best customer service" or "best financial advisor"--something like that.)

If an attorney is referred to as a salesman, we tend to think less of that attorney. On the other hand, when that same attorney is called a "rainmaker," we have an entirely different picture of him.

It's the same for us. When you present yourself as a consultant, what you say and how you say it becomes important. When someone tells me, "I'm not here today to sell you anything," I know that they are here to sell me something.

Marketing ourselves and our abilities is much more subtle today than it used to be. But whether we're selling or consulting, the end result may be the same: We successfully earn someone's business. If you truly see yourself as a consultant, as a trusted advisor, the customer will be much more receptive to you and to your advice. This will make your job much easier.

We must realize that being a master financial advisor is not simply a profession of knowing. We are in the business of doing. Nothing happens in business--any business, including ours--unless and until a sale is made.

Why is it, then, that many of us look at the act of selling as smarmy? Why do we want to present ourselves as being "above" the activity of selling? The reason is because, historically, our industry has been driven by commissions. Even now, the more a stockbroker gets a client to trade in and out, the more money he makes. In recent years, especially during down markets, clients have strongly expressed their displeasure with that.

The financial press exacerbates this problem. They constantly point out that the broker and the client are on opposite sides of the fence. In down financial years, they emphasize how much brokers make while investors lose money, and in good years they stress Wall Street's unconscionable bonuses.

The low commissions charged by discount brokers and online trading have added to the problem. Their advertising has led the public to believe they can have the best ideas, the best execution and the best service, all for $10! The public has been convinced-- wrongly--that they can pay for a Subaru and get a Rolls-Royce.

That is why we have seen a major transformation of advisors from "closers" to "relationship managers" over the past decade. Since we make more money when the client makes more money, we appear to be--and truly are--on the same side of the fence as the client.

Every prospect has many types of advisors vying to earn their business. We are competing against traditional brokerage firms, banks, and mutual funds that advertise heavily on television and in the newspapers.

If we do our job right, we need to make only one sale, and that's the first sale: Selling ourselves as doing the best job for the client. That one sale can bring in many years of income. Yet we still look at selling in a negative way. I would encourage you to look inside yourself and ask: What are my beliefs about selling?

Here's a perfect example. You wake up one morning, shower, and get all dressed up to go into a department store. A nice looking, well-dressed person approaches you and asks politely, "May I help you?"

What's your answer? You've said it a million times: "No thanks, I'm just looking." What?!

You spent all that time and energy to get there, and your answer is: "No thanks, I'm just looking." I don't think so.

How did you feel about the person who approached you? Did you think that they were trying to help you or trying to force you to do something you didn't want to do? You know that you went to all this effort because you probably wanted to buy something. So what was it about someone who only asked if they could help you that caused you to ward them off?

If you feel this way when someone tries to help you, isn't it possible you believe that other people feel this way when you offer to help them? Other people may not actually have that reaction. It's really all about our perception of how others feel about us.

My next statement is going to be blunt: If you hate being sold, you might have negative feelings about yourself when you are selling. Sooner or later, this will reduce your effectiveness in conveying your ability to help people reach their financial goals. I cannot tell you when or how often your success will be affected by this attitude. I can tell you that over the course of the year, you will miss opportunities to make money because you felt uncomfortable and did not want to ask a prospect to do business with you. So, what's the remedy? How can you turn this around to your benefit?

It's very simple, and it's very easy. All it takes is a small shift in your perception of selling. Selling is not arm-twisting. In our profession, selling is listening carefully in order to understand a person's financial goals and then honestly explaining why we are best qualified to help them reach those goals.

If you do not believe that you are qualified to help people reach their financial goals, get out of the business. You will do a lousy job, and you'll be unhappy much of the time. If, on the other hand, you believe that you are qualified, then don't be afraid to let people know that you can help them. Confidence and enthusiasm are what win customers. Studies have shown that people believe the more confident advisor is financially savvier. It's human nature to tend to believe someone who appears to be an expert.

Sooner or later, you will have to come face to face with a prospect. This is when you must ask them to become a client. This is where you sell. Remember, no horse ever won a race it didn't enter.

Gary Wollin (www.garywollin.com) is a Warren Buffet-style investment advisor with 45-plus years of Wall Street experience. Regularly featured in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other publications, he writes and speaks on sales, customer loyalty and the stock market.

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